Canadian Khalid Awan remains stranded after years at U.S. ‘Gitmo in the Heartland’
By Matthew Behrens | October 22, 2012
While Omar Khadr returned from Guantanamo Bay this fall, another abandoned Canadian will shortly mark 11 years behind bars, much of that time in an Indiana hellhole known as Little Guantanamo and Gitmo in the Heartland. The case involves classic hallmarks of a national security system riven with physical and psychological torture: death threats, forced confessions leading to apparently trumped-up allegations, lengthy periods of solitary confinement, indefinite detention and the complicity of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Khalid Awan is a Canadian citizen, a Muslim originally from Pakistan who was working as an immigration consultant in New York City in the fall of 2001. Like tens of thousands of Muslims detained after 9/11, he too was targeted by officials whose racial profiling resulted in his extraordinary and violent takedown arrest and detention in October 2001. This was designed to compel his appearance as a “material witness” at the grand jury investigating Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks (a simple subpoena would have done the trick). Since that day, Awan has been imprisoned under an escalating series of allegations and charges that can only be described as outrageous.
Never charged in connection with 9/11, Awan was preparing for his release from detention in November 2001 when he was re-arrested, this time for alleged credit card fraud tied to his immigration business. Awan says it’s ridiculous, considering no former client or bank made a claim against him. His fate is similar to that of many post-9/11 detainees, who often suddenly faced immigration and/or misdemeanour charges prior to release, as authorities sought to justify the original, unwarranted, illegal detention without charge. Such charges were useful because they conveniently fell under the umbrella of “anti-terrorism” statistics, making it look like the government was “securing the homeland.”
Already traumatized by having been disappeared from the streets of New York City, Awan took the advice of a lawyer who said that, as a Muslim in those fearful days, he was unlikely to get a fair shake from a jury, and would do better to plead guilty. Awan says he entered a plea bargain, which guaranteed no future money laundering charges would be brought against him, in exchange for upwards of two years behind bars, but that agreement was not honoured, and instead, he received five years.
As he prepared for his 2006 release, Awan was transferred from the federal penitentiary to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he expected that he would sign paperwork for deportation back to Canada. He then discovered that a Montreal police officer, seconded by the RCMP, had contacted Awan’s sister and brother-in-law wanting to know the location of Awan’s wife. No explanation was provided, though the Montrealers did tell the officer Awan’s wife was in Pakistan. Learning the RCMP was interested in her, Awan’s wife called a number of times and left messages on the officer’s answering machine, but never heard back. The reason for this sudden interest from the Mounties would soon become clear, when Awan was shortly hauled in to a lengthy interrogation with the FBI and a federal prosecutor, who threatened him with the arrest of his sisters in Montreal and his wife in Pakistan if he did not co-operate and act as a spy for the U.S. both in Canada and Pakistan.
Awan was frightened, wondering how they knew where his relatives lived. They plied him with questions about topics for which he had no answer, and then threatened him with death by lethal injection, stating they only need make a phone call and Awan would be plastered across the media as a “big terrorist.”
“I was intimidated and pushed to the edge during this interrogation, I was determined to provide anything these U.S. officials wanted to make them happy, even if the questions made no sense, because I wanted to stop the harassment of my family,” he later wrote. Awan further feared being branded a terrorist and put to death either in the U.S. or via deportation to India, whose government “would view me as an enemy, and [they] told me ‘you know better than I do what they can do with you.’” At Awan’s subsequent trial, an FBI agent frankly admitted that when they asked Awan to work for them as a spy in Pakistan and Canada, the “gist” of what the U.S. prosecutor had said to Awan was: “These are terrorism charges…You face serious penalties for these charges anywhere from jail to possibly even the death penalty.”
Khalid Awan has been subject to several prison transfers over the past year, and continues his efforts to receive a transfer to Canada with the assistance of the Centre for Constitutional Rights. His spirit remains unbowed, and he hopes that by publicizing his case, justice will eventually be done and he will again walk the streets a free man.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.
Article posted in Communities, South/Southeast Asian community