United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
September 11 and 12, 2012, a group of Libyan militants
attacked U.S. diplomatic and intelligence facilities in
Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans died in the attacks,
including then-United States Ambassador to Libya J.
Christopher Stevens. Roughly two years after the attacks, the
United States captured in Libya one of the men the government
believed was responsible for the attacks, Ahmed Abu
Khatallah, and brought him to trial in this Court. Then, in
2017, the United States captured a man who they believed was
one of Abu Khatallah's co-conspirators, Mustafa Mufta
Al-Imam, the defendant in this case. Like Abu Khatallah
before him, Al-Imam was interrogated en route to the United
States while aboard an American naval vessel. Also like Abu
Khatallah, he argues that the statements he offered during
those interrogations were obtained in violation of
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), which
safeguards detainees' Fifth Amendment right against
thus moves to suppress those statements. He says that he gave
his statements while suffering from mental trauma induced by
his recent abduction and seasickness, that he lacked the
wherewithal and familiarity with American legal norms to
understand he did not have to talk with his interrogators,
and that he feared he would be beaten if he did not talk with
them. Those factors, Al-Imam suggests, render his two
Miranda waivers both involuntary and unknowing and
require suppression of his statements.
Court held an evidentiary hearing at which it received
testimony from the personnel involved in Al-Imam's
capture and transport; individuals responsible for his
processing and detention on the naval vessel where the
interrogations took place; a doctor who several times
examined Al-Imam on board the vessel; one of the FBI agents
who conducted the interrogations; and the Arabic-language
interpreter who facilitated all communications aboard the
vessel. Based on that testimony and the entire evidentiary
record, and for the reasons that follow, the Court will deny
Attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi,
Gaddafi seized power in Libya in 1969 and remained its leader
until 2011, when a civil war broke out. Indictment ¶ 2.
The war originated in the Libyan coastal city of Benghazi,
which was controlled by rebels and served as the base of
operations for the rebel-led Transitional National Council
(“TNC”). Id. On February 25, 2011, the
U.S. Department of State evacuated American personnel from
Libya and suspended its operations at the U.S. Embassy in
Tripoli. Id. ¶ 3. Less than two months later,
in April 2011, the State Department reestablished its
presence in the country with the arrival in Benghazi of U.S.
Special Envoy J. Christopher Stevens. Id. ¶ 4.
15, 2011, the United States officially recognized the TNC as
Libya's governing authority. Id. One month
later, Gaddafi was ousted from power and killed. Id.
In November 2011, the United States established a diplomatic
outpost in Benghazi, known as the U.S. Special Mission
(“Mission”), where a contingent of State
Department personnel was stationed. Id. ¶ 5.
The United States established a second Benghazi facility,
this one known as the Annex, where additional U.S. personnel
were based. Id. ¶ 6.
2012, the United States dispatched Stevens, now the U.S.
Ambassador to Libya, to the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
Id. ¶ 7. Ambassador Stevens traveled to
Benghazi to visit the Mission compound on September 10, 2012.
Id. Stationed at the compound and present during the
Ambassador's visit were Information Management Officer
Sean Patrick Smith; Assistant Regional Security Officers
Scott Wickland and David Ubben; and Security Officers Tyrone
Snowden Woods, Glen Anthony Doherty, and Mark Geist. See
id. ¶¶ 13-18.
9:45 P.M. on September 11, 2012, approximately twenty
men-armed with assault rifles, handguns, and rocket-propelled
grenade launchers-attacked the Mission. Id. ¶
22. After breaching the facility, the attackers set fire to
several buildings, causing the deaths of Ambassador Stevens
and Sean Smith. Id. The remaining State Department
personnel escaped to the Annex, which soon also came under
attack, ending in mortar fire that killed Tyrone Woods and
Glen Doherty. Id. The government believes that
Al-Imam was a close associate of Abu Khatallah, the leader of
the extremist group that carried out the attacks.
Id. ¶ 9. It alleges that Al-Imam was present
for, helped orchestrate, and participated in the attacks.
Id. ¶¶ 9-11. According to the indictment,
Al-Imam entered the Mission at the direction of Abu Khatallah
and took sensitive material, including material that
identified the Annex by location and as the evacuation point
for State Department personnel. Id. ¶ 22. The
indictment also alleges that Al-Imam then assembled with Abu
Khatallah and others to coordinate the attack on the Annex.
Al-Imam's Capture and Initial Transport
Special Agent Brandon Goad described Al-Imam's capture at
the evidentiary hearing. On October 29, 2017, at about 9:15
P.M.,  U.S. special forces abducted Al-Imam in
Misrata, Libya. Testimony of FBI Special Agent Brandon Goad
(“Goad Testimony”), Hr'g Tr. at
11:1-7. The capture team waited in a vehicle
outside Al-Imam's apartment and took him into custody
after Al-Imam exited his car and walked toward his apartment.
