On November 27, Samira Dahduli waited in the Amman, Jordan, airport to pick up her husband, Ghassan, who was being deported after two months in a Denton, Texas, INS detention facility. Having lived in the States for twenty-three years, she had arrived in Jordan just weeks before with her five children, all US citizens, with the expectation that Ghassan would follow. But when the flight came, she saw no sign of her husband, a Palestinian with a Jordanian passport. She was about to leave when her 15-year-old son spotted his father surrounded by Jordanian security and American INS agents. Her son recognized one: Donna Chabot, an INS criminal investigator who had attended hearings in Dallas wearing a jacket with an antiterrorism task force insignia.
Samira Dahduli returned home and waited for her husband's call. After a week she still hadn't heard from him. "I would love to hear his voice," she said from a furnished apartment she has rented in Amman. Friends there tell her not to worry. "They need to make sure that he is not a danger to his community," she said. "Everyone says that this is normal procedure."
If the first chapter of the 9/11 detention story was the rounding up of 1,200 people, Dahduli's case ushers in the next phase, in which the government will decide their fate. Amnesty International believes that Dahduli is the first 9/11 deportee who could be facing ill treatment or torture in another country, says Angela Wright, Amnesty's chief US researcher. The arrest at the Amman gate and the accompaniment by a US task force member are troubling and unusual, according to immigration advocates and Dahduli's Dallas lawyer, Karen Pennington. "Nobody represents him now," said Pennington. "They took him away, and now he will be without the protections of American law, and they can torture him as much as they want."
Dahduli had a tense relationship with the US government well before September 11. He had been a leader of the Islamic Association for Palestine, an Illinois-based nonprofit with an office in Texas that has been the subject of federal scrutiny for allegedly having ties to Hamas. On September 25, 2000, federal agents confronted Dahduli in a Wal-Mart parking lot and then threatened to deport him, but offered to halt the proceedings if he agreed to become an informant on the IAP and other Islamic organizations. The FBI warned him that if he refused and was deported to Jordan, officials there would not be so understanding, according to three lawyers who worked on his case. Says Pennington, "The FBI said he would be treated a lot better by them than he would be by Jordanians." Elise Healy, a lawyer who represented him during the early deportation proceedings, adds, "He was perfectly willing to give information if he had it. But he was unwilling to be a lifetime mole." Dahduli not only rejected the government's offer but made it public, and news of it soon appeared on the Internet. "He became useless to them," says Healy. The INS began deportation proceedings but set him free on $50,000 bond.
Meanwhile, Dahduli was pursuing several avenues in immigration court to stay in the United States. He also filed an asylum claim, arguing that the FBI would paint him as a terrorist if he was returned to Jordan, rendering him vulnerable to torture. Amnesty has documented Jordan's practice of torturing terrorist suspects. In a trial last year in Jordan of Al Qaeda associates accused of planning bombings in Israel and Jordan during the millennium celebrations, the defendants testified that they had falsely confessed after beatings that included shabeh (suspending the victim by the feet with arms tied behind the back) and falaqa (lashings on the soles of their feet, sometimes followed by dousing in salt water). In the mid-1980s, in order to penetrate the Abu Nidal organization, responsible for 900 deaths or injuries in twenty countries, Jordanian security moved against suspects' family members.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, INS officials revoked Dahduli's bond and arrested him on September 22 at his home in Richardson, Texas. A few days later, news accounts said, the name of Dahduli had turned up in an address book of Wadih el Hage, a former personal secretary to Osama bin Laden who was convicted in the 1998 bombings of the two US embassies in Africa. Pennington says that in the 1980s, when the two were students in Tucson, Dahduli and el Hage were members of the same mosque, the Islamic Center of Tucson. Later, they had a brief encounter in 1998 at a Dallas restaurant.
In late November, Dahduli gave up his asylum claim and agreed to be deported to Jordan. Now, in the Dallas Muslim community, "everybody is sick and worried," said a colleague at Dahduli's mosque, where he was a leader. INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said the INS accompanies deportees who pose a risk of flight or a risk to public safety. He declined to comment on Dahduli and denied the possibility of torture. "As a signatory of the torture convention it is a US policy not to deport someone to a country that there is reasonable cause to believe that person will be tortured or physically or mentally abused," he said. (Chabot's voicemail says she won't return calls until December 11. Lynn Ligon, INS spokesperson in Dallas, says Chabot is "on leave" until then. The Jordanian Embassy did not return e-mails or calls.)
Other 9/11 detainees could encounter similar problems. The government has reported links to Al Qaeda among only ten to fifteen detainees; the rest are being held on material-witness warrants and on immigration charges for violations like overstaying visas or lying on documents. It is doubtful that they'll be allowed to stay, although under the revamped "responsible cooperators" program, some who offer helpful information might remain. Many, however, will likely be deported, often to countries that don't offer protection from interrogational abuse.
It's possible that the Jordanian government is holding Dahduli as part of a routine check on a man with a native passport who has been detained in the United States; or maybe Jordan has some information on Dahduli; or Dahduli may have made an extradition deal with the United States and Jordan, in which he agreed to work as an informant (his lawyers and wife deny this); or perhaps, as Pennington fears, the FBI hopes to reap the benefits of interrogation tactics that contravene US law.
Why did Dahduli decide to abandon his fight with the US government and agree to be deported to Jordan? Pennington says it was because his application to the United Arab Emirates took too long, and he wanted to get out of jail. An Amnesty memo on post-September 11 human rights abuses, which describes Dahduli's case without naming him, says he was shackled during contact visits, held in solitary confinement for months and allowed only one hour of exercise per week. "He seemed to be treated more harshly than other detainees," said Wright of Amnesty. Could America's justice system have appeared so bereft of due process that he preferred the possibility of torture in Amman? "We had exactly that discussion," said Pennington. "If he didn't end up killed in Jordan, he thought he would be treated much more fairly there. He thought he would get out much more quickly."