NPR : News

Filed Under:

Former Somali General Admits Liability For War Crimes

A seven year court battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court ended in a federal courtroom in Virginia on Thursday when former Somali Gen. Mohamed Ali Samantar admitted liability for war crimes and human rights abuses committed in the late 1980s, when he was the defense minister and commander of military forces in Somalia.

The case against Samantar was brought by former Somali citizens who were granted asylum in the U.S. They had suffered years of imprisonment, torture, rape and abduction — one even survived a firing squad under a pile of bodies. When they discovered that Samantar, their one-time tormentor, was living in the U.S. too, they sued him in federal court under the Torture Victim Protection Act, a law passed in 2006 to ensure that the U.S. would not be a safe haven for human rights abusers.

For seven years, Samantar sought to head off a trial. Having lost in the Supreme Court once, and twice after that in a federal appeals court, Samantar tried a last-ditch maneuver. Late Sunday night, he filed for bankruptcy, a move that could have prevented this week's scheduled trial from taking place.

But that strategem failed, too. And on Thursday morning, in open court, Samantar defaulted, meaning that he accepted liability for the crimes charged against him.

For the rest of the day, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema heard evidence about the damages she will assess against him.

In addition to testimony from the victims who brought the suit, the judge heard from a U.S. military official about the breadth of the war crimes that were committed under Samantar's command. Also testifying via video hook-up was a witness who talked about digging mass graves and a BBC reporter who interviewed Samantar, winning an admission that he had ordered his forces to carpet-bomb to an area politically opposed to the regime. Samantar had previously maintained that the BBC interview was a fake.

The hearing marked the first time that anyone has been held accountable for the atrocities of the brutal Siad Barre regime, which ruled Somalia in the late 1980s and was eventually overthrown, leaving chaos and instability that persists to this day.

A final decision on damages is expected from Judge Brinkema either Friday or soon after.

(Nina Totenberg is NPR's legal affairs correspondent.)

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Dean Jones, Herbie's Driver In Disney Movies, Dies At Age 84

Actor Dean Jones, who starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat! and other classic Walt Disney movies, also played the role of Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim's Company.
NPR

From Dock To Dish: A New Model Connects Chefs To Local Fishermen

Prominent chefs are signing up for restaurant-supported fisheries: They commit to buying fresh-caught seafood, whatever the species, from local small fishermen. A pilot program launched in California.
NPR

Fears Of Marijuana 'Monopoly' In Ohio Undercut Support For Legalization

Ohio will vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana. The measure allows 10 growing sites; 10 groups of big investors already have dibs. Some would-be pot proponents are crying foul.
NPR

Yahoo CEO To Take Limited Leave After Giving Birth To Twins

NPR's Rachel Martin talks with Slate DoubleX Gabfest's Hanna Rosin about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to take just two weeks worth of parental leave after having twins in December.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.