On May 13, 2019, Colonel Yusuf Abdi Ali, former commander of the Somali National Army, will stand trial for his alleged involvement in the torture and attempted extrajudicial killing of Farhan Warfaa. Col. Ali, referred to as Tukeh, served under Somalia’s Said Barre regime, which ruled through a military dictatorship from 1969-1991. However, after the regime was overthrown, Col. Tukeh moved to Canada, and then the U.S., where he retained permanent residency status since 1996.
Mr. Warfaa alleges that Col. Tukeh captured him just before civil war broke out. Col. Tukeh rounded up Mr. Warfaa, alongside the other men and boys in the village, and transferred them to the Military Headquarters of the 5th Brigade of the Somali National Army, where Col. Tukeh served as the commanding officer. Mr. Warfaa claims that Col. Tukeh tortured and interrogated him, eventually shooting him five times at point-blank range, assuming him dead. Somehow, though, he survived, and Col. Tukeh’s soldiers later released him in exchange for payment from Mr. Warfaa’s family. He further alleges that Col. Tukeh targeted him and his village because of their ethnic status, being members of the Isaaq clan. Col. Tukeh allegedly disarmed Isaaq soldiers under his leadership, sending them to Hargeisa to face massacre alongside their own. As many as 200,000 individuals were executed in Hargeisa under the Said Barre regime, though with a near-countless number of bodies in mass graves, no one knows exactly how many people were killed.
While Col. Tukeh will face trial on May 13, the path to this trial has been long and laborious. Mr. Warfaa first brought claims against Col. Tukeh in 2004, suing him under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act. Due to multiple delays and stays, the case did not go to court until 2014, when the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed Mr. Warfaa’s claims regarding the Alien Tort Statute. However, the court also dismissed Col. Tukeh’s claim that he deserved immunity as a foreign official. In 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling, allowing Mr. Warfaa to move forward in suing Col. Tukeh under the Torture Victims Protection Act. In 2017, the Supreme Court refused a request for judicial review of the decision, eliminating a final technical hurdle to Mr. Warfaa’s lawsuit.
While the dismissal of the Alien Tort Statute means that Mr. Warfaa cannot sue Col. Tukeh for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Torture Victim Protection Act allows him to seek justice for the alleged torture and attempted extrajudicial killing he experienced. Passed in 1991, the Torture Victim Protection Act allows victims of torture or extrajudicial killings to pursue civil actions against their alleged perpetrators. Victims – or, in the cases of extrajudicial killings, legal representatives or claimants – may file a lawsuit against those that act under actual or apparent authority of any foreign nation. However, before seeking remedies in the U.S., victims must exhaust “adequate and available remedies” where the alleged crime occurred.
Mr. Warfaa’s legal representation, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), has experience in carrying out suits against abusers of the Said Barre regime. After CJA filed suit against General Mohammad Ali Samantar, Samantar was deemed liable for human rights atrocities. As a result, he had to pay $21 million to Somali survivors represented by CJA. In 2013, CJA also won a judgement Col. Abdi Aden Magan, the former chief of the Somali National Security Service. CJA represented Abukar Hassan Ahmed, a law professor and human rights advocate, who experienced physical and emotional trauma at the hands of Col. Magan. Professor Ahmed won $15 million in damages from Col. Magan.
No sum of money can adequately make up for the damages that victims of torture and extrajudicial killings experience at the hands of ruthless officials. However, policies like the Torture Victim Protection Act at least offer a remedy in which victims may hold accountable those that cause them so much suffering. Though Mr. Warfaa will never be able to forget the pain he alleges he experienced at the hands of Col. Tukeh, his victory in court would provide him the opportunity to label Col. Tukeh the criminal that he has always seen him as.