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‘In your eyes, I’m a terrorist’ but you killed and maimed 100s of 1000s of Muslims — Mehanna, on sentencing

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Tarek Mehanna

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)

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer based in Sydney. She writes the Sharp Edges column at Shadowproof and politics at Paste Magazine. She tweets at @roqchams.

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19 Responses

  1. annie on April 15, 2012, 10:53 am

    he mentioned Abeer. most americans do not even know who she is.

    i really hope this is overturned on appeal, either way we are really in sad sad shape as a country that it could go this far, again.

  2. pabelmont on April 15, 2012, 11:21 am

    Certainly shows how eager the USA is to convict peopl;e “as terrorists” — watching him do nothing in oparticular since 2005. Wow! spending millions of dollars!

    Must be important to someone, but I think there’s a sort of independent “let’s go and (foment and then) prosecute “terrorists” arm out there, in federal-country somewhere. What a travesty. Free speech always does a bit during times of war, but this is really silly.

  3. yourstruly on April 15, 2012, 11:33 am

    the maxim about one person’s terrorist being another person’s freedom fighter sure holds true here.

  4. Western Sky on April 15, 2012, 11:43 am

    Wow, what a whitewashing of the case and Mehanna’s actions!

    “According to testimony at trial, Mehanna and co-conspirators discussed their desire to participate in violent jihad against American interests and talked about fighting jihad and their desire to die on the battlefield. The co-conspirators attempted to radicalize others and inspire each other by, among other things, watching and distributing jihadi videos. Mehanna and two of his associates traveled to the Middle East in 2004, seeking military-type training at a terrorist training camp that would prepare them for armed jihad against U.S. interests, including U.S. and allied forces in Iraq. One of Mehanna’s co-conspirators made two similar trips to Pakistan in 2002.

    After returning to the United States, Mehanna continued his efforts to provide material support by, among other things, translating and posting on the Internet al Qaeda recruitment videos and other documents.

    In December 2006, Mehanna was interviewed by federal authorities regarding a trip by Mehanna, Ahmad Abousamra and another individual, to Yemen in 2004. During that interview, Mehanna provided false information and made fraudulent and fictitious statements about the purpose of that trip and his relationship with coconspirator Daniel Joseph Maldonado, a.k.a. Daniel Aljughaifi. Mehanna lied to the FBI concerning where Maldonado was living at the time and what Maldonado was doing. Just a few days prior to the FBI interview, Mehanna received a call from Maldonado, who was in Somalia receiving military-type training for jihad. Mehanna admitted in recorded conversations, that he had lied to the FBI about Maldonado’s whereabouts and training in Somalia. Mehanna also lied to the FBI concerning his trip to Yemen in 2004. Mehanna did, in fact, go to Yemen with Abousamra and another individual to conduct, and to subsequently engage in, jihad.

    In 2007, Maldonado pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas, admitting that he had traveled from Houston to Africa in November 2005 and then on to Somalia in December 2006 to join the Islamic Courts Union and elements of al-Qaida to fight “jihad” against the Transitional Federal Government to establish an independent Islamic State in Somalia. Maldonado was sentenced to10 years in prison, the maximum statutory penalty for receiving military training from a terrorist organization.”

    But nooooo, according to the author of this whitewashing, Mehanna only talked about stuff.

    • iRevolt on April 15, 2012, 2:29 pm

      Your premise is based on the argument of the USDOJ and the US Attorney’s Office of the District of Massachusetts re: his travels; the witness in the recordings by the FBI was cooperating and soon after the recordings were listened to Mehanna was asked to become an informant for the FBI, which he refused to become. If he was such a threat why push him into cooperating (i.e. becoming an informant) and not just arrest him, immediately seek a case against him? Why wait years if he was such a threat to society?

      Also, why did authorities deny Mehanna to turn himself in at an earlier time? Why did his lawyers have to send a letter to the FBI relaying to them that since they have kept in contact with Mehanna and alleged he is to be charged with serious crimes that he would willingly turn himself into authorities?

      Again, In 2006 Tarek Mehanna became aware that the government was investigating him, and instead of fleeing, he spoke with an attorney.
      When the FBI first contacted Mehanna in 12/16/06 asking him about the whereabouts of Maldonado he immediately contacted his lawyers for counsel.
      On 11/08/08 he was charged with “making false statements” and, even though your farcical premise alludes to such, he was not considered a threat to the community as his court ordered curfew was lifted and he was allowed to attend religious services, teach and work.

      The government proffer in 2009 against Mehanna relied almost entirely on his instant messages from 2006, not the recording, not the cooperating witness statements etc. It was almost entirely based on his online activity; so no, there is no white-washing. You have obviously not read the case as thoroughly as you would like many to believed because it has a lengthy history and it began much earlier and involves many twists and turns. The government proffer and memorandum filed on 11/05/09 focused almost exclusively on his online activity; not his travels, nor his time in said countries but his instant messaging, viewing of videos etc.

    • anonymouscomments on April 15, 2012, 3:45 pm

      you are too predictable. a partisan hack with no mastery of the facts. minimize anything from the israel-zionist-jewish side, and mischaracterize anything from the “other” side. i second irevolt’s comment. read up:

      i support civil liberties and the right to free speech, even “extremist” speech. but if we ever crack down on the hacks who foment islamophobia and illegal US wars of aggression? i might feel some sort of had it coming… hell, they were the ones who shredded the civil liberties in the first place.

    • Fredblogs on April 16, 2012, 2:54 pm

      Which goes to show you should never, ever, lie to the FBI, the police, or Congress for that matter. Even if they can’t get you for whatever you are trying to cover up, they can prosecute you for lying. That’s why people take the fifth and exercise their right to remain silent.

