For many, mention of Somalia conjures images of a smoldering Blackhawk helicopter and AK-47-wielding pirates loaded onto an antique skiff.

What may not come to mind as quickly is the idea that the tipping point for Somalia’s downward spiral into an international no-go zone may have come decades before U.S. troops landed on a Somali beachfront in the mid 1990s. It may have come during the regime of military dictator Siad Barre.

Barre and the men under him have been accused by the United Nations of committing horrific war crimes throughout the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s that the country is still reeling from.

[ad#Google Adsense 250×250]

Like citizens of other countries ravaged by brutal regimes, many refugees who survived Barre’s rule came to America to start over and live quietly among the population.

But shockingly, along with refugees and victims of war crimes, some alleged war criminals themselves have emigrated to the United States, escaping retribution for the monstrous acts they may have committed at home.

Men accused of human rights abuses from Somalia to Venezuela have laid their own claims to the American dream and now enjoy the same freedoms they’re accused of trying to take away from their own people. It may seem impossible, but one of these men — some allegedly responsible for mass murder, torture and the destruction of entire populations — might literally be living next door.

Bashe Yousuf was one of the lucky ones. He survived Barre’s notorious use of summary execution, rape, torture and imprisonment without trial to control what the dictator viewed as a dissident population in the northwest part of Somalia, today known as Somaliland. Yousuf was a businessman in Hargeisa, the largest city in Somaliland. The area was particularly targeted by the regime for destruction. Along with his work in business, Yousuf said he was part of a group of community workers trying to clean up hospitals and obtain medical supplies. [ad#Google Adsense (336×280)] Yousuf claims soldiers under the command of Barre’s minister of defense, Gen. Mohammed Samantar, arrested him after his group’s actions were deemed acts of political defiance. “The government — you know, took it as we were a political organization trying to challenge their power and put us all in jail,” Yousuf said in a recent interview with ABC News.

‘The Worst Torture … Is Isolation’

Yousuf said he was subjected to beatings, electric shocks and waterboarding. Yet following what Yousuf said was months of torture, he was subjected to perhaps the worse form of punishment: six years of solitary confinement in a windowless cell. “The worst torture that a person can take is isolation,” Yousuf said. “Because you think so much, and the things that you think is the worst things that happened to you in all your life. You never think about anything good. All your nightmares haunt your every minute, every second.” Yousuf said he would provoke the guards to drag him outside the cell to beat him, just for the opportunity to have a moment outside. “Just to see the sky, and the stars,” he said. Yousuf managed to survive those six years, and suddenly, as quickly as he had been arrested and thrown into jail, he said, he was released and pardoned. By the time the Barre government collapsed in 1991, throwing the country into deeper chaos, Yousuf was living in America as an American citizen working to forget his past, yet still haunted by nightmares of his ordeal.

“I wake up and sweat almost all night sometimes,” Yousuf said, “because I’m scared.” In 1998, Yousuf’s nightmare came to life. Mohamed Samantar, Somalia’s prime minister by that point, escaped the collapse of the Barre regime and eventually made his way into the Unites States. Samantar settled in a split-level house in the Washington D.C. suburbs. “I couldn’t believe it, that somebody who has done so much harm to so many people could be living in the United States,” Yousuf said. Yousuf said Samantar was at the helm of the atrocities committed in Somaliland. Samantar’s attorney, however, denied those claims, saying that Samantar was received at the White House while in office and was granted asylum in the United States in 1997. “He’s somebody who seems to be a wonderful family man,” said Julian Spirer, the attorney. “He’s very much the sort of person you would want to have as a neighbor.”

Subject to U.S. Law?

But Yousuf isn’t buying it. He, along with four other Somalis subjected to torture and human rights abuses, filed a civil suit with the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) against Samantar. The suit seeks to hold the former general responsible for alleged abuses as the head of the Somali regimes’ military. “The issue here is whether Gen. Samantar is held to be subject to U.S. laws while he’s living in this country,” said Pamela Merchant, executive director of the CJA. According the Merchant, Samantar is one of possibly 1,000 alleged war criminals living here in the United States. The CJA’s main mission is to hold the suspects responsible for the atrocities they are alleged to have committed in their foreign countries. “I think the first time you realize that somebody’s living in your community that was responsible for serious human rights abuses, it can be shocking,” Merchant said. According to his family, Samantar is gravely ill, but his legal team led by Spirer contends his innocence on the charges. “There hasn’t been any proof yet. At this point these are strictly allegations,” Spirer said. Spirer said Samantar most likely was aware of the atrocities being committed in Somaliland, but there was very little he could do about them. “Did he know that these were going on?” Spirer asked. “I expect he did know they were going on. If the question is, could he do anything about them? There was probably a very limited amount that he could do.”

