BEIRUT, Lebanon — Rabih Haddad crosses the marble floor of his five-bedroom apartment in a suburb south of the Lebanese capital. He peeks out glass doors that open onto a balcony to a sweeping view of the Mediterranean Sea. Haddad doesn’t want to miss the sunset.
“It’s really amazing some nights,” he says. “It looks like it might be too cloudy.”
Haddad takes a seat on a sofa in the expansive living room. Beside him is his wife, Salma al-Rushaid, who is expecting their fifth child. She appears tired, and has been ambling in and out of the room to tend to their children, her hands pressed against her lower back.
Haddad gets up and returns to the window to gaze at the sky. The sun has nearly set over the sea.
“Not bad,” says the 43-year-old native of Lebanon as he steps outside in his Birkenstock-style sandals and long gray robe to soak in the view.
There was a time, not long ago, when Haddad feared he might never see another sunset.
Last year, he was deported after 19 months in jails in Michigan and Chicago.
He was residing in Ann Arbor, where he volunteered as an imam, leading prayers at an area mosque. He was also raising funds for what he insists is an Islamic charity, when immigration officers hauled him away on Dec. 14, 2001.
Technically, he was deported for overstaying his tourist visa. But the United States government clearly considered Haddad, who had lived in the United States on and off for 20 years, to be a terrorist threat, and it treated him as such.
By almost any analysis, the government’s handling of him is fraught with irony.
Though he was never charged with a crime, he was treated like an archcriminal, held for most of his detention in solitary confinement. By order of Attorney General John Ashcroft, his deportation hearings were conducted in strict secrecy until a lawsuit forced the government to open the case to public scrutiny. The government refused to release him on bond because it considered him a “flight risk.”
Yet when it failed to come up with evidence to warrant terror charges, the United States forced his flight, deporting him to Lebanon, the seat of such terrorist organizations as Hezbollah.
“If I was truly a danger to national security, warranting their repeated denial of bond, wouldn’t I still be that when deported to a country where many sworn enemies to the U.S. reside?” asks Haddad.
Though he has been approached by media from around the world, Haddad’s exclusive interview with Metro Times marks the first he’s granted since his arrest thrust his case — if not Haddad himself — into the limelight.
Government investigators contend that Global Relief Foundation, the Islamic charity Haddad helped found more than 10 years ago in a Chicago suburb, has terrorist links. GRF was shut down the day of Haddad’s arrest and remains shuttered today. Neither GRF nor anyone associated with it has ever been criminally charged.
Jeffrey Collins, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, says no evidence was ever brought before his office to warrant criminal charges against Haddad.
“And if there is evidence that would justify a charge, then we would go toward that,” says Collins. “It has not happened. It wasn’t brought to our office.”
No criminal charges have been brought against GRF’s executive director, Mohammad Chehade, who lives and works in a Chicago suburb.
Randall Samborn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, would not say why criminal charges were never brought against Haddad or if there is an ongoing investigation.
So what does Haddad’s deportation mean?
“It means the FBI cleared him of any terrorist connections,” says David Cole, Georgetown University law professor and author of Enemy Aliens, Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism. “…[T]he stated policy of the FBI was to not deport anyone who might be connected to terrorists. So that means he was not connected.”
FBI spokesman Bill Carter confirms Cole’s assertion.
“If they are out of [immigration] status, then there are provisions under which they would be detained and deported. If you find out they are out of status and they may have terror allegations, you don’t let them go,” he says. “The ultimate decision in any of these cases is up to the United States Attorney General. We [FBI] investigate and turn it over to the Attorney General’s office and ... it is up to them to charge the person.”
Chehade, who was never detained, and is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, is livid at what’s happened to Haddad, his friend and colleague, and the organization they created.
“I really swear to God, to Allah, that we have nothing to do with al Qaeda, with Taliban, with Hamas, and if anyone shows me one dollar went to these organizations, then I am a stupid person, and I am not stupid at all. It is not possible,” says Chehade of GRF, which operated in 20 countries.
Shortly after the U.S. Treasury Department froze GRF’s assets, the nonprofit sued the government for wrongfully designating it a terrorist organization. The key issue in GRF’s lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, is whether the government should be allowed to use secret evidence against GRF.
“They blacklisted us and didn’t tell us why,” says Roger Simmons, GRF’s attorney. “We want to eventually get a court to give us what every other American corporation or citizen gets, which is the right to confront your accuser. We believe when we get to see the evidence, the so-called evidence, we will be able to show it is unreliable, inaccurate or false.”
Haddad has proclaimed his innocence since the day of his arrest. He also denies accusations that he or GRF have ties to any terrorist group.
“In the 1990s they [al Qaeda] issued an edict ordering Muslims to attack any Jew or American, and I remember thinking, ‘Where is this coming from?’ Because there is no way Islam would condone this except in self-defense.” says Haddad.
Associates who testified at his immigration hearings insisted that Haddad is a gentle, peace-loving man who immediately spoke out to condemn the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They said he spoke to any group that asked in an attempt to help Americans better understand the true nature of Islam.
When the government closed his immigration proceedings from the public and press, claiming he was a threat to national security, supporters came out in droves to protest.
“All we have been asking since December 2001 is to show us a shred of evidence and give us a chance to defend ourselves,” Haddad says.
Collins says Haddad was deported because he broke the law by allowing his tourist visa to expire.
“Our role is to enforce the law and the law was violated in this instance and the judge made a ruling consistent with that law,” he says.
But Collins clearly believes there is more to the case than a visa violation, even if evidence to charge Haddad was lacking.
“Our district is safer based on that deportation,” he says. “During the deportation hearing, when the judge made the ruling … there was a wealth of circumstantial evidence connecting Rabih Haddad to terrorist elements.”
It was U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), not Collins’ office, that prosecuted Haddad’s deportation case.
Cole writes in his book that Ashcroft used immigration laws as a key tool to combat terrorism.
“At every opportunity since September 11, Ashcroft has turned immigration law from an administrative mechanism for controlling entry and exit of foreign nationals into an excuse for holding suspicious persons without meeting the constitutional requirements that ordinarily apply to preventative detention,” writes Cole.
Haddad’s case is proof of Cole’s point.
“Rabih Haddad was working for an organization, was raising funds for an organization that was ultimately, we think, raising funds for terrorist acts,” says Victor Cerda, principal legal adviser for ICE. “By removing Haddad, a co-founder or president of the organization, and who had the ability to go around the country and raise funds, … we think we made it more difficult for his organization to succeed.
