YORK, PA - The American Civil Liberties Union today condemned the government’s announcement that it intends to deport Pennsylvania resident Sameh Khouzam to Egypt, a country the State Department reports engages in torture. The United States government claims it has received “diplomatic assurances” from Egypt and moved to deport Khouzam last week, despite a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that he would likely be tortured upon his return.
“The Egyptian authorities are notorious for their routine use of torture. The U.S. government’s reliance on their word makes a mockery of its treaty obligations under the Torture Convention,” said Amrit Singh, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project Staff Attorney. “It is illegal and immoral to send Mr. Khouzam back to a country where he will likely be tortured.”
Khouzam, a Coptic Christian, came to the U.S. in 1998 as a refugee from religious persecution in Egypt. In February, 2004, a U.S. Court of Appeals granted him relief from removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), finding that it was “more likely than not” that he would be tortured if returned to Egypt. Khouzam remained in immigration detention until he was released in February 2006. He has been living with his family and working in Pennsylvania.
On May 29, 2007, after appearing for a routine check-in with immigration authorities, Khouzam was abruptly detained at the York County, PA jail. He was told that the State Department had secured a promise from Egypt that he would not be tortured, and informed that his deportation to that country would take place as soon as June 1. Neither Khouzam nor his lawyers has seen the Egyptian promise. An emergency petition for a stay of Khouzam’s removal order until June 7, 2007 was issued last week, by Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie of the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. In addition, Khouzam’s attorneys filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit yesterday. That petition was denied as moot on June 1.
“Our government should be smart enough to know that it shouldn’t believe the empty promises of Egyptian diplomats that they won’t torture,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU legislative counsel. “The Egyptian diplomats can cross their fingers and say they won’t torture again, but their full torture chambers tell the real story.”
CAT, ratified by the U.S. in 1994, 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. has sought to circumvent its treaty obligations by transferring individuals to countries - including those known to employ torture - that provide nothing more than promises from their diplomats that they will not torture such individuals.
"The Bush administration's claim that they have unreviewable discretion to do an end run around the Convention Against Torture and a federal court order is dangerous for democracy," said Vic Walczak, Legal Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Upon his arrival in the U.S. in 1998, Khouzam was immediately placed in immigration detention, based on allegations by the Egyptian authorities that he was wanted in Egypt on a murder charge. To date, the Egyptian authorities have not produced much of the evidence that usually would support that charge. Nonetheless, the U.S. government kept Khouzam in immigration detention for eight years. Since his release in 2006, Khouzam has been living in Pennsylvania and working as controller of large real estate company.
The U.S. State Department has documented widespread Egyptian persecution and discrimination against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities, as well as widespread use of torture in Egypt. A State Department report on the matter is available at: www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78851.htm. According to the ACLU, torture and abuse in Egyptian detention facilities are routine and Egypt has breached similar diplomatic assurances in the past. On Friday, Congressman Joseph Pitts (R-PA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice detailing these concerns and requesting Khouzam’s deportation be cancelled. That letter is available at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/29982prs20070604.html
Recently two United Nations Human Rights bodies, the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the U.N. Human Rights Committee, found that the “extraordinary rendition” of two men, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed El-Zery, from Sweden to Egypt, violated, Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (prohibition against rendition to torture) and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (prohibition against torture). Last week the ACLU brought a lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. for providing logistical support for those illegal renditions. More information is available at: www.aclu.org/rendition.
Attorneys representing Khouzam are Singh, Judy Rabinovitz and Lee Gelernt of the ACLU, Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Daniel Pell, Thanos Kanellakos and Morton Sklar and Monique Beadle of the World Organization for Human Rights.
The emergency stay granted by Judge Vanaskie is available at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/29979lgl20070531.html
The original decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is available at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/29981lgl20040224.html
The emergency petition for habeas corpus is available at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/29979lgl20070531.html
Additional documents are available at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/hr/