The Real Criminals

In one of the most egregious violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech seen in quite some time, Tarek Mehanna, an American Muslim, was convicted this week in a federal court in Boston and then sentenced to 17 years in prison. – – – Glenn Greenwald

Tarek Mehanna’s Sentencing statement Read to Judge O’Toole during his sentencing, April 12, 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 be 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 but 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.

Courtesy: Glenn Greenwald

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Pity The Nation

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Judge Supreme Court of Pakistan, while agreeing with the decision of the court, wrote additional remarks depicting the state of the nation and reminding people of their duty to the Country. I am copying a very effective poetic part of it. Complete version can be seen here.

3. With an apology to Khalil Gibran, and with reference to the present context, I may add as follows:

Pity the nation that achieves nationhood in the name of a religion but pays little heed to truth, righteousness and accountability which are the essence of every religion.

Pity the nation that proclaims democracy as its polity but restricts it to queuing up for casting of ballots only and discourages democratic values.

Pity the nation that measures honour with success and respect with authority, that despises sublime and cherishes mundane, that treats a criminal as a hero and considers civility as weakness and that deems a sage a fool and venerates the wicked.

Pity the nation that adopts a Constitution but allows political interests to outweigh constitutional diktat.

Pity the nation that demands justice for all but is agitated when justice hurts its political loyalty.

Pity the nation whose servants treat their solemn oaths as nothing more than a formality before entering upon an office.

Pity the nation that elects a leader as a redeemer but expects him to bend every law to favour his benefactors.

Pity the nation whose leaders seek martyrdom through disobeying the law than giving sacrifices for the glory of law and who see no shame in crime.

Pity the nation that is led by those who laugh at the law little realizing that the law shall have the last laugh.

Pity the nation that launches a movement for rule of law but cries foul when the law is applied against its bigwig, that reads judicial verdicts through political glasses and that permits skills of advocacy to be practised more vigorously outside the courtroom than inside.

Pity the nation that punishes its weak and poor but is shy of bringing its high and mighty to book.

Pity the nation that clamours for equality before law but has selective justice close to its heart.

Pity the nation that thinks from its heart and not from its head.

Indeed, pity the nation that does not discern villainy from nobility.

Historic Judgment

Here are the concluding paragraphs or the Historic Judgment in contempt of court case against Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani. It is historic because Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani is the first ever chief executive of any country who has been punished for contempt of the court. Complete judgment can be seen here.

68. After finding the factual allegations against the accused to have been established beyond reasonable doubt, we now advert to some legal aspects regarding his guilt and punishment. We note in this context that key words used in the Charge were “willfully flouted”, “disregarded” and “disobeyed” which find a specific mention not only in Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Court Ordinance (V of 2003) defining “civil contempt” but also in Section 3 of the said Ordinance defining “Contempt of Court”. The said Ordinance V of 2003 derives its authority from Article 204(3) of the Constitution, Article 204(2) of the Constitution itself empowers this Court to punish a person for committing “Contempt of Court” and the above mentioned words used in the Charge framed against the accused also stand sufficiently covered by the provisions of Article 204(2) of the Constitution. It is pertinent to mention here that Section 221, Cr.P.C. dealing with Charge and its forms clarifies that a Charge is to state the offence and if the offence with which an accused is charged is given a specific name by the relevant law then the offence may be described in the Charge “by that name only”. According to Section 221, Cr.P.C. “If the law which creates the offence does not give it any specific name, so much of the definition of the offence must be stated as to give the accused notice of the matter with which he is charged”. It is further provided in Section 221, Cr.P.C. that “The law and section of the law against which the offence is said to have been committed shall be mentioned in the charge”. In the case in hand not only the name of the offence, i.e. contempt of court had been specified in the Charge framed against the accused but even the relevant Constitutional and legal provisions defining contempt of court had been mentioned in the Charge framed. According to Section 221(5), Cr.P.C. the fact that the Charge is made in the terms noted above “is equivalent to a statement that every legal condition required by law to constitute the offence charged was fulfilled in the particular case”.

69. We further note that even if a Charge framed against an accused for committing contempt of court is established before a court still for finding him guilty or for punishing him, even after establishing of his culpability, the provisions of Section 18 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance (V of 2003) require the following satisfactions to be recorded by the Court:
“18. Substantial detriment.- (1) No person shall be found guilty of contempt of court, or punished accordingly, unless the court is satisfied that the contempt is one which is substantially detrimental to the administration of justice or scandalizes the court or otherwise tends to bring the court or Judge of the court into hatred or ridicule.
(2) In the event of a person being found not guilty of contempt by reason of sub-section (1) the court may pass an order deprecating the conduct, or actions, of the person accused of having committed contempt.”

