An accused Somali war criminal who CNN reported last week was working in the US as a driver for Uber and Lyft was responsible for the torture of a man in 1988 and should pay him $500,000, a civil court jury found Tuesday.
Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa alleged in court papers that he was beaten and tortured by soldiers under the command of Yusuf Abdi Ali –the man featured in CNN’s report.
According to Warfaa, Ali’s soldiers beat him, took his clothing and used a form of torture called the “Mig,” in which they tied his hands and feet behind his back in a painful position that resembled the shape of the Somali Air Force’s MIG aircraft. Ali was present during some of the torture, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia.
Warfaa said Ali, also known as “Colonel Tukeh,” shot him multiple times at point-blank range. The jury rejected a claim that Ali attempted to “extrajudicially” kill Warfaa.
In a statement after the verdict, Warfaa said, “It has been a long journey seeking justice for what happened to me and to my community. Today’s verdict was a vindication not only for me, but also for many others in Somaliland who suffered under Col. Tukeh’s command.”
Ali’s attorney, Joseph Peter Drennan, told CNN he and his client were disappointed in the outcome of the case, which they viewed as politically motivated to benefit Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia.
“Yusuf Abdi Ali was held liable because he was a commander in an army that served under a regime that had a poor human rights record. But aside from the plaintiff’s testimony, there was virtually no evidence that Ali tortured anyone,” Drennan said.
Drennan said Ali cannot afford to pay the damages, noting that he recently lost his job as a rideshare driver.
Ali has not been convicted of a crime in connection with his alleged conduct in Somalia.
But an Internet search of his name turns up news accounts published over the last three decades that contain allegations that he committed various atrocities while serving as a military commander during Somalia’s civil war in the 1980s.
CNN recently identified Ali as a rideshare driver with Uber and Lyft earlier this month. After CNN’s inquiries, Lyft permanently banned him from its platform and Uber suspended him pending a review of the matter.
Asked for an update after the jury’s verdict Tuesday, Uber said Ali’s access to the app was permanently removed.
Uber’s app previously listed Ali as an “Uber Pro Diamond” driver with a 4.89 rating. When CNN reporters rode with Ali undercover and asked about Uber’s background check process, he responded that it was quick and easy.
“They just want your background check, that’s it,” Ali said. “If you apply tonight maybe after two days it will come, you know, everything.”
CNN previously reported that Uber and Lyft have approved thousands of drivers who should have been disqualified because of criminal records.
Uber and Lyft’s background checks are mostly performed by a separate company called Checkr, which uses applicants’ names and Social Security numbers to search for information in a national sex offender database, federal and local court records and databases used to flag suspected terrorists and others, representatives from the companies said.
A Checkr spokesperson told CNN that its background checks “rely on public criminal records that have been adjudicated in a court of law rather than unverified sources like Google search results. Similarly, most employers don’t request background checks that include pending civil litigation due to its subjective nature.”
Uber strengthened its background check policy last year and it now includes more frequent checks. It disqualifies convicted drivers and drivers who have not been convicted but are charged with serious offenses. All drivers “must undergo a driving and criminal history background check reviewing local, state and national records, and we evaluate eligibility in accordance with criteria set by local laws,” Uber said in a statement to CNN.
A Lyft spokeswoman previously told CNN, “The safety of our community is our top priority and we are horrified by the allegations described. Before giving a ride on the Lyft platform, all driver-applicants are screened for criminal offenses and driving incidents in the United States.”