Id. at 11:10-13. Some members of the team
“grabbed his arms” while one “covered his
mouth.” Id. at 11:16-18. The capture team
loaded Al-Imam into the vehicle and left the scene.
Id. at 11:18-20. Special Agent Goad estimated that
this initial capture took only ten seconds, and he did not
recall any members of the capture team pointing weapons at
Al-Imam or that Al-Imam resisted in any way. Id. at
the vehicle, Al-Imam was handcuffed and fitted with goggles,
ear coverings, and a verbal restraint. Id. at
12:24-13:8; see Ex 2. These measures were taken,
according to Special Agent Goad, for Al-Imam's and the
capture team's safety, because they were traveling in an
area that presented the risk of armed conflict had they been
discovered. Id. at 13:23-14:6. Prior to applying the
ear coverings, Special Agent Goad-who had memorized “a
handful” of Arabic phrases “to be able to
communicate with [Al-Imam] after he was captured, ”
Id. at 9:6-10-told Al-Imam that he had been detained
by the American government, id. at 14:19-20.
Al-Imam, who initially had “seemed excited” and
“was breathing heavy, ” “seemed to
completely calm down, and . . . appeared relaxed from that
point on.” Id. at 14:14-17. A member of the
capture team trained as a medic also monitored Al-Imam's
pulse and blood pressure during this initial transport, but
Special Agent Goad said he was not concerned “because
it seemed like he had calmed down, and he was
compliant.” Id. at 15:22-23.
capture team then arrived at a second location, where they
met with additional American personnel. Id. at
16:3-12. The capture team outfitted Al-Imam with a fleece
pullover, an “all-weather trench coat, ” and a
lifejacket, before replacing his handcuffs and eye and ear
protection. Id. at 16:15-22. The verbal restraint
was not replaced, because Special Agent Goad
“didn't feel there was a need to, ” as
Al-Imam “was being compliant, and he was following all
the instructions and seemed calm.” Id. at
at the second location, Al-Imam communicated with FBI Special
Agent Jonathan Kath, who had a “limited working
proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic, ” which he said
enabled him to “give commands and understand the
responses back” and “engage in basic
conversation.” Testimony of FBI Special Agent Jonathan
Kath (“Kath Testimony”), Hr'g Tr. at 27:5-13.
Special Agent Kath asked whether Al-Imam “was thirsty
and how he felt generally, if he was fine, ” and
Al-Imam indicated that he was fine and accepted some water.
Id. at 31:4-10. Special Agent Kath said his
overarching responsibility was to “ensur[e]” and
“assess[ ]” Al-Imam's “status”
and “to kind of give him the next steps of . . . what
to expect in the arrest process.” Id. at
27:18-20. He explained that he spoke to Al-Imam in a
“conversational tone” and avoided anything close
to “drill-instructor-style orders.” Id.
capture team then escorted Al-Imam to “a staging area
to get [Al-Imam] on the [water]craft that was coming
in.” Goad Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at 18:3-4. Special
Agents Goad and Kath “hooked underneath both of
[Al-Imam's] arms and took him to the craft when it
arrived, ” with Al-Imam's back facing forward.
Id. at 18:11-16. Once they were “about waist
deep” in the water, a “wave knocked the craft
back into all of [them], and the back of the craft impacted
[Al-Imam's] back.” Id. at 19:4-5. After
Al-Imam had been lifted onto the boat, Special Agent Kath
again asked him how he was feeling. Kath Testimony, Hr'g
Tr. at 33:25-34:1. Al-Imam responded that his back hurt, but
that he was otherwise fine, id. at 34:3-4, and
Special Agent Kath said Al-Imam “appeared entirely
fine, ” id. at 34:5.
first boat took Al-Imam to a second boat. Using the same
under-arm lifting technique they had used earlier, Special
Agents Goad and Kath moved Al-Imam to the second boat. Goad
Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at 20:25-21:2. When it became clear
to the capture team that Al-Imam was suffering from
seasickness, they removed his eye and ear protection in the
hope that it might alleviate his symptoms. Id. at
21:11-14; Kath Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at 35:2-4. It
didn't help, or at least not enough: at some point on the
second boat trip, Al-Imam vomited. Goad Testimony, Hr'g
Tr. at 21:17.
second boat arrived at a third, this one a large naval
vessel, around 11:15 P.M. Id. at 22:6-8. Once
Al-Imam was lifted aboard the third vessel, Special Agents
Goad and Kath had no further contact with Al-Imam.
Id. at 22:3-5; Kath Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at
35:21. Goad Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at 22:8. Both Special
Agents Goad and Kath described Al-Imam as calm and compliant
on the journey. Id. at 22:24-25 (stating that
Al-Imam was “calm and compliant for the entire
transit”); Kath Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at 35:24-25
(describing Al-Iman's demeanor during the second boat
trip as “very pleasant” and “at no point .
