Cablegate: Arrest, Interrogation, and Torture Of
DE RUEHAE #0546/01 3171146
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 121146Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0009
INFO RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 6252
RUEHDJ/AMEMBASSY DJYBYUTI 3106
RUHO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1662
RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 4773
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1837
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEPADJ/CJTF-HOA J2X CAMP LEMONIER DJ
RUMICEA/JICCENT MACDILL AFB FL
SS E C R E T ASMARA 000546
DEPARTMENT FOR DS/IP/AF, DS/TIA/ITA, DS/ICI/CI,
DS/IP/SPC/SO, DS/OPO/FLD, INR, AF/E, DRL, LONDON AND PARIS
FOR AFRICA WATCHERS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/06/2028
TAGS: ASEC ER PGOV PREL PHUM KIRF
SUBJECT: ARREST, INTERROGATION, AND TORTURE OF
REF: ASMARA 509
Classified By: Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen for Reason 1.4 (d)
1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: On XXXXXXXXXXXX was released
after five months in jail. XXXXXXXXXXXX emotionally
recounted his experience to the RSO, including his interrogation,
deplorable prison conditions, beatings, and witnessing the torture
of other prisoners being held at the XXXXXXXXXXXX facility.
XXXXXXXXXXXX kept a prison diary and gave different,
but similar, versions to the RSO and XXXXXXXXXXXX.
2 (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX was assigned as a guard at the
XXXXXXXXXXXX. On XXXXXXXXXXXX, police came to his
residence around 6:00 a.m. and demanded to see his demobilization card. Such intrusions are common in May
during the run-up to Independence Day, as the government
increases security and also rounds up national service
evaders. The demobilization card is proof that an Eritrean
has completed national service, and in theory, not subject to
call-up or arrest for service evasion. As XXXXXXXXXXXX
was pulling out his demobilization card, the officials spotted
his XXXXXXXXXXXX ID and noted his Ethiopian last name.
XXXXXXXXXXXX told RSO he does not think the officials came
to his house because he worked for the XXXXXXXXXXXX, but
were looking for suspicious persons and arrested him after
seeing his XXXXXXXXXXXX and last name. XXXXXXXXXXXX
3. (S/NF) Police questioned XXXXXXXXXXXX at a downtown
police station for about four hours. They asked about his job
XXXXXXXXXXX, his father's last name, how many
XXXXXXXXXXXX, and how long he had worked there.
Later that day, XXXXXXXXXXX was taken to the
XXXXXXXXXXXX located XXXXXXXXXXXX..
DETENTION AND INTERROGATION
4. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX was placed in a cell approximately
40 feet x 38 feet with about 600 other prisoners. He stated the
conditions were so cramped, it was not possible to lie down
and barely possible to sit. He was held there for one month
before being interrogated. He was interrogated on two
separate occasions by members of the Eritrean National
Security Organization (ENSO), including one nicknamed
XXXXXXXXXXXX On both occasions the interrogator beat him.
The interrogator asked him the following questions:
A. What was his job title and responsibilities.
B. Did he perform any other duties XXXXXXXXXXXX ,
and why does he work there.
C. Which XXXXXXXXXXXX were spying for XXXXXXXXXXXX
E. What were the religions of XXXXXXXXXXX.
F. What activities occur at the XXXXXXXXXXXX, is
it being used as a warehouse, and what is stored there.
G. Who is the XXXXXXXXXXXX, what is his job, what
activities does he do at XXXXXXXXXXX, who does he
meet with, and what parts of Asmara does he frequent.
H. They asked about, XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX stated the ENSO personnel called him a "spy
XXXXXXXXXXXX during his interrogations. They stated they knew
"everything that happens in the XXXXXXXXXXXX and that if
he lied to them they would know XXXXXXXXXXXX stated he was
simply a guard at XXXXXXXXXXXX. He stated his job was
to provide security XXXXXXXXXXXX The interrogator
XXXXXXXXXXXX later told XXXXXXXXXXXX he must
come at least once a week to XXXXXXXXXXXX office in
Asmara and report all activities he observes at
5. (S/NF) After the two interrogations, XXXXXXXXXXXX
wasnot questioned again, but returned to the crowded holding
room. Prisoners were fed 2 pieces of bread three times a day
and allowed to use the toilet twice a day. A bucket in the
middle of the room served as a toilet between escorted
bathroom breaks, but it constantly spilled and contaminated
the room with urine and feces. Many prisoners could not talk
due to the lack of water, their tongues stuck to the roofs of
their mouths from thirst. XXXXXXXXXXXX said prisoners believed
ENSO had placed informers in the prison cell to gain additional
information. Family members and friends are allowed to bring
food to prisoners. One of XXXXXXXXXXXX friends smuggled
in a notebook and pen with a tray of food, and he chronicled his
experience in two versions, one for the RSO and another for
the Ambassador. XXXXXXXXXXXX smuggled the diaries
out also using the food trays.
WITNESS TO TORTURE
6. (S/NF) The ENSO personnel regularly tortured prisoners
imprisoned with XXXXXXXXXXXX. His cellmates were
Eritreans who tried to flee the country, military deserters,
common criminals, and Protestants (presumably of unregistered
denominations). XXXXXXXXXXXX stated they could hear the
screams of people being tortured and he witnessed ENSO
staff bringing back badly bruised and bleeding detainees to the
holding room. On one occasion, XXXXXXXXXXXX observed
ENSO officials beating a man with a rubber hose on his bare feet.
Another time, when XXXXXXXXXXXX was allowed out to use
the bathroom, he passed a shipping container and saw a man
sitting with his arms tied and raised behind his back. His feet were tied together and a wooden pole was placed beneath his knees. He saw head with a rubber hose and wooden sticks. XXXXXXXXXXXX said ENSO later moved the container to a more remote part of the
Camp where other prisoners could not observe the torture.
CHILDREN NOT SPARED
7. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX said that for a few days,
approximately 35 boys, aged 8-13, were confined with him.
Asked why they were arrested, the boys said they had crossed
into Ethiopia, but Ethiopian soldiers caught them, and, after
feeding them and giving them new clothes, sent them back to
Eritrea, telling them they were too young to cross by themselves.
Upon returning to Eritrea, the boys were arrested and taken to
XXXXXXXXXXXX, and later to another prison in
XXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXXsaid ENSO personnel also beat the boys And told the adult prisoners not to talk to the boys or to each
other about why they were in prison or about their beatings.
RELEASED AFTER FIVE MONTHS
8. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX was angry and nearly broke
into tears a number of times. He said although the physical
abuse and deprivations took a toll on his body, it was the
psychological abuse of being packed in with so many other
people, of not knowing when the next beatings would come,
and believing he could be killed, that was the most damaging.
XXXXXXXXXXXX has probably been more candid about
his experience than other XXXXXXXXXXXX who were
9. (S/NF) , XXXXXXXXXXXX was freed, with no explanation
for his release or detention. ENSO personnel warned him
they would kill him if he told anyone. XXXXXXXXXXXX
of his detention and treatment. The ENSO personnel
refused to return his XXXXXXXXXXXX or his demobilization
card. XXXXXXXXXXXX believes, XXXXXXXXXXXX, his arrest
occurred because the ENSO official saw XXXXXXXXXXXX
and noticed his father's Ethiopian last name.