We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Ibrahim Parlak is still sitting in a Michigan jail, and it’s a national shame. But with each passing day, his case picks up a little more steam and generates a little more outrage. It has gotten the attention of Republican Congressman Mark Kirk. And it may soon set up a fascinating face-off between President Bush’s nominee for secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, and the Chicago office of his old law firm, Latham & Watkins.
But first, some background:
Ibrahim Parlak is a 42-year-old immigrant from Turkey who until his arrest last July ran a little Middle Eastern restaurant in Harbert, Mich., called Cafe Gulistan. By all accounts, he has been a good businessman, community member and father of a 7-year-old.
Parlak is a Kurd and as such was not welcome in the country of his birth. As a younger man, he fought the oppression of the Turkish government back when our own State Department decried the human rights abuses by the Turks against the Kurds. He joined the PKK, a Kurdish resistance movement, and in 1988 on the Turkey-Syria border got into a skirmish in which two border guards were killed.
Parlak, charged with separatism, was imprisoned and tortured for a year and a half. In 1991, he fled Turkey and sought asylum in the United States. He provided U.S. officials at the time with newspaper clippings, police reports and prison documents about what happened. Given that the newspapers were government controlled, they were hardly favorable to Parlak. But U.S. officials were fully aware of the plight of the Kurds and the Turkish government’s predilection for persecution. Parlak was granted asylum in 1992.
Today the PKK is known as KONGRA-GEL. Today the United States has re-classified it as a terrorist group. The Turkey we once condemned is an ally we now embrace.
And so Ibrahim Parlak was arrested by federal agents last summer because the very circumstances for which he won a grant of asylum are now being held against him.
It’s crazy. And it’s unjust. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Drive into Union Pier or Lakeside or Harbert, the little communities that line the southeastern edge of Lake Michigan, and you’ll find merchants and residents who have become very public in their protest of this particular chapter in the federal government’s war on terror.
Milda’s Corner Market is a case in point. In bold letters across the the front of its brick storefront is a huge hand-painted "Free Ibrahim" sign. Walk in and amid the muffins and the coffee, you can buy a "Free Ibrahim" mug with the above quote from President Franklin Roosevelt. Milda and Linas Johansonas have been unwavering in their support. Linas’ own parents were Lithuanian refugees who, threatened with imprisonment in Siberia, fled Russia during World War II. "My father fought the Russians. Today would he too be called a terrorist?" asks Linas.
In December, an immigration judge ordered Parlak deported. She denied his release on bond pending an appeal. In her ruling, Judge Elizabeth Hacker almost word for word recites the government’s arguments that Parlak is a terrorist who lied on his immigration application about his past.
In a stinging reply, Jay Marhoefer of the Chicago office of the Latham and Watkins law firm cited 73 errors or distortions in the government’s case and the judge’s ruling. His appeal is headed to federal court and conceivably to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case of Ibrahim Parlak could become a serious test of the Patriot Act. As such, it could pit a powerhouse law firm against one of its most distinguished former partners, Michael Chertoff, who awaits confirmation as Bush’s secretary of homeland security.
Chertoff, when he was in the Justice Department after Sept. 11, helped supervise the detention of 762 foreign nationals charged with immigration violations. Like Parlak, they were all denied bond and detained for a long time under constitutionally questionable circumstances. Chertoff is also one of the architects of the Patriot Act under which Parlak has been charged.
Chertoff’s old firm, Latham & Watkins, is working for free in Parlak’s defense.
This could make for an interesting showdown.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan mix of Republicans and Democrats have expressed their concern as well. Among them are Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Illinois’ Mark Kirk, the Republican congressman from Deerfield who is scheduled to meet with Parlak’s team in March.
Through it all, Ibrahim Parlak, who fled Turkey to find freedom from persecution, sits behind bars without bond.