ACLU Asks Court to Bar Government From Deporting Egyptian National to Torture
Group Says Egypt’s Promise Not to Torture Is Inherently Unreliable
SCRANTON, PA - At a hearing today in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the U.S. government cannot deport an Egyptian national back to Egypt based on “diplomatic assurances” from the Egyptian government that it will not torture him upon his return. The ACLU also asked that he be immediately released from detention, where he has been held since May.
Sameh Khouzam, a Christian who came to the United States in 1998 fleeing religious persecution in Egypt, was granted protection from deportation under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 2004 after a federal appeals court found that he would likely be tortured if sent back to Egypt. Despite this finding, as well as State Department reports showing that Egypt routinely engages in torture, the U.S. government is trying to deport Khouzam to Egypt based on “diplomatic assurances” the U.S. claims to have received from the Egyptian government that it asserts are “sufficiently reliable” to protect him from torture.
“The U.S. government is violating its treaty obligations under the Convention Against Torture by attempting to deport Mr. Khouzam back to Egypt based on diplomatic assurances that are inherently unreliable,” said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Sending Mr. Khouzam back to Egypt despite its record of systemic torture and a court’s prior finding that he would likely be tortured there is illegal and unconscionable.”
Ratified by the U.S. in 1994, and implemented by domestic legislation, the Convention Against Torture prohibits the U.S. from transferring a person “to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” The U.S. government is using “diplomatic assurances” - in Khouzam’s case and others - to circumvent its treaty obligations, and transferring individuals to countries that provide nothing more than unenforceable promises that they will not engage in torture, according to the ACLU and other human rights groups.
In Khouzam’s case, neither he nor his lawyers have seen the Egyptian assurances that are the basis for terminating his CAT protection. Nor has the U.S. government offered any explanation for why these assurances are deemed sufficiently reliable to protect Khouzam from torture. Indeed, Khouzam did not receive any notice that his CAT protection was being terminated until May 29, when, upon appearing for a routine check-in with immigration authorities, he was taken into detention and provided with a one-paragraph explanation from Julie Myers, Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, informing him that he could be removed within 72 hours.
“What is most egregious about the U.S. government’s conduct in this case is its insistence that it need not provide any mechanism whatsoever in which Mr. Khouzam can challenge the reliability and sufficiency of Egypt’s diplomatic assurances,” said Judy Rabinovitz, a senior attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Especially in light of the severe consequences Mr. Khouzam will suffer from an erroneous decision, the government’s actions here defy fundamental notions of due process to which both citizens and non-citizens alike are entitled.”
Today’s hearing was before Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, who issued an emergency stay of Khouzam’s removal in June, shortly after Khouzam was informed that his CAT protection had been terminated and his removal imminent. That stay remains in place pending the outcome of the court proceedings. The U.S. government, however, has opposed the court’s involvement in this case, repeatedly arguing that the executive branch has unfettered authority to determine that the diplomatic assurances are sufficiently reliable to remove Khouzam, and that the federal courts lack jurisdiction to review its decision.
“This administration’s claim that it can send a man to a country where he will almost certainly be tortured and that no court has the power to even review the government’s actions flies in the face of every principle of American law, pre-or post-September 11,” said Lee Gelernt, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This administration has consistently attempted to eliminate any meaningful role for the courts.”
Pending the court’s decision, Khouzam remains detained in the York County Prison in Pennsylvania. When Khouzam first came to the U.S. in 1998, he was immediately placed in immigration detention based on allegations by the Egyptian authorities that he was wanted in Egypt on a murder charge. Khouzam denies those allegations, and to date, the Egyptian authorities have produced little evidence to support this charge. Nonetheless, Khouzam was imprisoned by U.S. immigration authorities for the next six years while he challenged his removal and pursued relief under the Convention Against Torture, and for an additional two years after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in his favor in February 2004. Finally, in February 2006, a federal district court ordered his release from detention. Since that time, and prior to his re-detention on May 29, Khouzam was living and working in Pennsylvania as controller of a real estate company. A large circle of well-wishers in his church community have been advocating to prevent Khouzam’s deportation and secure his release. The ACLU is asking that the court release Khouzam under reasonable conditions of supervision pending a final decision in his case.
The U.S. State Department has documented widespread Egyptian persecution and discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities, as well as widespread use of torture in Egypt. A State Department report on the matter is available at:
Affidavits filed in court papers for Khouzam demonstrate that torture and abuse in Egyptian detention facilities are routine and Egypt has breached similar diplomatic assurances in the past. Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) recently sent a letter to Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff supporting Khouzam and denouncing Egypt’s diplomatic assurances. That letter is available at:
Congressman Joseph Pitts (R-PA) also sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requesting Khouzam’s deportation be cancelled. That letter is available at:
Attorneys representing Khouzam are Singh, Rabinovitz, Gelernt and Alice Clapman of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, Vic Walczak and Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Morton Sklar of World Organization for Human Rights USA.
The brief is available at:
The emergency stay granted by Judge Vanaskie is available at:
The original decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is available at:
Additional documents related to this case are available at:
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