Uzair ParachaWritten by CP Editor Saturday, 26 January 2008
Uzair Paracha grew up in both the United States and Pakistan. He was never perceived as having anti-American sentiments.
According to his brother, Mustafa, Uzair,
“was a typical teenage guy. I mean, he wore his pants incredibly low. He hung out with girls. He loved to drive, he loved driving. He was into western music, he had over one hundred and fifty to two hundred CDs. He had like branded clothes. He used to go to the States like very six months, almost every six months. He loved the place, he went for like four months at time sometimes.”
His father’s business partner even commented, “"He very clearly knew I was Jewish...we had friendly talks on religion and he never has shown any animosity at all to Jewish people or to America. The opposite — he spoke very highly of America."
After spending much of his childhood in the United States, Uzair resettled in Pakistan with his family in the mid 1980s. In February 2003, Uzair travelled to the US on behalf of his families’ business; he intended to help market apartments in Karachi to American-Pakistani families.
According to the government’s narrative, while in the U.S., Uzair provided substantial help to Majid Khan, the only U.S. resident currently held in Guantanamo Bay. Majid Khan, who held asylum status in the U.S., returned to Pakistan in 2002 to visit his wife without giving the required notice to American immigration authorities.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad
Khan was purportedly trained by Khalid Sheik Mohammad to support and plan terrorist attacks against the United States and Israel, including a specific plan to simultaneously blow up underground storage tanks at several gas stations. It was actually Khalid Sheik Mohammad who gave Uzair’s name to interrogators, after his own arrest in Pakistan.
On March 28, 2003, Uzair was arrested with Khan’s driver’s license, social security card, and bank/credit cards in his suitcase. The key to the post office where Khan’s immigration documents were sent was also on his key chain.
Uzair was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center, and made extensive confessions during three days of questioning by New York counterterrorism agents. While at the time he said that his father had told him about Khan’s terrorist ties, he now maintains that he made a false confession because he felt pressured by American agents.
During Uzair’s trial, the prosecution argued that Uzair agreed to pose as Mr. Khan while on his business trip in New York, in order to give immigration authorities the impression that Khan had not left the U.S. He posed as Khan while on the phone with immigration authorities, used Khan’s bank cards, and also agreed to obtain travel documents for Khan and bring them back to Pakistan. The prosecution also maintained that Uzair was promised $200,000 from al Qaeda in exchange for helping Khan, to be invested in his Uzair’s family business.
The question of whether Uzair provided help to Khan with or without the knowledge of his terrorist ties is central to his case. According to Farhat Paracha, Uzair’s mother:
“He had made a mistake yes, but I’m sure he has done it out of naivety, what he has done is, he did help Majid Khan, wherever he is, I don’t know the person. And Uzair says this person came to him and promised he would invest $200,000 in his father’s real estate business, must be the same as we’re doing now completing the apartments, and that boy must’ve told him he would buy some of our properties and he said you are going to the States I have an immigration problem and you just take my identity and because he did not know it was false I’m sure. I thought it was a harmless paper for a business associate.”
During his trial, Uzair denied that he ever intended to facilitate the movement of someone involved in terrorism. He recanted the confessions made just after his arrest, insisting that “he thought he was doing a harmless favor for one of his father's business associates... and that the confession was the result of sleeplessness, exhaustion and fear in three days of interrogation.”
Interestingly, prior to his trial, Uzair was offered a plea bargain with a 22 month sentence attached; he turned the plea bargain down and insisted on his innocence. Uzair’s trial lasted two weeks, and the jury deliberated less than six hours. He was convicted on November 23, 2005 of five counts: conspiracy to provide and providing material support to the al Qaeda foreign terrorist organization; conspiracy to provide and providing funds, goods, or services to al Qaeda; and identification document fraud committed to facilitate an act of international terrorism. In July 2006, Uzair was sentenced to thirty years in prison.
Uzair appealed his conviction, claiming that the so-called “expert testimony” of Evan Kohlmann should not have been admissible in court. In recent years Kohlmann has testified against several Americans, including Sabri Benkhala, Ali al-Timimi and Ali Asad Chandia. At the moment, the Daubert test is used to rule on the admissibility of both scientific testimony and expert testimony from non-scientific fields, including historians. Daubert assesses “the relevance and reliability of the expert’s theory” using several factors, including:
(1) Whether [it] has been subject to peer review and publication;
(2) Whether it has attracted widespread acceptance within the scientific community;
(3) Whether the theory or technique has been tested
As one scholar points out, however “a historian’s methodology does not involve testing a hypothesis and then replicating the test to check the hypothesis... rather, it may involve choosing whether to rely on a certain source to arrive at a universe of facts supporting a particular historical interpretation”. Kohlmann’s testimony has come under fire from a wide range of academics. The judge in Uzair’s case even admitted that “Kohlmann’s methodology is not readily subject to testing and permits of no ready calculation error rate”, but allowed the testimony on the basis that “it is more reliable than a simple cherry-picking of information from websites and other sources”!
