On August 15, 2018, the Trump administration arrested Omar Ameen, a 45-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker living in Sacramento County, California, after an arrest warrant accused him of murdering an Iraqi police officer as a high-ranking member of the terror group ISIL on June 22, 2014.
Ameen was led from his apartment in handcuffs and placed into one of dozens of police cars awaiting in the street, as television-news crews captured and celebrated the apprehension of an alleged ISIL commander. Moments later, he was dragged into a 13th floor courtroom in the federal building in downtown Sacramento, where US Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan told the shackled and non-English speaking prisoner: “The government of Iraq seeks your extradition to that country for the charge of murder.”
Then President Donald Trump used Ameen’s arrest to bolster his tough anti-immigration policies and pepper his rallies with slogans that stigmatized refugees as a terrorism risk.
Phone records recently obtained by Ameen’s lawyers from the Turkish government prove definitively their client was in Turkey on or near the date the alleged crime took place in Iraq.
As it turns out, however, Ameen is yet another innocent Arab immigrant swept up in the “war on terror” dragnet. Phone records recently obtained by his lawyers from the Turkish government prove definitively their client was in Turkey on or near the date the alleged crime took place in Iraq.
“These phone records decisively put him in Turkey during the entire period of time that ISIS was taking over Rawah, Iraq, including on the day of the murder,” Rachelle Barbour, one of Ameen’s attorneys, told Inside Arabia.
Even more damning is the fact that the Turkish government sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), saying it not only had evidence of Ameen’s whereabouts on June 22, 2014 but also stated it was ready to collaborate on the proviso it traveled through the proper channels. Yet the DOJ did not share this information with either the presiding judge or Ameen’s defense team, as reported by the New Yorker in 2018.
The letter is dated May 17, 2019. Ameen remains in jail. His fate uncertain.
“We’ve submitted them [phone records], but the government prosecutors won’t let up—they’ve just filed a brief trying to poke holes in them,” said Barbour.
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Then there’s the fact that the documents enclosed in the Iraqi government’s extradition request against Ameen contain “forgeries, inconsistencies, and lies,” according to Barbour. She told the New Yorker: “This is not the usual extradition case,” adding, “The US government 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 Mr. Ameen would be protected by trial rights and more substantial due process rights.”
Ben Taub, a journalist who has worked on Ameen’s case for years, accused the Trump administration of co-opting non-political officials within the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and DOJ into “a campaign to extradite an innocent man to almost certain death in order to make a racist talking point appear to be slightly less of a fiction.”
The Iraqi government’s case against Ameen amounts to little more than the following statements: On June 21, 2014, Ameen entered Rawah with a caravan of ISIL vehicles and drove to the house of a former officer in the Rawah Police Department. The next evening, Ameen and other members of the convoy fired upon the target. At the moment the victim fell to the ground, it’s alleged by an unnamed source that Ameen walked towards him and delivered the kill shot.
The bucket sized hole in the Iraqi government’s case, however, is the fact that Ameen fled Iraq in 2012, two years before ISIL seized control of Rawah and other cities, and only after pleading with the United Nations to accept his request for political asylum, having witnessed his father being murdered by al-Qaeda and brothers kidnapped by Shiite militia groups.
He also feared certain figures would seek retribution for one of his cousins joining al-Qaeda during the country’s sectarian civil war.
In Iraq’s Anbar province, it’s not uncommon for rivals to falsely accuse each other of terrorism or other crimes as a form of tit-for-tat retribution and violence.
In Iraq’s Anbar province, where a tribal system of justice prevails, it’s not uncommon for rivals to falsely accuse each other of terrorism or other crimes as a form of tit-for-tat retribution and violence.
“When you want to get revenge, you get revenge on the entire extended family,” Ameen said in a 2018 interview.
“Without intervention, if Omar is extradited, he will be tortured and executed,” said Barbour.
“If he receives a trial, it will be a cursory trial without due process. Given the involvement by the militia leader discussed in the New Yorker piece – the person who set up this case against Omar, took it to the FBI with forged documents, shuttled ‘witnesses’ in and out of Al-Assad to meet FBI agents, and brought them to court – I think there is a chance Omar won’t even make it to an Iraqi court. That militia leader has sworn to convene a tribal proceeding and then have Omar executed.”
In the end, there’s zero evidence Ameen has ever stepped foot in Iraq since fleeing for Turkey in 2012, but this has done nothing to free him from prison or guarantee he won’t be extradited.
“The judge will have to decide whether to certify Omar’s extradition—there are a few rounds of court challenges to that if he does certify, so the extradition will likely be stayed while that is happening,” said Barbour.
When I inquired about Ameen’s welfare and state of mind, Ms. Barbour said she considers him to be one of the “strongest, kindest people” she has ever known. “I don’t understand how he’s been able to keep his faith in humanity and the United States during his two and a half years of solitary confinement,” she added.
“I don’t understand how he’s been able to keep his faith in humanity and the United States during his two and a half years of solitary confinement.”
“He recently suffered from COVID-19, but happily, he recovered,” said Barbour. “[And] he stays hopeful, thankful, and optimistic no matter what the government throws at him. He did go through very tough days during his first Ramadan in custody in December 2018—ultimately, he was placed on suicide watch at the jail, it was awful to see him like that. He has found ways to cope that have given him back hope.”
The Biden administration has already reversed so many of Trump’s hateful, discriminatory, and destructive policies, including putting an end to the Muslim travel ban and recommitting foreign aid to the Palestinian people. The new President will do well to end the prosecution and suffering of an evidently innocent man who was made a cruel punchline by Biden’s predecessor.
“I am hopeful that the Biden administration – with its strong support of refugees and immigrants, its commitment to equality, and its advancement of human rights – will change the trajectory of this case,” said Barbour. “I believe that the Biden administration will have many facets of the prior administration to re-examine and rectify. This is but one of them, albeit one with a very direct human impact.”