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Afghan-American, Former Prosecutor at Guantanamo, Runs for Congress

Afghan-American, Former Prosecutor in Guantanamo, Runs for Congress
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WATCH: Afghan-American, Former Prosecutor at Guantanamo, Runs for Congress

Omar Qudrat is running for a U.S. House seat in the 2018 U.S. election and is thought to be one of the first Afghan-American Muslims to run for Congress. The Republican told VOA in an email Wednesday that he had officially announced his candidacy and established a campaign committee. He hopes to unseat Representative Scott Peters of California, a Democrat.

Qudrat graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles and earned a law degree from Syracuse University. Before moving back to his native California, he had served as an official with the U.S. Department of Defense since 2010. Most recently, he was a prosecutor in the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Military Commissions, where he worked on war crimes prosecutions of alleged terrorists. Qudrat was also detailed for a time to the State Department, where he was responsible for developing foreign prosecutions of Guantanamo Bay detainees and negotiating security agreements with foreign nations.

Qudrat’s also worked in Afghanistan, helping to re-establish the judiciary, and served as a special adviser to the NATO ambassador there.

Recently, he sat down to talk with the VOA Bosnian service's Ajdin Muratovic about his run for Congress.

AM: Going back to the neighborhood that you talked about growing up in, on your website you mentioned that many politicians who advocate for what you call a failed set of policies did not go through the struggles that many Americans such as your family faced.

OQ: I grew up in a neighborhood where the public schools … were, you know, "low-performing" is an understatement. … So, in my neighborhood, I never really saw much improvement year after year, promise after promise. The schools were, in many parts of Los Angeles, failing. … Kids were graduating from high school and were essentially unable to read or write. ...

Now, couple and add in all the other factors and conditions that come into play for an American in this era … cost of living is soaring, and I have seen firsthand families and people work as hard as they possibly can — I am not talking about 40 hours a week; I am talking about 60 hours a week, even 80 hours a week — and still not be able to provide for their families. So, the policies that were promised in terms of what was going to be delivered, what was going to be improved, just were not. So, when I say "failed policies," I mean that quite literally. … The government, from my perspective, should not be given the authority or the full responsibility to essentially deliver all goods, all services for all needs of people, because they fail. … From my experience the government is not your source of hope, necessarily. It is really going to be your family, your sort of perspective on life, and it's going to be what you can do in the private sector.

AM: So what do you propose?

OQ: Essentially, my criteria for any policy is going to be the following: First, as a federal matter, what does the Constitution say? We have to first go to the Constitution. We have to determine what powers, authorities and the obligations government has. … For me the criteria for policies are: Is it legal? Is it moral? And is it effective? In that regard, I really don't care what the source of the idea is — if it happens to be from one party or another party, or from this person or that person.

AM: [You're] running as a Republican at a time when the party and the president himself has taken on a more nativist tone. To put it bluntly, it is confrontational toward Muslims. So why are you running as a Republican? What led you to the party, taking into account this context?

OQ: Here is why I am a Republican: the principles of freedom, of limited government authority, the responsibility of the government to enable conditions that have the least well-off succeed equally as the most well-off, equal protection under the law, upholding the Constitution, and justice. These are core fundamentals that I view as being essentially the core of the Republican Party's political philosophy.

AM: Let's transition to a concrete policy. I am talking about the executive order that would ban entry from certain predominantly Muslim countries. The White House argues that the EO is crucial for national security. What are your thoughts?

OQ: The president has an obligation in the Constitution to provide national security to this country. There are limits to every type of authority in the three branches of government. The way one goes about delivering national security to the people has to be consistent with the Constitution and our laws. And I think that is what is being addressed by the courts. The appeals process is not over. The Supreme Court is the last stop.

Now, of course I believe that any exercise of government authority that would use class and discrimination as essentially its intent basis and goal is unconstitutional. … So the courts will have to decide what the criteria is and what evidence they are going to consider in determining what the intent was, what the criteria is to determine something unconstitutional or not. My personal view is … anyone who tells you that you have a binary choice — you will either have national security or you will have rights — is either lying to you or does not know what they are talking about. We will, in my America, have both national security and rights protected.

AM: You were a national security prosecutor. You worked in Guantanamo Bay. Now, a lot of people in both Democrat and Republican administrations have called Guantanamo Bay somewhat of a moral travesty. What are your thoughts?

OQ: My job had to do with prosecuting alleged criminals, war criminals, for war crimes. What I think you are asking me about is the treatment of detainees in the context of war. This is unequivocal, and I don't think anyone does or should disagree with this: The mistreatment of detainees is against American law, it's against international law. We have the greatest Constitution and democracy on the face of the Earth, and it's because we are able to, and we do, protect the laws and rights of all people. And anyone who violates any of our laws should be dealt with in a manner that is to the fullest extent of our administrative and criminal law. … The detention of detainees has changed in the manner of how some things happened at one point in time, and there were course changes by the United States in terms of making sure that we do not have any case [of rights violations]. I mean, that is our goal — zero. We will not accept any mistreatment of detainees under American law or international law.

AM: One of the biggest issues that your campaign is focusing on is veteran homelessness. Can you talk about that?

OQ: It's a domestic humanitarian crisis. … I am very proud of many private organizations that are doing so much to try to alleviate this.

AM: So, concretely, what would you do differently?

OQ: What I am going to say today is what I have been working on personally, which is getting affordable housing through the private sector, pulling together private sector actors. Because, again, I am someone who is trained at an early age not to rely on the government. … I am not waiting for a politician to solve problems here. What we have to do essentially is get the private sector involved, and that is what I am working on to get very affordable housing for veterans. … It's going to require money. I'm trying to raise that from the private sector. I've got the hardware option that's going to be at a fraction of the cost of what other efforts have been able to pull off. It's going to be people who care, coming together and figuring out how to bring the ecosystem of all the services that these veterans need. Some of them have mental health issues. We have no excuse. We have to solve this problem.