“We are not saying he could not do that outside the country, we are saying it is more difficult to do that. He is removed from the United States, where he had personal contacts and the ability to go out and speak and shake hands and pitch a story, and he doesn’t have that option now.”
Counterterrorism expert Juliette Kayyem says Haddad was deported because government officials wanted to “wash their hands of what was clearly a mistake.”
Kayyem, who teaches at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is a former U.S. attorney who worked directly with former Attorney General Janet Reno in developing policies, adds, “If we really thought he was a threat, we would not have sent him to Lebanon, especially Lebanon, the home of Hezbollah. I think it [deportation] suggests that they knew, eventually, that this is not someone we need to be worried about.”
Kayyem, who is Arab-American, initiated the effort to do away with secret evidence when Bill Clinton was president. At the time, she says, there were about a dozen secret-evidence cases, mostly against Arab-Americans. In reviewing those cases she learned that much of the evidence was bogus. “Some of it was newspaper articles,” she says with a laugh.
The idea of doing away with secret evidence was gaining momentum in Congress in 2000, and President George W. Bush promised during his campaign to do away with secret evidence if elected. Kayyem believes that pledge convinced many Arab-Americans to vote for Bush.
For the most part, Bush kept that promise, says Cole, one of several attorneys who argued to open Haddad’s immigration proceedings. Currently, he says, there are only three secret-evidence cases in the courts—GRF and two other Islamic charities shut down after Sep. 11, 2001.
The U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, the largest Islamic charity in the nation, and accused it of supporting the terrorist group Hamas. It also blocked the assets of Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation. Like GRF, both those organizations sued the government over its use of secret evidence. Benevolence International Foundation’s lawsuit was dismissed. In Holy Land Foundation’s case, the courts ruled that secret evidence was admissible; earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Holy Land’s appeal.
Jimmy Gurulé, who was the Treasury Department undersecretary of enforcement when GRF was shut down, says, “There are now several published decisions where defendants have challenged actions of [the Department of Treasury] and its war on terror financing. And in each case, the process has been upheld as being constitutional and blocking actions have been sustained.”
Gurulé, who now teaches at the University of Notre Dame Law School, says the fact that no criminal charges have been brought against GRF or its employees could mean “the government doesn’t believe it has sufficient evidence to prove they’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a high burden.”
It’s a different story with the assets of organizations like GRF. Authorities use civil law, under which “the standard of proof is much lower,” Gurulé says.
In civil proceedings, he adds, defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers or to review the classified evidence.
None of it makes any sense to Haddad’s wife.
“If he is a dangerous man, than why did they let him go?” asks al-Rushaid. “I’m sure there were so many people like us, so many deported secretly, abused. And those who abused their power should be held accountable.”
According to Cole’s book, about 1,200 people were detained within seven weeks of Sept. 11, 2001. “The Justice Department has refused to give a total number of detainees” since November 2001, writes Cole.
Haddad says it’s fortunate that his case drew intense media attention. Had his arrest and detention not been spotlighted, he says, he might still be languishing in jail.
The media— here and abroad — followed Haddad’s story. When he returned to his homeland, he avoided talking to the press for fear of the Lebanese government’s response.
But he agreed to grant an exclusive interview to Metro Times, which spent four days in Beirut last month talking with him and his family about his time in the States, the allegations against him, and his new life. Metro Times also went to Belgium to interview the man who directed GRF’s operations in Europe.
It is midday in Beirut. The sun and sea brighten the gritty city, still recovering from the civil war between Muslims and Christians that erupted in 1975 and raged for 17 years.
Beirut, once considered the “Paris of the Middle East,” is recovering. New apartment complexes are going up. Starbucks, Hard Rock Café and other corporate chains have opened. The downtown, once rubble, is nearly restored, with new shops, restaurants and cafés. Tourists are returning.
But vestiges of strife linger. Bullet craters scar buildings. Some sidewalks and streets are crumbling. Men in fatigues, carrying machine guns, stand ready near the airport, government buildings and other strategic posts.
On a Sunday, the city is subdued. The call for prayer echoes from a nearby mosque in a quiet neighborhood where Haddad visits with Abdallah Kobersi, his 94-year-old maternal grandfather. They chat and swap jokes in Arabic.
“We connect across many miles,” says Haddad, who refers to his grandfather as his “soul brother.”
Part of their connection is a shared passion for poetry. Kobersi, who was a criminal defense lawyer and argued his last case at the age of 89, is a well-known poet in Lebanon.
Haddad has been writing poems since he was 14. He continued to do so during his detention in the United States, including one about his father, who died of cancer while he was behind bars, and another about Emmet Till, an African-American teen who was beaten and lynched in 1955. That poem was inspired by photos of Till in the book Freedom is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Rights Movement. A friend had given it to Haddad while he was in jail.
“It [poetry] is an ongoing conversation with the heart,” says Kobersi, a small, lucid man who speaks several languages, including some English.
Haddad’s mother, Doha, lives with her father and her sister, Hanan.
She is a chic, ebullient redhead, clad today in three-inch spiked heels. She and her husband owned a clothing boutique in what was once Beirut’s most fashionable neighborhood, where they raised their sons, Rabih, Bassem and Mazen.
Doha says she regularly traveled to Paris and London to purchase the latest fashions for the shop.
In 1976, during the civil war, their store was bombed and the couple had to start from scratch. Now, Haddad tends the store, which is rarely open and may soon close for good.
Doha serves black tea and Lebanese cookies, then crosses the room to smoke a cigarette with her sister. Haddad, who quit smoking around 1985, nags his mother to do the same. “We would like you to stick around,” he says.
“Darling, I want my life to be short and wide, not long and narrow,” she says, teasing her son.
“She gets on me for my weight,” says Haddad, patting his paunch.
Haddad seems accustomed to the banter. He also appears resigned to his mother and aunt challenging him about his beliefs.
“So, what Rabih believes now, it is against my will. I like his wife and daughter to be without the veil,” says Doha, referring to the hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women. “I hate fanaticism.”
“In the United States they hang on every word,” he tells his mother. “They [readers] will say, ‘Even his mother says he is a fanatic!’
“What my mother is calling fanaticism is our adherence to what Islam requires,” he explains. “Even when I went to Sunday school, she said, ‘Cool it.’ She considers that fanaticism.”
Indeed. Also a “fanatic” in Doha’s eyes is the wife of her son, Bassem. She’s a practicing Roman Catholic in Omaha, Neb.
