Rabih Haddad's Nightmare in Post 9/11 America

Revolutionary Worker #1144, March 24, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"They're trying to break our spirits, trying to wear us down. That's not going to happen..."

Salma al-Rashaid, wife ofRabih Haddad, speaking to the RW

It was late in the afternoon on December 14, 2001, in a modest apartment just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. Rabih Haddad was relaxing with his children. Salma al- Rashaid, his wife, had just stepped out to check on a sick neighbor. While their 12-year-old daughter read on the couch, their three boys, ages 3 to 9, took turns riding on their dad's back. In a few hours, the whole family would break the daily fast observed during the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Suddenly, three black-suited strangers knocked on the door, beginning a nightmare for Rabih and his family that has yet to end.

The three men, all INS agents, began to question Rabih Haddad. When Salma returned, she immediately raced to gather up her terrified children. Moments later, she and her children watched helplessly as the agents took Rabih away.

48 hours passed before Salma even knew where her husband was, let alone why he had been picked up. Rabih was taken 40 miles away to the neighboring Monroe County Jail, and kept in solitary confinement for what immigration lawyers have described as a very minor violation. In a hearing closed to the public, a judge denied Rabih bail, calling him a threat to the community because he--like many others in the area--owned a legally registered hunting rifle. One month later, Haddad was transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), the federal lockup in downtown Chicago, where he was kept in solitary confinement. He remains a prisoner to this day.

Secret InJustice

"He literally disappeared. Not the lawyer, not his family knew where he was."

Salma al-Rashaid, talking to the RW about how her husband was moved to Chicago

For the first three months of his incarceration, Rabih Haddad's family was told that he had been arrested and locked up because he failed to renew his tourist visa and owned a rifle. Now, according to a new filing by the INS, it seems that Haddad is under suspicion because during the 1980s and '90s he was in Peshawar, Pakistan doing aid work for refugees from Afghanistan. Thousands of people with no connection to Al-Qaeda were there as volunteers. But according to the U.S. government, being Arab and in the same areas as Osama bin Laden makes you a "suspected terrorist."

The U.S. government has refused to say much about Haddad's case. The federal attorney's office in Chicago won't say why Haddad is being held, have given no evidence to justify his incarceration, and won't even identify which government department or agency ordered Haddad dragged across state lines to Chicago.

So far, Haddad's deportation hearings have been closed to the public, the press, his family, and even to Rabih himself--who is only allowed to observe the proceedings via closed-circuit TV. Even Rep. John Conyers, a senior member of the Black Congressional Caucus and who as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee is responsible for overseeing immigration courts and the Justice Department, was barred from the hearings. Conyers commented, "John Ashcroft has made a mockery of our criminal justice system. No public hearing, no oversight, no charges. This sounds more like a dictatorship than America."

The government intends to deport Rabih, Salma and three of their children (one of their children was born in the U.S.) because their visas expired in 1999. Salma says they tried to get them renewed and then in 2001, they both applied for permanent residency status under the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE Act), which permits "out of status" non-citizens to legalize their immigration status. According to Haddad's lawyer, this is the first time the government has tried to deport someone who has applied for permanent residency under the LIFE Act.

Betrayed in America

"Your words swept me up in a tornado of hope, dreams, and inspiration.... I pledged to you that I will uphold and practice the values that you stand for. Little did I know that I will be persecuted in your name."

Rabih Haddad, in a letter dated January 13, 2002, sent from the Monroe County Jail to "Lady Liberty"

"How would you like it if someone came and took your dad?"

Rami Haddad, age 8, in a letter to President Bush

The last three months have been very difficult for Salma Haddad. Her husband behind bars and her family threatened with deportation--it's certainly not what Salma expected when she and Rabih chose to come to America. "There's no word that can describe my feelings," Salma told the RW, "It happened in a very ugly way, and it does not fit the image of the country we're in."

