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Canadian Shakir Baloch finally released from U.S. prison

Subsonic Chronic

TRIBE Member
Man held 7 months, sent home with no ID

The U.S. antiterror net cares little for suspects rights, Amnesty says. One Canadian finds that out


By ESTANISLAO OZIEWICZ - The Globe and Mail


Wednesday, April 17, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A3




Shakir Baloch was awakened at 3:30 a.m. yesterday in a Brooklyn jail cell, his home for the past seven months, and told to get ready for a trip to New Jersey and a flight to Toronto.

At Newark Airport, U.S. officials gave him his deportation papers and an Air Canada ticket and nothing else. They withheld his Canadian passport, social insurance card, driver's licence and other identification documents, saying that they would send them to the Canadian consulate in New York, where officials would pass them on eventually.

So when Mr. Baloch, 39, arrived late yesterday morning at Pearson International Airport, he was clutching only a manila envelope and wearing a prison-issue white T-shirt, beltless and pocketless khaki pants and loafers. He did not even have a quarter to make a phone call.

"They didn't give me my citizenship card; they didn't give me any ID. They just put me on a plane and said, 'Your consulate will take care of everything,' " Mr. Baloch said.

His lawyer, Martin Stolar, who acts for the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, put it more bluntly in an interview: "He was treated like an animal when he was in what they call the special housing unit, the hole, and then left to go like a non-person, as if, 'We don't care what we did to you. Good-bye. Now we're done with you; we've had our fun.' "

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it will forward the identity documents to Mr. Baloch as soon as it receives them, which may prove cumbersome given that he is estranged from his wife and has no money and is uncertain where he will be living.

Apart from a handful of reporters, no one -- neither family members nor members of the Muslim community -- was there to welcome Mr. Baloch back to Toronto.

Mr. Baloch, who came to Canada in 1987 from his native Pakistan, is the only Canadian citizen known to have been arrested in the antiterrorism sweep after the attacks Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Amnesty International said in a recent report that many of the 1,200 people arrested in the largest U.S. investigation in history had been unable to challenge the legality of their prolonged detentions and had been denied the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Many were from Muslim and Middle Eastern countries.

Amnesty cited anecdotal reports of prolonged solitary confinement, heavy shackling, abrupt prison transfers, lack of adequate exercise and closed immigration hearings. About 100 people have been charged with criminal offences unrelated to the events of Sept. 11 and several hundred with immigration violations.

Mr. Baloch remains perplexed about why he was caught in the dragnet and thrown into a tiny cell of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

"The INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service], the FBI picked me up, kept me in solitary confinement for five months. I don't know why. I don't have that answer."

Mr. Baloch, speaking in a low voice, appeared relaxed and calm as he said he felt safe, on Canadian soil, for the first time since his arrest Sept. 20. His first priority was to see his 14-year-old diabetic daughter, who lives with his wife in northeast Toronto.

"I'm innocent. Why should I be worried? I'm depressed a little bit why they did this to me."

In a later interview, as a Globe and Mail reporter drove him to see his daughter, Mr. Baloch said that like others he was distraught at the suicide attacks on U.S. sites, which left thousands dead and injured.

"I feel sorry. The people that did this attack killed innocent people. I feel sorry like any American, but they did this to me and I don't see any difference between them. I was innocent, too."

In the terrorism hysteria that followed the attacks, it didn't help that Mr. Baloch, like millions of others, was living and working in the United States illegally.

As he tells it, he first went to the United States in the late 1990s to improve his medical technologist skills at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. While there, he worked as a limousine driver.

He returned to New York a year ago to pursue a civil suit arising from a car accident, to renew his cab licence and to write exams related to becoming an ultrasound technician.

He was arrested on Sept. 20 and put into solitary confinement for 23½ hours a day, held for months without being able to call a lawyer or his family, and was handcuffed and leg-shackled whenever he was outside his cell. He said he was in perpetual fear and anxiety.

"This was a form of torture."

Mr. Baloch said he was questioned three or four times by interrogators who used threats, abuse and curses to cajole him.

"I told them I feel sorry [about Sept. 11] like anybody else. Whatever happened is terrorism. I have nothing to do with that."

