‘PREEMPTIVE PROSECUTIONS’

Commentary by Chippy Dee, Photos © by Bud Korotzer

“If this is the punishment for building homes, building schools, and feeding needy families then I’m proud to be behind bars.  They can control my body but they can’t control my soul.”
Ghassan Elashi, Holy Land Foundation
Now serving a 65 year prison sentence.

On March 25th there was a forum on the subject of “Preemptive Prosecutions” at the New York University Law School which was sponsored by the National Lawyer’s Guild, NYU Law ACLU, Middle Eastern Law Students Association, Law Student’s for Human Rights, and several other groups.  Family members of those involved and some of their legal representatives discussed the issue of FBI entrapment.  Was the FBI involved in capturing “homegrown terrorists” or are they actually creating them so that they could then arrest them?  It was explained that most of the informers, acting as agent provocateurs for the FBI are felons who made a deal with the FBI.  Many of those entrapped are very low income, under-educated men who live in marginalized communities and are ‘bribed’ with money, marijuana, and promises of help for whatever crisis they are facing.
These cases are not isolated, they’re happening in large numbers all over the country.  The people involved are from diverse backgrounds but they are united by abuses of due process.

The first speakers were the mother and aunt of David McWilliams, one of the Newburgh 4 (NYS). The young Muslim men were convicted of attempting to bomb synagogues with plastic explosives in the Bronx and plotting to shoot down planes from Stewart Airport with stinger missiles.  His distraught mother, Elizabeth, spoke first.  She said her son was not the monster he was made out to be and he became involved because he was promised money to help pay for medical treatment for his younger brother who is suffering with incurable cancer.  Tears were flowing down her cheeks as she tried to speak.  When his aunt, Alicia McWilliams spoke she presented a picture of a group of struggling, uneducated men trying to survive on the periphery of society.  They had drug problems and one was schizophrenic.  The FBI picked the most vulnerable county to establish their plot, one where there is “no jobs, no schooling” and “if you walk down Broadway you see it is drug infested.”  “They didn’t send an agent to a mosque in Bushwick or Harlem because they would nave whooped his mother_ _.”  Instead they’re “gonna pick some God damn fools and a person who can’t manage mental health.”  According to McWilliams, those individuals couldn’t mastermind anything.  These are who they chose to shoot missiles at planes and bomb synagogues in Riverdale?  They never heard of Riverdale.  “The boy is dyslexic.”  “This boy is a petty crack dealer.”   How did he go from that “to become a big national terrorist?  He ain’t never even left New York.”  He thought that the agent that entrapped him was “a good Muslim brother” who was going to get him a job and help pay doctor bills.  McWilliams also pointed out that no family members were interrogated by the police or the FBI adding, they “didn’t need us when they had their own script.”  She said that the families and communities that had been targeted had to stand together and let the government know that they “cannot target our families and drop a load of shit on us!”

The next speakers were 12 year old Leijla Duka, daughter of one of the Ft. Dix 5 (NJ) and her uncle, the youngest of the Duka brothers.  The Ft. Dix 5 were convicted of conspiring to attack military personnel at Ft. Dix and kill as many as possible.  Leijla and her uncle said that their family members were set-up by 2 Muslim agent provocateurs, Mahmoud Omar and Besnik Bakalli.  Both men had been convicted of serious crimes and were willing to act as agents in return for leniency and money.  It all started, they explained, with a family vacation in the Poconos when a family member made a video recording of the young men on a shooting range, shooting and shouting “Allahu Akbar”, God is great.  After the vacation the recording was brought to a Circuit City store to be duplicated so that everyone involved could have a copy.  The clerk was suspicious when he viewed the video and notified the police who contacted the FBI.  They sent in Omar who approached one of the men, befriended him, and convinced him to download terrorist videos.  All of the videos watched were at the agent’s request and then he tried to persuade him to involve his friends, the other 4.  When he didn’t do so the other agent, Bakalli, an ethnic Albanian like the Dukas was brought in.  The agents told the men that their Muslim brothers were being murdered overseas and that they should be ashamed of themselves because they were doing nothing to help them.  A lot of money was being flashed around by the agents and weapons were offered for sale.  Some of the men bought weapons so, they said, they wouldn’t have to wait to shoot at the shooting range.  One, who worked at a pizza shop, showed the agent a map of Ft. Dix (used for pizza delivery) when the agent asked for one. Duka said that for a conspiracy case 2 or more defendants have to agree to a plot involving someplace or someone.  That never happened in this case.  The government admitted that there was no evidence that the defendants ever discussed the plot with each other.  All 5 were arrested and at trial the judge said that millions had been spent on the case and “the lack of evidence doesn’t concern me.”  Duka also explained that all of the jury members were either in the army or had family members in the army.  Since they were personally involved in some way they should have been excluded.  The prosecution showed frightening jihad films.  All were convicted with some getting sentences of life plus 30 years.