Rabih and Salma Haddad met in the hills of Lebanon--Salma, the teenage daughter of a vacationing Kuwaiti diplomat, and Rabih, the son of a clothing store owner. Her family was Muslim, but not devout. Rabih's family was Christian, but his father encouraged his children to choose their own beliefs. Years later, Rabih and Salma met again as visiting students studying in the United States.

As a Muslim, Rabih helped start a charity foundation, which took him to Kuwait, and refugee camps in Pakistan. In 1999 Rabih and Salma moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

After 9/11, Rabih won praise from Christian and Jewish leaders in Michigan for denouncing the attacks, at interfaith gatherings and town hall meetings.

Now the Haddads are living under a cloud of heavy suspicion. Salma said, "It's really troubling. It makes me not sleep a lot of nights. I'm used to living a peaceful life. Now it suddenly changes and I'm a target. People are pointing fingers at you. It's not easy always having to watch over your shoulders, and to have to have an answer ready and being scared."

An Attack on Global Relief

"Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere will suffer as a direct result of this unfounded attack on American Muslim charities. Those already facing dire circumstances will suffer even more, as money donated to ease their suffering sits frozen. This is money that American Muslims from across the country donated in good faith and in fulfillment of religious obligations. Charitable giving is an important part of this Muslim holiday season. That the charitable gifts of American Muslims would be frozen just days before the end of Ramadan and the Eid Al-Fitr holiday is a callous affront to the community."

Khalid Turaani, Executive Director, American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ)

The nightmare experience of Rabih Haddad is echoed in the government's treatment of thousands of Muslim, Arab and South Asian people who've been arrested and incarcerated since September 11. The authorities have provided reasons and explanations that range from the flimsy to the non-existent.

Authorities rounded up Abdallah Higazy, a student from Egypt, after a security guard claimed that the young man possessed an airline radio. The security guard later admitted to having lied. Mohdar Abdallah, from Somalia, was arrested in the San Diego area because he had the same name as one of the alleged hijackers and worked a few months at a car wash with another suspected hijacker. The government detained Mohammed Rafiq Butt for three weeks before sending him home to Pakistan in a pine box. His family discovered his body bruised, his bones broken. The government has never stated exactly what crime, if any, Mohammed Rafiq was supposed to have committed.

Given this political climate, Haddad's lawyers suspect that his arrest is part of a larger government agenda targeting Islamic charities. Rabih Haddad is a co-founder, past president and current board member of the Global Relief Foundation, one of the largest Islamic charities in the United States. Global Relief has provided millions of dollars for projects ranging from schools in Pakistan and Chechnya to food aid for people in Afghanistan and Ethiopia and Palestine. On the very same day that Rabih was arrested, federal agents descended on Global Relief and another Chicago-area based charity--the Benevolence International Foundation.

The government froze the charities' finances, raided their offices and seized all their files and computers. In addition, the executive director of Global Relief, Mohamad Chehade, was subjected to an invasive six-hour search of his home--during which federal agents took his computer, his and his wife's paperwork, tore up his furniture, and ripped open his children's holiday gifts. Chehade stated that he was never even shown a search warrant. Agents told his lawyer the warrant was "classified."

On the same day, claiming evidence of "terrorism," NATO troops raided Global Relief offices in Kosovo and Albania. A few employees were arrested, one of them, an Iraqi doctor, was beaten. The men were released only after six weeks of solitary confinement and interrogations in English-- which none of them spoke.

Treasury Department spokesperson Rob Nichols claimed on NPR radio that the government had "clear, credible information" connecting Global Relief to "terrorism," quickly adding, "that we simply cannot share with you."

To this day, not one shred of evidence has been offered to support the government's claim that these charity organizations are used to support terrorist activity. Meanwhile, by freezing the funds of these organizations in the name of the "war on terrorism," the U.S. government has put at risk hundreds of thousands of people who depend on this aid.

"Free Rabih Haddad!"

"I think this is outrageous. It is designed to harass and create a climate of fear. There is absolutely no basis in national security for removing Mrs. Haddad and her children. I think most people recognize that it is a transparent attempt to frighten an entire population."

