|Ufundi Co-operative House reduced to ashes following a bomb blast in 1998. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]|
By NYAMBEGA GISESA
ADX Florence, built in 1994 in south of Florence Colorado, is the most secure penal institution in the United States prison system.
The Guinness Book of World Records acknowledges the jail as the most secure prison in the world.
Former ADX wardens have described the place as “a cleaner version of hell.”
One of its most famous residents is Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, a man from Jordan who married a Kenyan from Witu and was arrested after the 1998 bomb blasts in Nairobi and Tanzania, and subsequently jailed for being one of the masterminds of East Africa’s most brutal terror act.
Odeh was jailed in this prison, where inmates are kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day so that he could not come into contact with human beings again. (Rarely are inmates at ADX Florence considered human beings because of the nature of their barbaric inhuman acts).
Designed as a place from which no one would ever break free, chances of escaping are close to impossible and only a handful have ever forced their freedom through the courts.
“He was and he is my husband. He was not involved in the bombing,” Nasim told The Standard. Exactly 15 years since she last saw her spouse, Nasim has decided to open up.
“For all these years my mind has not been freed,” she said. “There is no day he travelled or sneaked away from us for me to have suspected him of being a terrorist. We were not even called to give evidence. What kind of trial was that?”
We met with Nasim at her bedroom; a huge room with a bed and pillowcases sprawled on the floor, in her home at the coast. On top of a locker was a photo of her husband, the man she says she misses so much.
Odeh was arrested in Karachi with a forged Yemeni passport and flown to Nairobi, two days before the 1998 twin bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. After the blast, he was surrended to the US where he was indicted in New York on November 1998 and put on trial in 2001, alongside Wadih el Hage, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed and Mohamed al-Owhali.
Odeh was the first person to be rendered out of Kenya, a guest of the “extraordinary rendition” programme by which the US sent suspected terrorists to various countries to be interrogated and tortured.
“The way they arrested my husband and treated us hurts me to this very day,” Nassim says bitterly. “They did not even bother to tell us that they had flown him out of the country.”
Kenyan police officers arrested Odeh on August 16, 1998 and subsequently interrogated him on Kenyan soil by FBI agents for 15 days.
FBI agents have described Odeh as a suspect who willingly talked. They have said that he waived his Miranda rights (the right to remain silent), and agreed to answer questions.
According to FBI’s Special Agent Daniel Coleman, Odeh accepted responsibility for the bombing. He was interviewed from August 15 to August 27.
“Odeh stated that at the camps he was trained in explosives and further, that his training in explosives was extensive enough for him to have carried out the bombings of the embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi,” the agent said at his trail.
He stated that on August 1, 1998, he was advised that all members of al Qaeda had to leave Kenya by Thursday, August 6, 1998.
“Odeh also stated that the fellow Al-Qaeda members with whom he was staying did not tell him what they were doing, but that Odeh accepted responsibility for the bombings because he was part of the group (al Qaeda) that did them,” the FBI agent said.
Evidence against him was presented at the United States Magistrate Judge Southern District of New York where it was said that Odeh met with other members of Al-Qaeda in Nairobi on August 2, 1998.
According to court files, the members of al Qaeda reconnoitred the US Embassy on August 4, 1998, before detonating explosives on August 7, 1998. During the trial, victims of the terror attacks called on the courts to condemn the suspects to a life far away from human beings.
“These people deserve to be put away forever. They never need to see a sunrise or a sunset. They should never be allowed to touch another living human being. They should never be able to hold their wives, their relatives, their friends,” Frank Presley, who was an embassy communications officer at the Kenya embassy, narrated the terror in his testimony.
Before he gave his testimony after the attack, Presley went through seven operations on his shoulder, 28 of his teeth were basically crushed, and he had four operations in his jaw, tongue, and neck and experienced tremendous nightmares.
However, at the trial, the 12-member jury was not as concerned with Odeh as it was with Al-’Owhali and Mohamed who are said to have played the most direct roles in the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam respectively.
When asked if any of them had any last statements to make, Odeh was the only one who rose to speak. His lawyers also tried to convince the courts for a downward departure, a criminal law term referring to departing downward from the applicable sentencing guideline range for a statutory minimum sentence.
Odeh was represented by four lawyers: Anthony Ricco, Edward Wilford, Carl Herman and Sandra Babcock.
His lawyer Wilford stated “Mr Odeh was a soldier in the military wing of al Qaeda, and it is clear from the evidence that was adduced at trial that the United States government was and remains the target of the actions of Mr Bin Laden and al Qaeda.”
Lawyer Ricco also told the courts, “Your Honour, generally with respect to the sentencing of Mohamed Odeh, your Honour, Mohamed Odeh stands before the court today for sentencing. He is a foreign national convicted of participating in extreme acts of violence against people of the United States and of other nations. Today Mohamed Odeh reasserts his innocence to committing crimes against the people of the United States and other nations.”
Odeh admitted to have participated in combat in Afghanistan and in Somalia. “However, Mohamed reasserts now, as he did then, that he did not join Al-Qaeda to follow Mr Bin Laden or take orders from anyone blindly,” his lawyers argued.
Prosecutors asked the courts not to be lenient on Odeh who states that he was remorseful about the loss of life but did not regret being an Al-Qaeda member.
“We never heard of any evidence during the case. We were not called to give evidence or even give statements. The case ended even before us knowing. He was 100 per cent sure he was to be released.” Nasim adds, “He told me he was tortured. They extracted his nails and denied him food and water for three days after arresting him in Karachi. They tortured him to accept the charges.”