DHUL HIJJAH 1432 A.H.
(October 27. 2011)
My notes on the day of opening arguments in the case of Dr. Tarek Mehanna
Assalaamu Alaikum (Greetings of Peace):
I left home about 2:45 in the morning to begin
the roughly seven hour drive to Boston. Shortly
after entering the NJ Turnpike I had to pull into
one of the rest stops to give my body its rights
(I needed some rest:). I ended up arriving in
Boston around noon. When I walked into the
overflow courtroom the prosecutor was just
completing his opening argument to the jury. I
instinctively knew that I didn't miss anything consequential.
In all of these preemptive prosecution cases of
Muslims, names and faces change, but the
narrative is always the same i.e. guilt by
association (rreal or imagined), and guilt by
speech, with the occasional government paid
"informant" and/or agent-provocateur thrown in
for good measure! What interested me most, and
what I'm glad I was able to catch, was the
defense's opening argument. (How much fight would
the defense attorneys have in them?)
On this question I was pleased with what I saw.
Dr. Tarek Mehanna's attorney, J.W. Carney Jr.,
started out by thanking the jury for their
service. He then confessed that he and his team
knew that this would be a challenging case, and
that when he first saw the terrorism-related
charges he found them "scary." However, "after
getting to know Tarek and his family," and
understanding what the "law" is, he knew Tarek
was not guilty of the charges that were leveled against him.
Mr. Carney then proceeded to share some of the
Mehanna family's personal background. He noted
that Tarek's family immigrated to the U.S. to be
able to freely practice their religion and speak
their beliefs. He proceeded to share some of
Tarek's social past-times growing up, and the
decision he made after high school to go to
pharmacy college (an eight year commitment).
Carney spoke of how as a young man Tarek became
more curious about his religion, and what it
meant to be a Muslim in America. He became more
studious, and eventually began translating
Islamic texts. He became aware of the invasions
of Muslim countries and the oppression Muslims
suffered at different points in history. The
attorney referenced the late 20th century
conflicts in Bosnia and Chechnya, and the
internal struggles taking place in countries like Egypt.
He noted that when the attacks of September 11th
occurred, Tarek (like many other young Muslims)
was shocked and confused. He noted that Tarek
accepted the legitimacy of America's military
campaign in Afghanistan, but felt the attack on Iraq was unwarranted.
(On a personal note, an objective review of
history and the available facts would suggest
that America's actions in Afghanistan were not
justified, nor legitimate, either.)
Carney then stated to the jury that, "I'm not
here to argue the legitimacy of Tarek's view. I'm
here to argue that he had a right to that view,
and he had a right to openly express that view."
He then alluded to his own generations' similar response to Vietnam.
He noted again that beyond his political views,
Tarek was obsessed with learning classical Arabic
and Islamic law; of how he wanted to understand
his religion on a much deeper level; and, as a
result, of how he had evolved into a young scholar.
He spoke of how Tarek had endeavored to go to
Yemen to study the language; of how Yemen had a
worldwide reputation for the study of the Arabic
language and Islamic law. He also spoke of how to
of Tarek's acquaintances abu Sama annd Karim
wanted to go to Yemen for different reasons (i.e. for jihad).
He spoke of how abu Sama, Karim and Tarek set out
for a journey to Yemen. Karim had to abruptly
return home before his arrival, leaving Abu Sama
and Tarek to complete the journey by themselves.
Tarek made this trip to Yemen during his semester
break, and returned home to resume his studies
(abu-Sama reportedly traveled on to Iraq to fight).
The lawyer spoke of how Tarek became more
outspoken about America's involvement in Iraq
while emphasizing the point that in openly
voicing his criticism he was exercising his first
amendment right! "What he did was perfectly
legal," the lawyer argued. "Independent
advocacy" of what some might consider subversive beliefs is not illegal.
In noting Tarek's openly stated admiration for
Osama bin Laden, Carney noted how Tarek saw Osama
as a committed Muslim who was willing to spend
his wealth for the cause of Muslim uplift and
of how Osama was once viewed as a "freeedom
fighter" by our own government. (This was during
the time of the Reagan administration, and the
former Soviet Union's brutal occupation of Afghanistan.)
Carney emphsized that the documents and videos
that Tarek downloaded and collected from jihadi
websites were perfectly legal; and mentioned how
Tarek became upset by much of what he saw. A very
important point was made by the attorney when he
stated how at one point a request was made of
Tarek (by a representative of al-Qaeda) to
translate a jihadi video, but Tarek declined to
do so. He also noted how he was "kicked out" of
one of the online chat-rooms (I believe), because
he was viewed as too moderate.
He then encouraged the jury to not just look at
the first half of what the government says about
this prosecution, "but look at the whole picture in its entirety."
Tarek did nothing because al-Qaeda was directing
him, or paying him, or encouraging him to do so,
he argued. "If the evidence shows Tarek Mehanna
was independently advocating his own views, you
must find him innocent of the charges brought against him."
