June 21, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, an update on the story of six men in California accused of being Iraqi spies. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET, Los Angeles, reported about them on the NewsHour in May of 1998. Here's a second look at his report.
JEFFREY KAYE: Imprisoned in a federal detention center south of Los Angeles, six men from Iraq face deportation. Although the United States brought them here, the government now considers them national security risks. The case has attracted attention because its reliance on classified evidence has prevented the six from rebutting accusations against them. That, according to Rabih Aridi of the human rights group Amnesty International, violates basic standards of justice.
RABIH ARIDI: We believe they have been denied due process because they
were not allowed to
JEFFREY KAYE: The INS, the Immigration & Naturalization Service,
maintains the men are not
PAUL VIRTUE, INS: We believe that full due process has been provided to the extent we're required to do so under the Constitution.
JEFFREY KAYE: The men say they belonged to U.S.-backed Iraqi opposition groups formed after the 1991 Gulf War. In 1996, opposition members and thousands of other refugees fled to the border with Turkey after the Iraqi army attacked rebel strongholds in Northern Iraq. The U.S. flew 6500 Iraqi refugees to the U.S. Island of Guam in the Pacific. The evacuees included some 600 opposition members and their families. The government felt a moral obligation to provide a haven, says former Defense Department Official Zelmay Khlilzad, now with the policy research institute, Rand.
ZELMAY KHLILZAD: They had worked with us closely. They had put their lives at risk. And also it's possible that they would have been killed or jailed, and if they had gone all over the Middle East, I don't know who would have been able to provide them a safe haven, since the Turks were unwilling.
JEFFREY KAYE: Evacuees stayed on Guam for five months while INS and FBI agents investigated their applications for political asylum. The vast majority of refugees were settled in America, but government investigators concluded that 25 didn't qualify for asylum.
PAUL VIRTUE: The U.S. Government has had some concerns that because we
had to evacuate
JEFFREY KAYE: The 25 refugees were flown to California and placed in detention. After hearings, some eventually received asylum. Of the six still detained in LA as security risks, two are doctors; three deserted the Iraqi military to join the opposition; and one former soldier, Safa Batat, says he was shot and bombed by Saddam Hussein's troops, and poisoned by one of his agents.
SAFA AL-BATAT: (speaking through interpreter) I've been fighting the Iraqi government since 1991. And the evidence of that is apparent in my body--evidence, not words--traces of the bullets and shrapnel. And even now I suffer from the effect of Thallium, which is still present in my body.
JEFFREY KAYE: In immigration court hearings held behind closed doors, the INS presented classified evidence and secret witnesses. In March, the judge ruled the men "pose security risks to the United States." Her public report cited inconsistencies in the men's stories. A separate, 92-page classified decision relied mostly on secret evidence. The men testified, but the fact they couldn't respond to the classified evidence against them frustrated their lawyer, Neils Frenzen.
NEILS FRENZEN: If someone told us we suspect Mr. X of being a foreign intelligence officer, or we suspect Mr. Y of being a foreign intelligence agent, we could respond to that perhaps by guessing. But nothing has been ruled out. We have simply had these vague generalities of national security that have been directed in our direction, with no idea of what the evidence is. And so our case has been one of guesswork. The use of secret evidence in a situation where one's life depends on it, and where one's life depends on being able to respond to that secret evidence, there's no place for it in the American legal system.
PAUL VIRTUE: I think we have to put this in context. I think the use
of classified information in
JEFFREY KAYE: To get the classified evidence in this case, the legal team brought in R. James Woolsey, the man on the left. As a former head of the CIA, Woolsey was privy to the nation's top secrets. He still holds a security clearance. In March, he came from Washington to meet with the Iraqis and to criticize the government he once served.
R. JAMES WOOLSEY: This case at this point stands as really I think a stain on the honor of the United States.
JEFFREY KAYE: Woolsey signed on as the Iraqis' co-counsel, and filed a motion to obtain the classified evidence.
