Cori Crider

Dear Harold Koh, my client’s name is Sharif, not Shane

on 13 October 2010


The US Department of Defense must learn that treating Yemen like the Wild West just ain’t gonna work.

2010_07_28 Sharif Mobley family pic from Nzinga

Just in re: Sharif Mobley (pictured right with his daughter)--

This week Harold Koh, legal advisor to the Obama Administration, gave a talk at Columbia Law School. The thesis—Obama’s people had delivered ‘change you can believe in’ in the war on terror. Perhaps recognizing that law students like a clear assignment, he even urged the audience to pass the word on: The New Administration Is Not the Old Administration.

Then a hand went up. What was the administration doing about its duty not to solicit disappearances—or to take part in interrogations that involve torture or CIDT (cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment)?

What, the concerned questioner went on, about Sharif Mobley? (Sharif, Reprieve’s client, was seized, shot, and seriously abused in a Yemeni-US proxy detention operation early this year.) But the hand-raiser never finished the query. Professor Koh interrupted, not to make any substantive point, but to say—

"It’s Shane, not Sharif, actually."

He then deftly shifted from the substance of Mr Mobley’s case onto a generic remark that the US does not torture or deliver people to torture, and so forth.

The sad thing, of course, is that Sharif is not Shane; is a welder, not a cowboy—though I can’t say the same for the US agents who had him seized without warrant and shook him down after he was shot. 

The comment did make me think: if only Department of Defense, the FBI, et al. could be made to see that treating Yemen like the Wild West—pouring millions upon millions into the narrow aperture of 'counter-terrorism assistance in Yemen'—ain’t gonna work.

Now, to give him credit, Koh's State Department has supposedly been pushing a 'multilateral' approach to Yemen's troubles; whether they will carry the day against the juggernaut of the DOD remains to be seen. But dodging tough questions about the ugly side of US 'counterterrorism assistance' in the region is not going to serve the cause. Yemenis hear those lines for what they are.

I did wonder whether this was a tip from Professor Koh. Perhaps if Reprieve resubmits our Freedom of Information request about Sharif's ordeal under the name of 'Shane Mobley', the State Department will finally give us a substantive response?

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