Last month, Inside Arabia reported on a case involving the United States government versus Omar Ameen, an Iraqi refugee who was arrested in 2018, after being charged with carrying out murder in Iraq in 2014 while operating as an ISIS commander. Omar was indicted despite no evidence being submitted in the charges made against him and despite actual evidence proving he had left Iraq a full two years before the terror group had seized control of Rawah, the city of his origin.
On April 21, however, after having spent 980 days in prison and being separated from his family, the presiding judge in Omar’s case blocked his extradition and ordered his immediate release from federal custody. His legal defense team had presented irrefutable evidence that Omar was in Turkey at the time of the alleged killing, that he was never in any way associated with ISIS, and that the case made against him rested on a single witness, who had demonstrated he was lying.
In short, Omar’s attorneys proved he was an innocent man all along and a US judge has affirmed his innocence. But when his family arrived at the prison to receive him that day, they were shocked and saddened to learn he had instead been taken into the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, otherwise known as ICE, where he remains in limbo.
When I asked Omar’s attorney, Rachelle Barbour, why Omar was being held by immigration authorities, since he was living in the US as a documented immigrant, she expressed her frustration saying, “Omar has been handed over to ICE on the same false claims that Judge Brennan threw out of court on April 21.”
“The ICE Notice to Appear [the document on which ICE arrested him], dates from the same day he was arrested, August 15, 2018, so it recites the same claims the government made that day in the extradition case. It has not been updated to address any of the evidence that we’ve presented in the last two years, eight months, nor Judge Brennan’s findings and ruling throwing out the case,” Barbour told Inside Arabia.
“ICE is proceeding on a stale, outdated, and false set of charges, and it is Kafkaesque that Omar finds himself again, at square one, in ICE custody.”
“ICE is proceeding on a stale, outdated, and false set of charges, and it is Kafkaesque that Omar finds himself again, at square one, in ICE custody, facing the same wrong-headed allegations. It is maddening and heart-breaking that he can’t be with his family right now.”
When I asked about Omar’s state of mind, Barbour said he’s thrilled to have won the extradition case and that he’s not returning to Iraq on false charges. “He no longer has to live with the fear of torture and execution upon his return. He is incredibly appreciative of Judge Brennan’s thorough and thoughtful analysis of the case,” she shared.
Yet, while Omar “feels heard and vindicated,” Barbour added that “he wants to be home with his family, to celebrate Ramadan with them, to kiss his wife and children, to play with his kids, to feel the sun on his face, just to be a partner and a father, and it is crushing that he is not able to be with them.”
Omar should indeed be home and with his family for the first time in almost three years but he remains trapped by a system that inverts the foundational logic of the criminal justice system, the presumption of innocence, i.e. Being innocent until proven guilty. It forces immigrants to prove their innocence, rather than the government having to prove its case, a distorted notion that has swept up so many innocent Muslim men in this two-decades-long “war on terror.”
So, now Omar has to prove his innocence once again to yet another arm of the government, despite his proven innocence and despite the case made against him being proven to have included “forgeries, inconsistencies, and lies,” according to Barbour.
Worse – his unjustifiable denial of freedom smacks of something even more sinister, given the Trump administration appears to have “elected to launder its evidence through the Iraqi justice system to avoid having to bring charges beyond a reasonable doubt in the United States, where [Omar] would be protected by trial rights and mores substantial due process,” as noted by Ben Taub, a journalist who has covered his case from the start for The New Yorker.
The good news is ICE can release Omar with a stroke of a pen, and it must, as his continued detainment constitutes a grotesque and callous violation of his constitutionally protected human rights.
“The government needs to know that this is unacceptable and a mockery of justice. Omar faced down his charges with fortitude and patience, and he won.”
“The government needs to know that this is unacceptable and a mockery of justice. Omar faced down his charges with fortitude and patience, and he won,” said Barbour. “The government should be offering him an apology, not a transfer to Bakersfield to a slightly nicer jail.”
When I asked Barbour what ordinary people reading this can do to help free Omar, she urged them “to get loud about this.”
“If you’re in the US, contact your Senators and Congresspeople. They are acutely sensitive to injustice and well positioned to call the Department of Homeland Security and demand fair treatment for Omar. Call the White House. Demand that the media cover this case and engage with it online. Let people in power know that this is unacceptable, and that Omar must be freed immediately. Stand up and be counted,” Barbour stated.
She also said that each and every mention of support online helps lift Omar’s spirits: “He is a humble person who hates being the center of attention, and he would like nothing better than to be released and that in a few years no one remembers his name or this case. But for now, he definitely appreciates the international support for him.”