In the eyes of journalists, authors, and academics plagiarism is a sin. It’s no big deal in a courtroom, where judges swipe language all the time. On December 29, when immigration judge Elizabeth Hacker of Detroit ordered Ibrahim Parlak deported, originality wasn’t her concern. Huge unattributed chunks of her 59-page opinion–one of them 15 pages long–were lifted almost verbatim from the Department of Homeland Security’s pretrial brief. The DHS lawyers had no reason to complain. Hacker had not only bought their argument but appropriated it. Parlak’s lawyers, however, felt a little ganged up on.

Not that every word was the same. Here’s an example of the changes Hacker made:

DHS brief: “Finally, a plethora of de-classified material from the Central Intelligence Agency establishes that the PKK engaged in terrorist activities during Parlak’s affiliation with that group (1985-1991).”

Hacker’s opinion: “Finally, an abundance of de-classified material from the Central Intelligence Agency establishes that the PKK engaged in terrorist activities during Respondent’s affiliation with the group (1985-1991).”

The Parlak case has been on the periphery of the news ever since July 29, when he was locked in a cell in Calhoun County, Michigan. Parlak is a Kurd, and the goal of the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, is an independent Kurdish state. In 1988 he was arrested and imprisoned in Turkey. In 1991 he was granted asylum in the United States. In 1997 the State Department designated the PKK a terrorist organization.

DHS doesn’t accuse Parlak of being a security risk. It doesn’t challenge his reputation as an exemplary friend, neighbor, and businessman in Harbert, Michigan, a small town in Harbor Country a couple hours east of Chicago. But his current life is irrelevant to the fix he’s in. “Respondent’s actions as a restaurateur, father, and resident of Harbert are not the subject of this hearing,” Hacker wrote. “Respondent is accountable for the actions he took prior to entry into the United States and the actions in obtaining his status under the immigration laws before this Court.”

Parlak claims that as a 16-year-old he was tortured by the Turkish government for pamphleteering. When he was 18 he traveled to Germany and promoted the Kurdish cause there. At 25 he received military training at a PKK camp in Lebanon. When the camp ended in May 1988, Parlak joined a small group of Kurds who tried to slip back into Turkey by way of Syria. There was a gunfight at the border, and two Turkish soldiers were killed.

Parlak was arrested several weeks later in Turkey in connection with the deaths of the soldiers and handed over to the Turkish State Security Court, a court Turkey recently eliminated as a precondition for entry into the European Union. Today Parlak says he was tortured into signing his confession that he’d opened fire during the border skirmish. He was convicted in March 1990 of “committing actions directed towards separation of Turkey,” but because he’d cooperated with the court, he was sentenced to only 50 months in prison–a sentence the prosecutor appealed as too light. Parlak was soon released. He came to America in 1991 and asked for asylum, applying for American citizenship in 1998.

After 9/11 things started going badly for Parlak. In November 2001 the government denied his naturalization application, and the following April it began proceedings to deport him. It accused him of concealing, when he applied for permanent residency, his arrest and conviction for what DHS now calls “terrorist activity.”

Last July DHS got word that the Turkish prosecutor’s appeal has finally been resolved: Turkey has resentenced Parlak to six years in prison. As he was required to serve only a fifth of that sentence–and he’d been locked up longer than that after his arrest in 1988–Turkey didn’t want Parlak back. But the news strengthened DHS’s hand. Parlak had claimed at one point that he was let out of prison because charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Obviously they hadn’t been. DHS picked Parlak up a few days later, and he’s been held without bond ever since.

I heard of Parlak’s arrest right after it happened from a mutual friend, who said people were already organizing. Sure enough, an elaborate Web site, (named after his restaurant), was quickly created. Prominent acquaintances such as Andrew Greeley and Roger Ebert, who have houses in the area, posted statements of support. Attorneys signed on pro bono. The local state senator, a Republican schoolteacher I know well, told me he supposed DHS had to show it was serious about terrorism but he couldn’t imagine that in the end Parlak would actually be deported. Parlak can imagine it, and he told Judge Hacker he fears being tortured not only by the Turkish government–if he speaks out again on Kurdish issues–but also the PKK, which could view him as a traitor because of his cooperation with the court in 1990.

At another time, whatever Parlak did in the old country might have been allowed to stay in the old country. Today he’s up against DHS’s need to show it means business. It’s the Casablanca effect: his personal issues with his home, his restaurant, and the seven-year-old daughter he’d like to raise “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” And it’s just too bad that the brand of American justice settling his fate is of such dubious quality.

One of Parlak’s attorneys, John Marhoefer of Chicago, carefully put into words what he thought of Judge Hacker’s wholesale appropriation of DHS’s language. “If you look at her opinion and look at the government’s briefs,” he told me, “a reasonable person could easily come to the conclusion that this was a foreordained result, and someone in the Justice Department said, ‘Whatever you have to do to make this guy deportable, do it.'”

Why would Hacker take orders from the Justice Department? She’s part of it. America’s immigration courts report to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Like the DHS lawyers whose brief Hacker paid the compliment of copying, the judge works for the prosecution. Parlak can now appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but it’s run by Ashcroft too. That’s why Parlak’s attorneys may try to take his case directly to the federal appellate courts. Meanwhile he sits in prison.

Marhoefer claims Hacker made at least two errors in her decision. One was to trust the records of the Turkish Security Court despite Parlak’s insistence that he was tortured at its hands. The centerpiece of DHS’s ‘terrorist activity’ case,” Parlak’s lawyers argued, “is a series of factual assertions supported only by the Security Court, and denied by Mr. Parlak. Specifically, DHS relies heavily on the notion that Mr. Parlak was a militarily-trained ‘ARGK unit commander,’ that his group carried ‘rocket launchers,’ that he led a ‘revenge group,’ that he ‘fired his weapon’ during the border incident. . . . The fundamental problem here is that the Security Court ‘conviction records’ are not reliable due to lack of independence and systematic use of torture. . . . U.S. courts exclude evidence procured by torture.”

Marhoefer also says it was an error for the judge to go off on a tangent and find Parlak guilty of conspiracy, something not even the security court had done. Hacker’s duty, says Marhoefer, was simply to decide whether Parlak was deportable, not to convict him of new crimes back in Turkey.

Journalists afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, but at their own whim. I’m aware of one journalist who has stepped forward to take on Parlak’s cause. She’s Carol Marin, who’s written two columns on Parlak for the Sun-Times and intends to write more. “What’s really struck me,” she says, “is that there is no evidence I can see that he’s currently a terrorist. When we took him in, when he was allowed to stay in the U.S., the group to which he belonged wasn’t a designated terrorist organization–it only became so after he was here. The terms of his asylum were that he’d been tortured in a Turkish prison–which seemed to ask and answer the question had he ever been arrested.”

“Right now,” says Marhoefer, “it’s still kind of a regional story. This thing needs to go national pretty fast.” On December 29 Nightline did a half hour on Parlak, and Alex Kotlowitz is writing a story for the New York Times Magazine. To “go national” in the sense Marhoefer envisions would find journalistic alchemy turning Parlak from the defendant in a painful deportation case into a symbol–a refugee from oppression whose new homeland turned on him.

News Bites

How to keep it clean.

Tribune: “Before a 1992 news conference to announce charges of corruption at a driver’s license facility, then-Cook County State’s Atty. Jack O’Malley discussed possible additional probes, allegedly prompting an angry Ryan to swear at him and say, ‘Jack, these are my guys.'”

Daily Herald: “Ryan responded, ‘(expletive-deleted) you, Jack, these are my guys’ (referring to secretary of state employees).”

Daily Southtown: “‘(Expletive) you, Jack,’ Ryan allegedly told the state’s attorney. ‘These are my guys.'”

Sun-Times: “Ryan had a blunt reply. ‘F— you, Jack, these are my guys,’ Ryan allegedly said.”

“Specialist [Patrick] Daley is now headed to Fort Benning for nine weeks of basic combat training,” said a January 4 army press release. “After basic, Daley will remain at Fort Benning for 20 additional weeks for advanced infantry and airborne training. Once finished, he will be an airborne-qualified infantry Soldier–one of many who serve as the backbone of the Army.”

The release, issued by the army’s public-affairs office in Chicago, began with a quote from the Sunday Times of London: “He could have made a million. Instead he chose Iraq.” It went on to proclaim that with his MBA from the University of Chicago, the 29-year-old son of Chicago’s mayor “could have easily entered the Army as an officer–taking command of Soldiers with his polished leadership skills.” The army explained that his reasons for enlisting “were based on his need to start at the bottom and experience ‘what the bottom people are going to experience. . . . If you look at some of the greatest military leaders, business leaders, religious leaders–they usually started at the very bottom.'”

That’s right–just another grunt.

In 1996 reporter Gary Webb wrote a series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News linking the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 80s to Nicaragua’s contras, the CIA-backed army challenging that country’s Marxist government. The sensational implication of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series–that the CIA bore some responsibility for America’s crack scourge–guaranteed a counterattack.

It came from the media. Papers such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times assailed Webb’s reporting, the Mercury News finally repudiated it, and Webb resigned. Last month he shot himself in the head, and in the coverage of his death the “Dark Alliance” was debated again.

There are two schools of thought. One is that Webb made mistakes, going beyond his evidence on occasion, but was fundamentally accurate–and was calumniated by bigger papers that had been too timid to do the story themselves. The second is that Webb’s “sweeping generalizations”–to quote from a eulogy in the Mercury News–fatally undermined the credibility of his reporting.

On January 6 Don Wycliff, the Tribune’s public editor, weighed in. Instead of sanctimoniously recalling Webb as other papers did, as a tragic example of journalistic overreaching, Wycliff came down firmly on his side. Thinking about it “from a black American’s point of view,” he found it easy enough to believe that the CIA had closed its eyes to the contras’ schemes and scams. Hadn’t President Reagan compared the contras to our Founding Fathers? Hadn’t the White House set up an illegal back-channel deal with Iran’s revolutionary government in order to fund them? “I think,” Wycliff wrote after consulting with his viscera, “Gary Webb had it figured out just right.”