Furthermore, “it has never been shown that Kohlmann has ever published anything that has been formally peer reviewed, and it is unlikely that he has because he has never conducted any post-graduate research.” This is especially important given that “being subject to peer review is an important aspect of whether a witness can be considered an expert and Kohlmann was challenged again on this point in several subsequent cases with no success”.
Indeed, rather drawing on established facts or proven methodologies, during his testimony Kohlmann tends to simply insinuate connections between Osama Bin Laden and the accused, thereby relying on the deeply entrenched fear and Islamophobia of the jury to convict the defendant. He is rarely asked to testify based on his knowledge of the particular individual on trial:
What in particular Kohlmann tends to “bring to life” is connections linking defendants to Al-Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden. This, in the political climate of the United States greatly increases the prosecution's chances of a conviction. As one US defence attorney explains: “If a jury in the US finds any connection between your client and Osama bin Laden, you’re going to get convicted.”
In July 2008, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Uzair’s conviction, ruling that the District Court did not err by allowing Kohlmann’s testimony in his case.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of Kohlmann’s testimony was not the only procedural impropriety in Uzair’s case. Uzair’s initial confession was included in the trial, despite the fact that his lawyer maintained that is was made under duress:
Defense attorney Edward Wilford accused the FBI of denying Paracha food and sleep, and of strip searching him during endless hours of questioning – “the ideal conditions to create a false confession.'' Though well-educated, his client lacked the street smarts to stand up for himself, the lawyer said... Paracha “was a dupe in every sense of the word,'' Wilford said...
Uzair’s lawyers did not only have to defend his case with a confession made under duress; they were also unable to interview two key witnesses, Majid Khan and another accused al Qaeda operative, Ammar al-Baluchi. At the time of Uzair’s trial, both men were believed to be held in secret U.S. detention. However,
“citing national security concerns, the government did not allow Mr. Paracha's lawyers to have any contact with the two Qaeda suspects... the government never [even] officially confirmed that the two men [were] in United States custody.”
Prosecutors did give the defence portions of statements taken from two men, although they did not disclose where the men were being interviewed or by whom.The statements from Khan and al-Baluchi specified that,
It is also important to note that the $200,000 transferred to Paracha from Khan, was identified using the Swift program, which was initiated under President Bush.
Swift has been described by government officials,
It allows treasury officials to utilize broad administrative subpoenas to access records, rather than requiring individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas.
According to the New York Times, the program,
“grew out of the Bush administration's desire to exploit technological tools to prevent another terrorist strike, and [reflects an attempt] to break down longstanding legal or institutional barriers to the government's access to private information about Americans and others inside the United States”.
In speaking about Swift, one former senior counter terrorism official notes,
"The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you're sitting, troubling...the potential for abuse is enormous."
Uzair’s trial was marred by several procedural improprieties, but it’s also important to question whether the sentence he was given is fair or just.
Despite Uzair’s purported efforts to assist Khan, he never successfully entered the United States, and there is very minimal evidence to show that he was actually planning to blow up gas stations. Is Uzair’s thirty year sentence justifiable, given that absolutely no one endured harm as a result of his actions?
Finally, since his imprisonment, Uzair has sometimes been treated with disdain and disrespect by guards, a situation mirrored in the cases of many other Muslims convicted of terrorism charges. According to Uzair’s sister, Zahra:
"Just because he is being detained in the US does not mean that he’s safe from mistreatment. In fact, while still in the Metropolitan Correctional Center he was praying in his cell and the guard called him. He couldn’t answer because he was in the middle of Salat. (prayer)….and they took it as a sign of opposition. So they restricted his visits and phone calls for 6 months. They always made sure that his phone calls were never more than 15 minutes but they would never make sure that he got the phone call every month. After his conviction, he was shifted to Colorado, he was allowed to make a half an hour phone call every month..."
What does the United States government gain by sentencing men like Uzair to thirty years? If the accounts of Uzair’s friends and family are true, he was simply a naive young man who acted in the interests of his family’s business, without a full realization of the consequences of his actions. How will his treatment within the United States judicial system shape his perceptions of his once-beloved country? What does his treatment within the judicial system say to Muslims around America who are patriotic, and want to be seen as so?
This profile was written by Lisa Goldstein, a Cageprisoners intern.
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Published in USA
- Al Qaeda
- Guantanamo Bay
- secret detention
- United States
- New York
- Osama Bin Laden
- Terrorism charges
- Ali Asad Chandia
- Sabri Benkahla
- Uzair Paracha
- Ali alTimimi
- Lisa Goldstein
- Majid Khan
- Khalid Sheik Mohammad
- Khalid Sheikh Mohammad
- Metropolitan Detention Center
- Farhat Paracha
- International terrorism
- Global terrorist
- Evan Kohlmann
- Expert testimony
- Ammar alBaluchi
- Swift program
- Terrorist financing
- New York Times
- Private information
- Procedural improprieties
- Judicial system
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