Congressman McDermott’s support for Mohiuddin

Mashuqur Rahman

Published in Daily Star (June 5, 2007)

On May 31, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the mandate that ended convicted killer AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed’s asylum appeals and made him deportable from the United States. However, the long saga has moved from the courts to the political arena after a congressman introduced a private bill to issue Mohiuddin a green card.

The rationale presented in the bill needs discussion both in the United States and Bangladesh; and it is time to explore whether the United States government should be actively sheltering a convicted murderer.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was set to deport Mohiuddin to Bangladesh on or around June 2. However, Mohiuddin’s lawyers managed to get a temporary stay of deportation from a lower court judge until Tuesday, June 5. A US District Court judge has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday June 5 to consider a stay of deportation.

The hearing will not reconsider the asylum case since the lower court does not have jurisdiction and cannot overrule the Court of Appeals decision. Mohiuddin’s lawyers have, instead, asked the District Court to consider whether Mohiuddin could be deported while there was a private bill on his behalf pending in the US Congress.

On May 3, while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was still considering Mohiuddin’s last petition, a Democratic congressman from Washington State, Jim McDermott, introduced a private bill in the US House Judiciary Committee on his behalf. A private bill is a rare legislative procedure in the United States used to pass a law that benefits only one person rather than a class of individuals.

Private bills are sometimes used in immigration cases by members of Congress to grant relief to individuals who, because of an unusual set of circumstances, may be facing deportation from the country. For example, they are sometimes used to give relief to family members who would otherwise be separated if one member were to be deported, causing severe hardship to the rest.

Private bills rarely become laws. To become a law, the bill must first be passed by the US House Judiciary Committee, then by the US House of Representatives, then by the US Senate, and finally must be signed into law by the president of the United States.

The private bill introduced by congressman McDermott, known as H.R. 2181, aims to help Mohiuddin in a number of ways. First, it aims to stay the deportation order against him indefinitely. Second, it aims to release him from custody and bars the DHS from deporting him to Bangladesh, or to any country that has an extradition treaty with Bangladesh.

Third, it aims to grant a green card to Mohiuddin, which would allow him to get preferential treatment before all other green card applicants from Bangladesh. It also aims to grant him the card by reducing the number of green cards available to other Bangladeshis by one. Finally, it states that Mohiuddin will be allowed to seek asylum in any foreign country of his choosing.

Congressman McDermott’s bill also makes some extraordinary “findings.” The bill claims that Mohiuddin is an “innocent Bangladeshi citizen.” It also claims that the Bangladesh court “erroneously convicted Mr. Ahmed of murder and sentenced him to death.” It further claims that the trial and conviction are “sufficiently suspect as to warrant the immediate intervention” by the US government to prevent his deportation.

However, the claims in the bill directly contradict the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In its decision denying Mohiuddin’s petition the court wrote: “Ahmed failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his in absentia murder trial and conviction in Bangladesh was fundamentally unfair and, thus, deprived him of due process of law. Therefore, the IJ properly relied on the conviction.” Mohiuddin failed to convince the US court that his trial was unfair.

The court did not find that Mohiuddin was “erroneously convicted,” or that the trial was “sufficiently suspect.” It felt that it was proper to rely on the conviction in the Bangladeshi court.

Therefore, the congressman’s claim that Mohiuddin is an “innocent Bangladeshi citizen” is not supported by the facts, and is also not something that Mohiuddin was able to convince any court of.

Furthermore, the US State Department has stated that Mohiuddin”s trial — a high profile trial observed by the world community and human rights organizations — followed due process.

The bill also claims that Mohiuddin was merely manning a roadblock on August 15, 1975, and that he “had no knowledge of, nor did he support, the violent coup that erupted that night.”

Again, this claim in the bill directly contradicts the 9th Circuit’s ruling. In the ruling the court wrote: “Ahmed is ineligible for asylum and withholding of removal for two reasons:

  • Because he engaged in terrorist activity,
  • Because he assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of others on account of their political opinion. Even his own account of his actions established that he assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of persons on account of their political opinion.”

Perhaps the most inexplicable part of the bill is its reference to the Indemnity Act. The bill states “…when Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of the assassinated prime minister, came to power, and then broke her promise to respect the Bangladeshi constitutional amendment which provided immunity to officers involved in the 1975 coup. Rather, Sheikh Hasina Wajed orchestrated the repeal of the constitutional amendment.”

The congressman, in the bill, seems to be advocating immunity for the murderers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. It is difficult to understand why a US congressman would suggest that repealing of a grant of immunity to murderers of children and pregnant women should be called into question.

Congressman McDermott’s bill is based on false or misleading information. It claims as facts the many arguments Mohiuddin and his supporters have been publicly making, but failed to prove them in US courts of law where facts and evidence count.

By introducing the private bill, congressman McDermott has staked his reputation on the word of a convicted murderer who has been found to engage in terrorist activity by US courts of law.

At a time when the United States is engaged in a global war on terror, a Congressional intervention on behalf of an individual deemed to have engaged in terrorist activity is an extraordinary step.

Given the political sensitivity of the bill, and its awkward position within the war on terror, it is highly unlikely that the bill will ever become law. However, for Mohiuddin to get a stay of deportation the bill does not have to become law.

If the House Immigration Subcommittee takes up the bill and requests a report from the US immigration authorities, it would result in a stay of deportation. All indications are that the Subcommittee has not taken up Mohiuddin’s private bill — if it had, a stay of deportation would have already occurred.

Without such action it will be an uphill battle for Mohiuddin’s lawyers to convince the judge at Tuesday’s hearing to order a stay of deportation. It is almost a certainty that the subcommittee chairwoman will be lobbied hard on behalf of Mohiuddin in the coming days.

Having lost his asylum bid in the US courts, Mohiuddin is now appealing to American politicians to continue to evade justice. American politicians, such as congressman Jim McDermott, are now confronted with a choice between the rule of law and the word of a convicted killer.

By introducing the private bill on behalf of Mohiuddin congressman McDermott may have bought Mohiuddin a few more days of evading justice. But at what cost?

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