Phillis Engelbert of the Ann Arbor Friends Service Committee
denouncing the deportation hearings for Salma al-Rashaid and her children

"What is being done to Br. Rabih Haddad is unconstitutional and immoral: the closed hearings, the `no bond' stance, the 15-minute-a-month time allotted for him to talk to his family.... Do we not learn from our past mistakes; with what we did to the Native Americans, African Americans, and Japanese?"

Signatory to a petition to Free Rabih Haddad

"I don't believe in the American dream I came here for anymore."

Abdallah Naser,
Islamic Center of Ann Arbor

"If you're an Arab in the United States, you don't get any justice."

Ashraf Nubani, attorney for Rabih Haddad

There have been growing protests against the unjust imprisonment of Rabih Haddad--at immigration hearings in Detroit, city board meetings in Ann Arbor, and outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center and the INS headquarters in Chicago.

More than 5,000 people have signed petitions demanding Haddad's release. The Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution demanding due process, denouncing racial profiling and secret detentions for Haddad and all other detainees. The University of Michigan Student Assembly also passed resolutions supporting Rabih Haddad's right to a fair trial.

Two major newspapers in Detroit, the ACLU and Rep. John Conyers filed a lawsuit demanding that the government release the court transcripts and end the secret hearings. Both Benevolence International Fund and Global Relief have also filed suit against the government's attacks.

Groups who've organized support include the Council on American-Islamic Relations- Michigan (CAIR), the Detroit Anti-War Network, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the Chicago Coalition Against War & Racism, Refuse and Resist!, the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, Neighbors For Peace (Evanston) and the National Lawyers Guild.

Federal Prisoner,Federal Hostage

"There's no reason for imprisonment, humiliation, and torture... He is my husband. He is the father of the children I have. He is a huge part of the family, supporter in every sense of the word. When you take that away, the heart beats slowly and eventually dies. My husband is being tortured, and torture doesn't mean only physically...."

Salma al-Rashaid, speaking to the RW

"If they have evidence that he's done something wrong, then for God's sake, bring the evidence forward and let him defend himself in a court of law.."

Ashraf Nubani, attorney for Rabih Haddad

After his first month in the MCC, Rabih Haddad wrote a letter to supporters describing the conditions he was being forced to endure. Confinement to a 6x9 foot cell, 23 hours a day. His bed bolted to the middle of the cell floor with only a foot and a half of space to the cell walls. The cell window whited out so he can't see outside. Constant observation by a TV camera through a small window in the solid steel cell door, eliminating privacy. Handcuffed any time he leaves the cell--whether to meet his lawyer or take one of the three showers he's allowed each week. Communication with his family limited to a single 15-minute phone call and four hours of visitation time behind a Plexiglas barrier--per month. No physical contact with another living being except for when the guards cuff his wrists.

It was only after many faxes, letters, protests and the consequent publicity that those restrictions have recently been relaxed. Haddad is now allowed a 15-minute phone call per week (instead of per month) and a four-hour visit with his family--minus the Plexiglas barrier. Most recently, he was taken out of solitary confinement.

Despite the outrageous conditions, the pain of being separated from his family and the uncertainty of what outrageous charges the government might throw at him, Haddad has not given in to government pressure. He refused to testify when brought before the federal grand jury in February. In a letter to Rep. John Conyers, he explained that his motivation was not because of any wrongdoing, but "because my character, personal beliefs and my religion are being questioned and cast in the worst light after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

He credits his strength to his family and the outpouring of support shown, writing to his supporters that, "Where do we draw the line between justice and oppression? Between prosecution and persecution? .... I have been treated like the worst criminal you can imagine when I have not even been charged with a crime. All of this has done nothing but harden my will and strengthened my resolve to overcome and persevere. Your efforts and the efforts of others are like torches of hope that light my way in this deep and dark tunnel that I've entered and I am eternally grateful for that."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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