"First They Come For the Muslims"
Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced Thursday in Worcester, Mass., to 17½ years in prison. It was another of the tawdry show trials held against Muslim activists since 9/11 as a result of the government’s criminalization of what people say and believe. These trials, where secrecy rules permit federal lawyers to prosecute people on “evidence” the defendants are not allowed to examine, are the harbinger of a corporate totalitarian state in which any form of dissent can be declared illegal. What the government did to Mehanna, and what it has done to hundreds of other innocent Muslims in this country over the last decade, it will eventually do to the rest of us.
Mehanna, a teacher at Alhuda Academy in Worcester, was convicted after an eight-week jury trial of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and providing material support to al-Qaida, as well as making false statements to officials investigating terrorism. His real “crime,” however, seems to be viewing and translating jihadi videos online, speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and refusing to become a government informant.
Stephen F. Downs, a lawyer in Albany, N.Y., a founder of Project Salam and the author of “Victims of America’s Dirty War,” a booklet posted on the website, has defended Muslim activists since 2006. He has methodically documented the mendacious charges used to incarcerate many Muslim activists as terrorists. Because of “terrorism enhancement” provisions, any sentence can be quadrupled—even minor charges can leave prisoners incarcerated for years.
“People who have committed no crime are taken into custody, isolated without adequate recourse to legal advice, railroaded with fake or contrived charges, and ‘disappeared’ into prisons designed to isolate them,” Downs told me when we met last week at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
Downs calls the process of condemning people before they have committed a crime “pre-emptive prosecution.” The concept of pre-emptive prosecution mocks domestic law as egregiously as pre-emptive war mocks the foundations of international law.
Downs’ awakening to the corruption of the judicial system came in 2006 when Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Iraq who was an imam of a mosque in Albany, was entrapped in a government sting operation. Downs, who three years earlier had retired as chief attorney for the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, became part of Aref’s legal defense team. He met with Aref two or three times a week in the Rensselaer County jail over a six-month period.
“I was unprepared for the fact that the government would put together a case that was just one lie piled up on top of another lie,” Downs said. “And when you pointed it out to them they didn’t care. They didn’t refute it. They knew that it was a lie. The facts of most of these pre-emptive cases don’t support the charges. But the facts are irrelevant. The government has decided to target these people. It wants to take them down for ideological reasons.”