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Bush's war on immigrants
"I see now you have no liberty"

June 24, 2005 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON reports on the U.S. government's war at home against Muslims and Arabs.

"I SEE now you have no privacy, no liberty." Sixteen-year-old Tashnuba Hayder has drawn bitter conclusions about life for immigrants in the U.S.

A devout Muslim who came to New York with her family at the age of five from Bangladesh, she became a target of the Bush administration's "war on terror" earlier this year. Authorities won't say why the teenager was identified as a threat to national security. It's most likely because she had visited an Internet chat room, where she took notes on sermons by an Islamic cleric who has been accused of encouraging suicide bombings.

In March, a dozen federal agents raided her home before dawn, seizing her diary, schoolwork, phone book and computer. They took Tashnuba, too--on the pretext that her mother's immigration papers had expired.

For the next two weeks, she was held at a Pennsylvania detention center, where as many as three agents at a time grilled her: about her friends, her notes and essays for school--even the way she decorated her bedroom. "They had their little tactics--start with nice questions, try to get more severe," Tashnuba told the New York Times. "In the end, when I did cry they were, like, mocking me."

After a public outcry, Tashnuba was finally released after six weeks behind bars--on the condition that her mother agree to "voluntary departure" with her daughter back to Bangladesh. Now, Tashnuba's father and 14-year-old brother are in hiding in New York City, trying to avoid deportation while the boy finishes school. Tashnuba, her mother, baby brother and little sister are sharing a bed at her grandmother's cramped apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Tashnuba Hayder is one of hundreds of immigrants rounded up as part of the Bush administration's "war on terror." According to the Washington Post, in the past two years alone, officials have filed immigration charges against more than 500 people who have come under scrutiny in national security investigations.

Legal experts say that immigration and other lesser charges are an end-run around having to prove any connection to terrorism.

For example, earlier this month, in Lodi, Calif., Pakistani immigrant Umer Hayat and his son Hamid, a U.S. citizen, were arrested after Hamid supposedly admitted spending six months at an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan. Originally, the FBI implied that Hamid had been planning an attack. An affidavit stated, "Potential targets for attack would include hospitals and large food stores."

But a day later, the FBI removed that sentence from the affidavit--and a spokesman later admitted that the men hadn't planned or participated in any terrorist acts. In fact, despite the media's standard rush to judgement and smear campaign that follows every detention by the Department of Homeland Security, the only actual charge against the two is one count each of making a false statement to a federal agents.

Three other Pakistani men have also been arrested for immigration violations in connection with the case. Basim Elkarra, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told KXTV that the FBI used "[t]hreats of arrest or deportation to coerce cooperation, unnecessary use of force, denial of medical treatment and constant FBI surveillance of regular mosque attendees" during the investigation. In one instance, the FBI reportedly threatened to arrest someone for jaywalking unless he agreed to be questioned.

According to a recent Washington Post investigation, while hundreds of mainly Arab and Muslim immigrants have been rounded up by the government since September 11, 2001, just 39 people have been convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security. Most of those the Bush administration claims to have prosecuted in the "war on terror" have been convicted of minor offenses totally unrelated to terrorism--like making false statements or violating immigration laws.

That includes people like Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah originally came under scrutiny because he has the same name as the leader of Hezbollah, the political party in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries which is on the government's list of terrorist organizations. Instead of terrorism, though, Nasrallah was convicted of credit-card fraud.

The Bush administration also counts Abdul Farid as one of its "successes." Farid was arrested after a false tip came in that he was sending money to the Taliban. It wasn't true, but he was eventually deported anyway--because he lied on a loan application, a criminal offense.

Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi were arrested in September 2001 and charged with ID fraud and providing material support to terrorists--after Feds claimed they were part of a "sleeper cell" of Detroit-area terrorists. They were found guilty in 2003, but their convictions were overturned last year after it was discovered that federal prosecutors withheld dozens of documents from the defense and deported at least two witnesses who challenged their case before the trial began.

In all of these cases, the pattern is the same. "They see people they want to get, [and] they look in their records until they find something they can get them on," said Arsalan Iftikhar, legal director of CAIR, told the Post.

Guantánamo: "Resort" or hell on earth

REP. JEFF Sessions (R-Ala.) recently commented that detainees at the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are living in the equivalent of a "magnificent resort." But as Army Sgt. Erik Saar--who served for more than six months at Guantánamo as an Arabic translator and military intelligence specialist--details in the recent book Inside the Wire, conditions for prisoners at the camp are more like hell on earth.

For example, Saar recounts how Guantánamo authorities "treated" prisoners' attempts at suicide and self-injury--by beating them. One detainee, referred to by Saar as Halim, "had been in detention for almost a year. He'd attended college in Indiana and he spoke English, but he'd barely talked when he first arrived in Gitmo. He always had a dazed look, as if he didn't know where he was." Eventually, the camp psychologist put him on heavy medications.

"Halim would fake taking his medication each day and hide the pills in his cell, planning to store up enough so he could take them all at once and end his life," Saar recounts. "But one of his cellmates ratted him out, and the MPs introduced him to the IRF [Initial Reaction Force]."

During an IRF procedure, a team of officers is sent into a detainee's cell to forcibly restrain him. But, admits Saar, "The IRF process was a little more ad hoc then: it meant receiving a good old-fashioned ass whipping, after which the lucky detainee would be hog-tied--made to kneel with his hands behind his back and the shackles on his hands and feet locked together--for four hours. Halim didn't speak in the weeks after the treatment. He just stared straight ahead. But the day the MPs were transferring detainees from Camp X-Ray to the newly built Camp Delta, Halim received another beating."

Later, Halim slashed his wrists with a razor while in the shower. Saar was summoned by a superior to translate a message that Halim had written--in his own blood--on the shower wall.

"Sir," Saar informed the officer, "it reads: 'I committed suicide because of the brutality of my oppressors.'"

A setback for the USA PATRIOT Act?

THE BUSH administration suffered a setback last week when the House approved a measure that would repeal a portion of the USA PATRIOT Act.

The repeal covers a portion of the law that allows federal agents to get permission from a special court to investigate what books people buy at bookstores or borrow from public libraries, even if they are not suspected of committing any crime. Bush has threatened to veto the larger bill if the repeal is also passed by the Senate.

The measure's sponsor, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and the Democratic Party are claiming a victory against Bush.

But this is just one small part of the civil liberties-shredding USA PATRIOT Act. Other parts of the law give federal investigators authority to use "roving wiretaps," detain immigrant suspects indefinitely, or secretly search a person's home without notification.

And additional measures for the PATRIOT Act proposed by the Bush administration and already approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee would go even further. They include allowing the FBI to subpoena a person's medical, financial and other records without having to seek a judge's approval.

Even Sanders' own measure is a step backward from a proposal he offered last year that was defeated. This year's version of Sanders' repeal makes an exception--allowing the FBI to access material read on Internet at libraries and easily scrutinize business records that could point to "suspicious activities."

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