Monday, June 2, 2014

The interesting story of Matthew DeHart

Last Thursday, May 29, Matthew DeHart had his latest hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada. The hearing, at which DeHart claimed he was tortured by U.S. authorities, was cut short because Matt appeared to over-medicated while in an Ontario jail and unable to follow the proceedings.

Matthew DeHart's story of torture by the FBI sounds incredible; but last week, in a five-part series, Canada's conservative-leaning National Post told it in detail, about his fleeing to Canada and about his and his parents' pursuit of refugee status in this country.  The Post dropped this bombshell: "A months-long National Post investigation finds there may be some truth to the DeHart family's claims that the charges are a cover-up."  In other words, the editors of the paper saw enough evidence to convince them that his story had merit.

What is that story?  For the details, and they are complex, read the entire piece, but I will attempt to summarize the events that led to Matthew DeHart's decision to flee the United States and seek refugee status in Canada. Please bear with me, it is a long and hastily written summary of events.  I could not shorten it.

Matthew DeHart is the son of a retired US Air Force intelligence officer (who held a Top Secret clearance while working for the NSA at its headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland.  Paul DeHart (Matthew's father) retired as a major in the US Air Force in 1994, went into the ministry and became  a church pastor.  In 2004, Matthew, a tech geek who lived at home with his parents, and was into online gaming and had developed an interest in internet security and encryption (largely because of his father's work with the NSA, which his father refused to discuss) became involved with the group Anonymous.  He hosted a file sharing server for Anonymous and in 2008 he was involved in setting up YouTube accounts where Anonymous posted its threats against the Church of Scientology.  It was Anonymous' targeting of Scientology that brought the group to public notoriety.  It was his involvement with Anonymous that brought Matthew DeHart to the attention of US authorities.

2008 was also the year DeHart signed up for the military; joining the US Air National Guard.  He was cleared for a top secret clearance and was training to fly MQ-1 Predators, RQ-4 Global Hawks and other unmanned drone aircraft. He still maintained his interests in privacy and Internet freedom, and still operated a file sharing server used by Anonymous.  But now he was also a US Air Force drone pilot.

On Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 police exercised a search warrant at the DeHart home in Indiana and took every device capable of storing digital data.  They claimed to be exercising a warrant issued by the FBI in Memphis Tennessee to search for child pornography.  The charges of child pornography are still being used to pursue DeHart, though no pornography of any kind has ever been found in his possession or on any of his computers.  He says the child porn charges are being used to obscure the real purpose of their attacks on him.  Child porn is convenient, because no one stands between the law and an accused child molester.  The weakest charges of all those brought against DeHart appear to be those that he was involved in soliciting nude photos of underage girls (alleged to be two girls in Franklin, Tennessee).

This is where Matthew really screwed up ... feeling that he had no chance of avoiding prison in the US, he decided to defect, and he actually made a visit (with his father, who must have been convinced that his son had no other choice) to the Russian embassy in Washington.  The Russians were not interested in offering him asylum, but told him they might be willing to pay him for information.  He declined the offer; because he really was no expert on drones; and second, he wasn't interested in money.

And here's where the story gets interesting, I believe.  This is where the story comes to Canada.  After being denied political asylum by the Russian embassy, Matt decided (with his parents' support) to move to Canada.  In March 2010, he applied for a US passport; he received his passport in less than one month. In April, Matt started a French language course in Montreal Quebec, staying at a home with other international students.  Later that year, he decided to learn a trade, and in August, his dad drove him to Charlottetown, on Prince Edward Island (where my daughter lives now) to study welding at Holland College. He still lacked a student visa, and was told that to obtain it he had to leave Canada and make application from outside the country; he chose to do this at the nearest border crossing, which is between the towns of St. Stephen, New Brunswick and Calais Maine, the crossing where I applied for my Permanent Resident card (I also had to cross the border and make application from outside the country).  On August 5, 2010, Matt took a bus from Charlottetown to St. Stephen, NB and the following day he walked across the St. Croix River bridge which is the border between Canada and the US.