Merchant disagreed with that assumption.

“He was in charge of the military,” she said. “He was the person who could stop it.”

But no matter what Samantar’s involvement may have been, a hard truth looms: Legally, it may not matter.

“We have a policy in this country, it’s actually established in law, that our courts are not available to prosecute or hold liable foreign officials for acts done in their official capacity,” Spirer said.

In 2007 a district judge ruled that Samantar had immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and dismissed CJA’s lawsuit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned that decision, ruling that the law only applies to foreign states, not individuals.

Samantar next appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which could hand down a ruling in the early summer. A major precedent could be set for trying officials — including our own officials — for war crimes.

For Yousuf, the case is about simple justice, and getting his day in court to confront a man he believes victimized so many.

“So many people died at the hands of this man,” Yousuf said. “I want justice. That is all.”

Accused War Criminals Make Home in U.S.
Former Somali General, Accused of Rights Abuses, Lives in Comfort in D.C. Suburbs
[nggallery id=13]
Source: ABC News, 19 February 2010


  1. For those in North America, tonight on ABC Television, 10pm ET, "20/20" TiVo, VCR. Make sure you see it. Samatar's case is before the US Supreme Court and a ruling is expected sometime in the summer 2010. If his appeal is rejected, he become subject to prosecution in the United States, and will set a precedent for all war criminals currently hiding in the United States. If upheld, then it is on to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
    Either way, no rest for war criminals.

  2. Those criminals who thought that they are above the law and untouchable should face the music now. They can run but they can not hide. We will be on their tails wherever they are. Why not? Israel still hunts their crminals after 60 years and bring to justice, what determination? We will do the same not matter how it takes.

    If he didn't do it, who else is he saying did it? What a liar! He was in a position of power. He could stopped if he wanted. but he was the one who was giving the orders to eliminate Somalilanders of a certain clan.

    Thanks Kariye, I will be glued to the TV tonight.

  3. Please, do not forget to thank the four brave Somalilanders who come out and told the world and American people about this criminal called Ali Samater and thanks to lawyers from Center for justice and accountability (CJA) for taking this and many other cases like this free of charge, pro-bono, because they believe in justice for all.

    Let me say this,the other remaining war criminals against the innocent people Somalia and Somaliland, the like of Morgan, Gani and other alike their day of running from truth and justices are numbered.

  4. America isnt God and I dont believe in American justice, they flip-flop and do whatever suits them, but God's justice is always just and that's where all of us will face including Mr. Samatar. He knows what he did and he knows what awaits for him.

    I say let the old man live his last days, we Somalilanders stood up to him and his monster regime, they are gone and he became like a refugee like us. From Prime Minister to a refugee that's enough humiliation he has to live with.

    I say Somalilanders, lets focus on our selves. It's good that criminals like him face court so others might not do the same but we know USA and to be honest with you I have no confidence in their system, its a system of injustice it self.

    They need to change these laws.

  5. Let me add the reason he (Samatar) fled from Europe (I think it was Holland) to USA is because he would have faced the Hague long time ago if he was in EU but America is way behind.

    It's good that people like CJA are speaking against these monsters, now American media is becoming away as Somaliland gains more diplomatic friends and it's case is becoming more aware.

    Before to them every thing was Somalia and every man and woman killed or raped each others to them so no point taking him to court because half of the refugees in USA would face court thats what they thought.

    It's clear to the Americans now.

  6. Just watched the trailer part and I think this is a step in the right direction. We Somalilanders have not done enough to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against our people. We need to gather names, addresses and keep the pressure on these monsters

    • The last two military governors of the Northern Regions from 1983-1988 committed most of the atrocities. The Governors were General Mohamed Said Hersi “Morgan” and General Mohamed Hashi Gani. From June-August 1988, General Morgan ordered the round up of the kin of the Somali National Movement. The daily scoops netted tens of thousand of civilians who were summarily executed at what is now called the Malka Durduro and the Military Command Headquarters slaughter grounds on the eastern edge of Hargeisa, Somaliland. The Hargeisa dry riverbed is currently designated as a mass gravesite containing the remains of the victims of the state terror. The entire leadership of the military regime of Somali is liable for the war crimes that took place in Somaliland (1982-1991) and among them are the following:

    • These are some of the Names less Siyad Barre:

      2- Lt-General Mohamed Ali Samater
      3- Major-General Mohamed Hashi Gani
      4- Major-General Mohamed Said Hersi aka “The Butcher of Hargeisa.”
      5- Major-General Adan Abdillahi Nour”Gabyow”
      6- Major General Ahmed Omer Jees
      7- Colonel Abdulaziz Ali
      8- Colonel Yussuf Abdi Ali “Tuke”
      9- Colonel Adan “Anjeex”
      10- Colonel Abdillahi Yussuf Ahmed aka “ The Butcher of Majertenia.”
      11- Hassan Abshir Farah
      12- Abdirahman Jama Barre
      13- Brig-General Mohamed Nour Galal
      14- Abdul qassim Salad Hassan
      15- Jama “Blue”- the Somali businessman who hired the mercenary pilots
      16- Idris Shidle- a business associate of Jama “Blue”.
      17- Major-general Ahmed Suleiman Abdille.

      • The above-mentioned individuals do have a collective responsibility as the leadership of the failed Somali Republic and their positions of power do not grant them a carte blanche diplomatic immunity to commit crimes against humanity. The actions and the behaviour of this leadership lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of non-combatant civilians as well as billions of dollars worth of property wilfully damaged, destroyed, and looted, and millions of anti-personnel land mines haphazardly buried throughout present day Somaliland. To this day these unmarked landmines pose a serious threat to the rural population and their livestock.

        • True Somalilander, Mr Sabeyse who follows what happened and writes a great deal about these events during that period email it to me few years back and was sitting in my email box.

  7. Gen. Gaani died in a Kenyan hotel room few years back. Morgan is in charge of Somali troops loyal to the Shariif TFG Govt. Canjeex is in Syria and last I checked Tuke was deported to where no idea

    • Maybe we should hunt them down Mossad style. I know we can do it but is anyone of you willing to kill hehehe I am not. I dont wanna dirty my fingers and old men already hell awaits.

      But honestly think about it it's time we set up Mossad style organisation that works with the CID. We need to sign a secret military agreement with Israel if we cant do under the Somaliland umbrella we can always use Ethiopia.

      We send 20 men to Ethiopia and Ethiopia can request Israel to train them. Job is done.

    • Tuke was deported from Canada went he was recognized and hunted by a Somalilander Freelance Journalist and I believe he went to the States.

  8. Keyse I agree we need a Mossad-styled organization to hunt down these killers and hand them justice. Tuke was deported from the US too when he was discovered working as a security guard. Canjeex is in Syria and is easier to spot but the biggest fish he lives unaccounted worry free in Kenya and Mogadisho

  9. Most of the Somaliland are either victims or survivors of the genocide in 1988-1991. please joint the efforts of CJA and the victims to take into justice for those masacared our children, mothers, fathers, students and educators deliberately. those murders must be punished and not live freely in the United States, we can never forget Ali Samater, Tuke, Anjeex, Morgan and many other murders live in USA, Europe or Africa.
    Justice will prevail soon Inshaa Alaah.

  10. The SNM terrorists are the real killers with bloods on their hands and its funny how some of you call them Mujaahidiin. They're the ones who were helping the archenemy Ethiopia when all Somalis were united and there was no Somali qaxooti like we're today. Thank God most of the SNM are either dead or disabled and handcap today. Did you know that Silanyo lost the Somaliland presidency because of his links to SNM? That's why UDUB will rule Somaliland forever and former SNM members are homeless in Burco and Daami in Hargeisa. UDUB ayaa leh SL.

  11. Why do you go after everyone inclouding Isaaq Generals…
    1.Ismail Ahmed Head of Jail
    2. Mr. Laxwas-2nd Comander to Samatar
    and others…..

  12. Those of you who posted comments talking of hunting certain people must be kidding yourselves. You are as sick- minded as the ones you are accusing.

    Be delusional as you wish but no one will be in your fishing net.

  13. They have our blood on their hands and they will not get away with. Just watch as events unfold. Only time will tell!

  14. You people who think "Somaliland" is high, and mighty with attempt to blame the Barre government are truly part of a sad story. A weak notion of partisan qabilism is what I call this case that couldn't even hold up in court. Its such a shame that 20 years after the fall of government in Somalia this sad excuse for a human rights organization and Yousuf attempt to make a case against Samatar that they lost and now trying in civil court in a desperate attempt to show credibility for the acknowledgment of "Somaliland" which will NEVER happen.

  15. Why don't you also go after the entire Hawiye clan that killed, exiled, and continues to displace so many somalis every single day instead of old heads who were also exiled? This is ridiculous and will not be upheld in SP Court..mark my words