Haddad explains that Muslim women wear the headscarf to protect them from the desire of other men. He says, “When you have a precious jewel …”
“You show it off,” interrupts Hanan, who has otherwise been quiet.
Like her sister, Hanan is stylish, with long, black hair, purple eye shadow and gold hoop earrings.
Asked about her son’s ordeal, Doha’s eyes well with tears.
“I was shocked,” she says. “I knew from the beginning my son is innocent and I know the way I raised him. They told me to go and see him and I said, ‘I cannot see my son behind bars.’ I could not sleep a whole year and seven months without pills, taking pills.”
“We are very emotional people,” says Hanan, comforting her sister.
Haddad’s detention was difficult for all his kin.
Later that day, he visits with his paternal aunt, Sameera, who lives in the neighborhood where he was raised. Throughout his childhood, Haddad and his family gathered at Sameera’s apartment each Saturday afternoon for cake and tea. He thinks of his aunt, who never married, as a second mother.
The 75-year-old retired schoolteacher serves ginger cake with walnuts and chocolate-covered dates. Haddad says he and his brothers covet the treats, which Sameera still sends to Bassem and Mazen in North America.
Asked what she thinks of her nephew’s conversion, Sameera says, “Personally, I don’t like it. God loves us all whether we wear a headscarf or not. In his case, we are to blame. We did not baptize our children and told him, ‘When you grow up you pick the religion you want.’”
Haddad chose Islam. His brothers remain Christians, like their parents and Sameera.
“Do you think it was easy for me when he called from the prison, away from his children, away from his wife?” asks Sameera.
She pulls out a photo of Haddad’s 6-year old niece, who looks like a ballerina in pink tights and a leotard.
“This is what I want for his [Haddad’s] daughter,” says Sameera, a reference to 14-year-old, Sana, who wears the headscarf.
“You can have that, your own private show,” Haddad says.
“I don’t want a private show. I want it to be public,” his aunt retorts.
Sameera wishes Haddad could have stayed in the Lebanon.
“Maybe he would graduate here, find work here …”
“Stay Christian, maybe,” adds Haddad, smiling.
Had it not been for the Lebanese civil war, Haddad might never have left his homeland. He also may not have become a devout Muslim.
After high school, Haddad studied for a year at the American University in Beirut. But his parents, both Christians, feared for their son’s safety and sent him to the United States.
“It was the height of chaos. It was a nightmare in every sense of the word,” says Haddad of the civil war. “Lots of my friends were going to the States to study and my parents wanted desperately to get me out of here.”
His parents sold land to send their eldest sons to the United States.
“He paid his last penny to educate us,” Haddad says of his father.
In 1980, Haddad began studying toward his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Nebraska. His brother, Bassem, joined him there three years later. Bassem earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, married an American woman and became a U.S. citizen in 1994. The couple lives in Omaha with their two children.
Mazen, the youngest brother, was 13 when Rabih left Lebanon. When Mazen was old enough to attend college, his parents lacked the money to send him abroad. He studied in Beirut, where he earned a degree in computer science. In 1995, Mazen emigrated to Toronto; he gained his Canadian citizenship four years later.
Rabih had planned to get a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, land a good job and “live a comfortable, easy life,” he says. “My mentality back then was I wanted to be a big shot at anything I did, make lots of money and make my parents proud.”
He abandoned his plans. In 1986, after he devoted his life to Islam, a graduate degree was no longer a priority.
His interest in Islam began long before he arrived in the States. When he was 14, his father informed Rabih and Bassem that they had not been baptized because he didn’t want to impose his beliefs on them. His late father was Presbyterian; his mother is Greek Orthodox. But the couple never regularly attended church. Haddad’s father wanted his sons to decide for themselves what they believed.
“I felt my dad put a great responsibility on my shoulders,” says Haddad. “I took it seriously and had every intention to make an informed decision.”
He began his religious quest by attending a Baptist church in Lebanon with his grandfather. Haddad went to Sunday school each week, though his mother did not approve.
“She said, ‘Take it easy. We’re not fanatics,’” recalls Haddad, who felt comfortable in Protestant churches. Yet Christianity posed a problem. He didn’t understand how Christ could be both a prophet and the son of God. “When I asked the reverend, he said, ‘It’s a matter of faith, you believe it or you don’t.’”
At age 17, a friend introduced Haddad to Buddhism.
“All these teachings sound great, with getting in touch with your inner soul, but … it was hard to mesh day-to-day life with this purely spiritual existence. So, I didn’t last long,” says Haddad.
Haddad’s search for the right religion was not a major focus of his youth. He says he was a typical teenager — secretly smoking cigarettes, hanging out with friends, going to parties. He loved to hunt, fish and play soccer and basketball, as he still does.
The young Rabih also was an earnest boy, intensely curious.
“He was the sentimental, emotional type,” says Sameera. “He always wants to know why. You put down a rule, he wants to know why.”
Haddad says he became intrigued with Islam when he was about 18.
“One of the main things that attracted me in the beginning … was a beautiful painting with Arabic calligraphy [in a friend’s home],” he says. “It said, ‘God is one, God is eternal, he does not beget, nor is he begotten and there is none like unto him.’ It was powerful to contemplate.”
Traditional Arab ways also attracted Haddad to Islam.
“I was very proud of my Arabic heritage … and Islam was part of that,” he says.
Meeting al-Rushaid in 1979 fueled his interest.
Haddad spent the summers with his family at their second home in a mountain village about 30 minutes east of Beirut. Al-Rushaid, who grew up in Kuwait, also summered in the Lebanese mountains, a common destination for Arab families. Al-Rushaid’s father, a wealthy diplomat, had built a home near the Haddads’ summer place, and the neighbors became friends.
Though al-Rushaid and her family were not devout Muslims, her religion fascinated Haddad.
“Her being a Muslim made me want to know more, maybe to impress her,” he says, noting that he converted to Islam when he was 19, not long after meeting al-Rushaid. But he did not practice the religion.
“I felt like a hypocrite,” says Haddad. “I am claiming to be a Muslim, but am not doing what is required to be Muslim.”
Haddad says he prayed for guidance. Years later, when studying in the States, he asked a friend if he could attend the Friday prayer with him.
“It is an important prayer for Muslim men. It has to be done in congregation with men at a mosque,” says Haddad.
That night, while praying, he had an epiphany.