. . confrontational at all”).
Initial Processing Aboard the Naval Vessel
Special Agent Joshua Kolarcik testified at the evidentiary
hearing regarding Al-Imam's transfer to the third vessel
and his initial processing aboard the ship. Because the third
vessel was significantly larger than the one on which Al-Imam
had arrived, he had to be hoisted aboard using a lift.
Testimony of FBI Special Agent Joshua Kolarcik
(“Kolarcik Testimony”), Hr'g Tr. at 46:16.
This was done by strapping Al-Imam to a “Stokes
basket” that had been lowered to the smaller boat, and
then raising the basket, using a pulley system operated by a
“four- to five-man crew, ” to one of the larger
vessel's decks. Id. at 46:22-47:7; id.
at 47:18-24. According to Kolarcik, this “couldn't
have gone any better” and Al-Imam was brought “on
board without any incident safely.” Id. at
handcuffed and with his eye and ear coverings on, Al-Imam was
escorted to his “detention pod.” Id. at
48:5-6. A “pod” is “basically just a
container” with a distinct purpose. Id. at
44:1-4. The detention pod is where Al-Imam was housed when he
was not being interrogated. Id. at 42:8-9;
see Exs. 4-5 (depicting outside and inside of
detention pod). It was a small room, approximately 2.22
meters by 1.95 meters. Id. at 45:10. Posted on the
wall inside the detention pod were rules provided by the
“guard force, ” the Department of Defense unit
responsible for Al-Imam's detention aboard the vessel,
and certain Geneva Convention articles, in both English and
Arabic. Id. at 43:1-23; see Exs. 6-8. The
Air Force Captain responsible for the guard force provided
further details on the detention pod. It contained a
“sleeping mat, ” a blanket, a water bottle, a
prayer rug, and a Quran, placed on top of a box (rather than
the floor) as a sign of respect. Testimony of Air Force
Captain (“Captain Testimony”), Hr'g Tr. at
inside the detention pod, Special Agent Kolarcik and his team
began Al-Imam's “inprocessing, ” or initial
processing. Id. at 48:12-14. Id. at
48:19-20. First came photographs of Al-Imam as he had arrived
on the vessel, fully clothed and with scattered “white
flecks on his shoes and pants, ” remants of his earlier
seasickness. Id. at 49:6-10; see Ex.
came the “primary objective” of the
inprocessing-a medical screening to ensure that there were no
immediate health concerns. Id. at 53:5-6. Al-Imam
was given privacy to strip down to his underwear for the
screening, id. at 49:22-23, which was performed by
an Air Force Doctor,  Testimony of Air Force Doctor
(“Doctor Testimony”), Hr'g Tr. at 67:21.
Assisted by an interpreter, the Doctor began with a
subjective examination, asking Al-Imam a series of questions
regarding the history of any present illnesses before
conducting a more general “review of systems.”
Id. at 65:9-12. Al-Imam reported that he vomited
prior to arriving on the vessel and that he had experienced a
“productive cough with a sore throat and nasal
congestion for the past ten days.” Id. at
69:7-8. He indicated that he occasionally took medicine for
rheumatism and that he had last eaten approximately four
hours earlier. Id. at 69:16-19. Relevant to
Al-Imam's arguments in this motion, he also said he wore
glasses “a long time ago” and “had trouble
reading up close, ” but he did not complain of any loss
of consciousness or head trauma and did not report any mental
health issues. Id. at 71:3-14.
to the physical examination, the Doctor observed “some
minor abrasions and what appeared to be some well-healed
scars[.]” Id. at 72:8-9. A series of
photographs taken during the medical screening document each
of these: a few small abrasions on the face and shoulders,
and some minor bruising near his biceps, likely close to
where he was held by Special Agents Goad and Kath.
See Exs. 11-16. Each of these were noted in the
Doctor's intake form. See Ex. 18. None of them
was sufficiently serious to warrant any treatment. See,
e.g., Doctor Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at 72:19-20. The
Doctor chose not to conduct a genital-rectal examination,
because when he indicated he would do so, he said Al-Imam
“became visibly upset, tearful, [and] kind of backed up
a little bit from [him][.]” Id. at 72: 1-2.
only condition that Al-Imam presented requiring immediate
attention was the motion sickness. Id. at 73:4-9.
The Doctor “reviewed the potential effects of a
medicine, ” an over-the-counter drug called meclizine,
and Al-Imam indicated that he wanted to take it. Id.
at 74:11-75:1. The Doctor gave him a dose and, finding no
other “acute medical issues, ” cleared him for
detention. Id. at 75:14-19. The Doctor continued to
see Al-Imam twice each day throughout his detention and
continued providing him with motion-sickness medication.
