DATELINE U.S.

Farouk Abdel-Muhti: Disappeared in America

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Farouk Abdel-Muhti: one of the U.S. “disappeared.” Photo from Farouk Abdel-Mugti Defence Committee.

One of the most vicious aspects of the Bush Administration’s global war on working people is its unparalleled assault on immigrants. So far, the courts are giving their blessing to police-state measures against those who sought refuge in the “land of the free.”

On June 17, for example, a District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld the government’s right to withhold the names of more than 700 people arrested for immigration violations in the wake of the World Trade Center bombings. A Philadelphia ruling supports the administration’s prerogative to hold secret immigration hearings on cases deemed connected with the attacks. Courts have confirmed that detainees at Guantánamo have no constitutional protections. Federal judiciaries have ruled that a U.S. citizen captured as an enemy combatant may be held indefinitely and denied a lawyer.

There are few exceptions to the judicial refrain of “national security” über alles. A refreshing blast of sanity was expressed in Judge David S. Tatel’s minority decision in the District of Columbia case: “By accepting the government’s vague, poorly explained allegations, and by filling in the gaps in the government’s case with its own assumptions about facts absent from the record, this court has converted deference into acquiescence.”

The scale of the roundups and deportations is truly mind-boggling. The Justice Department reports that 1,200 South Asian and Arab men were arrested after September 11. Of these, 750 were detained on immigration violations. In July 2002, the government announced it had deported all but 74 of the arrestees, with only a handful released to resume their lives in the U.S. 

Next, the U.S. demanded registration of 82,000 Middle Eastern men. Only 11 of those who registered were found to have any “terrorist links,” but 13,000 were marked for deportation because of visa violations. It is bleak enough to be ripped out of a settled existence and deported to a homeland one fled decades ago to avoid persecution, imprisonment, or starvation. But for stateless persons who have nowhere to be sent to and who face the possibility of life imprisonment in the gulags of the U.S.A., even deportation can begin to look good.

The case of Farouk Abdel-Muhti shows the horror that an unknown number of immigrants are now enduring.

Jailed for activism. Abdel-Muhti was born in Palestine in 1947 and grew up in refugee camps. He arrived in the U.S. in 1977 and became well-known in the New York City area for his organizing in defense of Palestine. Shortly before his arrest, he began hosting a regular radio show that featured live reports from the Occupied Territories. In the early morning hours of April 25, 2002, three policemen and an agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS is now part of the Department of Homeland Security) forcibly entered Abdel-Muhti’s apartment and took him away in handcuffs. The agents initially claimed they had come to investigate reports of weapons and explosives in the apartment. But they left without even doing a search. The INS agent said outright that Abdel-Muhti’s opposition to Israel’s policies was a reason for the arrest.

Abdel-Muhti was taken to federal facilities, roughed up and interrogated. He was threatened with deportation to Israel — the worst place in the world he could be sent. His attorneys have filed a petition asserting that Farouk cannot be deported, because he is a stateless person. This face-off has continued for a year while Farouk remains in custody, under the pretext of problems with his immigration status, without any charges filed against him. He has been moved to a remote jail in York, Pennsylvania that requires friends and lawyers to drive five hours to visit him.

On April 25, 2003, the one-year anniversary of his arrest, Farouk issued a statement that was read at a rally in his defense at the New York Federal Building. It captures his unbowed courage:

“I am inside this iron box 24 hours a day, with only 45 minutes to clean the cell and make phone calls. When I go to the clinic [Farouk suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma], it is with my hands and feet shackled, with two Task Force guards escorting me. Guards search my cell most days of the week, saying they are looking for weapons. I answered to one of them: “My weapon is my mind.”

On June 23, Stephen Durham, the New York City Freedom Socialist Party Organizer, spoke to Farouk, then in his 117th day in a tiny cell in a solitary confinement unit with prisoners serving life imprisonment for serious crimes. Farouk told Durham that he and the other prisoners are physically tormented by measures such as having the lights on 18 hours a day. When lights are finally turned out, guards come by every 20 minutes to shine a light on prisoners’ faces. Abdel-Muhti also described the mental torture of intense isolation, harassment and humiliation by guards, and censoring of mail. The prison has made it difficult for Abdel-Muhti to communicate with his supporters, by blocking the phone numbers of key defense committee members. 

Abdel-Muhti told Durham, “The INS was a terrorist administration even before 9/11. Its power is based on lies and fabrications. It’s the most dangerous arm of the government, because it is accountable to no one. This is Siberia, Guantánamo.”

Break the silence. To protest the ruthless imprisonment of Farouk Abdel-Muhti and other immigrants held in legal limbo, please e-mail David J. Venturella, Assistant Deputy Executive Associate Commissioner of the Office of Detention and Removal, at david.j.venturella@usdoj.gov. Send copies of your correspondence to the Committee for the Release of Farouk Abdel-Muhti at freefarouk@yahoo.com.

In addition, your messages of support to Abdel-Muhti will raise his spirits by letting him know that people around the world are fighting for his freedom. Send letters to Farouk Abdel-Muhti #75122, York County Prison, 3400 Concord Road, York, PA 17402, USA.

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