A former Somali army colonel who has been living and working for decades in Northern Virginia had engaged in torture in his homeland and must pay his victim $500,000, a jury in Alexandria found Tuesday.
Yusuf Abdi Ali, nicknamed “Tukeh” or “Crow,” has repeatedly been accused of involvement in human rights violations committed against Somalia’s northwestern Isaaq clan under the regime of U.S.-backed dictator Siad Barre.
Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa was a 17-year-old farmer in that clan in 1987, when he says troops supervised by Ali detained and tortured him for months over a missing water tanker. Warfaa claims soldiers sometimes contorted his body into a painful shape that was meant to mimic wings of the army’s MiG aircraft.
After four months of abuse, Warfaa says, Ali shot him multiple times and left him for dead.
“We’re thrilled that the jury came back and found that our client had in fact been tortured,” said attorney Kathy Roberts of the Center of Justice and Accountability. “It’s a good verdict; it stands for the principle that no one above the law. Our client is very happy.”
Warfaa and relatives of his testified, as did another victim of torture and two former soldiers who had worked for Ali.
The jury did not find Ali liable for an attempted illegal killing of Warfaa. But for torturing Warfaa, they fined him $400,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.
Defense attorney Joseph Peter Drennan argued that the victim and witnesses were motivated by “clan vengeance and the agenda of advancing some kind of victimhood status for the Isaaq people.”
He argued that the split decision suggests the jury found Ali guilty of torture “simply because he happened to be a colonel in the Somali army ... which had a rather deplorable human rights record.”
Drennan is considering an appeal.
Warfaa first sued in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Alexandra in 2005, when he learned Ali was in the United States. But the case was held up for years by disputes over jurisdiction and immunity.
Ali denied Warfaa’s claims and those of other victims of violence. He said he had heard of the missing water tanker at the time but took no action in response.
“I did nothing to anybody,” he said in a deposition. “They’re just lying.”
It’s the final of three cases that the Center of Justice and Accountability has brought on behalf of victims of the Barre regime.
Ali suggested in court filings that the lawsuit was driven by political machinations in Warfaa’s home region, which declared itself an independent state called Somaliland after the Barre regime collapsed in 1991.
Ali was in the United States for military training in 1990 when he realized Barre would soon lose power, according to court records. So he fled to Canada but was deported from both that country and the United States after media reports highlighting his past.
He was able to return to Alexandria on a spousal visa in 1996 and has lived in the area ever since.
On the first day of trial, CNN reported that Ali has been working as an Uber and Lyft driver in the Washington area. Both companies have since blocked Ali from working for them, according to company representatives.
Ali previously worked as a security guard at Washington Dulles International Airport. He passed a criminal background check by the FBI and a threat assessment by the Transportation Security Administration to work that job, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority told CNN at the time. The Department of Homeland Security told CNN that the results of Ali’s security checks had not disqualified him from employment.
“Of course we hope that the government is paying attention and will talk to some of the witnesses we presented this case,” Roberts said.