ISLAMABAD: Rose, a 32-year-old American woman in Islamabad, is seeking justice for her Pakistani husband, Hasan, who claims that he was detained and tortured by officials of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before being deported in 2006.
The couple, who have asked that their last names be withheld for security reasons, is currently appealing to the US embassy in Islamabad to review their case so that the family can be repatriated to the US, where Hasan was a legal resident since 2003. They have not filed a lawsuit against Hasan’s detention in the US civilian courts as they cannot afford legal counsel. However, a motion on Hasan’s behalf has been filed in the International Criminal Court by a Florida-based human rights’ campaigner.
Although Hasan has been back in Pakistan since 2006 – Rose and the couple’s two children followed in 2008 – the couple chose not to pursue Hasan’s case earlier because they saw no hope for justice under the former Bush administration. They are now pinning everything on President Barack Obama’s government.
‘I got a phone call from the US embassy today,’ says Rose, eyes shining with excitement in her two-room rented basement house in the capital city. The embassy has acknowledged the case for the first time since Rose’s arrival in Pakistan in January 2008.
‘Before, [the embassy officials] simply told me to leave my husband, just divorce him,’ says Rose. ‘They encouraged me to return to the US with my children and to forget about Hasan.’ She adds that the officials told Rose, a US citizen, that three other US citizens would have to vouch for her on her arrival in the US.
Rose and Hasan’s attempts to return to the US have necessitated a revisiting of Hasan’s detention. Breaking down frequently while recalling the experience, Hasan says that on January 7, 2006, two men from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a subdivision of the DHS, arrested him and took him to Fayetteville, Arkansas. ‘I was told that I was a criminal, a fugitive and a terrorist. I kept telling them that I had done nothing wrong, but they wouldn’t listen,’ he remembers.
‘I was put in a cell and told to strip. While I was undressing, the taser came out. The agent kept zapping me until I passed out. When I woke up, I was lying on the floor naked and wet. He then started hitting and zapping me.’
Pulling his shirt up, Hasan reveals torture marks that remain visible after four years. His front teeth are missing due to heavy beating and he informs that his left hand remains numb. ‘They kept asking me, what do you know about the 9/11 attackers? Who do you know in Al Qaeda? How much money did you send to the terrorists? What are your plans for bombing the nuclear plants in the US?’
Hasan also recalls being chastised for marrying a white woman and being told by a federal agent that he would ‘make a career’ on Hasan’s case. ‘I kept pleading with them that you’ve got the wrong guy, but they never stopped,’ he adds.
According to Hasan, he was moved between several detention centres in the US, including one in Memphis, Tennessee, and another in Texas. ‘I couldn’t bear the torture. I wanted to be deported and started writing letters to the ICE asking for it. Then a month later, an ICE deportation officer appeared and said I could be sent to Pakistan only after I sign three pieces of blank paper. Otherwise, I was threatened that I would languish in cells forever and be sent to [the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay].’ It was at this point that Hasan opted for deportation and was flown out to Pakistan.
Before being arrested, Hasan was living the American dream. Taking two master’s degree certificates from the prestigious Princeton University out of a briefcase, he says, ‘I used to have a wall full of certifications.’
Hasan arrived in the US as a student in the 1980s. He started out as a pizza delivery boy, but soon made it big as a senior project manager at various Fortune 500 companies, including Philip Morris Corporation, Mars M&M, Novartis, Toys R Us Inc., and J.B. Hunt and used to earn around US$ 300,000 per annum. He also briefly worked with the National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES), a federal entity that analyses data on US education. ‘I even have hundreds of hours of volunteer service with the Red Cross,’ adds Hasan.
‘I had worked very hard. I paid my taxes, was legally married, and had a happy life back home in Orlando. But today I’m a destroyed man. I was left to fend for myself with a US$100 note pressed into my pocket after my deportation.’
Hasan’s case is now being pursued by Florida-based human rights’ campaigner J.B. Von Grabe, who has filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court on Hasan’s behalf against George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Michael Chertoff and Alberto Gonzales.
‘Hasan’s case is an issue of false terrorism charges and torture. Looking at my cases, I know that the CIA, the DOJ [Department of Justice], the DHS – the entire alphabet soup – has always tried to cover up or hide the facts,’ says Grabe during a telephonic interview from Daytona Beach, Florida.
‘If there is any proof that this case is fishy it is that everybody is silent,’ adds Grabe. ‘No one provides information requested under Freedom of Information Act or is otherwise non-responsive. Besides, torture in US jails is widespread. I have video evidence, legal documents or access to cases which deal with torture of inmates. Why would the Hasan case be any different given the silence of officials?’
Meanwhile, in Islamabad, Richard Snelsire, the press attaché of the US embassy declined to comment specifically about Rose’s case and her complaints against embassy officials. ‘In general terms, as a matter of US policy, we don’t advise our citizens to divorce their Pakistani husbands,’ Snelsire said. He added that all US citizens are free to leave for their country anytime they want and that they are not required to have other US citizens vouch for them.
Life in limbo
While justice plods a slow course, Hasan, Rose and their two children continue to suffer in Pakistan. The couple has been unable to find employment as they live in constant fear of being attacked. Both claim that they have been harassed and threatened on numerous occasions.
‘In the US, I was tortured physically. But in Pakistan, we’ve been facing emotional torture non-stop. I’m always scared for the safety of my wife and children,’ says Hasan. As a result, the couple rarely ventures out of the homes, while their children, eight-year-old Omar and four-year-old Kamila, have not attended school for the past two years.
‘The turmoil on the children has been tremendous,’ says Rose, who is particularly worried about her son Omar: ‘He can’t sit still and remains lost and disturbed in his thoughts.’
When asked whether he harbours any hatred against the US after his detention, Hasan says: ‘I still think to this day that America is a great country. Americans are the best people in the world; they have hearts of gold. It’s just that for the last eight years, they had been hijacked by a racist government and I’m just one of the victims.’