Rabih Haddad is being held without bail, in solitary confinement, in a jail in Chicago. Though the government can’t come up with a straight answer as to why he is being kept there, it is known that he has been ordered to testify before a federal grand jury that apparently is investigating terror crimes. He has been in federal custody since Dec. 14.
Haddad, a Muslim cleric from Ann Arbor, lives in a 6 foot-by-9 foot cell with a single translucent window that he cannot see through. The 41-year-old native of Lebanon is handcuffed when he is removed from his cell and escorted 10 paces three times each week to a shower. He is allowed to see his wife and four children for four hours each month. He cannot hug or kiss them. He is allowed to speak to them on the phone for 15 minutes each month.
These details are disclosed among thousands of pages of documents surrendered under court order by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service last Friday. And according to those papers, Haddad warrants this treatment because he has admitted overstaying his tourist visa, has admitted possessing a shotgun, ammunition and a hunting license, and has been unable to tell INS to its satisfaction how he derives his income.
In other words, nothing on the public record to date justifies the harsh treatment being meted out to Haddad. Heretofore secret information the government was forced to release last week reveals only that Haddad’s case is nothing more than a routine immigration matter.
It is, of course, anything but routine. There is a portentous subtext — the basis of which remains hidden. Claiming secret evidence it still refuses to disclose, the government believes the Global Relief Foundation, a charity Haddad helped found and for which he has raised money, has funneled money to terrorists — a claim the Illinois-based GRF vehemently denies. GRF, which claims to have raised $20 million for refugees overseas in the past decade, had its assets frozen by the government on the day of Haddad’s arrest. GRF has filed a defamation lawsuit against several news organizations, including the New York Times and ABC News, for suggesting that it abets terror.
Meanwhile, a federal judge has determined that the feds violated the Constitution in pursuing Haddad in secret.
And, in my view, the government has behaved mendaciously in its dealings with Haddad, who has not been formally accused of any crime. Such niceties are unnecessary when one is an alien, an Arab man, in the clutches of the INS. Indefinite detention is a convenient and ready tool for the government.
After citing grave national security concerns as grounds for secret hearings into his removal, and refusing to release transcripts of those proceedings for the same reason, the government knuckled under, released the documents and admitted that their disclosure posed no threat.
“… [W]e have concluded … that the release of past transcripts of the immigration proceedings, as required by court order, will not cause irreparable harm to the national security or to the safety of the American people,” Associate Attorney General Jay Stephens said.
It took far too long and busied far too many lawyers for the government to cough up the evidence and agree to open Haddad’s hearings.
Metro Times joined the Detroit News and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, in suing for the transcripts as well as access to INS proceedings designed to kick Haddad out of the country. His wife and three of his four children are also facing deportation. (One child is a U.S. citizen.) The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union represents the three plaintiffs.
Stephens 'fessed up after U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds ruled in our favor. Edmunds declared that the government’s closure of Haddad’s hearings and suppression of the evidence was unconstitutional. The feds appealed that ruling to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which last week upheld Edmunds and ordered that the materials be released pending its final determination of the appeal.
Metro Times’ participation in this litigation should not be viewed as an endorsement of Haddad or GRF.
What it should be viewed as is an endorsement of the First Amendment and honesty and transparence in government.
Clearly, the feds consider Haddad to be a bad guy.
“Until now, we have been able to justify the detention of Mr. Haddad without relying upon or revealing extremely sensitive material,” Stephens said cryptically. “Although we have filed more sensitive material regarding Mr. Haddad under seal in federal court, we have not yet used that information in the immigration proceedings. The court order does not require us to release that information, and we will not do so. If it becomes necessary to use that information in the immigration proceedings, we will seek to close the hearings pursuant to regulation.”
If Haddad is proved to be a terrorist sympathizer, he is an arch trickster and chameleon. Most of the documents released last week consist of reams of petitions and testimonials from acquaintances of all ages who unanimously vouch for his kindness, compassion, intelligence and scholarship. If these people are correct, Haddad is a pillar of uncommon rectitude, a peace-loving, law-abiding soul. He has spoken out for peace and tolerance among people of all faiths, has condemned terrorist acts and has addressed many community groups about the tenets of Islam.
Included in the papers is a letter from U.S. Rep. Lynn Rivers, D-Ypsilanti, who thanked Haddad for addressing a forum a week after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “I appreciate you giving your time and sharing your insight,” Rivers wrote to Haddad. “I have received several calls from people who attended the town hall who were thankful for the opportunity to receive reliable information and hear the concerns of their neighbor. You made a valuable contribution to the evening.”
The documents I’ve reviewed contain no smoking gun. What they do contain is testimony about Haddad’s 1998 purchase of a shotgun and ammunition, mostly birdshot but some slugs as well. He claims to be an avid hunter, and hunting magazines and catalogs he kept tend to support that claim. It is a crime for an illegal alien to possess a firearm. Whether it is a crime worthy of deportation or the draconian conditions of his detention are other matters.
The documents show the government to be agitated that Haddad, on his application for an apartment in Ann Arbor, claimed to be employed by GRF and to have an income of $29,950. But when questioned about this, Haddad’s responses were vague and contradictory. He travels widely in the United States to raise funds for GRF and assist Muslim communities with religious and educational projects. He testified that he relies on the charity of others, including many anonymous donors.
One of the INS agents who arrested Haddad testified he saw four to six “bricks” of cash, two to three inches thick, in Haddad’s brief case. Haddad’s attorneys contend that the money, mostly $1 bills, belonged to GRF.
I won’t deny that the government’s questions about Haddad’s livelihood are prudent and reasonable. He says he listed GRF as his employer because he wouldn’t have gotten the apartment if he had claimed to be a charity case, which sounds plausible if not candid. Equally plausible is the idea that a man can support his family through gifts while raising money to aid others.
The government itself has been vague and contradictory regarding Haddad’s status. He was moved from Michigan to Illinois to testify before a grand jury on Jan. 10. A court order triggering his transfer describes him as a “material witness.”
On Jan. 29, Detroit Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker refused to reconsider Haddad’s detention, writing that since Haddad “is not in the custody of the INS, this Court lacks jurisdiction to reconsider its order relating to detention.”
Two days later, in a Jan. 31 letter to Haddad’s attorney, Dean J. Polales, assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, wrote, “‘Is Pastor Haddad being held in custody pursuant to a material witness order?’ The answer is no, no material witness warrant has ever been served. He is being held pursuant to an INS proceeding …”
Confused, I called the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago to try and figure out the formal grounds for Haddad’s detention there.
“I’m really sorry to do this but there
isn’t anything I can tell you,” said Nancy Needles, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor. “We’re not commenting on any of the issues that you raised.”
Needles was apologetic for her stonewalling, a trait unique among John Ashcroft’s minions.
“This is an unusual case. I’m really sorry. I feel bad about this.”
I resisted the urge to remind Needles that Rabih Haddad and his wife and four children feel bad about it too.Jeremy Voas is Metro Times' editor. E-mail him at [email protected]