Just how many victims of female genital mutilation did Dr. Jumana Nagarwala produce in her Michigan clinic? Federal prosecutors have produced eight for their case against the doctor, but the lead prosecutor in the case argued in court yesterday that there may be 100 or more girls that have been maimed by the doctor and her co-defendants. The AUSA made the argument to convince the judge to deny bail for the clinic owner and his wife, but it didn’t work (via Newsalert):
A federal prosecutor dropped a bombshell in court Wednesday, telling a federal judge that the government estimates that as many as 100 girls may have had their genitals cut at the hands of a local doctor and her cohorts.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward disclosed the information while trying to convince a judge to keep a doctor and his wife locked up in the historic case. It involves allegations that two Minnesota girls had their genitals cut at a Livonia clinic in February as part of a religious rite of passage and were told to keep what happened a secret.
“Due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we are unlikely to ever know how many children were cut by Dr. (Jumana) Nagarwala,” Woodward said, referring to the lead defendant in the case, later adding, “The Minnesota victims were not the first victims.”
Nagarwala has already been denied bail in the case. Fakhruddin and Farida Attar have been granted bail by Judge Bernard Friedman, but imposed house-arrest conditions on them as part of their release. They can only leave their home to see their attorneys or for medical attention, and only if they get permission ahead of time. The government will hold their passports, and they will have to wear electronic bracelets that will track their position at all times. The two cannot communicate with anyone outside of their family except for their attorneys. It’s basically imprisonment, only with the taxpayers relieved of most of the costs.
How did Woodward come up with the 100-victims total? Attar allegedly admitted that he let Nagarwala use the clinic six times a year over a dozen years, which adds up to about that amount. Attar claimed that Nagarwala used the clinic to treat “genital rashes,” which would have been a rather strange epidemic, and one with a very wide practice. That explanation asks people to buy that Nagarwala focused on that specific practice, and with patients as far away as Minnesota. It may get cold here in the winter, but we do manage to keep our health facilities open and operating year-round. Rashes can get treated locally; they don’t require a 1000-mile trip to Attar’s offices.
Prosecutors are clearly trying to build a bigger case here, and for a good reason — it seems very likely to exist. This has the hallmarks of a clandestine network for FGM operations, and Woodward and the DoJ want to root it out and expose as much of it as they can. Keeping the Attars behind bars might have put a little more pressure on them to get more information on any broader network to which they may be connected. Unfortunately, in court it’s not what you know but what you can prove, and on bail cases what you have probable cause to allege. Judges get picky about circumstantial allegations without independent substantiation, and that’s good news for all of us in the long run, even if it’s a momentary obstacle in this case.
Can they prove what they have with the eight victims? The defendants in this case insist that all that took place in the clinic was scraping rather than cutting, and that it had no health impact on the little girls. They claim it to be a religious rite protected by the First Amendment, and we can expect the defense to cite circumcision as a parallel for these acts. According to 18 USC 116, that’s not a defense at all for “whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years.” That’s why the defense will claim that all that took place was a scraping, but the prosecution has had custody of the victims and will no doubt have medical testimony as to what precisely took place in that clinic. If they want to fall back on the First Amendment, they’ll almost certainly have to do so on appeal — and then we’ll see how well the circumcision arguments work. They’d better not hold their breath for vindication of female genital mutilation.