Ganzglass faulted what he considers the State Department's rigid legal bureaucracy for the stance.
"He helped save American lives, but he's just one more [Muslim], right?" said Robert B. Oakley, the U.S. ambassador to Somalia from 1982 to 1984 and a special envoy there from 1992 to 1994, after President George H.W. Bush sent U.S. troops to protect United Nations relief supplies in the war-torn country.
_____News from Somalia_____
Court Rules Against Detention of Cubans (The Washington Post, Jan 13, 2005)
New Pilgrims, Familiar Dreams (The Washington Post, Nov 25, 2004)
Lawsuits Filed Against Two Somalis in N.Va. (The Washington Post, Nov 12, 2004)
Man Charged With Aiding Terrorists (The Washington Post, Nov 10, 2004)
100 Are Reported Killed In Violence in Somalia (The Washington Post, Oct 31, 2004)
More News from Somalia
Abshir is hoping for a green card so he can seek insurance to help pay for his son Abdullahi's medical care.
Once head of a nationwide police force known for its professionalism and incorruptibility, Abshir was stripped of extensive property holdings and put under house arrest for 31/2 years when he refused to support dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's seizure of power in 1969. In interviews, he said Barre tried to buy him off with money or prestigious appointments, "anything I wanted, but I refused to work for him."
Released briefly in 1972, he said he was arrested again after attending a soccer game in Mogadishu Stadium, where he received a huge ovation. This time, he was sent to a remote, maximum-security prison and held in an underground cell for nine years.
Peter S. Bridges, who was the U.S. ambassador to Somalia from 1984 to 1986, said he was amazed at Abshir's resilience and determination to restore democracy in his country. "He may be the best Somali living," Bridges said last week. "He wasn't broken at all."
Instead, as Bridges, Oakley and four others noted in their letter to Powell, Abshir was one of the most prominent signatories to a 1990 manifesto calling on Barre to reinstate the constitution and hold free and fair elections. He was arrested again with other signers, but their treason trial was canceled after protests in Mogadishu.
Barre was forced from power in 1991, and the starving country was torn apart by civil war. In a separate letter endorsing Petri's bill, April Glaspie, who served as the U.N. senior political adviser in Somalia, remembered traveling with Abshir "through shot and shell" as they worked to unify the country. She said Abshir took great risks "as he anticipated and advised us on the security dangers facing the U.N. and the remaining U.S. military and civilian personnel" while she was there.
Glaspie said that "no other Somali leader was prepared to risk his life to end the secession." Eventually, Abshir was forced to flee the chaos, first to Djibouti and then to Saudi Arabia. He said doctors in Saudi Arabia advised him to go to the United States to get treatment for his son.
Abshir's daughter Dega said INS officials asked her father for the first time in December for various papers, including a copy of an airline ticket out of the country, the only item he did not submit. He said he did not buy a ticket because he did not know where he should go or when. Abshir said it is too dangerous for him to go back to Somalia, and officials at the Saudi Embassy in Washington have refused to renew his permit to live there. He said they told him he would first have to go back to Saudi Arabia.
"That's a Catch-22," said Ganzglass, the attorney helping Abshir. "A private bill can't be used on his behalf if he leaves the country. He has to stay here."
Staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.