At the US border patrol office, Matt was arrested, and held until FBI agents arrived and took him into custody.  All his belongings, including his wallet, were taken from him and he was placed in a cell at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.  His requests to call his lawyer and his parents were ignored. He says that he was administered a drug intravenously and questioned for hours. Seventeen hours after his arrest, he was taken to nearby Eastern Maine Medical Center for treatment; he had passed out apparently, and according to the doctor's report on file was showing signs consistent "with drug-induced psychosis such as secondary to amphetamines, cocaine, or other stimulant medication."  He was returned to FBI custody.

On August 9, 2010, Matt was brought before US District Court Judge Margaret Kravchuk (a habeas corpus hearing).  Judge Kravchuck says she had doubts about the case from the start; the court docket listed Matt's arrest date as August 8, two days after the actual arrest, and the criminal complaint on which he was arrested was drafted by Tennessee police after his actual arrest, but based on a case that was two years old (2008).  It seemed fishy to her, but she went ahead and ordered Matt to remain in custody and transferred to Tennessee for trial. She never learned about the espionage allegations.

In the days that followed, according to DeHart, he was kept in a cell with no sink or toilet, denied food and water, drugged, deprived of sleep, and interrogated night and day.  On August 18, 2010, he signed consent forms allowing the FBI to impersonate his online identities (he gave them his passwords to his email accounts).  That was 12 days after his arrest.

During those twelve days, during which Matt claims he was tortured, he was never allowed to talk to his parents or his lawyer.  His parents didn't know anything about it until they received a bill from the hospital in Maine.  At one point when he was told that he had been arrested on charges of child pornography, he said, "I didn't do that."  The FBI agent replied, "I know."  Matt is trying to have recordings of that interview released. Instead, he was questioned only about his connections to Anonymous and Wikileaks and about his visit to the Russian Embassy in Washington.  The child pornography charges were never discussed.

After being transferred to Tennessee, Matt spent 21 months in jail. his parents sold their Indiana home to pay for his legal defense.  In May 2012, questioning the child porn charges against him (no child porn was ever found on any machine in his possession), a Tennessee judge granted Matt bail, with a curfew and monitoring bracelet.  He was confined to his parents' home in Indiana, where his dad was a minister.  The following April (April 2013), Matt and his father drove a truck borrowed from the church to the border crossing between Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario.  At the border, Matt told the entire story, providing documents to support it, applied for refugee status in Canada, making a plea for political asylum in accordance with the United Nations’ convention against torture.

Instead of being granted asylum, Matt was arrested by Canadian Border Service Agency officials, and put back in jail.  The agents not only cited the unresolved porn charge but also declared him a foreign national "engaging in an act of espionage that is against Canada or that is contrary to Canada’s interests." In August 2013, Matt was again released from jail, but ordered to remain under house arrest, where he has been since, sharing an apartment with his parents in Toronto.  He is allowed to leave his apartment only for medical and legal appointments. He had a GPS tracking device and a radio-frequency monitor locked to his ankle and is not allowed to use any computer or data device, not even a smartphone.  And that has been his life for the past nine months.  The government of Canada, and the Canadian Border Service Agency have conceded that Matt suffers from PTSD and he is being treated for it; still there has been no decision on his request for refugee status.

The case is significant because it puts Canada's avowed support for human rights and international law squarely on the line.  Canada cannot really grant Matt DeHart refugee status without stating, publicly, that the United States is guilty of torturing one of its own citizens.  In all likelihood, Canada will use the same excuse the US used to hold DeHart, the charges of child pornography (charges that are, in all likelihood, trumped up) to declare him inadmissible to the country.  If that is done, his refugee asylum claim will not have to be decided.  It will be ignored, and Matt will be deported back to the US.

None of this would really matter; it would have happened completely off our radar screens, had it not been for the National Post, and the 5-part series that ran last week, written by Adrian Humphreys, a senior reporter for the paper.  That series was a bombshell; the editors of the National Post declaring that "a months-long National Post investigation finds there may be some truth to the DeHart family's claims that the charges are a cover-up."

In other words, the editors of the National Post believe Matt DeHart's story.  And so do I.  This is yet one more opportunity for Canada to do what is right, rather than what is politically or economically advantageous.

Will Canada blow this opportunity?

Matt DeHart (age 30) leaving the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada  on April 7, 2014, with his parents, Paul and Leann DeHart

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