70. These provisions of the Contempt of Court Ordinance clearly show that despite his culpability having been established, a Court seized of a matter of contempt is not to hold the offender guilty or punish him for every trivial contempt committed and it is only a grave contempt having the effects mentioned in Section 18(1) that may be visited with a finding of guilt or punishment. It is important to note in this context that the satisfaction of the Court mentioned in section 18(1) regarding gravity of the contempt is to be adverted to by it after commission of the contempt is duly established and such satisfaction of the Court is neither an ingredient of the offence nor a fact to be proved through evidence. In our considered opinion such satisfaction is purely that of the Court concerned keeping in view the nature of the contempt found to have been committed, its potential regarding detrimental effect upon administration of justice or scandalizing the Court and its tendency to bring the Court or the Judge into hatred or ridicule. At such stage the contempt of Court attributed to the offender already stands established and assessment of the tendency of the contempt to possibly create the above mentioned detrimental effects is thereafter to be undertaken by the Court for its own satisfaction in order to decide whether to convict or punish the offender or not and such satisfaction based upon judicially assessed possible effects is not to be based upon proofs or evidence to be produced during the trial. However, if the Court is not satisfied about the above mentioned detrimental effects then despite the contempt having been established and proved, it may not convict or punish the offender and may resort to merely deprecating the conduct or actions of the accused in terms of Section 18(2) of the Ordinance. We may also add that the satisfactions of the Court contemplated by Section 18(1) of the Ordinance are the minimum thresholds to be crossed and there is no limit upon a Court regarding not recording satisfaction in respect of any graver detriment or tendency made possible by the conduct or actions of an offender. In the case in hand the accused is the highest Executive functionary of the State of Pakistan and he has willfully, deliberately and persistently defied a clear direction of the highest Court of the country. We are, therefore, fully satisfied that such clear and persistent defiance at such a high level constitutes contempt which is substantially detrimental to the administration of justice and tends not only to bring this Court but also brings the judiciary of this country into ridicule. After all, if orders or directions of the highest court of the country are defied by the highest Executive of the country then others in the country may also feel tempted to follow the example leading to a collapse or paralysis of administration of justice besides creating an atmosphere wherein judicial authority and verdicts are laughed at and ridiculed.

71. It may be mentioned that the learned counsel for the Respondent in his written submissions brought on the record at the end of his oral arguments had specifically adverted to the provisions of section 18 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance and, thus, he was fully aware of the applicability and implications of the said legal provision vis-à-vis the case against him. It is, however, another thing that throughout his oral arguments and submissions the learned counsel for the accused had failed to utter even a single word on the subject. The Respondent was put on notice through Option No.2 in the order dated 10.01.2012 (Ex.P22) of the possible consequences of non-compliance of this Court‟s direction and the relevant portion of that order reads:
“5. This brings us to the actions we may take against willful disobedience to and non-compliance of some parts of the judgment rendered and some of the directions issued by this Court in the case of Dr. Mobashir Hassan (supra). This Court has inter alia the following options available with it in this regard:
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………It may not be lost sight of that, apart from the other consequences, by virtue of the provisions of clauses (g) and (h) of Article 63(1) read with Article 113 of the Constitution a possible conviction on such a charge may entail a disqualification from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) or a Provincial Assembly for at least a period of five years.”

72. For the above reasons we convicted and sentenced the Respondent by short order on 26.04.2012, as follows:
“For reasons to be recorded later, the accused Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, Prime Minister of Pakistan/Chief Executive of the Federation, is found guilty of and convicted for contempt of court under Article 204(2) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 read with section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance (Ordinance V of 2003) for willful flouting, disregard and disobedience of this Court‟s direction contained in paragraph No. 178 of the judgment delivered in the case of Dr. Mobashir Hassan v. Federation of Pakistan (PLD 2010 SC 265) after our satisfaction that the contempt committed by him is substantially detrimental to the administration of justice and tends to bring this Court and the judiciary of this country into ridicule.

2. As regards the sentence to be passed against the convict we note that the findings and the conviction for contempt of court recorded above are likely to entail some serious consequences in terms of Article 63(1)(g) of the Constitution which may be treated as mitigating factors towards the sentence to be passed against him. He is, therefore, punished under section 5 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance (Ordinance V of 2003) with imprisonment till the rising of the Court today.”