Monday, December 27, 2004

Court Says Female Genital Mutilation Consititutes Torture, Halts Our Client's Deportation

In a groundbreaking decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals became the first court at the Circuit Court of Appeals level on Friday to stay the deportation of a mother whose daughters, both U.S. citizens, would be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), a form of torture, if deported to Nigeria. Human Rights USA worked creatively to ensure that Philomena Nwakolo and her daughters, Rachel and Victoria, are now safe from abuse and torture in Nigeria.

Philomena came to the United States in the 1980s on a visa that is typically granted to the spouses and children of students. Philomena took a paid job shortly after arriving, not realizing that she wasn't permitted to perform paid work, and the INS began deportation proceedings against her.

After trying several times, unsuccessfully, to obtain permission to remain in the United States, Philomena finally decided to seek protection under a federal law which implements the Convention Against Torture (CAT), an international statute obliging countries not to deport individuals to places where they face the likelihood of being tortured.

Finally, in 1999, after several years of trying to reopen her case, Philomena again sought to reopen her case based on "changed circumstances." The changed circumstances were the birth of Philomena's daughter, then 3 years old, as well as additional legal protections that had been enacted pursuant to the CAT.

Although Philomena's petition to reopen was denied, she went to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to petition for review of the lower court's refusal to reopen her case. The Seventh Circuit granted her request, and held that a stay of removal "promotes the public's compelling interest in ensuring that minor United States citizens are not forced into exile to be tortured."

The Seventh Circuit Court's decision is the first to hold that female genital mutilation constitutes torture, and is unique in that the court considered the effects of deportation on the children of an alien, as well as on the alien herself.

For additional news articles on this case, please see the following:

Friday, December 17, 2004

Court Agrees to Review U.S. Government's Role in Rendition of Abu Ali to Saudi Arabia

In a sweeping decision yesterday, the District Court for the District of Columbia held, in our case Abu Ali v. Ashcroft, that U.S. federal courts have jurisdiction to inquire into the level of involvement that the U.S. government had in the arrest, detention, and interrogation of a U.S. citizen currently being detained in a Saudi prison.

The U.S. government had tried to argue to the court that federal courts lack jurisdiction to compel the government to reveal information about the detention of an individual being held by a foreign government, "even where the United States allegedly has been involved in the prisoner's incarceration in the first place."

The court squarely rejected this argument, stating that ''[t]he full contours of this position would permit the United States, at its discretion and without judicial review, to arrest a citizen of the United States and transfer her to the custody of allies overseas in order to avoid constitutional scrutiny." If the court were to accept that position, that would allow the government ''to deliver American citizens to foreign governments to obtain information through the use of torture," a practice which has been gaining increasing attention as details about the government's "extraordinary rendition" program come to light.

Relying in part on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Rasul v. Bush, in which that Court held that the government could not indefinitely detain "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay without affording them the right to challenge their detentions before a neutral tribunal, the D.C. District Court said that the U.S. government is obliged to respond to our specific allegations of complicity in arranging Abu Ali's detention and mistreatment, giving Ali the opportunity to challenge his detention.

The significance of the court's ruling is that courts have now been held to be able to decide whether the detention of U.S. citizens by foreign countries are justified, so long as there is some evidence that the U.S. government was involved in the detention of U.S. citizens. The decision, furthermore, presents a very strong rebuke of the U.S. government's attempts to prevent courts from reviewing its actions in the war on terror, something it has been trying to do from the beginning.

For additional news on our Abu Ali case, please see the following news sources:

Thursday, July 29, 2004

HRUSA Files Lawsuit to Challenge U.S. Government's Rendition to Torture Program

On June 11, 2003, Ahmed Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen of Falls Church, Va., was taking final exams at the university he attended in Medina, Saudi Arabia, when he was seized by Saudi officials and brought to a Saudi prison, where Abu Ali was held incommunicado for the first few months of detention, and only allowed to call his parents every few weeks thereafter. At no time during these first few months was he given a chance to legally contest his detention.

A few months into his indefinite detention, Abu Ali was interrogated by FBI officials, and was and subsequently subjected to solitary confinement for a period of three months, during which time he lost 30 pounds, and was subjected to mistreatment and abuse.

Abu Ali's parents came to us for help after other groups had turned them away, calling Abu Ali's case "unwinnable." Abu's family finally came to Human Rights USA, and we readily agreed to take his case. We have now filed suit against several U.S. government officials, challenging the government's extraordinary rendition program and its attempts to deny due process to U.S. citizens, as it has done with terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees could not be held indefinitely without an opportunity to challenge their detentions before a neutral tribunal. There is no direct legal precedent for federal courts to order American authorities to release a U.S. citizen held by foreign officials.

For additional news items about Abu Ali's case, please see the following: