The Department of Justice has charged two Afghanistan refugees with serious felonies committed after arriving in the United States while being housed at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.
In the first case, 20-year-old Bahrullah Noori was charged with one count of “attempting to engage in a sexual act with a minor using force against that person” and three counts of “engaging in a sexual act with a minor.” The Sept. 22 press release announcing the indictments notes one of the three charges of engaging in a sexual act alleges a use of force.
The DOJ notes the victims were under the age of 16.
In the second case, 32-year-old Mohammad Haroon Imaad was charged with assaulting his wife “by strangling and suffocating her.”
The release noted the cases were unrelated to each other, and that both men were scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 23. Noori faces 30 years to life for the count involving force, and a maximum penalty of 15 years on the other charges.
Imaad faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on his charge.
According to reporting in the Wisconsin State Journal, a fellow refugee at the base alerted the FBI that he saw Noori molesting a 12 and a 14-year-old boy in the bathroom at the base. The abuse was alleged to have gone on over the course of two weeks.
“Both boys told investigators Noori had touched them inappropriately, kissed and bit them and said he would beat them if they told anyone about the sexual abuse,” read the article, which paraphrazed affadivts in the grand jury indictment.
In Imaad’s case, court documents said soldiers attended a domestic disturbance on Sept. 7 and found the man’s wife had bruising on her right eye and redness on her throat. The woman told an interpreter that he had hit her and choked her, and alleged Imaad had also hit their children several times.
The violence was not an isolated incident. Imaad’s wife told the translator he had, “Beat me many times in Afghanistan to the point I lost vision in both eyes,” and often threatened to either kill her himself or send her back to Afghanistan “where the Taliban could deal with her.”
A Sept. 3 report by the Associated Press revealed concerns about the quality of refugees held at the base. The outlet said it had viewed internal State Department documents seeking “urgent guidance,” after “purported child brides were brought to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.”
The State Department declined to comment, but a spokesperson was paraphrased as stating, “They take all such allegations seriously but that many of them are anecdotal and difficult to prove.”
AP also spoke of an Aug. 27 Situation Report blasted to all U.S. Embassies and Consulates, in addition to some Florida-based military command centers that cooborated the situation, “Intake staff at Fort McCoy reported multiple cases of minor females who presented as ‘married’ to adult Afghan men, as well as polygamous families,” read the document.
On Sept. 3, local media outlet Wisconsin Right Now obtained a copy of a sweeping gag order issued by Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp of the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs that forbade all personnel, including DOD civilians and State of Wisconsin staffers from any photography, recording, or contact with media about the situation at the base.
In a Sept. 23 report by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR), Team Lead for the DOJ’s interagency task force at Fort McCoy, Skye Justice, said the facility was near capacity and that refugees would start to be released into the community, “The exact amount of time that a family will spend at Fort McCoy will vary from family to family. But we are now at a point at Fort McCoy where we anticipate that larger numbers of people will begin leaving the fort.”
Justice declined to say how many refugees had already left the facility, and was paraphrased as saying, “They will be leaving the base for their new homes with their family unit or as individuals, some using local airports.”
“Sponsors in their new community, who are supported by regional and national nonprofits that provide resettlement services, will welcome the families and help them start their new lives,” added the article.
Justice was quoted as saying, “Everyone will have assistance with housing, securing a place to stay, their immediate needs for food…Sponsors cook meals for them and take them to the grocery store. They help ensure that they are received and set up in their new community, that they know things like where to find the bus or where the local schools are located.”
A spokesperson for Jewish Social Services of Madison, Executive Director Dawn Berney, told the outlet communication with Afghans was a major challenge, “There aren’t very many people who can act as interpreters and I don’t have staff that speak those languages so communication becomes much harder, much slower.”
“Google Translate is good, but it’s just not that good.”
WPR also paraphrased the State Department as stating in an email that it has “requested legislation from Congress,” to “make federal benefits similar to those received by refugees or special immigrant visa holders available to those with humanitarian parole status.”
A Sept. 23 article by Associated Press estimated the number of refugees held at Fort McCoy at 12,700 and a total capacity of 13,000.
ABC affiliate WISN published an interview with a refugee housed at the base on Sept. 23, who said he lives with his wife and four children, all 16-and-under, in a room with four other families, adding that they “wait in long lines for food.”
The man, however, said he was happy to be in American and “didn’t come here to have five-star service,”
On Sept. 16, Wisconsin State Journal published a piece where other refugees spoke about conditions at the facility, “There are many people who don’t have anything to wear, anything to eat…They make us wait here for six hours behind the cafeteria, and when you go in there’s nothing left,” said an 18-year-old woman.
The woman spoke with the Journal via phone on the condition of anonymity. The article noted she said she “feared a negative reaction from some Afghan men housed at the base, many of them former members of the U.S.-trained Afghan National Army who have caused problems, such as harassing women and skipping people in the food lines.
The Journal noted the woman was given a Special Immigrant Visa, and was paraphrased as expressing she was “frustrated they’re not being processed through the military base more quickly. After traumatic experiences at the Kabul airport, they’re ready to start their new lives living and working in the U.S.”