Now even Canadian Muslims subject to US’s arbitrary arrest and imprisonment

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Jumada' al-Akhirah 07, 1423 2002-08-16


by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 12, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1423)

The US’s disregard for law, even its own, since September 11 is now being emulated by others. The story of Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, 20, a Canadian citizen, was told on July 30 by Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star, who related how he had been arrested and “kidnapped” to the US. The next day the Star carried a lead story by Allan Thompson, pointing out inconsistencies in official responses to their queries about him. Thompson reported that Canada’s department of external affairs was forced to seek information from the US state department because the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), which had helped Jabarah’s transfer to the US, refused to give information about him.

Jabarah was apparently arrested by British intelligence agents (it is not known precisely where) but flown to Oman earlier this year. He was accused of involvement in a plot to blow up the US and Israeli embassies in Singapore, and interrogated by British agents without knowledge of the Canadian authorities, not even the foreign office.

Why was a Canadian citizen flown to Oman, rather than to Canada? No explanation has been forthcoming. After his “interrogation” by British agents and his alleged confessions, he was handed over to the CSIS, which brought him to Canada in May. The CSIS then transported him to the US, promising that he would be there for a few days to answer questions and then be allowed to return home to resume his normal life.

Jabarah’s father Mansour said in an interview with the Star (July 31) that when his son was taken to the US, he had still not been allowed to see a lawyer. A spokesman for Bill Graham, the Canadian foreign minister, said that the matter was being handled by the office of solicitor general Lawrence MacAulay, whose office in turn said that the CSIS was dealing with it. The CSIS has no authority to arrest anyone, yet it handed over a Canadian citizen to the US. Jabarah has not been charged with any crime so far, in either Canada or the US, so the question of an extradition hearing does not arise. So why is the US holding him at a military base in New York, when he has been neither charged nor given proper legal representation?

There is a raft of cases in the US, in which hundreds of people have been arrested since September 11 without charge and without their names being released. On August 2 Gladys Kessler, a US District court judge in Washington, ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to hold people without giving their names. Of the 1,200 people arrested for allegedly terrorist activities, not one has been charged or found guilty; instead 750 people have been deported so far because they were in the US “illegally.” There is a vast difference between terrorism and being in the US illegally: there are more than 5.5 million illegal aliens in the country, of whom only Muslims and Arabs have been apprehended, mistreated and deported. Then there is also the case of 5,000 persons of Muslim and Arab descent who have been targeted for interrogation by agents of the FBI.

There is also discrimination between white and non-white Americans. John Walker Lindh, a Californian who was arrested in Afghanistan, has been given access to a lawyer and is to be tried in a civil court. Yasser Emad Hamdi and Jose Padilla, both American but non-white (Hamdi’s parents are Saudis and Padilla is Latino), are being held in military brigs and denied access to lawyers or a civil trial. The treatment of non-American suspects is even worse.

After September 11 the FBI and other agents made wild allegations against large numbers of people. One of them was Nabil al-Marabh, who was alleged to be the “Canadian connection” to terrorism, apparently having sneaked into the US from Canada. Marabh was arrested on September 20 and accused of being linked to two of the alleged hijackers, Satam al-Suqami (on American flight 11) and Ahmed al-Ghamdi (on United flight 175). He was also accused of links with Raed al-Hijazi, a British citizen accused of being an accomplice of Usama’s, who was arrested in Jordan on charges of plotting to blow up a hotel on the eve of the millennium celebrations, according to the Boston Herald (October 17 last). Hijazi denied these allegations, but his denials were not reported in North America. Marabh was also accused of using his uncle’s print shop in Toronto to forge documents that were allegedly used by some of the hijackers. His uncle has lost his business as a result.

After holding him in solitary confinement for eight months, the US justice department could still not provide any evidence against him. In June Marabh was moved to Buffalo and charged with the minor offence of transporting a person (i.e. himself) into the US illegally. Most American and Canadian newspapers ignored this part of his story. The Washington Post, a notable exception, reported the story on June 12 and warned against the mistreatment of innocent people. Marabh was released on US$7,500 bail on July 11. He has already spent more time in jail than the sentence he would get for attempted illegal entry into the US, yet his sentencing has been set for October.

Marabh’s is not the only case of gross miscarriage of justice. There was the earlier case of one Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian student who was staying at the Millennium Hilton in Manhattan on September 11. He had arrived in the US on August 27 and was booked into the hotel until he could find an apartment. The son of an Egyptian diplomat, Higazy had spent most of his early years in the US. After witnessing the attacks he fled the hotel in fear, leaving his passport and other belongings in the hotel safe. On December 17, when he returned to collect his belongings, he was arrested by the FBI and charged with being linked to the attack on the WTC because a pilot’s radio had allegedly been found in his hotel room. He denied the allegation, saying that he knew nothing about the radio, but nobody believed him. He was put in solitary confinement in New York and dubbed the “Radio Man”.

It was only by a stroke of good fortune that the American pilot who had left the radio in his room on the 50th floor returned on January 13 to reclaim it. The hotel contacted the FBI. Higazy’s room was on the 51st floor; a hotel employee had claimed to have found the radio in Higazy’s safe. This employee changed his story and said that he had found it on the table in Higazy’s room. Higazy’s case was dismissed on January 16; he was released. He was forgiving, but Robert Dunn, his lawyer, took a dimmer view of the situation: “America needs to take a deep breath and realize that a lot of people are being swallowed up in this system.” There is little sign that American officials will take heed.

Syed Gul Muhammad Shah and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, both of Indian origin, were taken off a train at Fort Worth, Texas, and arrested on September 12. They were said to be in possession of box-cutters (the types allegedly used by the hijackers) and $5,000 in cash, and described as having shaved hair from certain parts of their bodies. Perhaps Americans do not know that Muslims shave some body hair. They were held for nearly two months without access to lawyers, then charged only with credit-card fraud.

Lutfi Raissi, 27, an Algerian Airlines pilot, was also a victim of official paranoia. He was arrested at his home near Heathrow airport, London, on the night of September 21, and held in Belmarsh prison pending court hearings. The Americans sought his extradition, accusing him of being closely associated with Hani Hanjour, who is suspected of having piloted American Airlines flight 77. The two men were said to have trained at US flying schools together. But in extradition hearings the US could provide no evidence to back its allegations, and so was forced to withdraw them.

In an interview with Audrey Gillan of the Guardian (London, February 15), Raissi said that prison officers repeatedly called him a “f... terrorist”; when he was moved from the high-security unit to a mainstream prison he was told he was being “fed to the dogs.” Raissi did not mince words: “I am a victim of my nationality... of my religion... of my ethnicity and... of the September 11 atrocity. Innocent people in America, they died, but there’s innocent people now, they are suffering the injustice of so-called democracy.”

Likewise the Balochistan Post reported on July 30 that Abdul-Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, had been tortured to death at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Zaeef had been arrested by Pakistan’s authorities in Quetta and handed over to the US, despite diplomatic norms. But in the current atmosphere of lawlessness ordinary people, who may or may not be guilty of anything, are clearly considered worthless.

Americans often wonder why they are so despised. A little self-analysis might give them some answers.

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