The next 3 speakers, all lawyers, were Lynne Jackson from Project Salam, Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims (www.projectsalam.org), and Kathy Manley and Steve Downs who defended Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain from Albany, NY.  The agent provocateur in that case was the same person that was involved in the Newburgh 4 case, but using a different name this time.  He was facing a prison sentence for selling fake drivers licenses, there was 25 civil suits pending against him, and there was the possibility of him being deported to Pakistan where it is believed that he was wanted for murder.  The FBI was primarily interested in Yassin Aref, a local imam who spoke against the war and for Palestinian rights.  Mohammad Hossain was collateral damage.  The plot, as it was explained, was to get the men involved in purchasing a surface to air missile with money laundered through Hossain’s pizza business.  That would be used to shoot down a plane with the Pakistani UN ambassador on it.  Hossain needed a loan which was offered by the agent, and Aref, the imam, was asked to witness the loan, as is a Muslim custom.  The money used for the $5,000 loan supposedly came from money that was earned by selling weapons to terrorists.  There is no evidence that the men, especially Aref, knew anything about where the money came from or of the missile plot, but the fact of Aref witnessing the loan tied him to terrorists.  Both were arrested, convicted, and got 15 year prison sentences.

The next speaker was Faisal Hashmi, brother of Fahad Hashmi.  Fahad, a student and an activist in the Muslim community, has spent the past 3 years awaiting trial under conditions of extreme solitary confinement, the SAMs (Special Administrative Measures), because, they said he has a proclivity to violence even though he has never been arrested for anything.  He is accused of giving material aid to terrorists in the form of waterproof sox and ponchos that were briefly stored in his apartment by a guest, Junaid Barber, now a “cooperating witness” and the actual culprit. Barber is trying to reduce his sentence by giving names of people in several countries claiming that they are all co-conspirators.  Hashmi explained that his brother’s 1st amendment, constitutionally protected speeches and writings will be used against him at the trial.  Secret evidence that he has never seen or heard of will be used against him at the trial also.  There is concern that after 3 years of isolation his mental state will have deteriorated to the extent that he won’t be able to assist in his own defense.  Faisal concluded that the US government, including Obama, is trying to deny the humanity of the 2-3 million Muslims in this country.  The American people think that this is all part of a game plan to protect them, he said.

Noor, the daughter of Ghassan Elashi of the Holy Land Foundation, spoke next.  She began by lovingly and eloquently introducing her father as a truly decent and caring man, who had marched with Latino immigrants as they demanded their civil rights in Texas.  He was the son of a Palestinian woman evicted from Jaffa in 1948 during the Nakba, leaving her “heart and home.”  The 1st intifada deeply affected her father, he wanted to relieve the suffering of Palestinians, she said.  The Holy Land Foundation was established in 1989 – it first gained status for helping refugees from Bosnia, Albania, and Turkey.  It gave humanitarian aid in the US too, opening a food pantry in NJ, helping flood victims, and helping people after the Oklahoma City bombing.  It became the biggest Muslim charity in the US.  It also sent food, books, and medicine to Palestine.