R. JAMES WOOLSEY: I believe whether it's me or someone else, that an
attorney with security
JEFFREY KAYE: Virtue says the INS has no intention of providing Woolsey
with a classified
PAUL VIRTUE: These are people who are seeking admission to the United States. Essentially they're knocking at the door, asking for the United States to protect them as refugees. The due process requirements are different for someone who has not been lawfully admitted to the United States.
R. JAMES WOOLSEY: They were brought to Guam, a territorial possession of the United States, by the U.S. Government, and they were taken from Guam to California by the U.S. Government. And the INS is maintaining this legal position that they have not been admitted to the United States, so it won't have to grant them any procedural rights of the sort that an individual does have if he's been admitted but then is in risk of being deported.
JEFFREY KAYE: The detainees say they are victims of misunderstandings by INS investigators, as well as the factional in fighting among Iraqis. Dr. Adil Hadi Awadh, who joined the opposition in 1996, after deserting from a military hospital, says Saddam Hussein fostered a culture of suspicion in order to undermine his foes.
DR. ADIL HADI AWADH: We've been living among these accusations since
a long time in Iraq.
JEFFREY KAYE: The detainees say on Guam rivals unjustly fingered them. The refugees included men once ousted from the opposition who denounced the detainees, according to Mohammed Tuma, a deserter from the Iraqi army.
MOHAMMED TUMA: (speaking through interpreter) No doubt, they were trying to get back at those who expelled them from the opposition. And the responsible parties in Guam listened to them and didn't listen to us. And I don't know why.
PAUL VIRTUE: I don't believe that simply a disagreement or some problems between the factions would have led to this--would have led to people continuing to be detained in this circumstance.
JEFFREY KAYE: The decision was based on more substantive information?
PAUL VIRTUE: I believe so, yes.
JEFFREY KAYE: But Virtue said he could not disclose that information. However, one man with intimate knowledge of the Iraqi opposition says at least two of the detainees are who they claim to be. Warren Marik is a retired CIA case officer. In 1994 and `95, he and other U.S. agents worked out of this house in the city of Irbil in Northern Iraq. Guarded by rebel militia, the CIA team assisted the opposition movement. Marik says he worked with two of the detainees. One was Safa Batat whom Marik says arranged for the Americans to debrief Iraqi army defectors. In London, Batat publicly denounced Saddam Hussein for trying to poison him.
WARREN MARIK: I don't believe that Safa Batat is an Iraqi agent because
of his activities in
JEFFREY KAYE: How do you know Dr. Ali?
WARREN MARIK: Dr. Ali treated me and members of my team in Northern
Iraq. I had a terrible case of bronchitis. And he gave me medicine.
He treated a couple people in my teams
JEFFREY KAYE: So the fact that he didn't kill these people demonstrates to you that he could not be an agent of Saddam?
WARREN MARIK: Partially. You get into a good question.
JEFFREY KAYE: Marik says that while Saddam's agents did infiltrate the opposition, he knows of no evidence that implicates the detainees. The U.S. Government did not make Marik available to testify in the Iraqis' case. One man who did testify on their behalf is Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, a main opposition group.
AHMED CHALABI: I have no evidence and can see no way that these people are agents of Saddam Hussein. They are not agents of Saddam Hussein.
JEFFREY KAYE: Does that mean you can personally vouch for them?
AHMED CHALABI: I know three of them personally. The three people who belong to the INC, I know them personally.
JEFFREY KAYE: The detainees say if forced back to Iraq, they will be killed.
MOHAMMED AL-AMMARY: (speaking through interpreter) The verdict of the
judge is a death
JEFFREY KAYE: The INS says if the men are eventually deported, they could try to find refuge in another country, besides Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: And last week, the case was resolved. Five of the six men accepted an INS offer of release, pending their deportation to a country of their choice. And the U.S. Government will pay their resettlement costs. The government acknowledged earlier the evidence against the Iraqis should not have been classified.