Truth the victim in American crackdown

Robert Fisk finds his articles being submitted as 'evidence' to deport an Algerian activist
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The Independent Online
Washington - In their efforts to deport Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) spokesman Anwar Haddam, the United States Justice Department is using carefully selected articles from The Independent - in which the irony has been lost on Justice Department officials - as well as dozens of items from the government-censored Algerian press, to prove that the FIS man should be expelled from the country.

The department is also submitting "evidence" from a self-styled women's group closely associated with the military-backed government; almost all witnesses, it transpires, will appear anonymously, while Mr Haddam has been refused permission to read the evidence allegedly collected from wire taps of his own telephone calls.

He had been acting as official FIS spokesman in Washington from 1992 until his arrest by US Immigration and Naturalisation Service agents last December after his parole immigration status expired.

He fears that he will be tortured or executed if he is returned to Algeria and his three children - all born in the US and thus American citizens - have decided to accompany him back to the country, where he is regarded as a "terrorist" leader, if he is deported.

Despite evidence from a senior member of the Community of Saint Egidio, which organised a peace meeting between the FIS and legal Algerian opposition parties in 1994 - and who testifies that Mr Haddam "continuously insisted on the necessity of a political settlement ... advocating political pluralism and respect of human rights" - the US government is pressing on with its case, producing "evidence" which clearly confuses the FIS with the much more violent and brutal Islamic Armed Group (GIA).

The American "evidence" also contains allegations against Mr Haddam made by a women's group which two years ago staged a mock trial of FIS leaders in Algiers which ended when the audience "condemned" the FIS men to death.

Although a submission from the State Department acknowledges that "there is convincing evidence that the security forces carried out dozens of extrajudicial killings and often tortured and otherwise abused detainees", the Justice Department has relied for most of its evidence on Algerians who support the regime.

A list of six unnamed Algerians - all referred to as "Jane Doe" - accuse Mr Haddam of "crimes against humanity", including rape, beheading and hijacking. The testimonies make specific reference to the hijacking of an Air France jet in 1994 - even though the GIA, not the FIS, carried out the assault.

This evidence makes no reference to the FIS's condemnation of the killing of civilians, nor does it make any reference to the FIS victory in parliamentary elections which were subsequently annulled in 1992 by the military-supported government.

Similar references to FIS "control" of local government authorities prior to this date fail to mention that the FIS won a majority of seats on these councils in free elections.

One of the articles from The Independent - filed by me from Algiers on 8 March 1995 - has apparently been included because of a final paragraph which referred to photographs of murdered Algerian intellectuals. "It was enough to make you hate them [Islamists], despise them, deprive them of any human attribute, let alone human rights - which was, of course, the intention, provided you could forget how many people voted for the FIS in the elections which the government annulled."

Mr Haddam's lawyers have concluded that the Justice Department official failed to see the irony in the last line - or understand my remark that for the audience "the word 'terrorist' clearly applied to anyone remotely connected with the 'Islamist' cause".

Another Independent article put forward as evidence by the US government is a report that I wrote on 20 February this year, telling of the murder of a trade unionist leader by the Jihad Islamic Front, which is loosely associated with the FIS.

Mr Haddam is not mentioned in my report, although an exultant claim for the killing - the trade unionist was a staunch supporter of the government's repression of the "Islamists" - was published by a FIS support group in London.

At least 100,000 people have died in Algeria's civil war. The FIS claims that the GIA has been infiltrated by government agents, but makes no secret of its own attacks on policemen, soldiers and officials.

Nevertheless, the Justice Department's documentation shows evidence of considerable sloppiness. The title of at least two of the Algerian newspapers quoted have been mis-spelt and no reference is made to the Algerian government's insistence that newspapers must print news of "terrorism" according to the regime's instructions.

Many of these articles are about GIA massacres which the FIS have condemned, but for which the Algerian newspapers blame the FIS which is now illegal in the country.

A government witness list says a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent will spend eight hours reading "classified information" to the US immigration judge while an anonymous "terrorist victim from Algeria" will talk for two hours.

Mary Ramadan, Mr Haddam's Washington lawyer, claims that denial of access to classified material will prevent her client from denying or rebutting any charges against him. But the US government, it seems, is set on putting Mr Haddam on an aircraft to Algiers.