Maybe the ACLJ Should Ask Ashcroft

Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian national who has been accused, and convicted in absentia, of murder in his native country has been fighting efforts by the U.S. government to deport him, claiming that he will be tortured if he returns because he is a Coptic Christian who refuses to convert to Islam.  

Rallying to Khouzam’s side is Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, as well as its European affiliate, The European Centre for Law and Justice:

As a Coptic Christian, Khouzam effectively has no rights in his native Egypt and quite frankly because of his religious beliefs is certain to be denied the most basic of human rights and protections. The U.S. government repeatedly has stated its opposition to torture and should do what’s right — keep Khouzam out of the hands of a government that is likely to do just that.”

In its amicus brief, the ACLJ and ECLJ contend that Egypt’s assurances that it won’t torture Khouzam are simply not credible.

The brief also contends that the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) should apply in this case. CAT states that “no State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

The brief asserts that “where the receiving country has a poor human rights track record, like Egypt does, diplomatic assurances should carry almost no weight.”

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the ACLJ/ECLJ’s effort to prevent Khouzam from being tortured – in fact, it is quite laudable.  What makes the ACLJ/ECLJ involvement in this case interesting is the fact that both organizations have close ties to Former Attorney General John Ashcroft – the very same man responsible for the “extraordinary rendition” of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria, where he was reportedly tortured:

60 Minutes II has learned that the decision to deport Arar was made at the highest levels of the U.S. justice department, with a special removal order signed by John Ashcroft’s former deputy, Larry Thompson.

Ashcroft made his only public statement about the case in November. He said the U.S. deported Arar to protect Americans –- and had every right to do so.

“I consider that really an utter fabrication and a lie,” says Michael Rather, Arar’s attorney and head of the Center For Constitutional Rights. He plans to file a lawsuit against Ashcroft and several other American officials.

“They knew, when they were sending him to Syria, that Syria would use certain kinds of information-gathering techniques, including torture, on him. They knew it,” says Ratner. “That’s why he was sent there. That’s why he wasn’t sent to Canada.”

Before deporting Arar to Syria, American officials involved in the case told 60 Minutes II they had obtained assurances from the Syrian government that Arar would not be tortured –- that he would “be treated humanely”

“The fact that you went looking for assurances, which is reflected here, tells you that even in the minds of people who made this decision,” says Pardy. “I mean, there were some second thoughts.“

Maybe the next time the ACLJ and Ashcroft get together to “teach students from around the world [about] international religious freedom and human dignity,” they can put on the agenda the issue of whether the US should sending people off to foreign countries where they will be tortured.  It might make for an interesting discussion.