“It was overwhelming. I cried — hard,” he says. “Looking back on that prayer, I don’t think I have had the same total submission in a prayer I did that time.”
Founding a charity
Haddad’s new faith consumed him.
“I read three or four books at a time, gobbling up information and trying to be as good as I could be,” he says.
He contacted al-Rushaid, who was studying in Ashland, Ohio. The friends had not seen each other in years. They exchanged photos and letters. In 1986, Haddad visited her in Ashland, and proposed. By then, al-Rushaid had also become a practicing Muslim. They married in Ohio the following year. She returned with Haddad to Nebraska, where she finished her degree in political science.
In 1988, the couple decided to move to Pakistan, which faced a refugee crisis. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and angry Muslims poured into the region to fight the Russians. The United States helped arm what President Reagan would refer to as “freedom fighters.”
“Here I was, a new Muslim looking for ways to please God,” says Haddad. “This was such a hot issue at the time and the need was such that that was my calling right there.”
The couple sold their belongings and lived off the proceeds while doing volunteer work. They administered to Afghan refugees who fled to Pakistan. Haddad delivered food, blankets and tents. Al-Rushaid volunteered at a women’s clinic, teaching mothers how to care for themselves and their children. Haddad was later hired by Muslim Aid, a British relief organization once headed by Yusuf Islam, also known as the singer Cat Stevens. Haddad worked for other humanitarian groups as well, helping them obtain permits to move food, blankets and other supplies into Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Between 1988 and 1992, the couple says, they divided their time between Pakistan and Kuwait, where they visited with al-Rushaid’s family. Their first two children, Sana and Sami, were born during this time.
Haddad remained in contact with people with whom he worked in Pakistan and who had returned to the United States. He and his former co-workers wanted to continue providing humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Many relief organizations had left the area after the Russians withdrew in 1989.
“But the need there was still great,” says Haddad, who suggested they start an Islamic charity. Global Relief Foundation was born. Haddad intended to move back to the United States in 1992 to help found the nonprofit. “But my wife had medical problems and we stayed in Kuwait longer than anticipated,” he says.
His associates formed GRF and established a board of directors. For several months the organization was housed in a two-bedroom apartment in Palos Hills, a suburb south of Chicago.
“I was in Kuwait, but was in close contact with the board,” says Haddad. “We had to get the administrative structure put together and figure out our priorities. It was a fledgling, a baby organization and we were just trying to get it off the ground.”
Chehade was one of the people with whom Haddad regularly consulted. The two men had not met before founding GRF, though they had both worked for relief organizations in Pakistan. A mutual friend asked Chehade to help establish the charity.
Chehade, who spoke to Metro Times by phone from Chicago, moved to Illinois from Boston in 1992. He had just finished his master’s degree in systems engineering at Boston University, but had long been interested in relief work. He says his father, an Islamic scholar and judge in Lebanon, inspired him.
“He was so much involved in providing social and humanitarian aid to the poor and needy,” says Chehade of his father, who established a health clinic in a poor area of Lebanon that he says is still operating today. “Islam, as my religion, also strengthened this feeling of obligation to help those in need.”
The first year GRF raised about $700,000 to distribute more than 400,000 pounds of rice, sugar and flour to about 10,000 refugees in Pakistan, according to GRF’s 1992 filing with the Internal Revenue Service. The records show that GRF sponsored a school for 130 orphans and a medical lab that year.
The organization’s members raised money by speaking about the refugee crisis at mosques and other community gatherings around the country, says Chehade, who initially was paid $12,000 a year and worked 14- to 16-hour days.
“And not only me, everybody,” he says of the long hours he and the staff put in. “People don’t feel it is a nine-to-five job. It is something we are blessed to do, to help those in need.”
Chehade became GRF’s executive director, earning not more than $28,000 annually, according to IRS records.
In July 1993, Haddad and his family moved from Kuwait to Chicago. He became chairman of the GRF board and a fund-raiser, traveling widely in the United States to raise money.
The organization moved to an office building in Bridgeview, a Chicago suburb. The group raised only about $180,000 its second year and continued its work in Pakistan, according to its IRS disclosures. It also funded a medical clinic in Lebanon that year, the records show.
The Belgian connection
Around 1994, Nabil Sayadi, a friend from Belgium who had worked with Haddad in Pakistan, contacted him and suggested a European branch of GRF. Haddad and the board agreed.
In 1995, Sayadi founded Foundation Secours Mondial (FSM), French for Global Relief Organization. Sayadi was the director of the small organization and his wife was the secretary. The couple ran FSM from their home; Sayadi earned about $17,000 annually; his wife was not paid.
FSM focused on the war-torn Balkans — Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania.
GRF gave FSM $60,000 to provide food, medical care, clothing and other assistance to needy families in Bosnia in 1995, according to GRF’s filings with the IRS. The next year, GRF gave FSM about $313,000 for relief programs in Bosnia and neighboring countries, IRS filings show.
“All the money GRF has transferred to these regions since 1995 passed by me or my acknowledgement,” says Sayadi, in an affidavit GRF filed in federal court as part of its lawsuit against the government.
In its six years of operation, FSM distributed a total of about $2 million, with 40 percent of its money coming from GRF; FSM raised the remainder in Belgium and other countries.
Sayadi, who spoke to Metro Times at his home north of Brussels, says he would submit proposals to GRF for projects and, if they were approved, the organization would finance it. The most extensive projects, in Kosovo, included a medical clinic and vocational school where women were taught computer programming, sewing, English and Arabic.
Sayadi says he was eager to provide aid to Afghanistan, where there was ongoing famine. But GRF rejected his proposals.
Chehade tells Metro Times that when GRF was first founded it provided some aid to Afghanistan and later did so through other humanitarian groups. “But when the Taliban took over [in 1996], we couldn’t do work there,” he says.
Haddad explains, “We didn’t like dealing with them because of their interpretation of Islam. We disagreed with it, the treatment of women, for example. They wouldn’t allow the education of women. Nothing in the Koran says that there is to be no education of women.”
In 1996, Haddad and his family moved back to Kuwait.
“I had been away to the States since my studies. I wanted to settle near home,” he says.
He looked for work in Lebanon, but had no luck. In 1998, he moved his family back to the United States with the intention of returning to GRF, which was growing rapidly.
But Haddad and his wife decided to avoid Chicago’s intense urban life. Friends recommended Ann Arbor. They moved there in 1999, and Haddad continued to raise money for GRF.
