Thursday, August 30, 2007

Trust us. We're the government.

SCRANTON- At a hearing today at the federal courthouse here, lawyers for Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian national facing torture if he is deported to his home country, argued that Middle District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie should stop the deportation and release Khouzam from York County Prison, where he has been detained since late May.

Amrit Singh of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project said that "the government's position is extreme" and that the government "is asking you to ignore that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found" that Khouzam has scars that are consistent with torture, that there is evidence of past violations of so-called "diplomatic assurances" by the Egyptian government, and that a State Department report notes that Egypt has been a regular torturer.

Khouzam escaped Egypt in 1998 after being tortured for his religious beliefs. In mid-flight, the United States revoked his visa after the Egyptians claimed that he was wanted on homicide charges. He was detained on arrival.

Six years later, in 2004, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals granted him a "deferral of removal" under the Convention Against Torture, a treaty to which the United States is a party. In 2006, he was released from prison and lived and worked in Lancaster County until his detention by ICE officials in May. The federal government claimed that it had diplomatic assurances from Egypt that Khouzam would not be tortured upon his return.

"The issue before this court is the United States' obligations under the Convention Against Torture," Singh said. "There is no foreign policy exception in the Convention Against Torture."

Government attorney Douglas Ginsburg argued that Egypt is an ally and that a court is not in a position to intervene in foreign relations.

"Why would they work with us again if their dealings would be opened up to scrutiny," Ginsburg asked.

Judge Vanaskie asked Singh about the murder charge against Khouzam, for which he was reportedly convicted in absentia, and Singh noted that the charges are highly dubious.

Vanaskie also stated to Ginsburg, "One of the concerns I have is that using diplomatic assurances after the deferral of removal makes the process seem like a charade."

In response, Ginsburg said that a ruling against the government "harms diplomatic relations between countries."

Despite relying on the Egyptian diplomatic assurances, Khouzam and his attorneys have not seen any documentation of these assurances, and in court, Singh questioned the lack of a monitoring mechanism by the U.S. government to ensure that the Egyptian government follows through on its commitment.

More information, including briefs and links to related information, can be found at

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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