Rifqa Bary, the teenage girl who fled to Florida from her Ohio home in fear for her life after her Muslim parents discovered her conversion to Christianity, has just turned eighteen. Her life is now hers, and her Florida and Ohio lawyers have embarked upon an unseemly victory dance to spin their appalling and failed legal strategy. I have stood silently by watching this, but now they are spinning their failure into a fundraising circus and smearing me and my colleagues, and that cannot stand.
Now that Rifqa has turned eighteen, one of her lawyers, Kort Gatterdam, has done an interview with Tom Trento, an activist with the Florida Security Council. Trento has in turn sent around an e-mail raising funds on the name of Rifqa Bary and excoriating "so many friendly 'arm-chair' lawyers and bloggers who so viciously attacked their own side." By "arm-chair lawyers," Trento means my associate, the attorney John Jay, and by bloggers, he means me. Pot, meet kettle.
If I had to sum the interview in four words, they'd be mighta, cudda, wudda, and shudda. Wish I hadda.
The failed legal strategy of Rifqa's Florida attorney John Stemberger and his Ohio associate Gatterdam refused to address the issue of Rifqa's death threat, or the issues of Islamic apostasy and honor killing -- the only things that gave credibility to Rifqa's claim that her father had threatened to kill her. Their strategy also enabled the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other Islamic supremacists to manipulate the legal process and deny Rifqa her civil rights, isolating her from her closest friends.
Rifqa has now turned eighteen, and her immigration status is still in doubt. Gatterdam admits that Rifqa "won't make it" if she is sent back to Sri Lanka, as she could be easily killed there because of her apostasy, but nonetheless, Stemberger and Gatterdam did not make it part of their strategy to try to gain asylum for Rifqa on that basis. Gatterdam even acknowledges that "we didn't know what we were talking about." Got that?
An asylum case based on the death penalty for apostasy should have been Stemberger's opening shot, not a hindsight call.
Instead, their strategy was to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for Rifqa, and only that. SIJS gives a minor the ability to stay in the U.S. separate from his or her family's immigration problem. In that case, the immigration status would not be based upon any contention that the immigrant would be in any kind of danger back home -- as Rifqa clearly would be. But Rifqa's crack legal team couldn't even secure this status for her.
Now her lawyers are crowing that she didn't have to go home to her parents, but she never would have had to anyway. No child of Rifqa's age at the time she fled from her home -- seventeen -- would have been returned to her home if she refused to go. Whether the threat described by the child has been substantiated or not, a child will not be returned to a home if the child refuses. Period.
So why did Stemberger and Gatterdam continue to pursue this nonsensical legal approach? Rifqa's entire legal strategy hinged on obtaining SIJS for her. This was the objective, the end run. If they could keep Rifqa out of her dangerous home environment and secure immigration status, then it didn't matter how they did it, as long as the goal was achieved. So they tried to play ball with the Barys' CAIR lawyers and counted on cooperation from them.
They did not understand the nature of the threat and the enemy Rifqa faced. They were playing by a set of rules inapplicable to the challenge they faced. By pretending that Sharia was not the 800-pound gorilla in the room, they were out-strategized -- and now, Rifqa is eighteen and has no legal basis to be in the United States. At one point in the video, Trento notes the irreconcilability of the Islamic faith of the Barys and Rifqa's Christianity and asks Gatterdam, "Do you think that weighed in the fact that the parents would not allow this special immigration status for Rifqa?"
Attorney John Jay, who spent upwards of twenty years in the courtroom, three in juvenile court, observes that "it is not for the parents, who were, after all, Rifqa's adversaries, to agree to any special immigration status. That special immigration status for Rifqa was for her lawyers to secure for her, regardless of parental opposition."
Could Rifqa's lawyers have been more wrongheaded and clueless? They should have applied for apostasy asylum months and months ago.