It was only after three months, and a habeas corpus suit alleging unlawful detention, that U.S. officials charged Mr. Baloch with illegally re-entering the United States. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to time served and forbidden to go south of the border for five years.

Mr. Stolar, his lawyer, said his client would never have been noticed but for what he called the vengeful hysteria after Sept. 11.

"He would have been like the millions of out-of-status illegal immigrants in this country. . . . Now that he fits a certain ethnic and racial profile, sweep him up and presume that he's guilty of being involved with terrorism until we prove otherwise."

Mr. Stolar said Mr. Baloch's case is representative of many others that are a black mark on the U.S. human-rights record. "It is the worst kind of this stuff since we contained Japanese and Japanese-Americans and put them in camps, only because of their ethnicity."

He said that none of the more than 1,000 arrested since then have been charged with a criminal offence directly related to the attacks.

U.S. Justice Department officials did not return calls.

Mr. Baloch said he is thankful for the Canadian government's moral support and its intervention last December when Ottawa filed a diplomatic note of protest over his detention.

It backed off after the U.S. administration showed that Mr. Baloch gave up his right to consular access by signing a waiver.

He said he signed the waiver only because he was led to believe that he would be deported immediately after his arrest and therefore thought he had no need to enlist Ottawa's help.

"They tricked me," Mr. Baloch said.

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From OCAP... possibly the only people who tried to do anything about this man's unjustified imprisonment:

Jailed last September 20th, Shakir Baloch - a Pakistani-born doctor who is a Canadian citizen - was finally deported back to Canada, following 7 excessive months of jailtime, torture, harassment, lack of access to his family, laywers, or proper legal procedure.

The Immigration and Naturalization Services in the US do not make a practice of announcing deportations, preferring to operate in secrecy, which meant Shakir landed at Pearson Airport early yesterday morning to be met by journalists, having been unable to telephone his young daughter to inform her of his long overdue return.

Shakir spent several months in a high security prison in Brooklyn without a single charge laid against him, after being scooped in the post-September 11th sweep of more than 1000 people, mostly men of Arabic and Muslim descent.
He was dragged through a lengthy imprisonment, trial, sentencing and wait for deportation ... inordinate delays occurring ever step of the way, for a man found to be 'guilty' of crossing the US border illegally - a minor charge which is often dealt with by speedy return to country of origin.

The Canadian government was extremely inactive in advocating on behalf of one of their citizens, claiming a waiver he had signed indicated he had no interest in their assistance - despite the suspect circumstances of his arrest and his treatment by US federal officers and prison guards, of which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had repeatedly been made aware. After pressure from OCAP and concerned public supporters, a consular official made
one single visit to Shakir in jail. That token visit ended the Ministry's involvement. The Canadian government could clearly not wash its hands of their responsibility quickly enough.

In fact, a spokeperson for the Ministry was clear in saying they felt Shakir had 'not been mistreated'.

The overt racism and secrecy of the American government comes as no surprise. What must be exposed, however, is the Canadian government's willingess to abdicate their responsibility in proctecting the rights of one of their citizens. The treatment of Shakir Baloch is abhorrent and the blame for it clearly does not lie solely with the brutal American state.

OCAP continues in its fight for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, as an intergral component of our struggle ... we stand for freedom of movement and the right to live without fear of racial, economic, gender-based, ability-based, religious, or political persecution.

For more information or to support the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, email us at ocap@tao.ca, or call (416) 925-6939.

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Rosey

TRIBE Member
i've resigned myself to the fact that the american government is going to do whatever it wants to whoever it wants, without for a second ceasing to insist that it is the champion of freedom throughout the world.
 

Subsonic Chronic

TRIBE Member
On a similar note, a civil rights group is filing a class action lawsuit against John Ashcroft and a couple of others over the treatment of post Sept 11th detainees.

http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=12911


Filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on Wednesday, the brief claims, "Instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, the post-9/11 detainees have been presumed guilty of terrorism until proven innocent to the satisfaction of law enforcement authorities." It accuses defendants John Ashcroft and other senior U.S. officials of "intentionally or recklessly" violating the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs Ibrahim Turkmen, Asif-ur-Rehman Saffi, and Syed Amjad Ali Jaffri.

Pete
 
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