US Army sergeant convicted of raping immigrant wife amid divorce wins appeal
Stars and Stripes October 6, 2023
The U.S. military’s top appeals court has set aside the conviction of an Army sergeant for raping his foreign wife after ruling that the government deprived him of a fair trial by refusing to provide the defense with her immigration records.
Sgt. Ashraf Warda was convicted in October 2020 of raping his wife, whom he had married in Jordan and who has been living in the United States since 2017.
Warda’s brother testified that she threatened unspecified consequences after he refused to help get her U.S. citizenship and pay a promised $13,000 to $15,000 dowry after Warda said he wanted a divorce.
Warda’s trial attorney asked the judge to dismiss the charges or suspend the proceedings until immigration officials handed over her records.
In a Sept. 29 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces overruled a July 2022 ruling by the Army’s appellate court upholding Warda’s conviction.
The higher court said in a 4-1 ruling that the trial judge had abused his discretion by refusing to stop the proceedings until the records were in hand.
The case was returned to the Judge Advocate General of the Army, who can retry the defendant, ask the appellate court to revisit its decision, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or drop the charges, according to Warda’s appeals attorney, William Cassara.
“We’re obviously elated,” Cassara said Thursday. “We believe Sgt. Warda was denied a fair trial. We are grateful the court of appeals agreed with us.”
Cassara said it was unclear what option the Army would take. In the meantime, Warda, who was assigned to the 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., remains in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
In denying the request to halt the trial, the court-martial judge at Fort Drum noted that “considerable efforts” were made to obtain the wife’s records, but immigration officials refused the request, citing privacy issues.
In addition to the prison sentence, Warda, who is an Egyptian-born Muslim, received a reduction to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge. He was acquitted of sexual assault and of communicating a threat.
The case involved complex immigration issues, including whether the judge should have granted the defense’s request to consult with an expert on immigration law and policy during the trial.
It also introduced the concept of a “talaq,” a Muslim verbal declaration of divorce that becomes valid after a husband delivers it to his wife three times.
According to court records, Warda met his wife on Facebook in 2012 and married her three years later in her native Jordan. She joined him in New York in May 2017 after obtaining her green card.
By September of that year, the marriage had dissolved after he declared the third and final talaq. When her demand for dowry money and help with citizenship was denied, she said, “You will see what I am going to do, and you will regret it,” Warda’s brother testified.
The woman made the rape allegation the following month, and the divorce was finalized in April 2018, court documents said. Her green card expired in 2019, but she remained in the United States, according to court documents.