Noor said her father had been under FBI surveillance since the 90’s.  A small group of NY politicians and Israeli lobbyists wanted the US Department of Justice to go after the Holy Land Foundation.  They wanted to keep Palestine weak and helpless, she added.  Three months after 9/11, after meeting with Ariel Sharon, Bush had the Holy Land Foundation closed, calling it an important step in the war on terror.  He said that it is used by Hamas to indoctrinate children to become suicide bombers.  The government went through thousands of wiretapped phone messages and thousands of pages of bookkeeping records but could not find a connection to Hamas.  Finally, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that no money had gone to Hamas but by giving humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people the Holy Land Foundation had enhanced the image of Hamas, which the Bush Administration considered a terrorist organization.  In 2007 the Holy Land Foundation, the most expensive case in US history, went on trial.  The prosecutors used an Israeli agent with the pseudonym “Avi” to testify.  Noor said that he claimed he could “smell Hamas.”  The prosecutors showed the jury films of suicide bombings and Palestinian children marching on a stage with fake grenades.  All completely unconnected to the Holy Land Foundation but intimidating and frightening to the jurors.  The Holy Land Fund was also accused of guilt by association, Elashi’s 2nd cousin’s husband was a member of Hamas.  After 2 months of testimony the jury couldn’t reach a decision.  In 2008 the government tried the case again and all were convicted.  Their sentence was 65 years in prison.  The prosecutor, James Jack, is now trying to have Elashi transferred to a Communications Management Unit (CMU) in a prison far from his family where he will be allowed very limited contact with his family.

The final speaker was to be Mauri Saalakhan, Director of the Peace and Justice Foundation in Washington, DC.  He said he wanted to lay a foundation by bringing some other voices to the table.  The first voice was that of Judge Bruce Wright because, he explained, there are striking parallels between the African-American experience of justice and what Muslims are going through today in America.  Reading from Wright’s book, “Black Robes, White Justice,” he quoted him as saying that “White judges refuse to see a color problem that lies deep within themselves and is the grotesque product of their daily lives from the time that they are born – white skin’s entitlement to privilege.”  The next voice chosen was that of Bill Kunstler.  Writing in “My Life as a Radical Lawyer”, years before 9/11, in a chapter titled ‘The Despised Muslim’, Kunstler wrote, “Today Muslims are the most hated group in America.  The moment a Muslim is accused of a crime the specter of terrorism is raised and everyone panics.”  SaalaKhan said, that pattern has existed for a very long time.  Vice President Quayle warned of a threat from the Muslim world and so did some in the Reagan Administration.  9/11 legitimized and deepened it.  Saalakhan also introduced the voice of Naomi Klein who wrote in her book “The Shock Doctrine”,  that any kind of national disaster puts people in a collective state of shock which some elements in the society take advantage of.  The shocked societies give up things that they would ordinarily fiercely protect.  And yet another voice, in 2007 Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in an article, “The war on terror has created a culture of fear in America.  The Bush Administration elevating these 3 words to a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11, has had a pernicious effect on American society, on American democracy, on America’s psyche, and on US standing in the world.  The damage these 3 words have done, a classic self-inflicted wound, is infinitely greater than any dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attack….”   Saalakhan added, after 9/11 160 sites were listed by congress as potential terror sites where attacks may occur.  By the end of 2003 the number went to 1,289 possible sites, 28,360 in 2004, 77,769 in 2005, and now 300,000 sites are on the list.  Ashcroft, he said, openly admitted profiling the Muslim community.  He thought that any Muslim male between the ages of 18 and 35 from a country where Al Qaida has a strong presence is under suspicion.  Ashcroft said that if he isn’t squeaky clean we will arrest him.  This is happening in case after case.  The “web of deceit” is expanding to include Muslim women, as in the case of Dr. Afia Siddiqui who was just convicted without any forensic evidence against her, and it will eventually include non-Muslims.  The prosecution of Lynne Stewart was a warning to lawyers, “Don’t cross a certain line.”  Mauri Saalakhan concluded by saying that we patriots should make our country live up to the better part of itself.  It is a moral imperative.  All of us need the courage to speak truth to power.  There is no neutral ground.  Everyone has to stand-up, speak out and push back.  Silence is not an option when our Bill of Rights is being eviscerated before our eyes.