Carney told the jury that Tarek's (quasi
"Muslim") accusers have immunity from
prosecution for what they are willing to do in
this case (as government witnesses against Tarek).
Another interesting point made by the defense
attorney was when he noted, the only place that
al-Qaeda hates more than Israel and the United
States is Saudi Arabia; and this is where Tarek
was going to live and work before he was arrested.
He concluded his opening to the jury by
emphasizing the freedoms - of conscience and
speech -that make America what it is on the
positive side of contemporary history (contradictions aside).
El-Hajj Mauri Saalakhan
Some closing thoughts:
I strongly encourage Muslims in the New England
area (who are able to do so) to attend as much of
this trial as you possibly can; for not only
would you be fulfilling an obligation to a good,
committed Muslim brother (and family) in need,
you will also avail yourselves of a good
education. I would encourage Muslim educators in
the Boston area to plan a field trip to the
courtroom for some of your more mature students;
and upon their return, allow this case to be the
source of valuable classroom discussion.
In a case such as this, students can acquire
valuable insights on: (a) how the federal
judiciary works; (b) some of the challenges that
Muslims are being confronted with today; (c) and
the importance of good, clear, non-reactionary decision making.
It would also serve the interest of Muslim
"leaders," and other Muslims of influence, to
visit trials such as this (as a good example is
the best teacher). There is a huge difference
between belief that is articulated by the tongue,
and belief that is practiced by the truly committed believer.
And finally, in my brief comments to the
assembled media outside the courthouse (and there
were many), I encouraged them to be fair and
responsible in their coverage. There is a
tendency (sometimes deliberate, sometimes
unconscious) among many reporters to favor the government's narrative.
How do you assess the Boston Globe article below?
Prosecutors say Mehanna supported terrorists;
defense cites freedom of speech
10/27/2011 3:17 PM
Members of Occupy Boston walked from their
encampment at Dewey Square to the federal
courthouse, where they staged a protest on behalf of Mehanna
By Milton J. Valencia and Martin Finucane, Globe Staff
A young man from Sudbury answered Osama bin
Laden's call to arms, seeking terrorist training
in Yemen, then becoming a propagandist for Al
Qaeda in 2006 from his "cushy" suburban home, a federal prosecutor said today.
Tarek Mehanna of Sudbury "began translating jihad
material ... material that would encourage others
to participate in jihad, which was itself a
service to Al Qaeda," federal prosecutor Aloke
Chakravarty said in opening statements at
Mehanna's trial in US District Court in Boston.
But Mehanna's attorney, J.W. Carney Jr.,
displaying pictures to the jury of a young
Mehanna playing guitar and sitting on Santa's
lap, said his client was "a young man his mom could be very proud of."
He acknowledged that his client, who had grown
more interested in his Muslim background, was
angry about the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But he told the jury Mehanna shouldn't be
punished for his views. "I'm not here to convince
you to believe that his view and the view of
millions of others was correct. ... I am asking
you to find that you can hold that view in the
United States of America even if the government
does not want you to hold that view."
"We can hold onto these views, and we can speak
them, even if it's what upsets the United States
government," he said. "It's what makes the
United States so great, so strong, and so free."
Mehanna, 29, a popular young leader in the area's
Muslim community who received a doctorate from
the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health
Sciences, faces life in prison if convicted on
charges of conspiring to support Al Qaeda and to
kill in a foreign territory and of lying to FBI investigators.
Prosecutors say he traveled to Yemen in 2004 in
search of terrorism training. He did not succeed
in finding it, but he allegedly returned
determined to help Al Qaeda by translating Arabic
texts promoting violent jihad and distributing them to others on the Internet.
One of the documents translated by Mehanna was
"39 Ways to Make Jihad," Chakravarty said in his
opening statement. "This is essentially training
material to get ready to serve and participate in
that fight," Chakravarty said.
As for the defense argument that Mehanna was
exercising his free speech rights, Chakravarty
said, "This case is not about what the defendant
believed, whether he was against the war, whether
he didn't like America. .... What you can't do is
something the law forbids ... and that's why he is in this courtroom today."
Chakravarty also showed a picture of Mehanna
taken during a visit to Ground Zero, in which
Mehanna is striking a happy pose. "He was going
to celebrate what happened on that day," Chakravarty said.
Carney, the defense lawyer, countered that
Mehanna had gone to Yemen not to join terrorists,
but to study. Mehanna was interested in
15th-century Arabic law and wanted to learn pure Arabic, Carney said.
As for Mehanna's translation of jihadist
documents, Carney said, "He wanted others to
understand the point of view, so he translated documents."
On a final note: I want to congratulate the Tarek
Mehanna Support Committee for the excellent work
these committed souls did in turning out very
visible support in and outside the courthouse!
When you have a large crowd of people (Muslims
and non-Muslims) standing outside in the rain
chanting support for a Muslim political prisoner,
it conveys a strong message of resistance to the powers-that-be.
May the struggle continue!
Saturday, October 29, 2011
DHUL HIJJAH 1432 A.H.