DETROIT – Rabih Haddad, a local Muslim community leader, expressed dread yesterday about leaving the United States at the Immigration and Naturalization Services court, as his attorneys argued his plea to gain political asylum in the United States.
Haddad, clad in green prison coveralls, testified to his fear of returning to his native Lebanon. He claimed that al-Qaida operatives are active in the country and desire to retaliate against him for speaking out against the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He also said the Lebanese government could take action against him in order to prove to the United States government that they are cracking down on terrorism.
“Governments of these countries would be eager to please the U.S.,” Haddad said. “I fear torture, imprisonment and even death.”
His brother Mazen Haddad also attested that his brother’s life could be in danger if he leaves the United States. Referring to two visits he made to Lebanon in the last year, he said his brother’s case was misrepresented and biased toward the U.S. government in the Lebanese press. “The common theme was negative,” Mazen Haddad said, adding that many media outlets alleged that his brother had been charged, which was not true. “The newspapers were claiming that my brother was a terrorist.”
Mazen Haddad also noted the ramifications of a recent incident in which the Lebanese government closed a television station.
“People took to the streets and were demonstrating peacefully and were treated in a very harsh, embarrassing manner,” Mazen Haddad said.
Rabih Haddad and his attorneys said his case has caused much publicity due to the secret nature in the handling of certain aspects of his case.
“What makes this particular case unique (is) … we have had this case classified as a special interest case,” Haddad’s attorney Noel Saleh said.
INS attorney Marsha Nettles said neither Rabih Haddad nor his brother could bring forth actual Lebanese newspapers that exhibited any negative bias toward Rabih. Nettles inferred that Haddad’s requests for open hearings have endangered his life.
“He could have separately requested today to have these proceedings closed,” Nettles said.
The federal government arrested Haddad Dec. 14 on charges of a visa violation. He was detained in Chicago until June, where he was waiting to be called in front of a grand jury to be interrogated about his charity, the Global Relief Foundation, and its possible ties to terrorism. He had three closed immigration hearings before a consortium consisting of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, several Detroit newspapers and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D- Detroit) sued the federal government at the end of January to open his hearings.
Pursuant to an April decision by U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, upheld in August by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department granted Haddad a new open immigration hearing in front of Judge Robert Newberry last month. Haddad made a bond request at a hearing Tuesday. Newberry said yesterday that he will give his decision on that matter by the end of today.
Another facet of the Justice Department’s argument is that the deadline for applying for political asylum is one year after a foreigner enters the United States. Haddad came to the U.S. in August 1998 and handed in his application for asylum two months ago. Nettles added that Haddad has no proof of past persecution or anything that shows he might be persecuted if he returns to Lebanon.
“There’s been no evidence of that whatsoever,” she said.
Much of the government’s questions directed at Haddad today regarded his trips to Pakistan in the 1980s. The government alleges that Haddad was in contact with future al-Qaida members. They also made notice of GRF lawyer Roger Simmons’ confession this year that Nabil Sayadi, the head of GRF’s European branch, once had contact with Wahid El-Hage, a former personal aide to Osama bin Laden. El-Hage is currently serving a life sentence for conspiring about the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
But Saleh said former run-ins with these people should not be used as evidence against Haddad.
“Does that make Rabih Haddad a terrorist?” Saleh asked.
Haddad’s wife, Salma Al-Rushaid, said she was proud of her husband’s testimony and hopes asylum is granted.
“I chose to come here and I want to live here. I haven’t done anything wrong,” she said.