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Context of 'December 27, 2001: FBI Forces False Confession from Terror Suspect'

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Abdallah Higazy.Abdallah Higazy. [Source: Washington Post]FBI agents arrest Egyptian national Abdallah Higazy in a New York hotel room, and interrogate him over his supposed ownership of an air-band transceiver capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground communications. The FBI suspects Higazy, a student at Brooklyn’s Polytechnic University, of facilitating the 9/11 hijackings. Higazy arrived in New York from Cairo to study engineering under US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Institute for International Education programs, in August 2001. The Institute arranged for Higazy to stay at the Millennium Hilton Hotel, just across the street from the World Trade Center. On September 11, Higazy, along with other hotel residents, was evacuated after the second plane hit the Twin Towers. He was carrying about $100 in cash and his wallet. Higazy does not return to the hotel until December 17, when three FBI agents are waiting for him. Hotel employees had found a transceiver capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground transmissions in his room safe, along with a Koran and his passport. The FBI believes that Higazy may have used the radio as a beacon to guide the hijackers. Higazy denies owning any such transceiver. A federal judge warns the FBI and federal prosecutors that merely finding a radio in a room safe occupied by Higazy does not constitute enough evidence to continue holding the suspect, and absent further evidence he will release Higazy on December 28. Instead, the FBI will browbeat a false confession from Higazy (see December 27, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Institute for International Education, Abdallah Higazy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Agency for International Development

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI administers a polygraph test to Egyptian national Abdallah Higazy, who has been in custody since December 17, 2001, on suspicion of facilitating the 9/11 attacks (see December 17, 2001). Higazy is about to be released by a judge because no real evidence exists that he had any connections to the attacks. The test is administered by FBI agent Michael Templeton; upon its completion, court documents show, Templeton concludes that Higazy is being evasive with his answers. But Templeton’s conclusion raises questions. Towards the end of the session, Higazy asks that the questioning be stopped because he is feeling intense pain in his arm and is having trouble breathing. Instead of releasing Higazy, Templeton calls him “a baby” and says that “a nine-year-old” could endure that kind of pain. It is not clear what is causing Higazy to be in pain, but from the conversation, it is clear that something untoward is occurring. During the questioning, Templeton threatens Higazy’s family. He tells Higazy that the FBI will make his brother “live in scrutiny” and will “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” According to court documents, by this point Templeton is screaming, smashing his fist into the table, and accusing Higazy of lying. Templetom also hints that the FBI might have Higazy’s family turned over to Egyptian intelligence. “[T]heir laws are different than ours,” he says. “[T]hey are probably allowed to do things in that country where they don’t advise people of their rights, they don’t—yeah, probably about torture, sure.” Higazy knows full well what Egyptian agents could do to his family members. Unwilling for his family to be tortured, he confesses to owning a radio the FBI is asking about. He is denied bail and remains in custody awaiting charge. Templeton will not deny coercing the confession from Higazy in subsequent questioning by Higazy’s lawyers. [Washington Post, 10/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Templeton, Abdallah Higazy, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Egyptian national Abdallah Higazy (see December 17, 2001), who has falsely confessed to owning a transceiver that may connect him to the 9/11 plot in order to save his family from being tortured (see December 27, 2001), is charged with making false statements connected to the 9/11 attacks. Higazy has given three different versions of how he obtained the radio; the FBI is sure he is lying about not being complicit in the plot. Three days after Higazy is charged, an airline pilot from Ohio claims the suspect transceiver as his own, and unknowingly vindicates Higazy. Higazy is released two days later, and a hotel security guard is eventually charged with lying to the FBI about the location of the radio. Higazy’s lawyer, Jonathan Abady, later says: “What if that pilot had not walked into the Millennium Hotel? We know that Mr. Higazy could have spent the rest of his life in prison.” In 2007, Higazy will say that he chose to confess to the ownership of the suspect transceiver because he knew the FBI could have his family turned over to Egyptian intelligence agents for torture. “I knew I couldn’t prove my innocence, and I knew my family was in danger,” he will recall. “If I say this device is mine, I’m screwed and my family is going to be safe. If I say this device is not mine, I’m screwed and my family’s in danger. And [FBI] Agent [Michael] Templeton made it quite clear that ‘cooperate’ had to mean saying something else other than this device is not mine.” Higazy’s subsequent lawsuit against the hotel (prompted by a hotel employee lying to the FBI about him) will eventually be settled out of court; his suit against the FBI will still be pending in October 2007 (see October 18, 2007). [Washington Post, 10/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Templeton, Abdallah Higazy, Jonathan Abady, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian national who falsely confessed to owning a suspicious airline transceiver after the 9/11 attacks because the FBI threatened to have his family tortured (see December 17, 2001), December 27, 2001, and January 11-16, 2002), has his lawsuit against the FBI reinstated by a US appeals court. The majority opinion finds, “An officer in [FBI agent Michael] Templeton’s shoes would have understood that the confession he allegedly coerced from Higazy would have been used in a criminal case against Higazy and that his actions therefore violated Higazy’s Constitutional right to be free from compelled self-incrimination.” [New York Sun, 10/18/2007]
Decision Issued and Withdrawn - Interestingly, the appeals court posts its full opinion on the case, then within minutes withdraws that opinion and issues another one, with an identical conclusion but with much of the details of Higazy’s allegations redacted. The new ruling reads: “This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy’s statements were coerced.” But the initial opinion has already been downloaded by dozens of legal observers and bloggers, and the evidence redacted by the court is in the public view.
"People Don't Do that Voluntarily" - Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen writes, “The fresh details about his interrogation in December 2001 illustrate how an innocent man can be persuaded to confess to a crime that he did not commit, and the lengths to which the FBI was willing to go in its terrorism-related investigations after the Sept. 11 attacks.” A Justice Department spokesman says that although it does not concede that Higazy’s allegations are true, it has agreed to proceed under the assumption that they are true in order to argue the case. The appellate court does not rule on the veracity of Higazy’s story, but instead concludes that Templeton lacks the “qualified immunity” that would shield him from a civil suit.
Redacted Information - Appellate court clerk Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe says that the original Higazy ruling contained information that should have been sealed from the outset. The decision to seal the information was the court’s, she says, and not the Justice Department’s or the FBI. She says that the decision to seal the information about Templeton’s coercion, and Higazy’s fears of the Egyptian intelligence service, was made out of concern for the safety of Higazy and his family. “Prior to the world of the Internet, a decision would be issued and then withdrawn without any consequences of any moment,” Wolfe says. “Now if that happens it raises the specter of interference or some nefarious intent at work, which is not the case.” Appellate lawyer Stephen Bergstein says that the redacted information “was more embarrassing than worthy of secrecy.” He continues: “Had they left it in, a lot of people probably wouldn’t have noticed. With the Internet, nothing ever goes away.” [Howard Bashman, 10/18/2007; New York Times, 10/20/2007; Washington Post, 10/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Templeton, Dan Eggen, Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe, Stephen Bergstein, Abdallah Higazy, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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