Tarek Mehanna, 29, of Massachusetts, was sentenced Thursday to seventeen and a half years in prison following conviction in Boston on federal criminal charges of “conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and providing or attempting to provide material support to terrorists.”
Mehanna, through instant messages and emails, communicated his opposition of U.S. military operations in the Middle East and openly criticized what he viewed as “the oppression of Muslims in the United States”; as per his defense council, Mehanna, a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, had been under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation since approximately 2005, and he was periodically interviewed and monitored:
“The FBI has monitored a large amount of Internet-based text conversations that involve Tarek. The instant messages reveal that Tarek was aware of the monitoring activities, or at least believed that they were occurring. Despite this awareness, he did not cease speaking online. He discussed the monitoring activities with his friends and correspondents, and he was repeatedly clear as to why he would not stop his online activities: he was breaking no laws.”
In US v. Mehanna the State’s case largely relied on allegations of his watching videos about “jihad”, discussing his views about suicide bombings online, translating texts readily available on the Internet, and looking for information about the 9/11 attackers.
Tarek Mehanna’s research, commentary and viewing of alleged “jihad” footage have condemned him with the label of damnation, the elusive characterization of “terrorist.” His Muslim faith, his beard, his seemingly atypical beliefs which challenge the mainstream and corrupt American ethos in regards to terrorism and his defiance all played a role in his sentencing.
As American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts executive director Carol Rose writes, there was ”no evidence was presented in court directly linking [Tarek Mehanna] to a terrorist group. He never hatched a plot – indeed, he objected when a friend (who went on to become a government informer and has never been charged with anything) proposed plans to stage violent attacks within the United States.”
Mehanna, in exercising his First Amendment right, unashamedly voiced his aversion to US foreign policy, US occupying forces (i.e. troops) and their occupation of foreign lands, of their massacres and the clear-cut hypocrisy shown by the United States of America when it is their soldier being accused of crimes against humanity. Tarek Mehanna is guilty of nothing more than what George Orwell described in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four as “thought crimes”; any and all thought not in line with a repressive and controlling state.
Carol Rose of the American Civil Liberties Unions contends that the verdict against Tarek Mehanna undermines the First Amendment of the United States “and threatens national security”, that ”…under the government’s theory of the case, ordinary people–including writers and journalists, academic researchers, translators, and even ordinary web surfers–could be prosecuted for researching or translating controversial and unpopular ideas. If the verdict is not overturned on appeal, the First Amendment will be seriously compromised.”
29-year-old Tarek Mehanna stood defiantly during his sentencing and read out a powerful statement wherein he called into question imperialism, US hegemony and the United States of America’s historically unashamed support of the oppression of minorities:
“I learned one more thing in history class: America has historically supported the most unjust policies against its minorities – practices that were even protected by the law – only to look back later and ask: ‘what were we thinking?’ Slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of the Japanese during World War II – each was widely accepted by American society, each was defended by the Supreme Court. But as time passed and America changed, both people and courts looked back and asked ‘What were we thinking?’ Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the South African government, and given a life sentence. But time passed, the world changed, they realized how oppressive their policies were, that it was not he who was the terrorist, and they released him from prison. He even became president. So, everything is subjective – even this whole business of “terrorism” and who is a “terrorist.” It all depends on the time and place and who the superpower happens to be at the moment.
In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, I’m the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the US military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for “conspiring to kill and maim” in those countries – because I support the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look back on how the government spent millions of dollars to imprison me as a “terrorist,” yet if we were to somehow bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on that witness stand and ask her who the “terrorists” are, she sure wouldn’t be pointing at me.
The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with “killing Americans.” But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.”
The targeting of Tarek Mehanna mirrors that of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen; a native of Saudi Arabia and former graduate student in Computer Science at the University of Idaho charged and later acquitted of charges that he ran Web sites which supported terrorism in 2003 after a seven-week trial. Al-Hussayen was later deported to Saudi Arabia in July 2004.
The Mehanna case gained notoriety at the height of revelations that the New York Police Department has spied on Muslims for no legitimate reasons besides the fact that they were Muslims– a religion-based spy program which mapped the location of Muslims and therein began discreetly observing them, including Muslim student groups on 16 college campuses.
The Tarek Mehanna case does nothing more than bolster the argument that there are blatant exceptions when it comes to Muslims in the United States, exceptions clearly not in their favor. Their privacy is to be invaded and their loyalty to the United States of America is to be routinely catechized all in the name of making the nationalistic populace, which is often seen braying in acceptance of the Big Brother-esque policies of the U.S. government, blinded by their flags, ‘safer’.
Muslims should submit to “random searches” at U.S. airports, often prompted by a head-scarf, beard or even an ‘Arab’/’Muslim’ sounding name printed on their passports. For the sake of the illusion of safety, Muslims should allow their identities to be turned into political talking-points; the U.S. political candidate who hates Muslims more garners the most points.
And so, they have come for the Muslims; where Muslims are concerned the Tarek Mehanna case confirms that Muslims remain the chief targets of the U.S. government’s ongoing, farcical “war on terror” but even more, the verdict in the Mehanna case threatens web surfers, writers, teachers, students, journalists and even academic researchers. This case has made it possible for citizens of the United States of America, from all walks of life, to be charged with thought-crimes. Orwellian conditions, described as being hallmarks of an oppressive State, are right at our front door.
(Crossposted at Roqayah Chamseddine’s blog The Frustrated Arab)