[Ppnews] Tarek Mehanna - terrorism or thought crimes?

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 18 19:47:55 EST 2011

Terrorism or Thought Crimes?

<http://www.thecrimson.com/writer/1208359/Alex%20_R.%20_Shams/>Alex R. Shams
Published: Friday, November 18, 2011

The latest chapter in the assault on American civil liberties has 
begun, and this time it is unfolding in a courthouse in downtown 
Boston. The 
of Tarek Mehanna , a young man from Sudbury, Massachusetts, has the 
potential to redefine the limits of free speech within draconian 
parameters that would essentially outlaw criticism of US foreign 
policy by American citizens. At the same time, it represents a 
general attack on Muslim-American communities, as it validates FBI 
tactics of spying in mosques, pressuring young Muslims into acting as 
informants, and the surveillance of American citizens under the 
flimsiest of pretexts.

The trial of Tarek Mehanna at Moakley Courthouse for conspiracy and 
"material support for terrorism" began on October 24. The date is 
significant; October 26, 2011 marked 10 years since the passage of 
the USA Patriot Act. This law has expanded the FBI's ability to spy 
on American citizens with little or no oversight, legalizing secret 
searches of private property, private medical records, Internet 
usage, and anything else that leaves a record. The FBI does not even 
need to show that there is sufficient cause for suspicion; instead, 
as long as it claims the investigation is related to "terrorism," it 
has writ large to search at will and use any evidence it finds in a 
court of law.

This case is occurring within the larger context of a wider crackdown 
on dissent against US foreign policy among Muslim communities in this 
country. Mehanna was an active member of his local mosque, and he was 
assertive and vocal in his criticisms of US foreign policy in the 
Middle East. Talking about resistance is not a crime, and discussing 
the right of Iraqis and Afghans to self-defense in a context of 
occupation, a right recognized in the Geneva Convention, is protected 
free speech. In an age of Islamophobic hysteria and fear at the 
prospect of "homegrown terror," having the government pressure young 
men at mosques to turn in their friends for talking about being angry 
has become the new normal.

And for Tarek Mehanna, a doctor of pharmacy actively involved in 
Internet forums protesting the American invasion of Iraq, this is 
exactly what happened. After years of being pressured unsuccessfully 
by the FBI to inform on his friends at his local mosque, Mehanna was 
arrested for "lying to federal officials." This lying, of course, had 
occurred during the process of trying to get the FBI to stop 
harassing him, and the FBI subsequently let him go, conscious that 
they lacked a coherent case. A year later, however, he was bundled 
away in the early morning hours, this time to be kept in 23-hour a 
day solitary confinement in a 10-foot by 15-foot cell at a 
maximum-security prison; he has been in those conditions for more 
than two years. The charges they added after his second arrest were 
more serious and focused on providing "material support for terrorism."

These accusations, however, have been supported by shaky evidence at 
best. In order to support allegations that Mehanna provided this 
have drawn upon the wealth of Islamic legal texts that Mehanna 
translated suggesting that Mehanna's translations were used by 
"terrorists" to justify their actions. Mehanna is an avid scholar and 
translator of medieval Islamic legal thought; as a translator, he is 
not responsible for who reads his translations and what is done with 
them. Independent translation is not material support for terrorism 
by any stretch. In order to be considered material support under this 
law, Mehanna would have had to translate under the direct order of a 
designated foreign terrorist organization. He was once approached by 
Al-Qaeda to help translate a document, a fact about which that the 
prosecution is very vocal; what the prosecution fails to mention is 
that Mehanna never translated said document. If you do not translate 
something, Mehanna's defense counsel argues, is that the same as if you did?

Why then is Mehanna being prosecuted? The FBI has been clear about 
this from the beginning. From 2005 to 2008, the FBI hounded Mehanna 
and pressured him to become an informant, a period during which they 
spied on him and his friends. They 
to Mehanna's attorney in a 2008 telephone interview, "If your client 
does not collaborate with us, we will make his life a living hell." 
When one of Mehanna's friends buckled under FBI pressure in 2009 and 
became an informant, Mehanna was arrested again.

The trial has been underway now for about three weeks, during which 
the prosecution has repeatedly shown the court unrelated videos of 
the September 11th attacks and footage of American military convoys 
in Iraq being blown up. Their intent is clear: disagreeing with 
American policies and advocating for Muslims to fight against the US 
military's violent occupation of Muslim countries is terrorism. This 
trial threatens to establish a chilling precedent for civil liberties 
within the Muslim community as well as within America at large. It is 
in the interest of our freedom that we must support Tarek Mehanna.

Alex R. Shams is an A.M. candidate in Middle Eastern Studies.

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