Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Does This Happen In The US?

Some of you may recall that a little over a year ago, a woman in Buffalo, NY, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, was beheaded - yes, I said beheaded - allegedly by her husband, a Muslim with influence in his community, having created a tv network to improve the image of Muslims. He was charged with second degree murder. It was a shocking, troubling, disturbing crime on so many levels (Was it purely domestic violence? Were there religious influences at play?). (Photo: homelandsecurityus.com)

Much has transpired in the intervening year. I would like to thank No Quarter regular reader, Boonies, for sending me this update,
Aasiya Zubair Hassan's Tortured, Manipulated Life
: Beheaded woman left statement detailing years of torment, tragedy.

I should warn you that, as the headline would indicate, this is a difficult story. It is about as far from a "feel good" story as one can get. It is painful, it is grotesque, and it is infuriating. Just so you know.

And now, to her story:
When Aasiya Zubair Hassan was finally ready to leave her husband, she prepared herself. She gathered copies of her police reports, photos of her beaten face, images of her ransacked house, scripts her husband made her memorize.

Then she painstakingly chronicled her years of torment in a 21-page court statement that painted her husband as not just a batterer, but a cruel, manipulative monster.

She detailed how he deprived her of sleep to "improve her personality," made her sign memos authorizing him to punish her if she talked with the police and Child Protective Services, and threatened her with the loss of her children whenever she tried to break free.

Toward the end of her statement appealing for divorce in February 2009, she reflected on how furious her husband would be when he saw the document: "I am afraid of what he might do."

One week later, she was dead. Her husband, Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan, led police to her stabbed and decapitated body in the Bridges TV studio they founded in Orchard Park.

Anyone who has done any work in the field of domestic violence, as I have, knows that this is when a woman is most at risk - when she is planning her escape. Unfortunately, this case does nothing to change that statistic:
None of this has apparently stopped Hassan from continuing — in letters to reporters and in his defense in court — to try to paint himself as the victim and his wife as the abuser.

"He was the abuser. He was the perpetrator. Now, he's the manipulator," said Afshan Qureshi, an advocate of domestic violence victims who knew both Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Hassan's third wife, and Sadia Hassan, his second wife. "Those who are good at emotional abuse are good manipulators."

From the Erie County jail, Hassan has sent handwritten letters to The Buffalo News and others portraying himself as an abused and battered spouse. In each case, he signed his mother's name to the documents.

"If you are a mother like me, would you like to see your son being abused and cannot even turn to the system for help?" stated one letter.

It is clear that he wrote the letters, not his mother. Hassan, 45, has neat and distinctive penmanship. The News found the handwriting in all these letters match that of other documents signed under his own name. The postmarks are from Buffalo; his mother lives in Texas.

If you have any desire to read any of the letters this man has forged, click HERE, and you can get to them through links in the article.

I am not surprised by his actions. Rather, they seem to be pretty typical for someone like him:
Hassan seems to have no reservations about manipulating people by assuming other identities. In numerous cases, he appeared to have secretly authored documents that re-created reality and/or portrayed his wife as a dominating, mentally unstable woman.

Among the examples:

• Zubair Hassan stated that her husband forced her to give him the password to her e-mail account and subsequently logged into her account and sent e-mails to his attorney and his court-appointed psychologist pretending to be her.

One e-mail sent to psychologist Kenneth Condrell opens by stating, "I have been reading the Dale Carnegie book on "How to Win Friends and Influence People." There is a chapter about admitting mistakes quickly and apologizing profusely and repeatedly. It struck me as a thuderbolt [sic] that I had difficulty admitting a mistake to Mo and struggled to apologize."

It goes on to state, "I honestly do not believe he belongs in the Domestic Violence class. He has so much insights [sic] into human behavior and self-awareness."

• While preparing to defend himself in a child neglect case, Hassan scripted the responses he wanted his wife to give when his defense lawyer questioned her in court. He made her stay home for two days to memorize her answers, she said.

In response to a question by defense lawyer David Siegel, "Do you think you are a battered woman?" Zubair Hassan was to respond as stated in the script: "What nonsense. Complete hogwash. I have always been a strong woman and a high achiever and no one violates my boundaries ... My husband cannot tell me what I can and cannot do. I am my own person."

• Hassan apparently drafted a letter for psychologist Condrell to sign describing his wife as a dominating and aggressive woman and further stating that "this personality profile test further indicates that Mrs. Hassan does not have the personality of a typical abused wife."

The draft letter goes on to state "that there is no safety need that requires keeping Mr. and Mrs. Hassan apart over the next 6 months."

