Rabih Haddad's brother speaks out
August 1, 2003 | Page 2
JOHN ASHCROFT'S witch-hunters sank to a new low in July when they secretly deported Muslim cleric Rabih Haddad to Lebanon. Haddad, who lived in Ann Arbor, Mich., with his families, was held for 19 months behind bars on a minor visa violation after the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), the charity he co-founded, was accused of financially aiding al-Qaeda.
On Friday, July 12, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition for political asylum that Rabih filed out of fear of reprisals if he was sent to Lebanon. By Monday, Rabih was on a plane out of the U.S. Here, MAZEN HADDAD, Rabih's brother, talked to Socialist Worker's NICOLE COLSON.
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WHY WAS Rabih deported?
RABIH HAS been appealing the deportation process for a while now. He filed for political asylum. The immigration judge, Robert Newberry, denied his request, so we proceeded to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)--and they in turn upheld Judge Newberry's decision and denied Rabih both bond and asylum.
Keep in mind that up to that point, we were following the administrative process.
Once the BIA published its decision, we had 30 days to appeal with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. When the Sixth Circuit received the one-day-late application for appeal, I suspect they contacted the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) to inform them of the situation and ask whether they would be willing to waiver the time limitation and allow the application.
Of course, the ICE saw a great opportunity in the situation and most probably refused, asking the Sixth Circuit not to issue their decision before they had a chance to coordinate Rabih's departure. The Sixth Circuit judges did not even have an opportunity to review the case. This was a dismissal on strictly administrative criteria--that the petition was filed one day late--which the ICE capitalized on.
Now, the question is: Why did they deport him? This has been their advertised intention all along, but certain behavior indicated that they were not prepared to deport him until he was cleared by the FBI--or more likely, until they could pin something on him.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge demanding answers. The reason Conyers did that is because he is as convinced as we are that Rabih may still be in danger.
Depending on the government's intentions, Rabih may not necessarily be a free man. Brian Sierra, spokesman for the Department of Jusitice, said, "We work very closely with all of our allies, and our allies are aware of any potential threats."
So is Mr. Sierra threatening further action against Rabih, even in Lebanon? Is he implying that Lebanon as an ally will carry out this administration's dirty work when they are told to? Is he saying what I think he's saying? Is he actually confirming our fears that the U.S. deported Rabih so that they pursue their vindictive, unjustified character assassination away from the American public?
Granted, the statement is very general. So perhaps Mr. Sierra should be a little more specific and spell it out for us. Perhaps we should ask him.
WHAT DO you think about the fact that the government claims Rabih is connected to "terrorism"--but then refuses to let him stand trial in the U.S., deporting him instead?
THE GOVERNMENT did not have a shred of evidence to support their innuendos. If they had anything at all, even the slightest proof, they would have charged him with it.
They never charged him with anything for fear that they would be publicly exposed. They used covert military tactics (all too familiar to government agencies) to divert the attention through the media from the their apparent incompetence and utter negligence. He overstayed his visa, and that was enough for them to get him out of the U.S.
Had he been a resident, they would probably have tried harder to find something else (no matter how trivial). Rabih was never a high-profile case. I gathered that as soon as I saw the theatrical performance by the half-talented government lawyers at both his bond and asylum hearings.
Rabih is not the only one. There were many others that the government pursued and prosecuted with charges not even closely related to terrorism (such as perjury and Social Security fraud). The government's ridiculous line of questioning during Rabih's hearings aimed at proving he lied on his resume (statistically, 80 percent of Americans do) and that lied on his firearms license (a license he could have acquired three months after his initial application anyway).
The government went through 19 months of cover-ups to protect their precious USA PATRIOT Act and to ensure civil liberty activists have no proof of the abuse our freedoms are taking in the name of "national security." Nineteen months that Rabih had to pay in solitary confinement away from his family and community. Nineteen months of continuous support from the very community that Judge Newberry and the ICE opted to protect from him.
Shameful. We live today in an America that is losing its very own foundations day after day. A dictatorship like no other.
If this administration thinks that by deporting Rabih, they have put an end to their embarrassment, they are gravely mistaken. This is just the beginning. I am still hopeful that responsible media will expose them for what they are and not offer them further vehicles to promote their insanity.
AT FIRST, news reports said that Rabih had been detained by authorities in Lebanon. Do you fear that he will face harassment there?
YES, THE reports are true. The telephone call Rabih made from Amsterdam [to his family] may very well have saved his life. It gave us enough time to make the necessary phone calls to ensure his safety upon arrival to Beirut.
Still, there were interventions that almost whisked him away from his waiting mother at the airport and perhaps made him vanish. Why were we not told of his deportation? What were the government's intentions?
Upon arrival in Lebanon, he was held for routine interrogation. However, at about 7:45 a.m. Beirut local time, airport officials received a phone call from a military ranking officer, ordering them to detain him until further instructions. Thankfully, I was able to get through to him on the phone by 8 a.m. and learn of the phone call a few minutes earlier. The efforts were then dedicated to contact high-ranking officers, both military and civil, to ensure his immediate release.