By its 10th year, GRF had raised a total of about $20 million, with half of that in its final two years of operation. It was the second-largest Islamic charity in the nation behind the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation. GRF had about 20,000 donors in the United States and Europe, according to court records. It had 15 full-time employees at its Chicago office and provided aid to about 680,000 people worldwide, says Chehade. GRF employed about 150 nurses, doctors, teachers, program directors and others on four continents on a part-time basis, he says.
In early 2001, about 30 GRF representatives from around the globe met in Chicago to plan the organization’s future.
Chehade shared his vision: “I told them I have a dream that GRF would … operate in five or six continents, have major offices everywhere, serve millions of people and would not have clinics, we would have hospitals.”
He wanted GRF to buy its own building and lease space it did not need itself. At the time, GRF’s administrative costs accounted for about 20 percent of its budget. Chehade hoped that by becoming a landlord, overhead could be reduced and “all the donations could go to the needy.”
But Chehade’s dreams for GRF went up in smoke on Sept. 11, 2001.
On the morning of Dec. 14, 2001, two dozen FBI agents raided GRF’s Bridgeview office without a search warrant, according to court records. Employees were ordered out of the building, and agents spent half a day removing documents, books, computers, video equipment and other items.
FBI agents also raided Chehade’s condominium without a search warrant, court records show, spending six hours hauling away computers, family photos, passports and other belongings.
Between GRF’s office and Chehade’s home, the government seized about 600,000 items.
That same day, international troops surrounded GRF’s Kosovo office and arrested its director and doctor, who were later held and interrogated at an American military base. GRF offices in Albania and Bosnia were raided as well.
Meanwhile, Haddad was preparing to go to the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor for the midday prayer. It was the eve of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast during daylight hours.
As he was leaving, Chehade called to tell him about the raid in Chicago. Haddad went to Islamic Center and returned home at about 2 p.m., unsure of how to break the news about GRF to his wife. Haddad called Chehade and his immigration attorney in Washington, D.C., to discuss the raid.
While he was on the phone, there was a knock at the door. Three immigration officers told Haddad they believed he was in the country illegally.
“I said, ‘I got an attorney on the phone, why don’t you talk to him?’” recalls Haddad.
The officers arrested him.
“I felt like I was in a dream,” he says. “It just kept intensifying. Then we get to the handcuffs. I’m thinking, me, Rabih Haddad, in handcuffs.”
Haddad was taken to a holding cell at the Detroit immigration office and later that day to the Monroe County Jail, which has a contract to house federal detainees.
By the end of the day, the U.S. Department of Treasury froze GRF’s bank accounts, which had a balance of about $900,000.
The raids were not a complete surprise. The day before, Chehade says, a New York Times’ reporter called GRF’s public relations officer and said that federal agents planned to close its offices the next morning; the reporter asked for a response. Haddad also was notified of the reporter’s inquiry, but he didn’t believe the raid would occur.
“I said, ‘It has to be a fluke,’” recalls Haddad.
But Chehade alerted GRF’s attorney, Roger Simmons, who lives in Maryland. Simmons arrived in Chicago the morning of the raid.
Simmons says the FBI agents who conducted the raid were surprised to find GRF’s lawyer waiting for them.
He says he offered to let the FBI interview the GRF staff and review the group’s financial records, but the agents ordered Simmons out of the building.
The FBI did interview Chehade that day at his home for more than two hours. He says he was asked if he had destroyed any documents after the Times reporter had called. Chehade told the agents that he made copies of financial records and other documents so that GRF could defend itself against any allegations of wrongdoing. But the government also seized those records, he says.
Chehade, who now works for a small telecommunications company in Chicago, reflects on the efforts he and other GRF members made to build the organization.
“And in one day, all of it was destroyed,” he says.
What prompted the shutdown of GRF’s offices?
Simmons says it was an anonymous leaflet delivered to GRF’s Kosovo office, and faxed to the Belgium office about 12 hours before the raid. Simmons learned about the fax weeks after GRF was shut down from a Wall Street Journal reporter who said federal officials had told him about the document.
Simmons had the Belgium office review faxes between the two offices. “The only thing they could come up with was this,” he says referring to the leaflet.
The document, which was translated into broken English, claims that GRF is a terrorist organization.
Simmons suspects that U.S. agents had tapped GRF’s phone and data lines here and abroad after Sept. 11, 2001, and that they assumed GRF had produced the leaflet. Simmons says he doesn’t know who wrote it.
The Treasury Department, which blocked GRF’s assets, would not say what prompted the raid. The FBI would not comment.
Authorities were also mum on the arrest and detention of GRF workers in Kosovo, Bosnia and Albania. Statements written by GRF’s Balkan employees (and filed in federal court in Illinois) allege that GRF’s Kosovo director, Ahmed Said, was stripped, severely beaten by Italian soldiers and then detained and interrogated at Fort Bondsteel, a U.S. post in southern Kosovo, for 38 days. The statements allege that a GRF doctor got the same treatment, minus the beating. Two GRF employees in Bosnia alleged that the FBI searched their homes, seized personal belongings and interrogated one worker for nine hours.
Four GRF workers in Albania were allegedly arrested by local police and jailed for eight hours. Their computers, records, money and other items were confiscated and held at the U.S. Embassy, according to the statements.
Before the shutdown of GRF, there were countless news reports that the government suspected the charity of having terrorist ties and that it might freeze its assets.
In October 2001, the Bush administration had frozen the assets of 27 individuals and organizations with alleged links to Osama bin Laden.
Despite the media reports, GRF officials refused to believe the government would move against them, says Chehade. In GRF’s final newsletter, sent to donors three times annually, Chehade wrote, “You must be aware of the press reports unfairly and falsely casting aspersions on our operations and accounts. I write to tell you that we have received no indication and do not expect that any of our worldwide assets will be frozen in any investigation that may occur. Based on our system of distributing aid, we take every precaution to ensure that our assets, even unwittingly, could not be used for terrorist activity. … In the meantime, we will also weigh our legal options, and pledge that GRF is ready and able to defend our reputation and operations to the fullest extent of the law.”
In November 2001, GRF filed a federal defamation lawsuit against several reporters and news organizations, including The New York Times and ABC Inc. GRF claimed that the news organizations’ false reporting on GRF cost it donations.
During 2001, GRF’s donations had increased by as much as 35 percent over 2000, says Chehade. He believes the increase would have been greater had reports of suspicions of terror ties not swirled about.
“We should have doubled our income that season,” Chehade says, noting that GRF had launched an aggressive fundraising campaign with ads and 270,000 direct mailings, something it had not done in the past.
