March 25, 1998
Attorney General Janet Reno
U.S. Department of Justice
10th and Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear General Reno:
We are writing to express our serious concern for six Iraqi nationals whom the United States government evacuated from Iraq in 1996 and who now face deportation. According to the Department of State, secret classified evidence was used to deny political asylum to all six men who reportedly had worked with C.I.A.-backed resistance groups in Iraq before their evacuation. The evidence offered to support their deportation was confidential and attorneys representing the Iraqis were unable to challenge the information or cross-examine FBI agents who testified against their clients.
If the six men are deported to Iraq, the U.S. will be in clear violation of international human rights protections prohibiting the return of individuals who, if returned to their country of origin, would face persecution or torture. Article 3(1) of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U.S. in 1994, states, "No State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
Human Rights Watch has been actively monitoring the abysmal human rights conditions in Iraq since 1989. Our 1998 World Report describes the ways in which the government of Iraq continues to engage in a broad range of gross human rights abuses including mass arrests, "disappearances," and extrajudicial executions with no pretense of due process. The Department of State also recognized in its January 1998 report on human rights practices worldwide that the Iraqi government "continues to summarily execute perceived political opponents, and reports of such summary executions increased significantly during the year." Those detained by the Iraqi government are "routinely tortured" by security services using such techniques as "branding, electric shocks administered to the genitals and other areas, beating, burning with hot irons, suspension from rotating ceiling fans, dripping acid on the skin, rape, breaking of limbs, denial of food and water, and threats to rape or harm relatives" according to the Department of State report.
Human Rights Watch has consistently opposed the provision of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act allowing the use of secret evidence in court as fundamentally unfair. United States constitutional protections prohibit the use of secret evidence in criminal prosecutions where, if convicted, individuals risk a loss of liberty. The consequences for asylum seekers in immigration court are more severe; those against whom secret evidence is used risk being sent to their death. If loss of liberty in the criminal context justifies limiting the use of secret evidence, then surely the government in this case should not be allowed to deport the Iraqi asylum seekers to Iraq, where their very lives would be in danger, without giving them a chance to rebut the evidence provided against them.
We urge you to ensure that the U.S. respects its obligations under international human rights law by not deporting the six men in question to Iraq. In this case, the United States' compliance with its treaty obligations is particularly critical since the C.I.A.'s role in supporting dissident activities in Iraq, the participation of the United States in the evacuation of these men, and the high-profile denial of asylum all serve to increase the likelihood that the men will be singled out upon return to their country. We understand that former C.I.A. director James Woolsey has offered to represent the Iraqis using his security clearance to review the secret evidence entered against them. While we view his unique offer as a positive step that may ultimately prevent the men from being deported to Iraq, we nevertheless urge you to grant the Iraqis a new asylum hearing that observes basic due process, including the right to personally know and confront all evidence introduced at their deportation hearing.