Based on the recent statements from government spokespersons, I fear the Bush administration is doing one of two things: Either trying desperately to cover up their wrongdoings by further attempting to justify their irrational behavior--something they had done for 19 months and perhaps may find it hard to snap out of--or, they may be directing the Lebanese government (as an ally) to take further actions against Rabih in support of their never-ending allegations.
I assure you that we will do everything possible to expose them.
RABIH'S WIFE and children are still in the U.S. Has the government signaled that it will try to deport them? What kind of pressure is this putting on them to leave the country?
AFTER ASSURANCES from the government that the whole family would be deported together with Rabih, Rabih was still deported under a cloud of secrecy.
This has left the family in a dilemma. Rabih's wife is Kuwaiti, three of his four children are Lebanese, and one is American. We are now trying to get them on the same flight to reunite them with Rabih. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task.
His wife can only travel to Kuwait, but her children require a visa to go to Kuwait. That has been arranged. Rami, the 9-year-old, has a U.S. passport, and therefore is not deportable. But we need to keep him with his siblings and mother. Ultimately, we need to reunite them with Rabih, and Rabih cannot travel to Kuwait. His whole family will have to go to Kuwait, and then to Lebanon.
Now how will he be able to support his family there? Even if we assume he is safe for now, how will he be able to get a job? Who will want to employ someone the U.S. still insists has ties to terrorism?
They have ruined his life and the wellbeing of his whole family. They haven't the slightest decency to admit they have been wrong and allow him to resume his life. They still haunt him with their accusations.
This is the America we live in today, where in the name of protecting lives, the U.S. government is directly destroying the lives of innocent people. Did we not vow to protect the innocent? Did we not claim that "you are either with us or you're with the terrorists"? It appears to me that the Bush administration is carrying out the exact bin-Laden agenda, except on a different target. Their target is Muslims and individuals from a Middle Eastern decent.
How appropriate to have a similar agenda with the one man that they helped become what he is today--the one man they promised to capture almost two years ago.
RABIH'S DEPORTATION shocked a lot of people, coming as suddenly as it did. What kind of support has he received?
I CANNOT begin to describe the level of support that Rabih has received and continues to receive. From the beginning, his friends and brothers in the community--Arabs, Middle Eastern, American, Muslims, Jews and Christians--have been behind him all the way. The Free Rabih Haddad Committee (FRHC) was formed, and its members worked relentlessly to ensure Rabih got what he needed--from organizing rallies to fundraising campaigns, to establishing a web site.
His family was well taken care of financially and morally. Rabih continuously wrote back to several people in the community. With his 23-hour lockdown, Rabih still barely had enough time to respond to all the letters he received on a daily basis. Rabih even received support within the Monroe County Jail. Whatever time he had in contact with people in there, he managed to build strong relationships with fellow inmates, even with a few of the guards.
On the evening he was hurried away, the other inmates could tell something was up. Rabih tells me that they all started banging on their cell doors, shouting: "Free Haddad, Free Haddad".
As for returning to America, his children consider the U.S. home. They have lived in the U.S. most of their lives. Rabih and his family are as though in exile. I will quote his wife. When asked if they even consider coming back, Salma answered: "Absolutely, but when the America we know comes back." But when someone is ordered deported, they are not allowed back into the U.S. for another 10 years.
COULD YOU comment on the injustice of Rabih's deportation and the allegations against him coming from the same government that has lied over and over to go to war with Iraq?
THE BUSH administration has worked long and hard to instill a sense of fear in all of us, and a sense of mistaken hope that only they can protect us. What an illusion. In the name of protecting us, they have made us more of a target than we had ever been. How is it that today we feel less safe than we did on September 12, 2001?
This has been the intent all along. The more we fear the unknown, the more they feed on our fears to carry on with their personal agendas.
Everything they told us about Saddam Hussein and his "weapons of mass destruction" has turned out to be lies. They justified an unprovoked war on innocent Iraqi civilians with lies. The whole world stood helpless as they watched the world's superpower invade another country while we all knew there was another uncommunicated, hidden agenda.
The same superpower that punished the Iraqi people for over 10 years and starved them to death because they invaded another country. And now what? Even more young Americans are being killed every day in Iraq.
How does the Bush administration justify that to their grieving parents? What do they tell them? Your son died in the line of duty? What duty? And duty to whom? They did not die for America. They died for George Bush and his merry men. But America is not a dictatorship! No! America is the "land of freedom."
I remember a very important lesson I learned in elementary school when I was still in Lebanon. We had a subject called Civics. The most important lesson I learned then was that my freedom ends where somebody else's freedom begins. The ironic thing is that the more freedom the Bush administration seeks, whether internal (USA PATRIOT Act) or external (invading other countries under false pretenses), the less freedom their people are enjoying. Ultimately, our freedoms will be lost forever. We have to salvage whatever is left of it.
We need to stop Bush and send him on his way. He's done enough damage already.