At this point 3 members of the audience asked for a moment to speak.  One was a mother who spoke with the aid of a translator.  Holding up a picture of her son she described him as 18 years old, immature, and with brain defects.  In 2004 an agent kept visiting her son and showing him photographs of Muslims being abused in Palestine and Pakistan.  Graphic photos of rape and babies being cut out of their mothers.  The agent asked how he could see this and do nothing.  When he agreed to do what the agent asked him to (there were no specifics) he was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The other 2 speakers, young women weeping profusely, explained that they were the sister and fiancée of a young Albanian-American who was born and raised in Brooklyn.  He went to visit family is Kosovo and was seized there one morning on his way to the mosque.  He was charged with having weapons in the apartment he was staying at but said that they weren’t his and he knew nothing about them.  He was returned to the US where he is facing life in prison for conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and giving material support to terrorism.  The young women said that there is no evidence against him, only assumptions.

All of the people that spoke came to the front of the room to answer questions.  One of the group said that they were all a family.  It was a very emotional moment.  People were crying and hugging each other.  When asked what we could do about what was happening there were many answers: enlighten yourself, know what is going on, remember that you don’t have to speak to the FBI.  Some people get into trouble by saying something untrue to the FBI when they didn’t have to speak to them in the first place.  Know that there are provocateurs in the mosques and centers where young people gather.  Muslims have connections to other Muslims and know that genocide is going on, reactions are strong.  Responsible people in mosques should guide the people so they do not become involved in anything dangerous or stupid.  Also, the Muslim community should have ties to a good legal network.  One questioner asked why these preemptive prosecutions were taking place.  There were many answers to that question too.  It is being done to frighten and silence the Muslim community at a time that the US is involved in endless wars in the Middle East.  The political economy – individuals and corporations are making a lot of money as a result of these wars and don’t want any pressure for them to end.  Warmongers with religious zeal are hoping for a cataclysmic explosion in the Middle East that would bring about the long awaited rapture.  And, unfortunately, the Israel lobby is anti-Muslim and is pushing for war against Iran.

One speaker spoke of Cheney’s 1% Doctrine – if there is just a 1% chance of an attack occurring treat it as a certainty.  If there is a 1% possibility of someone becoming involved in a terrorist act he should be incarcerated even though there is no evidence of a crime occurring or being planned.  That is what preemptive prosecution is.  When examining these prosecutions we should be asking ourselves if there would have been a criminal act, or a plan, if no agent provocateurs had become involved.  The overwhelming answer in these cases seems to be no.  And that is what entrapment is about.
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3 Comments

  1. April 9, 2010 at 07:11

    […] ‘PREEMPTIVE PROSECUTIONS’ « Desertpeace. April 8th, 2010 | Category: Uncategorized | Comments are closed | […]

  2. April 20, 2010 at 00:48

    A correction. Lynne Jackson is most definitely NOT a lawyer. She volunteers her time with Project SALAM because she is outraged at what our corrupt government and the out of control secret police have been doing to the more vulnerable members of our society. And she volunteers because somebody has to try and save the US Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights from the shredder.

    How do I know this to be true? I’m her husband. So there.

  3. April 20, 2010 at 00:54

    A correction. Lynne Jackson is most definitely NOT a lawyer. She volunteers her time with Project SALAM because she is outraged at how our corrupt government and their out of control secret police are targeting the most vulnerable members of our society. And because someone has to do something to save the US Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights from the shredder.

    How do I know this? I’m her husband. So there.


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