Stating he did not feel Rabih Haddad would be in danger if he returned to Lebanon, U.S. Immigration Court Judge Robert Newberry denied political asylum to the local Muslim leader, his wife and three out of his four children Friday afternoon.

Paul Wong
Haddad

Supporters of Haddad were angered by the decision, saying they felt the judge, as well the Immigration and Naturalization Service, were biased against Haddad.

“We hoped the immigration judge would show some independent thought, but it is painfully obvious that the INS administrative mechanism is a formalized mouthpiece of the government’s position,” Homam Albaroudi, spokesman for the Committee to Free Rabih Haddad, said in a written statement. “Having reviewed the entire record and analyzing the testimony of Haddad and his supporters, Newberry ignored it.”

Haddad’s lawyers are currently planning to appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Va.

Nobody in the Justice Department could be reached for comment yesterday.

At his immigration hearing, Haddad and his attorneys expressed concern for his safety if he were to return to Lebanon. They claimed that al-Qaida operatives active in the country could harm him, or that the Lebanese government would imprison him to prove to the U.S. government it is cracking down on terrorists.

“Governments of these countries would be eager to please the U.S.,” Haddad said at the hearing. “I fear torture, imprisonment and even death.”

Asim Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Haddad family, said he thought Haddad’s reputation was being severely tainted.

“To deny him (asylum) is one thing, but to malign his character … is just unfair,” Ghafoor said.

Haddad, detained by the federal government since last December on a visa violation, has been held in Monroe County Jail for most of the last year. He has also been suspected of having links to terrorist organizations as the founder of the Global Relief Foundation, an Islamic relief charity.

He had three closed immigration hearings in front of Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker last December and January. But in April, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled Haddad’s hearings had to be open in regard to a lawsuit filed at the end of January by a group of Detroit newspapers, the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit). The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Edmunds’ decision in late August.

After bond was denied last month, Haddad’s attorney, Ashraf Nubani, said he would not expect Newberry to be sympathetic on the issue of political asylum.

“He’s going to deny political asylum in the next two weeks,” Nubani said in October. “It’s clear that he’s very biased.”

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