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ICYMI: New Yorker on “Fight to Save an Innocent Refugee from Almost Certain Death”

 

“Wittingly or not, [government officials] and their departments have been co-opted into a campaign to extradite an innocent man to almost certain death, in order to make a racist talking point appear to be slightly less of a fiction.”

 A disturbing New Yorker article highlights how the Trump Administration is planning on deporting an Iraqi refugee named Omar Ameen. The article, titled “The Fight to Save an Innocent Refugee from Almost Certain Death,” by Ben Taub raises the disturbing possibility that the Trump Administration’s zeal to pursue the deportation is largely due to their continued efforts to link the refugee program — and the presence of Muslims in the U.S. — with supposed safety threats. The story goes to the heart of the Trump Administration’s desire to turn a presidential talking point – that Muslims refugees are dangerous and have been infiltrated by ISIS and/or Al Qaeda — and is especially timely as reports emerge that Trump is considering further Muslim travel bans.

In this case, despite overwhelming evidence that  the man in question is innocent and should not be extradited to Iraq, there is a great deal of reluctance to walk back a high-profile example. As a former National Security Council member quoted in the article states, “They were so intent upon linking refugees and terrorism that they were willing to put false examples out to the public.”

While attorneys for Ameen trust in the U.S. system of justice and hope to prevent the extradition of an innocent man, the bureaucracy seems to be following the president’s lead on auto-pilot.  As Taub writes: “Wittingly or not, [government officials] and their departments have been co-opted into a campaign to extradite an innocent man to almost certain death, in order to make a racist talking point appear to be slightly less of a fiction.”

See key excerpts below:

Soon after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, he began saying that terrorist groups had infiltrated the flow of refugees into the U.S. “We have no idea where they’re coming from,” he said, in an interview with ABC. “This could be one of the great Trojan horses ever, since the original.” Shortly before the election, he said, in a debate with Hillary Clinton, that Muslim refugees in the U.S. were “definitely, in many cases, isis-aligned.” His son Donald, Jr., a senior campaign adviser, posted on Twitter, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

Security and intelligence officials found the rhetoric absurd: refugees are the most thoroughly vetted category of people entering the U.S. Candidates are screened by the C.I.A., the N.S.A., the F.B.I., the Department of Defense, and several other agencies before they arrive. They are interviewed by Homeland Security officers who have received training in identifying lies, along with intelligence briefings about the applicants’ country of origin. An office within the D.H.S. called the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate carries out open-source and classified research on candidates from certain backgrounds. Biographical and biometric information is run through numerous databases and watch lists, including Interpol’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter Database, which is informed by the collective investigative capacity of fifty-two countries. The process often takes more than a year, and any red flag is ground for rejection, with no further explanation.

The U.S. is particularly well equipped to find incriminating facts about applicants from Iraq. Between 2003 and 2011, the Department of Defense collected hundreds of millions of pages of information on Iraqis. “Some of what I have seen is really good information, and some of it cannot possibly be true,” a former senior U.S. official, who has spent decades working in the Middle East, told me. “Like, some poor kid is never going to go anywhere in his life because a friend chose to diss him to a D.O.D. employee, and now he’s blacklisted in the U.S. and European systems forever.” The U.S. military has also collected millions of Iraqi fingerprints and iris scans. As a former member of the National Security Council told me, “If you’re an intended terrorist, why would you go through that insane amount of vetting and waiting when you could literally just get a tourist visa?”

…The White House fundamentally altered the refugee program to give priority to people with white and non-Muslim backgrounds. Insisting that the vetting system was inadequate, the Administration created new obstacles for refugees travelling from eleven countries, almost all of which are predominantly Muslim. According to a study by Reuters, the numbers of resettled applicants from those countries were reduced by ninety-eight per cent. Even as the Administration cut the total number of refugees by more than half, it tripled the percentage of Europeans. In 2018, three times more Moldovan refugees were admitted than Syrians, even as more Syrians were living as refugees than there were people living in Moldova.

…“When Trump got elected, I expected stuff like this,” Galloway, Ameen’s lawyer, told me. “But the question for me was: What about professional prosecutors, whom I considered to have integrity—what would it do to them?”

…The project of government relies on nonpolitical career officials following orders, and executing them well. On December 4th, some two dozen federal employees from the F.B.I., the D.H.S., the State Department, and the Justice Department filed into a courtroom in Sacramento for Ameen’s extradition hearing. Wittingly or not, they and their departments have been co-opted into a campaign to extradite an innocent man to almost certain death, in order to make a racist talking point appear to be slightly less of a fiction.