Id. at 80:21-81:24 (discussing follow-up visits);
see Exs. 20-23.
these check-ups, the Doctor testified that Al-Imam responded
appropriately to his questions, that he did not seem confused
by the questions, that he did not appear disoriented, and
that he otherwise showed no signs of “acute mental
distress.” Id. at 87:14-88:2. When pressed on
cross-examination whether Al-Imam appeared to be
“psychologically shut down, ” the Doctor answered
in the negative and explained that “he was appropriate
and cooperative with me, answering questions
appropriately.” Id. at 93:9-22.
Agent Kolarcik, who was present for much of Al-Imam's
initial processing, including some of the medical screening,
was also asked about Al-Imam's treatment and condition
during this time. Kolarcik said that Al-Imam “was
treated very gently and humanely, ” that no force was
ever required, that “[e]verything was explained to him
through the translator, ” that Al-Imam acknowledged he
understood what he was being told, that no one “used
raised voices, ” and that the entire affair was
“very calm and organized and orderly.”
Id. at 54:8-12. He said that he and his team
“did [their] best to ensure that [Al-Imam] was
comfortable and warm and to try to limit any emotional stress
he may experience during the inprocessing.”
Id. at 55:25-56:5. Finally, while Kolarcik said that
Al-Imam appeared “very calm” throughout
inprocessing, he added that Al-Imam also seemed
“slightly emotionally distraught, as could be
understood given his situation and following capture and
being transported to a Navy vessel[.]” Id. at
the medical screening, the guard force, through the
interpreter, explained to Al-Imam the rules of detention and
Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, the same materials posted
in English and Arabic on the detention pod's walls.
See Exs. 5-8. The Air Force Captain in charge of the
guard force testified concerning this portion of
Al-Imam's processing. The rules of detention included
“the [physical] position that he need[ed] to
take” before the guard force entered the pod and
“how he could communicate with the guard force”
when he needed something. Captain Testimony, Hr'g Tr. at
105:8-15. Next came the recitation of Article 3, “which
speaks to protection against mistreatment, inhumane care, as
well as any humiliation.” Id. at 106:9-10.
Article 3 forbids, inter alia, “[a]ny form of
violence, mutilation, cruel treatment, or torture” and
“humiliating or degrading treatment.”
See Ex. 25 (English version). For both the rules and
Article 3, a member of the guard force read one line in
English, and the interpreter then translated that line into
Arabic. Id. at 106:16-20. Al-Imam indicated that he
understood and did not have any questions. Id. at
first interrogation was slated to begin soon after
Al-Imam's initial processing. The guard force handcuffed
Al-Imam, blindfolded him, applied ear coverings and escorted
him to the interview room. Id. at 108:12-16. Once
inside the interview room, the handcuffs and eye and ear
coverings were removed, and all members of the guard force
exited. Id. at 109:4-19. Waiting for Al-Imam in the
room for the first and all later interviews were FBI Special
Agent Ryan Larkin, Task Force Officer Anthony Marcano
(“TFO Marcano”), and FBI interpreter Samuel
Babisha (who had been handling all translation since Al-Imam
boarded the third vessel). Larkin and Babisha provided
testimony regarding the interrogations.
first interview began at approximately 1:25 A.M. on the
morning of October 30- just over four hours after
Al-Imam's initial capture. Testimony of FBI Special Agent
Ryan Larkin (“Larkin Testimony”), Hr'g Tr. at
188:12-13. Dressed in civilian attire, Hr'g Tr. at
213:6-7, the agents “introduced themselves and asked
Al-Imam how he was feeling, id. at 189:20-190:3.
Al-Imam responded that he was “a little bit nauseous
but overall felt okay, ” and Special Agent Larkin said
he appeared “attentive.” Id. at
190:19-21. The agents informed Al-Imam that he would be
permitted to take a break to use the restroom or to pray,
id. at 190:8-13, and they offered him tea and
Pop-Tarts, id. at 191:1-5.
the agents administered the Miranda warnings. The
rights were read by Babisha in Arabic from a form titled
“Advice of Rights, ” which was also provided in
written Arabic to Al- Imam. Testimony of FBI Interpreter
Samuel Babisha (“Babisha Testimony”), Hr'g
Tr. at 165:21-166:5. The “Advice of Rights”
stated as follows:
ADVICE OF RIGHTS
We are American law-enforcement agents. You have been
arrested for violations of United States criminal law related
to the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, on
September 11, 2012. Because you are under arrest, United
States law provides you with certain rights in your dealings
Before we ask you any questions, we want to make sure you
understand your rights.
You have the right to remain silent.
If you decide to speak with us today, you should know that
anything you say can be used against you in a ...