For Immediate Release
Federal Court Rejects Bush Administration’s Attempt to Deport Torture Victim Without Due Process
ACLU Successfully Challenges Government Over Egypt’s 'Diplomatic Assurances' Not to Torture
PHILADELPHIA - Rebuffing
the Bush administration's efforts to deport Egyptian torture victim
Sameh Khouzam, a federal appeals court today upheld his right to
challenge Egypt's "diplomatic assurances" that it will not torture
Khouzam upon his return. This is the latest development in an ongoing
American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit on behalf of Khouzam.
Last January, in the first decision
of its kind, a federal district court sided with the ACLU and ordered
the government to stop the deportation of Khouzam based on secret and
unreliable promises and release him under conditions of supervision.
However, the Bush administration appealed this ruling, claiming that
the executive branch has unfettered authority to deport Khouzam and to
detain him indefinitely pending his legal proceedings.
"This is a significant victory for
due process and the rights of all people - citizens or not - to be free
from torture," said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU
Immigrants' Rights Project, who argued the case before the court
earlier this year. "It is also a stinging rejection of the government's
attempts to deprive the judiciary of its constitutional obligation to
conduct meaningful review in the face of unilateral assertions of
Khouzam, a Christian who came to the
United States in 1998 fleeing religious persecution in Egypt, was
granted protection from deportation under the Convention Against
Torture (CAT) in 2004 after a federal appeals court found that he would
likely be tortured if sent back to Egypt. Despite this finding, as well
as State Department reports showing that Egypt routinely engages in
torture, the U.S. government tried to summarily deport Khouzam to Egypt
based on diplomatic assurances the U.S. claims to have received from
the Egyptian government that it asserts are "sufficiently reliable" to
protect him from torture.
In today's opinion, the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the Third Circuit stated, "the Government did not permit
Khouzam to see the written diplomatic assurances that had been obtained
from Egypt, and provided no information pertaining to the Government's
reasons for crediting those assurances...we find no record supporting
the reliability of the diplomatic assurances that purportedly justified
the termination of his deferral of removal."
"This is a great victory for the
rule of law. The appeals court recognized that the Bush administration
cannot simply eliminate the role of the courts in reviewing the
government's actions - that kind of power grab flies in the face of
every principle of American law," said Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of
the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, who also argued this case before
Ratified by the U.S. in 1994, and
implemented by domestic legislation, the Convention Against Torture
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. government is attempting to
use diplomatic assurances - in Khouzam's case and others - to
circumvent its treaty obligations, and transferring individuals to
foreign countries without judicial review.
"The court was absolutely right to
reject the Bush administration's extraordinary claim that it can send a
man to a country where he will almost certainly be tortured without any
mechanism to review the government's actions," said Judy Rabinovitz,
Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.
In Khouzam's case, neither he nor
his lawyers have seen the Egyptian assurances that are the basis for
terminating his CAT protection. Nor has the U.S. government offered any
explanation for why these assurances would be deemed sufficiently
reliable to protect Khouzam from torture. Indeed, Khouzam did not
receive any notice that his CAT protection was being terminated until
May 29 of last year, when, upon appearing for a routine check-in with
immigration authorities, he was taken into detention and provided with
a one-paragraph explanation from Julie Myers, Assistant Secretary of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, informing him that he could be
removed within 72 hours.
Attorneys representing Khouzam are
Singh, Gelernt and Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project,
Vic Walczak and Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and
Morton Sklar of World Organization for Human Rights USA.
Friend-of-the-court briefs in
support of the ACLU's case have been submitted by Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, International
Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights, World
Organization Against Torture, Redress, American Center for Law &
Justice, European Centre for Law & Justice and respected scholars
of international human rights law.
Many prominent lawmakers and
advocacy groups of all political stripes have written letters on behalf
of Khouzam, including Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA),
Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), the Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned
Women for America, the Coptic Assembly of America and the Institute on
Religion and Public Policy. Many of these letters as well as the ACLU's
brief and other documents related to the case are available at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/
Today's decision is available at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/
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