Trial Day 18 (11/18/2011): Cross-Examination of Daniel Maldonado by Janice Bassil; Part 1 of 2.
Somali Soldier, Kenyan Captive, American Detainee
Janice Bassil (“JB”) initiated her cross-examination at the point in the narrative where Daniel Maldonado (“DM”) was with his military unit in Somalia, having left his family back with the other soldiers’ families back in a city on the southern coast of the nation. His unit was traveling through the jungle towards the Kenyan border, but not all of them would make it there alive.
JB’s game plan for the first major leg of the day’s x-examination was to guide DM through the narrative of his experience as a soldier under the Islamic Court Union (“ICU”), being captured, and everything thereafter. Their dialogue during his narrative relation was low intensity, with questioned asked out of curiosity rather than probatively to leverage his testimony (or so it appeared).
En route, DM”s unit was detected and set upon by aerial forces. Ethiopian helicopters repeatedly attacked them, and after the first such attack his initial force of 30 people was decimated to less than a handful by an ambush. The level of stress was tremendous, as DM and the survivors were forced to wander through the jungle for two entire weeks with little water and no food. Emaciated, dehydrated and suffering from malnutrition, they dropped all but one of their Kalashnikovs to minimize gear, keeping the one in case of unexpected encounters.
Dehydrated, Starving, Beaten and Abused
Helicopter gunships continued to hunt them; even during the night they were constantly heard buzzing overhead. Finally, they succeeded in making it across the border into Kenya, although they were so lost they knew not where on the border they had crossed. Discovering a small community and realizing it was inhabited by Muslims, they approached its people and then entered and prayed in the masjid, where they traded their remaining rifle for a meal. As they were preparing to eat, they heard shouts of alarm from beyond the masjid perimeter, and suddenly found themselves stormed by Kenyan forces who beat them viciously before arresting them, stripping their shirts and throwing them onto a truck. DM describes being piled one on top of another, shirtless and barefoot in the freezing night.
After a long drive, they arrived at a police facility where he and the others were filmed, laughed at and humiliated by the Kenyan police forces before being piled 12 to a cell, leaving them not even enough room to lay down. He described the cell dimensions as being roughly 6 ft x 5 ft. The conditions he described were absolutely filthy; despite the cramped cell conditions, there was only a single bucket to use for latrine, to be shared by the 12 occupants. Additionally, they were interrogated one at a time, rotating out of the cell for a round of beatings throughout the night.
Uncertainty and Anxiety Set In
The following morning, he was blindfolded, cable tied and loaded onto what he knew was a helicopter (he recognized the mechanical humming). During the flight to an unknown destination, there was more mocking, repeated threats and beatings. He was thrown to the ground upon arrival, and taken to the airport (he gathered this from pushing his blindfold up slightly when he thought it was safe to do so.
During this plane ride, he heard the voices of a woman and several children.
JB: “This was a pretty frightening and scary atmosphere, wasn’t it?”
DM: “Yes, it certainly was.”
DM recounts lifting his blindfold during the plane trip at one point and glancing in the direction of the voices he had heard, to discover that some of those voices were those of his daughters!
DM: “I…uh…inferred…that my wife must be nearby. I hoped she was there, because I knew she was extremely protective of our children; she never let anybody hold them. If they were here, either she was too or…I was very worried. My son, I did not see him there either.”
(His facial expression began to tighten slightly, from internally mounting emotion).
JB: “And you spoke to the woman on the plane with you, correct?” [“Yes, I asked about my wife.”]
JB: “And she told you, ‘Your daughters are fine…,’.”
“…The Worst Day of Your LIfe…”
They landed in Nairobi, still barefoot, dirty, freezing, malnourished and packed 12 to a cell. His fellow Muslims had to take turns praying. He was threatened at one point by a guard, who told him:
JB: “And the soldier told you ‘Your embassies know you’re here. They don’t care about you.’ And this was the most frightening part of the whole ordeal, right? Because you had no idea what was going to happen to you. They were threatening you, weren’t they?”
DM: “Yes. This was followed by another period of interrogations, being threatened with death or with being turned over to the Ethiopians, or worse.”
JB: “And it was at this point that you….that you learned about your wife’s death, isn’t it?”
DM: “Yes…it is.”
JB: “And how did you react when you found out?”
DM: “I think…I think I freaked out. I asked the guard if my children were okay, and said I needed to know where they were. He just threatened to bash my head in so I backed off the bars.”
JB: “You and your wife met as teenagers, didn’t you?” [“Yes.”]
JB: “And you married each other when you were each 19 years old, and you converted together?” [“Yes…that is correct.”] (At this point, his face was darkening, his gaze low).
(The jurors were leaning forward in their seats, listening intently).
JB: “That was the worst day of your life, wasn’t it?”
DM: “Absolutely.” (His expression was understandably extremely somber at this point)
Handed Over to the Americans
JB: “You wrote about these experiences while you were in prison, didn’t you? In “My Imprisonment.” It was published on the Internet as well. And you had access to the Internet as well, or you do now where you’ve been relocated to, and haven’t you been keeping close track of Tarek Mehanna’s case?
DM: “Yes. Through Lexus Nexus, an online database.”
After several days of imprisonment, he was pulled out of the cell, a bag placed over his head with ear plugs and ear muffs over his ears. He was seated in the back of a car and at one point, he felt it go off of the road.
JB: “This terrified you, didn’t it? What were you thinking?”
DM: “Of course. I thought I would be shot here. I just kept repeating the Shahada.”
Rather than being executed, he was brought to the American embassy, where he was unloaded and brought into a room where the FBI was waiting to interview him. Before doing so, they offered him access to the shower and a fully stocked refrigerator.
JB: “You were happy to feel like a human being again, weren’t you?”
DM: “Of course.”