Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sentencing statement of Tarek Mehanna

APRIL 12, 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

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 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, 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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