      • Mooser on April 16, 2012, 3:04 pm

        “Which goes to show you should never, ever, lie to the FBI, the police, or Congress for that matter.”

        You tell ’em Fredila! Remember how perfectly forthcoming the “dancing Israelis” were when they were questioned about being right there to film the World Trade Center towers collapse?

  5. marc b. on April 15, 2012, 12:00 pm

    i thought that the original allegations against mehanna included plots to blow up malls, assassinate politicians, etc. what were the charges that were ultimately proven and led to his conviction? i’ve said this before, but it seems that in many cases the most violence prone of the persons involved in these plots are the confidential informants.

  6. Bumblebye on April 15, 2012, 12:08 pm

    Yet zero comeback on peddlars of Islamophobia like Geller, now President of Sion (Stop Islamisation Of Nations), the coming together of extremist right wing nut jobs in the Western nations. How often do such groups advocate violence and hatred against Muslims and majority Muslim nations? Among others, websites like Gellers provided “support” for Norwegian terrorist Breivik and his sickening views.
    And where, for instance, does the EDL get its “intelligence” on Islam? From their researchers in Israel, according to spokesman Guramit Singh interviewed for bbc Newsnight.

  7. CloakAndDagger on April 15, 2012, 12:41 pm

    This is how the Gellers of this country have won. They have successfully injected Islamophobia into our mainstream discourse and polite conversation. It is striking how openly one can condemn muslims as a group in this country with no fear of reprisals or condemnations. I can’t imagine similar comments about blacks or jews that would be treated similarly – although it has in the past.

    It is common to go to any blog or site with user comments and see some anti-muslim comment posted at random, even when the topic under discussion may have peripheral connection to Arabs or muslims, and yet go unchallenged. This is true even on “moderated” sites like Huffington Post. Other mainstream sites like those for ABC, CBS, FOX, MSNBC, are just as bad.

    Who are these anonymous commenters who continue to fan the flames of this most shameful chapter in American history? Cui bono? Who benefits by the perpetuation of this?

    Those were not serious questions, I already know the answer. Most Americans don’t.

    Annie said: “he mentioned Abeer. most americans do not even know who she is.”

    I will go one further – even if they knew who this 15-year old innocent was or her story, there would be very little sympathy. That is the power of brainwashing.

  8. Blake on April 15, 2012, 12:51 pm

    Muslims have been getting a bad press deliberately being targeted as scapegoats for years.

    Financial interests behind Islamophobia : Who’s really behind it and why does MSM fuel it?

  9. CloakAndDagger on April 15, 2012, 1:29 pm

    I just read the full text of his speech in the link provided in the article. If you haven’t read it, do so – it provides a very different picture of this man – one that commands respect. Here is a brief excerpt:

    I mentioned Paul Revere – when he went on his midnight ride, it was for the purpose of warning the people that the British were marching to Lexington to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, then on to Concord to confiscate the weapons stored there by the Minuteman. By the time they got to Concord, they found the Minuteman waiting for them, weapons in hand. They fired at the British, fought them, and beat them. From that battle came the American Revolution. There’s an Arabic word to describe what those Minutemen did that day. That word is: JIHAD, and this is what my trial was about. All those videos and translations and childish bickering over ‘Oh, he translated this paragraph’ and ‘Oh, he edited that sentence,’ and all those exhibits revolved around a single issue: Muslims who were defending themselves against American soldiers doing to them exactly what the British did to America. It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to “kill Americans” at shopping malls or whatever the story was. The government’s own witnesses contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I was free, the government sent an undercover agent to prod me into one of their little “terror plots,” but I refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury never heard this.

  10. justicewillprevail on April 15, 2012, 1:57 pm

    This is Orwellian stuff, the thought police patrolling the boundaries of what you are allowed to think or say. And a sad indictment of what passes for justice and freedom of speech, not to mention the necessity for real evidence when convicting somebody, as opposed to speculation and guilt by association. No doubt learned from the security apparatus of states like Israel, who specialise in separating people according to their beliefs and looks.

  11. anonymouscomments on April 15, 2012, 3:08 pm

    First they came for the muslims,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a muslim.

    Then they came for the miltias,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t in a militia.

    Then they came for the libertarians,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a libertarian.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.

    (right wing zionists are helping script a fate for the US which looks sickly similar to the path germany went down, but muslims are the object of their affection. of course, eventually the truth may out, and fascistic xenophobes schooled in racist bigotry might shift from the muslim ~2% to the jewish ~2%… and aside from trumped up terrorism fears, they would find *actual* zionist crimes on US soil, and actual malevolent forces at play within the ~2% [AIPAC spying, extensive israeli spy networks, bribery, blackmail, jewish organized crime and drug trafficking, organized media lies, neocons with zionist affiliation, false-flags, etc. etc.]. zionists are sowing the wind, but they might reap the whirlwind if we ever finish with the muslims)

  12. annie on April 15, 2012, 4:10 pm

    First they came for the muslims

    anony, as you can see from the crosspost that is roqayah’s original title

  13. anonymouscomments on April 16, 2012, 1:39 am

    i didn’t want to go WWII poem, but it was so fitting. further, we should note that they have already gone past “the muslims”. and given the rather muted (even when hyped) threat of islamic terrorism…. we all should note that the *ultimate* target was *never* really muslims.

    the target is all of us.

    and people espousing the ideas seen on MW will be targets in the coming years, if not already surveilled. was investigated:
    pretty sure there is a file on you and other MW’ers…. unlikely i pass muster, but who knows how information hungry the powers that be are. they surely have retains of all our digital stuff for retrospective retrieval.

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