[Ppnews] Must Read - Tarek Mehanna's Sentencing Statement 4/12

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Apr 14 18:14:34 EDT 2012

Read to Judge O’Toole during his sentencing, April 12th 2012.

In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful

Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing 
my work shift at a local hospital. As I was 
walking to my car I was approached by two federal 
agents. They said that I had a choice to make: I 
could do things the easy way, or I could do them 
the hard way. The “easy “ way, as they explained, 
was that I would become an informant for the 
government, and if I did so I would never see the 
inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for 
the hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent 
the majority of the four years since then in a 
solitary cell the size of a small closet, in 
which I am locked down for 23 hours each day. The 
FBI and these prosecutors worked very hard—and 
the government spent millions of tax dollars – to 
put me in that cell, keep me there, put me on 
trial, and finally to have me stand here before 
you today to be sentenced to even more time in a cell.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, many 
people have offered suggestions as to what I 
should say to you. Some said I should plead for 
mercy in hopes of a light sentence, while others 
suggested I would be hit hard either way. But 
what I want to do is just talk about myself for a few minutes.

When I refused to become an informant, the 
government responded by charging me with the 
“crime” of supporting the mujahideen fighting the 
occupation of Muslim countries around the world. 
Or as they like to call them, “terrorists.” I 
wasn’t born in a Muslim country, though. I was 
born and raised right here in America and this 
angers many people: how is it that I can be an 
American and believe the things I believe, take 
the positions I take? Everything a man is exposed 
to in his environment becomes an ingredient that 
shapes his outlook, and I’m no different.  So, in 
more ways than one, it’s because of America that I am who I am.

When I was six, I began putting together a 
massive collection of comic books. Batman 
implanted a concept in my mind, introduced me to 
a paradigm as to how the world is set up: that 
there are oppressors, there are the oppressed, 
and there are those who step up to defend the 
oppressed. This resonated with me so much that 
throughout the rest of my childhood, I gravitated 
towards any book that reflected that paradigm – 
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm 
X, and I even saw an ethical dimension to The Catcher in the Rye.

By the time I began high school and took a real 
history class, I was learning just how real that 
paradigm is in the world. I learned about the 
Native Americans and what befell them at the 
hands of European settlers. I learned about how 
the descendents of those European settlers were 
in turn oppressed under the tyranny of King 
George III. I read about Paul Revere, Tom Paine, 
and how Americans began an armed insurgency 
against British forces – an insurgency we now 
celebrate as the American revolutionary war. As a 
kid I even went on school field trips just blocks 
away from where we sit now. I learned about 
Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown, and the 
fight against slavery in this country. I learned 
about Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and the 
struggles of the labor unions, working class, and 
poor. I learned about Anne Frank, the Nazis, and 
how they persecuted minorities and imprisoned 
dissidents. I learned about Rosa Parks, Malcolm 
X, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights 
struggle. I learned about Ho Chi Minh, and how 
the Vietnamese fought for decades to liberate 
themselves from one invader after another. I 
learned about Nelson Mandela and the fight 
against apartheid in South Africa. Everything I 
learned in those years confirmed what I was 
beginning to learn when I was six: that 
throughout history, there has been a constant 
struggle between the oppressed and their 
oppressors. With each struggle I learned about, I 
found myself consistently siding with the 
oppressed, and consistently respecting those who 
stepped up to defend them -regardless of 
nationality, regardless of religion. And I never 
threw my class notes away. As I stand here 
speaking, they are in a neat pile in my bedroom closet at home.

 From all the historical figures I learned about, 
one stood out above the rest. I was impressed by 
many things about Malcolm X, but above all, I was 
fascinated by the idea of transformation, his 
transformation. I don’t know if you’ve seen the 
movie “X” by Spike Lee, it’s over three and a 
half hours long, and the Malcolm at the beginning 
is different from the Malcolm at the end. He 
starts off as an illiterate criminal, but ends up 
a husband, a father, a protective and eloquent 
leader for his people, a disciplined Muslim 
performing the Hajj in Makkah, and finally, a 
martyr. Malcolm’s life taught me that Islam is 
not something inherited; it’s not a culture or 
ethnicity. It’s a way of life, a state of mind 
anyone can choose no matter where they come from 
or how they were raised. This led me to look 
deeper into Islam, and I was hooked. I was just a 
teenager, but Islam answered the question that 
the greatest scientific minds were clueless 
about, the question that drives the rich & famous 
to depression and suicide from being unable to 
answer: what is the purpose of life? Why do we 
exist in this Universe? But it also answered the 
question of how we’re supposed to exist. And 
since there’s no hierarchy or priesthood, I could 
directly and immediately begin digging into the 
texts of the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet 
Muhammad, to begin the journey of understanding 
what this was all about, the implications of 
Islam for me as a human being, as an individual, 
for the people around me, for the world; and the 
more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a 
piece of gold. This was when I was a teen, but 
even today, despite the pressures of the last few 
years, I stand here before you, and everyone else 
in this courtroom, as a very proud Muslim.