In January 2002, a judge dismissed the defamation suit, ruling that the reports were accurate. GRF is appealing the ruling.
In December 2001, and early January 2002, Haddad’s deportation hearings got under way in secret in Detroit. His wife, the press and public were not permitted to attend. Not even Haddad was allowed entry. He watched the proceedings on closed-circuit TV from his cell in Monroe County Jail, about 40 miles south of Detroit.
About 100 supporters showed up for the first closed hearing. At the second hearing before Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker, more than 200 protesters rallied outside. This was the first of many demonstrations staged on Haddad’s behalf.
Federal officials would not even say why Haddad was being held. His six-month tourist visa had expired in 1999, but it was clear that this was no ordinary immigration case. Someone suspected of a visa violation is seldom held without bail, says Haddad’s immigration attorney, Ashraf Nubani.
Hacker ruled that Haddad should be held without bond, claiming that he was a threat to society because he owned a firearm. The day of Haddad’s arrest in Ann Arbor, immigration officers confiscated a shotgun and several boxes of ammunition. Haddad explained that he used the gun to hunt geese and that it was licensed.
Hacker also ruled that Haddad was a flight risk, and had “no evidence of family ties,” other than his son, Rami, who was born in the States. “The main family is illegally present in the United States, the immediate family,” said Hacker, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Many petitions and letters were submitted on his behalf. The testimony of two imams who had worked with Haddad at the Islamic Center in Ann Arbor, where he taught school and gave lectures, did no good.
On Jan. 11, 2002, al-Rushaid went to Monroe County Jail to visit Haddad. But he wasn’t there. He’d been moved to a federal facility in Milan, Mich.
Al-Rushaid was turned away in Monroe with no explanation.
“I did not budge. I had to hear something. It took them a good hour to say, ‘He’s been moved,’” she says.
After a week at Milan, Haddad was flown to Chicago in handcuffs and shackles. U.S. marshals placed a special device between Haddad’s wrists that looked like a plastic box.
A fellow prisoner told him it was reserved for “the most dangerous criminals,” Haddad says.
When he and the others arrived at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, the cuffs and shackles were removed. But the plastic box remained. Haddad says a guard looked at it and asked, “What, did you do, kill somebody?”
In Chicago, Haddad says, he was held in solitary confinement in cockroach-infested, 6- by 9-foot cell 23 hours a day. The other hour, he was allowed to use a stationary bicycle.
“What a joke,” wrote Haddad in a letter to a supporter. “I am led, cuffed, from my cell to a cage [literally] just down the hall which is the same size as my cell. In it is a homemade stationary bicycle that has no resistance and thus is worthless for exercising.”
Friends, the media and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, clamored to have the hearings opened. Conyers rallied with protesters outside Haddad’s hearings and issued several statements criticizing President Bush.
“I am particularly appalled that the Bush administration would be championing these proceedings and the use of secret evidence,” Conyers said in a January 2002 statement. “During the campaign, Mr. Bush promised to oppose the use of secret evidence. Now, he is not only using it, but by obtaining and using new powers for secret evidence for asset freezes in the so-called USA Patriot Act, he is expanding it.”
In January 2002, Metro Times, several other news organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Conyers sued Ashcroft, Hacker, and Michael Creppy, the nation’s chief immigration judge, in U.S. District Court, demanding that the hearings be opened and that records be made public. In the course of litigation, the plaintiffs learned that Creppy had issued a letter 10 days after Sept. 11, 2001, to all immigration judges, mandating that they close immigration proceedings to press and public in “special interest” cases. Creppy was acting under Ashcroft’s direction, according to court records.
Haddad’s attorneys later filed their own lawsuit demanding his hearings be opened. Georgetown University law professor David Cole was one of several attorneys who handled that case.
“The government argued that it had to keep the hearings closed because it didn’t want to reveal his identity as a detainee, but it was public knowledge,” having been widely reported in the press, Cole says.
In February 2002, al-Rushaid and their children went to Chicago, where they had their first visit with Haddad, who was behind bars and Plexiglas. He says he was allowed a 15-minute phone call with his family once a month while he was in the Chicago facility.
Haddad was asked to testify before a grand jury.
“I wanted to testify,” says Haddad. “I had nothing to hide, but my lawyers said it was a ‘perjury trap.’”
His lawyers asked that he be granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, but immunity was never offered.
In March 2002, Conyers visited Haddad at the Chicago facility. The congressman was the first outsider other than Haddad’s family and lawyers to see him face-to-face since his arrest.
“If you want a real patriot, you’ve got one in John Conyers,” says Haddad. “He restored my faith in politicians.”
After the meeting, Conyers issued a statement condemning the closed hearings and secret evidence.
“I am deeply disturbed that the Bush administration is championing secret proceedings, the use of secret evidence and cruel conditions of confinement against a man with no criminal record [and] who has publicly condemned the terrorist act against our country,” wrote Conyers.
“The attacks of September 11 should not destroy our Constitution. Rather, they should strengthen our commitment to it. Imam Haddad is entitled to the full disclosure of any evidence against him.”
In April 2002, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled that Haddad’s hearings must be opened. The Justice Department appealed the decision.
That summer, a demonstration was planned in Chicago to observe the six-month anniversary of Haddad’s arrest. People rallied outside the Chicago detention facility. But Haddad wasn’t there. Two days before it, he was transferred to Monroe County. Haddad suspects he was moved to thwart the protest.
Back in Monroe, he received a letter from an inmate he had befriended in Chicago. According to Haddad, the letter said that for nearly 30 minutes after the rally ended, inmates in the 80-unit cellblock chanted, “Free Haddad! Free Haddad!”
About two months later, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Edmunds’ ruling.
“Democracies die behind closed doors,” said the opinion by Judge Damon Keith. “A government operating in the shadow of secrecy stands in complete opposition to the society envisioned by the framers of our Constitution.”
Not only were Haddad’s immigration proceedings opened, he was granted another bond hearing before a new judge. However, shortly before the hearing, the Treasury Department added GRF to a list of organizations having terrorist ties. Ashraf Nubani, Haddad’s immigration attorney, suspects the designation was made to persuade Immigration Judge Robert Newberry to hold Haddad without bond, which he did.
“I think it was a way to prejudice the judge,” he says.
Treasury offered no response to Nubani’s allegation.
