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Release Follows Landmark Decision for Due Process and the Rule of Law, Says ACLU
SCRANTON, PA – Egyptian national Sameh Khouzam was released from detention today days after a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government cannot rely on secret and unreviewable “assurances” from the Egyptian government that it will not torture him upon his return. Last Thursday, the judge granted Khouzam’s habeas corpus petition and ordered that he be immediately freed from a Pennsylvania prison, where he has been held since May. Khouzam is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I cannot express how thankful and relieved I am to be a free man again. I am so grateful to my lawyers and to the American court system for stopping the government from sending me back to Egypt where I know I would be tortured,” said Khouzam. “This entire experience has been a nightmare, but I never lost my faith or the support from my community. I just want to put my life back together.”
In his decision last week, Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania soundly rejected the Bush administration’s claim that the executive branch has unfettered authority to deport Khouzam, notwithstanding a prior ruling by a federal appeals court that it is probable Khouzam would be tortured if returned to Egypt.
Judge Vanaskie noted that Khouzam “made a credible showing that he had been the victim of torture at the hands of Egyptian law enforcement” and that removing Khouzam based on diplomatic assurances without court review would render the procedures established for seeking protection under the Convention Against Torture “a farce.” He added, “Not even the President of the United States has the authority to sacrifice on the alter [sic] of foreign relations the right to be free from torture.”
Following Judge Vanaskie’s decision Thursday, the government asked Judge Vanaskie to block Khouzam’s release while it appealed the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Vanaskie denied the government’s request, rejecting its claim that Khouzam posed a danger or a flight risk. Judge Vanaskie noted that Khouzam was previously released into the community for more than a year during which time he fully complied with his conditions of release, “reporting regularly as required and gainfully employed and viewed as a valuable employee as well.” The government then sought an emergency stay of Khouzam’s release from the Third Circuit which was denied yesterday.
Until today, Khouzam – a Christian who came to the United States in 1998 fleeing religious persecution in Egypt – was detained in the York County Prison in Pennsylvania, the same prison where he previously spent eight years while the government fought his efforts to obtain protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Even after a federal appeals court found that he was entitled to such protection, the government refused to release him until it was ordered to do so by a federal court in February 2006. Since that time, and prior to his re-detention in May of 2007, Khouzam was living and working in Pennsylvania as controller of a real estate company.
“All people – citizens or not – are entitled to the protections of our Constitution,” said Judy Rabinovitz, a senior attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The government cannot lock people up indefinitely, as they have done with Mr. Khouzam, simply because they are fighting deportation. The government already forced Mr. Khouzam to endure more than eight years of imprisonment. That it would try to continue to detain him after last week’s ruling is unconscionable.”
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 using diplomatic assurances – in Khouzam’s case and others – to circumvent its treaty obligations, and transferring individuals to foreign countries without judicial review.
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.
Last June, Judge Vanaskie issued an emergency stay of Khouzam’s removal, shortly after Khouzam was informed that his CAT protection had been terminated and his removal was imminent. That stay remained in place pending the outcome of the court proceedings. The U.S. government, however, has opposed the court’s involvement in this case, repeatedly arguing that the executive branch has unfettered authority to determine that the diplomatic assurances are sufficiently reliable to deport Khouzam, and that the federal courts lack jurisdiction to review its decision.
Judge Vanaskie’s decision is available at:
The U.S. State Department has documented widespread Egyptian persecution and discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities, as well as widespread use of torture in Egypt. A State Department report on the matter is available at:
Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) sent a letter to Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff supporting Khouzam and denouncing Egypt’s diplomatic assurances. That letter is available at:
Congressman Joseph Pitts (R-PA) also sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requesting Khouzam’s deportation be cancelled. That letter is available at:
Attorneys representing Khouzam are Rabinovitz, Amrit Singh, Lee Gelernt and Alice Clapman of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, Vic Walczak and Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Morton Sklar of World Organization for Human Rights USA.
Additional documents related to this case, including the ACLU’s brief, are available at: www.aclupa.org/egyptiantorture
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