With that, my attention turned to what was 
happening to other Muslims in different parts of 
the world. And everywhere I looked, I saw the 
powers that be trying to destroy what I loved. I 
learned what the Soviets had done to the Muslims 
of Afghanistan. I learned what the Serbs had done 
to the Muslims of Bosnia. I learned what the 
Russians were doing to the Muslims of Chechnya. I 
learned what Israel had done in Lebanon – and 
what it continues to do in Palestine – with the 
full backing of the United States. And I learned 
what America itself was doing to Muslims. I 
learned about the Gulf War, and the depleted 
uranium bombs that killed thousands and caused 
cancer rates to skyrocket across Iraq. I learned 
about the American-led sanctions that prevented 
food, medicine, and medical equipment from 
entering Iraq, and how – according to the United 
Nations – over half a million children perished 
as a result. I remember a clip from a ‘60 
Minutes’ interview of Madeline Albright where she 
expressed her view that these dead children were 
“worth it.” I watched on September 11th as a 
group of people felt driven to hijack airplanes 
and fly them into buildings from their outrage at 
the deaths of these children. I watched as 
America then attacked and invaded Iraq directly. 
I saw the effects of ‘Shock & Awe’ in the opening 
day of the invasion – the children in hospital 
wards with shrapnel from American missiles 
sticking out of their foreheads (of course, none 
of this was shown on CNN).  I learned about the 
town of Haditha, where 24 Muslims – including a 
76-year old man in a wheelchair, women, and even 
toddlers – were shot up and blown up in their 
bedclothes as the slept by US Marines. I learned 
about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old Iraqi 
girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who 
then shot her and her family in the head, then 
set fire to their corpses. I just want to point 
out, as you can see, Muslim women don’t even show 
their hair to unrelated men. So try to imagine 
this young girl from a conservative village with 
her dress torn off, being sexually assaulted by 
not one, not two, not three, not four, but five 
soldiers. Even today, as I sit in my jail cell, I 
read about the drone strikes which continue to 
kill Muslims daily in places like Pakistan, 
Somalia, and Yemen. Just last month, we all heard 
about the seventeen Afghan Muslims – mostly 
mothers and their kids – shot to death by an 
American soldier, who also set fire to their 
corpses. These are just the stories that make it 
to the headlines, but one of the first concepts I 
learned in Islam is that of loyalty, of 
brotherhood – that each Muslim woman is my 
sister, each man is my brother, and together, we 
are one large body who must protect each other. 
In other words, I couldn’t see these things 
beings done to my brothers & sisters – including 
by America – and remain neutral. My sympathy for 
the oppressed continued, but was now more 
personal, as was my respect for those defending them.

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.

So, this trial was not about my position on 
Muslims killing American civilians. It was about 
my position on Americans killing Muslim 
civilians, which is that Muslims should defend 
their lands from foreign invaders – Soviets, 
Americans, or Martians. This is what I believe. 
It’s what I’ve always believed, and what I will 
always believe. This is not terrorism, and it’s 
not extremism. it’s the simple logic of 
self-defense. It’s what the arrows on that seal 
above your head represent: defense of the 
homeland. So, I disagree with my lawyers when 
they say that you don’t have to agree with my 
beliefs – no. Anyone with commonsense and 
humanity has no choice but to agree with me. If 
someone breaks into your home to rob you and harm 
your family, logic dictates that you do whatever 
it takes to expel that invader from your home. 
But when that home is a Muslim land, and that 
invader is the US military, for some reason the 
standards suddenly change. Common sense is 
renamed “terrorism” and the people defending 
themselves against those who come to kill them 
from across the ocean become “the terrorists” who 
are “killing Americans.” The mentality that 
America was victimized with when British soldiers 
walked these streets 2 ½ centuries ago is the 
same mentality Muslims are victimized by as 
American soldiers walk their streets today. It’s 
the mentality of colonialism. When Sgt. Bales 
shot those Afghans to death last month, all of 
the focus in the media was on him—his life, his 
stress, his PTSD, the mortgage on his home—as if 
he was the victim. Very little sympathy was 
expressed for the people he actually killed, as 
if they’re not real, they’re not humans. 
Unfortunately, this mentality trickles down to 
everyone in society, whether or not they realize 
it. Even with my lawyers, it took nearly two 
years of discussing, explaining, and clarifying 
before they were finally able to think outside 
the box and at least ostensibly accept the logic 
in what I was saying. Two years! If it took that 
long for people so intelligent, whose job it is 
to defend me, to de-program themselves, then to 
throw me in front of a randomly selected jury 
under the premise that they’re my “impartial 
peers,” I mean, come on. I wasn’t tried before a 
jury of my peers because with the mentality 
gripping America today, I have no peers. Counting 
on this fact, the government prosecuted me – not 
because they needed to, but simply because they could.

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.

-Tarek Mehanna


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