On Oct. 18, 2002, Treasury issued a list of reasons it believed GRF has links to terrorists. Some of the accusations are also contained in FBI agent Brent E. Potter’s declaration, submitted to the immigration and district court, claiming that Haddad was a national security threat. Portions deemed classified were redacted.
“Initially, when the government presented the Potter declaration, they showed it under seal,” says Nubani. “Only the attorneys could look at it.”
When Nubani protested, the government agreed to seal only parts of it. “We had to turn in the original one. In the end, what I have is a redacted portion,” he says.
Roughly two and a half pages of the 20-page Potter declaration are redacted. In it, Haddad is accused of working for an organization while in Pakistan that was the alleged precursor to al Qaeda. The organization, Mekhtab Al-Khidemat (MAK), was founded by Abdallah Azzam, who was killed in 1989 by unknown assassins. Azzam was said to be Osama bin Laden’s mentor. The Potter declaration says Haddad met Azzam several times in Pakistan.
Haddad says he knew Azzam from prayer meetings, but denies working for MAK. He says Mekhtab Al-Khidemat, which is Arabic for “services offices,” assessed people’s skills and interests to determine what work they might do to aid the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. He says he went to MAK to be assessed when he first arrived to Pakistan.
“We pushed the government hard to produce anything showing I worked for this group,” says Haddad, who says Azzam was an Islamic scholar who is considered a hero by many Muslims.
GRF was attacked in the Potter declaration and by the Treasury Department for maintaining and promoting Azzam’s teachings.
Barnett Rubin, director of studies at the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, is considered a top expert on Afghanistan, and testified at Haddad’s hearing. Rubin says Azzam was a Palestinian scholar who believed in an armed struggle against non-Muslims.
“I don’t know what he thought about killing civilians,” Rubin tells Metro Times. “But I don’t know him being engaged against the U.S. at the time.”
He notes that the United States was a major supporter of Azzam during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“We were giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Arab fighters in Afghanistan,” says Rubin. “What the government is doing [now] is interpreting acts of 1989 in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”
The Potter declaration states that between 1995 and 1997, GRF communicated with Wadih el Hage, who was bin Laden’s personal secretary and is now serving a life sentence for the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, killing 224 people and injuring many others.
Simmons claims el Hage contacted GRF “[F]or about four years running, trying to get us to donate to killing mosquitoes in Kenya, and we declined. We documented that with an affidavit by a man who talked to him. The government never rebutted that or let me depose el Hage.”
Sayadi, GRF’s European director, admits that he spoke to el Hage a handful of times, according to a statement filed with the court.
“When I received the calls in the 1995-97 time frame, Mr. el Hage indicated that his purpose was to start a project against malaria in Africa,” wrote Sayadi, who adds that GRF did not assist the project. Sayadi wrote that his phone records indicate that he called el Hage three times between 1995 and 2001. “These telephone calls were mainly about the above-referenced malaria project in Kenya,” wrote Sayadi, who met el Hage in Pakistan around 1991 and again about six years later in Germany. He says el Hage tried to interest him in a business venture involving selling spices, but Sayadi declined.
Sayadi vehemently denies supporting terrorism or discussing terrorist acts with el Hage.
The Potter declaration states that in 1997 the FBI recovered photos from a trash bin outside GRF’s Bridgeview offices. One was of two deceased men with the caption “Hizbul Mujahadeen, a known terrorist organization” operating in India and Pakistan. Written on the reverse side of the photos was “two martyrs killed by the Indian government.”
Haddad says GRF received many photos from donors to use for its newsletter.
“We throw away what we can’t use,” he says.
There was also a photo that Potter characterized as “sophisticated wireless communication equipment.” Haddad says the radio equipment belonged to the Chechnyan government, which allowed GRF to store goods in its warehouse.
The Treasury Department alleged that GRF received money from Mamoun Darkazanli and Muhammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Syrians who were indicted last year in Spain for allegedly distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of al Qaeda. Zouaydi gave GRF’s Belgium office about $130,000, according to Sayadi.
Haddad and Chehade say they don’t know these men.
Sayadi said in a written statement, “I have known both of these men for years and, if they are or were members of al Qaeda or have anything to do with al Qaeda, I am shocked.”
Sayadi tells Metro Times that he considers the men friends.
The government accused GRF founder Hazem Rageb of fleeing the country in 2000, after refusing to talk to the FBI. Simmons says Rageb did not flee. Months before the Sept. 11 attacks, he says, Rageb had moved to Saudi Arabia for a new job, and that he has since returned to the States several times. Simmons says he told the government how it could contact Rageb. “If the government wants to contact him, they know how to,” says Simmons. “It’s not like he’s hiding.”
GRF also received about $19,000 from the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, which the Treasury Department designated a terrorist organization for allegedly raising funds for Hamas. Chehade says the nonprofits often gave money to one another — that if GRF received a donation earmarked for a country where it was not operating, it forwarded it a nonprofit that was doing work there.
He says that GRF received money from Holy Land before it was shut down and designated a terrorist organization.
The government made an issue of Haddad’s declared income. In 1994 and 2000, Haddad submitted letters to prospective landlords, stating that he worked for GRF. However, Haddad was never officially a GRF employee. Haddad testified at his immigration proceedings that his income was derived from donations raised by GRF — that he was, in essence, a beneficiary of the charity. He says Islamic law allows donations to be used by religious teachers, as well as those who are tending to the poor, and he was doing both.
According to the letters, Haddad received $44,000 in 1994 and $29,000 in 2000; he did not pay taxes on the donations. Haddad and Chehade, who signed the letters to the landlords, say they were not trying to deceive anyone. Haddad was trying to prove he had income so he could get housing for his family. Chehade wishes he had simply stated that Haddad’s income came from GRF, and not that he was an employee.
“It was wrong what he did and wrong what I did,” says Chehade of the wording of the letters.
An intriguing accusation that has not surfaced involves $30,000 monthly wire transfers to GRF’s Chicago bank account that began in 2000. Chehade says that for months he and the bank attempted to learn the source of the money, without success. The monthly donations began soon after GRF began assisting Palestinians in late 1999.
For years, Chehade says, GRF avoided aiding Palestinian causes out of fear it could be misinterpreted by the government. But many donors insisted that their money go to help Palestinians. The mysterious donations, which were specifically earmarked for Palestinian causes, began after GRF purchased ambulances and equipment for a hospital in the occupied territories of Israel.
