Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, the Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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US Charges Yonas Fikre, American Who Claimed Torture, With Conspiracy

| Thu May 3, 2012 7:30 PM EDT
Yonas Fikre

Last month, Mother Jones broke the story of Yonas Fikre. An American Muslim now living in Sweden, Fikre claims he was tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the US government's request after refusing to become an informant for the FBI. On Tuesday, less than three weeks after Fikre's allegations were made public, the Justice Department charged Fikre, his brother Dawit Woldehawariat, and a third man, Abrehaile Haile, with conspiring to hide $75,000 worth of money transfers to the UAE and Sudan from the government, all in violation of federal reporting requirements for large international financial transactions. Woldehawariat, Fikre's brother, was also charged with failing to file a tax return in 2009 and 2010.

There are no allegations of terrorism associated with the charges. 

Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who has been working with Fikre, told Mother Jones on Wednesday that the federal charges were retaliation for Fikre's refusal to cooperate with the FBI. "It is disappointing but not surprising that the FBI is retaliating against Yonas by filing specious charges against him after they promised to make his life difficult after he refused to become their informant," Abbas wrote in an email. "While FBI agents lied to Yonas about many things, in this case, it seems that they have kept their word."

Thomas Nelson, Fikre's Portland, Oregon-based lawyer, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Tuesday that he was unaware of the charges against his client. But Abbas said he's been in touch with Nelson since then and the two are working together to decide what to do next.

Here's the charging document:


And here's the detention request:


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READ: Letter to Justice Department About Alleged Proxy Detainee Yonas Fikre

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 11:01 AM EDT
Yonas Fikre, who claims he was detained and tortured at the behest of the US government, is shown here in a still image from a video recorded by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Earlier this week, I broke the story of Yonas Fikre, a 33-year-old Muslim American from Oregon who claims that he was detained and tortured in the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the US government. Fikre is now in Sweden, where he and his lawyers were scheduled to hold a press conference on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday, Portland's Willamette Week and Oregonian published stories on Fikre's ordeal. Oregon Public Broadcasting adds the detail that Fikre has applied for asylum in Sweden.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has been helping Fikre, has given me a copy of a letter the group sent to Thomas Perez, the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, describing Fikre's ordeal, asking that Perez investigate "whether Mr. Fikre was detained and tortured at the behest of any agent of the U.S. government," and demanding that he be allowed to return to the United States without "further unconstitutional interference." You can read it here:

The Obama Administration Wants You to Stop Worrying and Love the Bailouts

| Mon Apr. 16, 2012 5:30 AM EDT
President Barack Obama chats with Timothy Geithner, the secretary of the Treasury.

The Obama administration wants Americans to realize what a good job it and the Bush administration did saving the economy from a second Great Depression. But they'd prefer not to make this case directly. They want journalists to do it for them.

On Friday, the Treasury Department convened one of its semi-regular, invitation-only background press briefings for journalists. Senior Treasury officials spoke to us, answered our questions, and showed us a "deck," which is annoying industry jargon for a PowerPoint presentation. "I just know this is going to be a fucking waste of time—another dog-and-pony show," another journalist told me on our way into the meeting. The central message of the dog-and-pony show was that the US response to the 2008 financial collapse was pretty effective, especially when compared to how other countries reacted to different crises. The PowerPoint presentation used terms like "bank investment programs," but what the Treasury gang was talking about was the highly unpopular financial bailouts (as opposed to the auto bailouts, which the Obama team views as a political winner).

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