But now they're singing a different tune. Even while taking shots at "bloggers" who supposedly "viciously attacked their own side," Gatterdam, in part I of Trento's video, at the seven-minute mark, cites exclusive material from AtlasShrugs.com concerning Mohamed Bary's immigration documentation. It proved that Bary perjured himself repeatedly when applying for immigration status under two separate and distinct applications. Gatterdam goes on to say that because of my exclusive documentation, Bary should be investigated and perhaps prosecuted by immigration authorities (he doesn't name me as the source, of course).
What is really rich is that at 13:04, when questioned about being criticized by bloggers, Gatterdam snarks, "Consider the source -- if the source is not a credible one, and most of the people writing those things are not credible." But not five minutes before that, he was citing my work as evidence credible enough to be introduced into a court of law.
It was symbolic of their overall confusion. Says Jay, "They have only these after-the-fact assertions" about how Rifqa's case should best have been conducted. Jay told me this about Rifqa's lawyers: "And like the Barys' perjury in immigration court, they learned what they learned mostly from you and other bloggers trying to help."
Stemberger and Gatterdam are ignorant of Islamic supremacism, CAIR tactics, and the threat doctrine. This makes them far less credible than they're trying to appear to be -- as is evidenced by their failure to secure Rifqa's immigration status. I have studied this subject matter for years. Robert Spencer is one of the world's leading scholars on Islam, and John, who practiced law for 25 years -- most of it as a felony level defender to include a five- or six-year stint as a juvenile court prosecutor and another two or three years working almost exclusively in juvenile dependency court -- observed that. Credible, indeed.
Gatterdam goes on to defend the strategy for pursuing SIJS (which I and many others knew would fail). It did fail, and Gatterdam says so in not so many words. In Gatterdam's own words, "we didn't get that."
The "major issue" is still immigration. The judge did not give Rifqa the legal language that she needed for SIJS.
The major issue still facing Rifqa Bary is her immigration status. As noted above, her legal team turned their backs on an apostasy application with the federal immigration authorities after being directly offered the help of the Pepperdine University School of Law Immigration Clinic, through the auspices of my blog Atlas Shrugs. I am fully capable of documenting this offer of help. But the major blunder occurred early on in the case, in January 2010, when, at the hearing in which an agreed-upon order on dependency was entered, Rifqa's legal team stipulated on the record that the case was not "an abuse case."
Now, in the Trento interview, Gatterdam bemoans the fact that certain "magic words" were not placed in the various orders governing the case by the court, and that the lack of those words have made it impossible to meet the statutory requirements under the United States Code that would make it possible for the Immigration Courts to grant Rifqa Bary SJIS status.
This was not the fault of the Ohio Juvenile Court. The Franklin County Juvenile Court Magistrate was prevented from offering up those "magic words" because of the stipulation that the case was not an "abuse case," as agreed to by Rifqa's own counsel, along with that of her parents. The magistrate was in a simple bind: How could she rule and later certify to the federal immigration authorities that the case was in fact based upon "abuse, neglect and abandonment," when the only factual basis provided to her by the parties for finding dependency was their agreement that this was simply a "conflict" between family members, with no abuse involved?
The Franklin County Juvenile Court did not commit the "miscarriage of justice" in Rifqa Bary's case that Gatterdam complains of. It was the miscalculation of her own attorneys that did that.
And it gets even worse. Rifqa's good friend and mine, Jamal Jivanjee, has been close to this case since the day it began. While my focus has been primarily on the legal machinations of those representing Rifqa Bary in court, he has dealt extensively on the issues relating to her emotional and her financial support, including the support of her friends in the Christian community. He makes some serious allegations about Rifqa's legal team here.
I hope Rifqa Bary establishes a Paypal or GPal account where people can donate to her directly and she gets the dough. There is no way I would recommend that readers who are concerned for her plight donate to these snake oil salesmen.
Pamela Geller is the editor and publisher of the Atlas Shrugs website and former associate publisher of the New York Observer. She is the author of The Post-American Presidency, just published.