After Sept. 11, Chehade says he feared that the money might be coming from a nefarious source. He tried again to trace the donations but had no luck. When GRF was shut down, he says, he was questioned by the FBI twice about the anonymous donations.
Simmons says the FBI told him the donations were wired from a bank in Switzerland. He does not know if the wires are part of the secret evidence used against the GRF.
The government has used secret evidence to freeze GRF’s assets and declare it a “specially designated global terrorist.”
In his book, Enemy Alien, Cole writes about the Bush administration’s use of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), an obscure administrative rule, to shut down GRF and two other Islamic charities.
IEEPA was designed to authorize economic sanctions against foreign countries in emergencies, writes Cole. It was amended under the Patriot Act to allow the Treasury Department to freeze assets and use secret evidence to defend its actions in court, without having to show the evidence to those whose assets were frozen.
“These are extraordinary powers,” writes Cole. “In effect, the president can target any groups or individuals he chooses, label them ‘specially designated terrorists’ without substantive criteria, notice or a hearing, and put organizations out of business and individuals into internal economic exile.”
When the Treasury Department placed GRF on its list of organizations linked to terrorism in October 2002, the nonprofit sued the government in federal court in Illinois, in part, for using secret evidence.
“The core issue is, why did they blacklist GRF?” says Simmons.
Simmons obtained a special license from the Treasury Department that allowed him to use the $900,000 that the government had frozen in GRF’s account to defend the organization and maintain it. That money was depleted last year. He now represents GRF pro bono, and the legal wrangling is far from over.
“What they [the government] told the judge is they had suspicions based on classified information to warrant what they did, and we don’t know what it is, as I sit here today,” says Simmons. “Once you are on the list, everyone assumes it is proven. It has never been proven. It has never been supported by evidence.”
In 2002, the court ruled that the government could use classified evidence to investigate GRF, which appealed unsuccessfully to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now, the lower court must determine if the classified evidence warranted GRF’s closure. That ruling may come this summer. If the trial court deems there was sufficient evidence, GRF plans to appeal, a process that could take years, says Simmons.
What does it mean for the Treasury Department to designate GRF a group that supports terrorism?
“It means, with respect to GRF, that there is reasonable basis to believe that it is providing financial support to terrorist organizations,” says Jimmy Gurulé, the Treasury undersecretary for enforcement when GRF was placed on the list. “The legal significance is, their assets are frozen in U.S.”
GRF also is listed by the United Nations as “belonging to or associated with al Qaeda.”
“When GRF was added to the U.N. list, the international community took action to block and freeze their assets,” Gurulé says. “The intended purpose for those who finance terrorism is to deprive them access to foreign banks and U.S. banks and to cut off ability to move money.”
Gurulé explains that the United States submits names of individuals and organizations to the U.N. Sanctions Committee, which reviews an “evidentiary packet.”
Neither Haddad’s nor Chehade’s name appears on either the Treasury or U.N. list. However, the names of Sayadi, GRF’s European director, and his wife, both appear. They are the only ones associated with GRF that appear on either list. Gurulé does not know why.
Treasury spokewoman Molly Millerwise says she cannot comment on the specifics of any given designation.
Once on the list, how can an individual or organization get off? According to Millerwise, they can write to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and ask to be removed. In an e-mail, Millerwise writes, “The process will involve a dialogue (written) between OFAC and the person designated to determine whether there are changed circumstances (or whether there was insufficient basis for the designation) that would justify changing the person’s designation status. The process takes as long as is necessary for OFAC to investigate the person’s request and corresponding documents that were provided to prove either error or changed circumstances.”
Basically, it’s up to OFAC to decide if GRF will be removed from the list, says Cole.
“One concern raised about the response to 9/11 was the use of administrative procedures to close down charities without affording them any meaningful opportunity to confront evidence against them or give them any fair day in court,” he says.
On July 14, 2003, Haddad called his wife from Amsterdam to tell her he had been deported.
A few days earlier, Haddad had submitted a brief appealing the immigration judge’s denial of his request for political asylum. But he had missed the deadline for an appeal by a day. Consequently, he was deported.
Haddad’s immigration attorney, Ashraf Nubani, and al-Rushaid both say they knew nothing of his deportation until Haddad was out of the country.
“We as a general policy don’t give any notification of removal,” says Victor Cerda, principal legal adviser for ICE. “We don’t give advance notification that could result in a threat to an officer. Officer safety is the underlying issue.”
Haddad’s attorney says that he was still talking with the government when Haddad was deported.
“While those negotiations were going on, they deported him and they didn’t tell any of us,” says Nubani.
Haddad arrived in Beirut the next morning. His mother was at the airport waiting for him. But Lebanese immigration officials did not release him until the next morning. Doha says she begged to see her son. Immigration officers assured her that he was fine.
But she wouldn’t relent.
“My mother raised holy you-know-what,” recalls Haddad.
So did other relatives, who called Lebanese immigration officials to demand Haddad’s release and stress that Haddad had never been charged with any crime in the United States, or elsewhere.
Haddad was questioned for several hours and released the following morning.
Weeks later, Lebanese authorities again questioned Haddad, who was not allowed to have an attorney present. Each interview took place at the Immigration and General Security Office, he says. Haddad was called in for questioning for two straight days a few months ago, he says. The first meeting lasted six hours and the second for three hours.
Haddad says the same person interviewed him each time, asking about his time in the States, conversion to Islam, and GRF.
Haddad laughs when asked what prompts the Lebanese government to interrogate him. “That’s what I would like to know,” he says.
Asked if he is under surveillance, Haddad says, “If it’s happening, I haven’t seen any evidence of it. If I am, they’re going to get bored after a while.”
Haddad’s wife says she and her children were traumatized by their deportation. That day, people rallied outside the Detroit immigration offices. Al-Rushaid and the children were transported in a convoy of four vans. When they passed Detroit Metro Airport, she says she and the kids asked where they were being taken, but were not told.
“They kept saying, ‘Secret mission. Secret mission,’” she says.
Sami, the oldest boy, asked if they were going to Chicago. Al-Rushaid says they got no answer, but that Sami was prescient.
During the four-hour trip to Chicago, she claims, two of the three immigration officers bragged about how “they like to catch and kill aliens.” Al-Rushaid says she told her children to cover their ears. The vans did not stop to allow the children to use a bathroom; one son had to urinate in a cup.
“Finally, they let us stop to eat,” she says. “That was a mistake. Here we are with these men escorting us into McDonald’s with everyone watching us. My children were embarrassed.”
When they arrive Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. She can be reached at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]