Chicago Sun-Times

A Cautionary Tale for the Next President

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BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

HARBERT, Mich. -- It was Ibrahim Parlak's day off but he was at work anyway, sitting in his restaurant in Harbert, Mich., doing paperwork and paying bills when I interrupted him Tuesday.

Like all of us, he's glued to the economy, watching the Dow drop like a rock, rise like a rocket, then drop again.


"How's business?" I asked.

"It's OK," he answered.

No complaints. Ibrahim doesn't complain much. He knows there is more to worry about than the economy if we would only pay attention.

Have you noticed we don't talk about Iraq or Afghanistan much? Or peace in the Middle East? Or immigration, homeland security or the continued erosion of our civil liberties in the name of more FBI surveillance powers?

On Sunday, yet another prosecutor from our gulag at Guantanamo Bay resigned, becoming "at least the fourth prosecutor to quit in protest" according to a front-page report in the Los Angeles Times. Air Force Maj. David Frakt's charges were "explosive" in that they detailed how the U.S. government was perverting justice and denying due process in order to keep prisoners locked up rather than admit there were no grounds to hold them or compelling evidence to convict them.

The story, though picked up by respected news outlets, was hardly a blip on our radar.

After reading it this weekend, I decided it was time to write again about Ibrahim. His story may not have the global reach of the economy or the consequence of the current presidential contest, but it's worth recalling because Ibrahim Parlak is an example of what happens when we are swept up in events that overwhelm us. And how we justify the unjustifiable when we're feeling threatened and afraid.

Until the terror attacks of Sept. 11, Ibrahim was just another law-abiding immigrant with a green card. A Kurd from Turkey, he had been imprisoned and tortured for his work in the Kurdish independence movement. In 1992 he was granted asylum in the United States.

Moving to the summer resort area of Michigan just over the border from Indiana, he opened Cafe Gulistan, became active in local civic groups and began to make a decent living for himself and his young daughter.

After 9/11, we redefined everything. Turkey, whose human rights abuses we once condemned, became a crucial ally. The Kurdish independence movement had a few years earlier been reclassified as a terrorist operation. And all of a sudden, Ibrahim was considered a terrorist though the government cannot attribute to him a single act of terrorism.

Homeland Security locked him up anyway. It was only with the ferocious effort of many friends -- a former U.S. attorney, a former assistant general counsel for the FBI, a Republican congressman named Fred Upton and a Democratic U.S. senator, Carl Levin -- that Ibrahim Parlak is not only out of jail but also still in this country.

His fate hangs on a ruling that will someday come from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. It is taking a very long time. Though the average turnaround between oral arguments and a decision is reportedly 2½ months, it will be a year next week that the court has been considering Ibrahim's fate.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Another of his lawyers, Jay Marhoefer, believes the complexity of the case may account for the judges taking so long to write their briefs or make their decision.

Maybe they'll wait until after the election.

Whoever becomes the next president of this country will have a huge burden. The economy will still be an enormous challenge. But all those other things we no longer spend a lot of time talking about will be with us, too.

And the story of Ibrahim Parlak should be a cautionary tale for the next administration about how, in our fear, we can sometimes go too far.

How's business?" I asked.

"It's OK," he answered.

No complaints. Ibrahim doesn't complain much. He knows there is more to worry about than the economy if we would only pay attention.

Have you noticed we don't talk about Iraq or Afghanistan much? Or peace in the Middle East? Or immigration, homeland security or the continued erosion of our civil liberties in the name of more FBI surveillance powers?

On Sunday, yet another prosecutor from our gulag at Guantanamo Bay resigned, becoming "at least the fourth prosecutor to quit in protest" according to a front-page report in the Los Angeles Times. Air Force Maj. David Frakt's charges were "explosive" in that they detailed how the U.S. government was perverting justice and denying due process in order to keep prisoners locked up rather than admit there were no grounds to hold them or compelling evidence to convict them.

The story, though picked up by respected news outlets, was hardly a blip on our radar.

After reading it this weekend, I decided it was time to write again about Ibrahim. His story may not have the global reach of the economy or the consequence of the current presidential contest, but it's worth recalling because Ibrahim Parlak is an example of what happens when we are swept up in events that overwhelm us. And how we justify the unjustifiable when we're feeling threatened and afraid.

Until the terror attacks of Sept. 11, Ibrahim was just another law-abiding immigrant with a green card. A Kurd from Turkey, he had been imprisoned and tortured for his work in the Kurdish independence movement. In 1992 he was granted asylum in the United States.

Moving to the summer resort area of Michigan just over the border from Indiana, he opened Cafe Gulistan, became active in local civic groups and began to make a decent living for himself and his young daughter.

After 9/11, we redefined everything. Turkey, whose human rights abuses we once condemned, became a crucial ally. The Kurdish independence movement had a few years earlier been reclassified as a terrorist operation. And all of a sudden, Ibrahim was considered a terrorist though the government cannot attribute to him a single act of terrorism.

Homeland Security locked him up anyway. It was only with the ferocious effort of many friends -- a former U.S. attorney, a former assistant general counsel for the FBI, a Republican congressman named Fred Upton and a Democratic U.S. senator, Carl Levin -- that Ibrahim Parlak is not only out of jail but also still in this country.

His fate hangs on a ruling that will someday come from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. It is taking a very long time. Though the average turnaround between oral arguments and a decision is reportedly 2½ months, it will be a year next week that the court has been considering Ibrahim's fate.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Another of his lawyers, Jay Marhoefer, believes the complexity of the case may account for the judges taking so long to write their briefs or make their decision.

Maybe they'll wait until after the election.

Whoever becomes the next president of this country will have a huge burden. The economy will still be an enormous challenge. But all those other things we no longer spend a lot of time talking about will be with us, too.

And the story of Ibrahim Parlak should be a cautionary tale for the next administration about how, in our fear, we can sometimes go too far.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on October 15, 2008 3:30 PM.

Con Con: "I'll Have What She's Having!" was the previous entry in this blog.

Face to Face Debate: Roskam v. Morganthaler.... is the next entry in this blog.

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