A copy of the actual letter signed by Condrell and obtained by The News is much shorter. In it, Condrell states the personality test taken by Zubair Hassan as part of her master's program in business "shows her to be a dominant, strong willed, aggressive woman."

But he does not suggest that she wasn't abused and does not state that her husband posed no safety threat. Further, it omits all references from the draft letter describing the husband as being "a persuasive, poised, influential, convincing, demonstrative and trusting person."

Wow. Again, I wish I could say this was unusual. I cannot tell you the lengths to which some abusers have gone to play the victim, or to try and manipulate others involved in the situation to deny what the abuser has been doing, often for a number of years (and it usually starts out slowly, little by little, chipping away at the person's self esteem, belittling them, then isolating them, cutting them off from finances, and on it goes):
In Hassan's handwritten letter to The News, he states that Condrell testified in court that "Aasiya was aggressive, controlling and arrogant, while Mo was humble, kind and polite."

Condrell declined to comment on the matter, citing his professional ethics, but Hassan's statements are not supported by Condrell's letter to the court.

• Hassan wrote two letters to The News under his mother's name. The second letter included annotated copies of e-mails purportedly between Hassan and his wife.

"Inaccurate image'

The letters describe Hassan as part of an "epidemic" of battered men and cite authors and experts who have addressed the issue. They also describe his wife as an abuser who "needed proper medical help."

"Many news stories have presented an inaccurate image of my son ... The main reason for his difficulties is that he is too much of a people pleaser who avoids conflict. For years he kept appeasing a demanding wife. The more he appeased her, the more demanding she became," one letter stated.

These actions are attributed to a man described as "manipulative" and "sick" by those who knew him and/or Zubair Hassan.

"She's gone, and now the only thing he can destroy is her reputation," said Faizan Haq, who once worked with both husband and wife. "He has nothing else in his control except her name. In a way, he's still abusing her. He hasn't stopped."

In January, defense lawyer Frank M. Bogulski stated in court that Hassan was a "battered spouse" and promised "a revolutionary defense" that would get Hassan acquitted, using both psychiatric elements and legal justification.

Both defense lawyers, Bogulski and Julie Atti Rogers, state they are not committed to a specific defense and have not seen the divorce affidavit by Zubair Hassan.

"An affidavit is only one person's side," Bogulski cautioned. "Just because it was put in an affidavit doesn't mean it was true."

That's exactly what I mean. The batterer often presents him(her)self as the batteree (if you will), often knowing the correct language to use to try and make that case, the right buttons to push. I cannot tell you how many times the batterer will get a restraining order against the person whom they are battering. It is far more common than one might think. at least in this case, the DA seemed to have a clue:
District Attorney Frank Sedita laughed when he heard of Hassan's self-portrayal as a victim last week.

"What do any of these claims have to do with the issue that is before the court and the issue that will be before the jury?" he said. "Is there sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant murdered his wife? That is the only issue to this point."

In Zubair Hassan's divorce appeal to the court, she attached 16 exhibits attesting to her husband's abusive and controlling nature.

One exhibit, dated March 7, 2008, is a formally written, "confidential" memorandum of understanding that Hassan made his wife sign.

In it, both spouses "agree" that under threat of punishment, Zubair Hassan will not call, cooperate with, or threaten to call law enforcement. She also "agrees" not to threaten to leave him.

Physical abuse

The sworn statement signed by Zubair Hassan a week before she died brings to light many other details of a terrifying reality.

Contrary to Hassan's assertions to The News that he never used his physical size to overpower his wife, Zubair Hassan's sworn statement is full of instances where she claims he used his size and strength to imprison or physically hurt her.

Most of those claims are supported by police reports, photographs and witnesses. Among the worst incidents described by Zubair Hassan that were previously unknown to The News:

• When Zubair Hassan unexpectedly became pregnant in early summer of 2006, her husband, who is a stocky 6-foot-2, imprisoned her in the bedroom and sat on her until she admitted she needed psychiatric help.

In two separate incidents later that month, he punched her in the face, and dragged her down the driveway and sat on her after trying to convince her to have an abortion. She subsequently miscarried.

• The family's four children — two older ones from a previous marriage, and two very young children born to Zubair Hassan — were also victims.

Child Protective Services investigated several complaints lodged by school personnel against Hassan for physical abuse of the children and his wife, ransacking the house and otherwise posing a threat to their safety.

Jennifer Greer, who baby-sat for the Hassan children from 2002 to 2008, said the young daughter would talk about hearing thunder on nights when there was no storm, and the young son spent much of his life living in an imaginary world where everyone was a superhero and they all cared for each other.

