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Third Circuit blocks deportation of Egypt detainee despite 'no torture' pledge

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF; ACLU press release] that an Egyptian Christian who could face torture in Egypt [JURIST news archive] may challenge his deportation from the United States. Sameh Khouzam [ACLU materials; JURIST news archive] fled to the US in 1998 allegedly to escape religious persecution. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] lawyers representing Khouzam argued [JURIST report] before the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] that the US government was not abiding by its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture [text] by relying on assurances from the Egyptian government that Khouzam would not be tortured if he were returned to authorities in Egypt [JURIST news archive]. In upholding the district court's decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] to block Khouzam's deportation, Judge Marjorie Rendell wrote:

The alien must have an opportunity to present, before a neutral and impartial decisionmaker, evidence and arguments challenging the reliability of diplomatic assurances proffered by the Government, and the Government’s compliance with the relevant regulations. The alien must also be afforded an individualized determination of the matter based on a record disclosed to the alien.
The court held that the district court had no jurisdiction over Khouzam’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and vacated the order granting that petition. The court also held that they had jurisdiction over Khouzam’s petition for review, and that Khouzam was denied due process. They granted his petition for review, and vacated the termination of his deferral of removal.

Khouzam originally came to the US seeking asylum, but was detained by US authorities based on claims by Egyptian authorities that he was a murder suspect in his home country. Khouzam's case marks the first time a US court has addressed whether the government can lawfully rely on assurances from foreign governments to deport detainees to countries with a record of engaging in torture. Friday's decision could have important ramifications in the upcoming case of Arar v. Ashcroft [CCR backgrounder] that will be argued before an en banc sitting of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] next week. In that case, Canadian citizen Maher Arar [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] is seeking a declaratory judgment against US government officials for deporting him to Syria [JURIST news archive], where he was tortured despite Syrian assurances [Globe & Mail report]. In April this year the Court of Appeal in London blocked two separate orders [JURIST report] to extradite two terror suspects to Libya and another convicted terrorist to Jordan, citing concerns that they would face torture and be denied a fair trial on arrival despite the fact that the UK had signed agreements with both countries under which they had guaranteed that deportees would not face abuse on their return. The court ruled that those agreements, much maligned by rights groups [JURIST report], were insufficient.

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