Attorney: Afghan soldiers would be tortured, killed if sent back to homeland
By DAN HERBECK | The Buffalo (N.Y.) News (MCT) | Published: October 2, 2014
BATAVIA, N.Y. — Three command officers from the Afghanistan army fear a fate even worse than death if they are sent away from a detention center in Batavia and returned to their homeland, their attorney said Wednesday.
The three men – a major and two captains – slipped away from a military training program in Massachusetts last month, took a taxi cab to Western New York and were apprehended at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. Now they are pleading with the United States government to grant them asylum to remain in this country.
Maj. Jan Mohammad Arash, Capt. Mohammad Nasir Askarzada and Capt. Noorullah Aminyar are now imprisoned at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, where they briefly appeared before an immigration judge Wednesday afternoon.
“They would be thankful for asylum in the United States, in Canada or in any other safe country,” said Matthew Borowski, a Buffalo immigration attorney who has agreed to represent the three soldiers without pay. “They’ve told me they just want to go somewhere they won’t be killed.”
The men are convinced they will be sent to prison, tortured and killed by the Afghan government if they are sent back to Afghanistan, Borowski said.
If the ultra-violent extremist organization known as the Taliban gets its hands on the three men, their treatment could be just as bad, or even worse, the attorney said.
“The Taliban looks at these men as military officers who have served side by side with Americans,” and that would make them “top targets” of the Taliban, Borowski said. “To the Afghan government, they are traitors who deserted their Army … Either way, if they return to Afghanistan, they are in very serious danger. I am very fearful for them and their families.”
In a case that is being followed by Afghanistan’s government and news media across America and in the Middle East, the three soldiers plan to ask the U.S. government for asylum. If that asylum is granted, Borowski said, the men hope the U.S. also will allow their wives and children to travel here from Afghanistan to join them.
Arash is 48, Aminyar is 30 and Askarzada is 28. The men face non-criminal immigration charges and are being held by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
So far, all U.S. government documents detailing the charges against them are secret. The documents, which were mentioned Wednesday afternoon during brief proceedings at the Immigration Court at the Batavia prison, could possibly be made public at some point in the future, said Marvin J. Muller III, an assistant chief counsel for ICE.
The three soldiers were at a training conference run by the U.S. military at Cape Cod, Mass. when they decided on Sept. 20 to sneak away and seek asylum in North America, they told the Boston Globe in an interview published on Wednesday.
The men told the newspaper they visited a Walmart store and then spent more than $1,600 to hire taxis to drive them from Cape Cod to Niagara Falls, where they figured they could easily cross the border into Canada. They were attempting to cross over the Rainbow Bridge into Canada – where they hoped to file asylum requests – when Canadian immigration officials apprehended them and turned them over American authorities.
Borowski said the three men vehemently deny published reports alleging that, at one point in their odyssey, they visited a strip club in Massachusetts.
“They did not go to any strip club. It wouldn’t make any sense for them to go to a strip club with all this going on,” Borowski said. “They did go to a Walmart store, where they got into a cab.”
Borowski was asked by The Buffalo News if the three soldiers were abandoning their families in Afghanistan by walking away from a military training session in America and seeking asylum here.
“They do care about their families,” Borowski said, telling The News that the three men made a sudden decision to flee from the training session in Cape Cod. “They decided they would try to get asylum here, and eventually get their families to join them here.”
Borowski said he plans to file for asylum for the three men within the next couple of weeks. He said he also plans to ask Immigration Judge Steven J. Connelly to release them on bond while their asylum case – which could take months to litigate – is pending.
“The government, much to my chagrin, is opposing” the release on bond, Borowski said. “I was hoping the government would do the right thing.”
Connelly planned to hold a hearing on the status of the three men on Wednesday, but he agreed with Borowski’s request to delay the proceedings until Oct. 8. Borowski said he needs more time to study legal issues surrounding the status of the three soldiers.
Aside from confirming that the three soldiers are in ICE custody in Batavia, ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said he could not discuss the U.S. government’s position toward the three men and their asylum requests “at this time.”
The News contacted the Afghan Embassy in Washington to ask officials about Borowski’s claim that the soldiers would be imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Afghan government.
The News’ call was transferred to an official who appeared to be quite familiar with the Batavia case. The official strongly disagreed with Borowski’s claim that the men would face torture and death.
“Torture is against the constitution of Afghanistan. This would not be tolerated,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “These men were active-duty military officers … If they were in dereliction of their duties, if they were deserters, they would be held responsible for their actions.”
Afghan detention centers and prisons are “rife with serious abuse,including torture, medically invalid ‘virginity examinations’ of women, and holding detainees past their release date,” the Human Rights Watch organization said in a statement issued in September 2013. The organization called the prison abuses “pervasive.”
©2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) Distributed by MCT Information Services