"It was heartbreaking to watch him go through that," she said.

As we know, children also pay a price when there is domestic violence in the home. Sadly, this story is no exception:
• In October 2007, Zubair Hassan tried to fly to New York for a few days, but while Greer was driving her to the airport along Route 219 with the two young children in the back seat, Hassan ran their car off the road.

Greer cried as she recalled the terrified children in the car.

"Raising them, they were like my own kids," she said. "All of us could have died on that day."

• Hassan repeatedly punched his wife in the face until blood was pouring out her nose in April 2008. His wife recalled the oldest daughter screaming to her father, "I'm taking her to the hospital. I don't care what you say. I'm not going to let her die here."

Hassan did not let her seek medical treatment and refused to let her leave the house for a week because of her bruises, Zubair Hassan stated.

Two previous wives

Zubair Hassan was not the only woman who charged Hassan with abuse. So did his two previous wives.

Qureshi, president of Saathi of Rochester, a domestic violence program for South Asian women, said Hassan once pushed his second wife, Sadia, out of a moving car.

After the Muslim community intervened on her behalf, he told her she could have a divorce and get her green card only if she let him claim he was the abused victim.

"She was very scared," Qureshi said. "She didn't know what to do, where to go."

Zubair Hassan asked for an order of protection as part of her divorce appeal, allowing her husband to be near her only at the Bridges TV studio, where she was later found dead.

"I am fearful for my children's safety as well as my own," she stated.

Hassan's lawyers said their client shouldn't be convicted by the media before his murder trial begins in September.

"We don't in any way want to disparage Aasiya or her memory," Bogulski said. "This is a horrible tragedy. But at the same time, we have to keep in mind that there is a presumption of innocence in regard to my client, and we ask the public to keep an open mind."How Dostan@buffnews.com

Oh, yes. That is important - presumed innocence and not trying cases in the media. Though Hassan DID tell police his wife was dead, and her body was found at his business. But still, right?

I have written a fair amount about Women's History this month, and as much as it pains me to say, this is a part of our history, too. Not even so much our history as it is the present for far too many of us (95% of battered persons are women). Chances are good that right now, right this very second, a woman is being battered. Almost half (42%) of women who are murdered are killed by people with whom they are intimate. That is an issue of monumental proportion, if you ask me. I am glad that Secretary Clinton acknowledged in her recent speech to the UN that we have a ways to go for women's equality here at home, but wow - do we ever.

But whatever we do to address this critical issue, it will be too late for Aasiya Zubair Hassan, and a number of other women in this country. That is just heartbreaking. But we must push on, we must put a stop to violence against women once and for all. And we must do it NOW!


Anonymous said...

This just breaks my heart, Rev. While the Pretender and Congress waste time on a bullshit piece of legislation, women are being battered and murdered every day in this country. When will we demand that they fight for us??? As long as women allow themselves to be used as pawns in the political crap, and as long as so-call "women's groups" continue to support elected officials who have never done anything on behalf of women, I don't know how women can ever expect to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, in this country or around the world.

Yeah, I'll sure do what Hassan's attorney wants. Yep, I'll definitely withhold judgement. I mean, just because there are photos and witnesses and the woman was beheaded...poor Hassan, he was such a victim. Makes me sick to my stomach. His attorneys will make a mockery of this woman's life and make Hassan out to be a victim. I know everyone deserves a defense, but...

Did you read Uppity's post about the Moroccan national who got angry because a woman in a bar wouldn't dance with him so he followed her into the bathroom and almost beat her to death? He says it's her fault because she "berated" him when he followed her into the bathroom.

I feel like we've gotten nowhere. In all these years, with all the hard work women have done, and women and girls around the world are still treated as less than human.

If Hillary were Pres, you KNOW things would be changing.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, SF -

I completely understand - it breaks my heart, too. It was a very hard article to read, to be honest. And having worked with battered women, women who were incarcerated for defending themselves against their batterers, knowing the danger women face when they try to leave (which is why it is always so hard when people query,"Well, why didn't she just leave?"), and seeing the careful prep this woman made to get away from this abuser, just makes me ill...

Oh, yeah - withholding judgment here. Ahem.

You are so, so right abt the Pretender in Chief and these alleged women's groups who supported this man who has done NOTHING for them, for women to constantly put our own needs, push our very LIVES, to the side, is just disturbing on so, so many levels...

I was out a good bit of the day, but I'll go over to Uppity's. That kind of attitude seems so prevalent, doesn't it? It feels like we haven't moved very far at all to me, either. How can that possibly be??

This is so discouraging...