My Tortured Journey With Former Guantanamo Detainee David Hicks

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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David Hicks, author of “Guantanamo: My Journey.” (Image: Random House Australia)

I’ve been struggling these past few weeks.

I read a book written by a former Guantanamo detainee named David Hicks titled “Guantanamo: My Journey.” It’s a powerful and heartbreaking memoir and it made a profound impact on me emotionally.

I interviewed Hicks after I read his book. We spoke about a half-dozen times over the past two months. This is the first interview he’s granted since he was released from the “least worst place” in 2007.

Hicks is the Australian drifter who converted to Islam, changed his name to Muhammed Dawood and ended up at training camps in Afghanistan the US government said was linked to al-Qaeda, one of which was visited by Osama bin Laden several times. Hicks was picked up at a taxi stand by the Northern Alliance in November 2001 and sold to US forces for about $1,500. Hicks was detainee 002, the second person processed into Guantanamo on January 11, 2002, the day the facility opened.

Hicks was brutally tortured. Psychologically and physically for four years, maybe longer. He was injected in the back of his neck with unknown drugs. He was sodomized with a foreign object. He spent nearly a year in solitary confinement. He was beaten once for ten hours. He was threatened with death. He was placed in painful stress positions. He was subjected to sleep deprivation. He was exposed to extremely cold temperatures, loud music and strobe lights designed to disorient his senses. He was interrogated on a near daily basis.

I’ve been obsessed with the torture and rendition program since details of it first surfaced nearly a decade ago. I’m not exactly sure why I’m so fascinated and outraged by every tiny detail, every new document dump or why I chase every new lead as if I were paparazzi trying to get a shot of Lindsay Lohan. What I do know is that there’s something about the crimes committed by the Bush administration in our name that haunts me.

I have never spoken to a former detainee before I phoned Hicks at his home in Sydney, Australia, a few days before the New Year. There was something surreal about listening to Hicks’ voice as he described his suffering in painstaking detail. Maybe it was the fact that there was a real person on the other end of the receiver and not just a name on a charge sheet. I found it incredibly difficult to separate the reporter from the human being once Hicks stopped speaking. Before I hung up the phone after our first conversation, I told Hicks I was sorry.

“I’m sorry my government tortured you, David,” I said.

“Thanks, mate,” Hicks said, his voice cracking.

What I’ve been grappling with was how to tell Hicks’ story. I’ve truly been at a loss for words. I had to dig deep to figure out why I felt it was too painful to sit in front of a blank computer screen to think about what I wanted to write. Here’s what I discovered: I empathized with Hicks and, perhaps more than anyone, I understood how the then-26-year-old ended up in Afghanistan associating with jihadists a decade ago.

Five years ago, I published my memoir, “News Junkie,” and, like Hicks, I too was brutally honest about my own feelings of alienation, my battle with drug and alcohol addiction, a desire for attention, a desperate need to belong and a terrible choice I made in my early 20s to ingratiate myself with a couple of made members of a New York City crime family.

Admitting that I share some things in common with Hicks scares me. It’s another reason I believe I felt paralyzed.

I wanted to approach this as a straight news story and simply report that Hicks was tortured, that he was abandoned by his country, used as a political pawn by Australia’s former Prime Minister John Howard in his bid for reelection and forced to plead guilty to a charge of providing material support for terrorism in order to finally be freed from Guantanamo. But I’ve written so many of those reports and all of them end with a shrug here, some outrage there and no one being held accountable.

So, I’ve made the decision that I would expose my own vulnerability and tell you how my interview with the man dubbed the “Australian Taliban” has weighed heavily on my mind. I still cannot comprehend what could drive a human being to torture another human being. Hicks said he knew the answer. At Guantanamo, “torture was driven by anger and frustration.”

“It seemed like a mad fruitless quest to pin crimes on detainees, to extract false confessions and produce so-called intelligence of value,” Hicks told me. “The guards were desensitized and detainees dehumanized. Soldiers were not allowed to engage us in conversation. They were told to address us by number only and not by name. They were constantly drilled with propaganda about how much we supposedly hated them and wanted them dead and how much they needed to hate us. On occasion, when some groups of soldiers jogged around the camp perimeters I heard them sing lyrics such as, ‘you hate us and we hate you.’ One time in the privacy of Camp Echo a male soldier broke down when we were alone repeating, ‘what have I become’ after having arrived from an interrogation of a detainee in another camp.”

Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo Military Policeman (MP), who escorted Hicks off the bus at Camp X-Ray the day Guantanamo opened, said some soldiers tortured detainees because they wanted revenge for 9/11. He said that’s the message that was passed down from above.

“We were told (by superior officers) all of the detainees, including Hicks, were the ones who planned 9/11 or had something to do with it,” Neely said in an interview. “We were told over and over and over that all these guys were caught fighting Americans on the front lines and at any given time if we turned our back on them they would kill us in a heartbeat. We were told that everyday before we went to work inside the camps. After a while, the attitude was ‘who cares how we treated the detainees.’”

A day before he left Fort Hood, Texas, for Guantanamo, Neely said his unit was told “by the company commander, the colonel and platoon sergeant that these people were not Prisoners of War. They were detainees and the Geneva Conventions would not be in effect.”

George W. Bush did not formally rescind Geneva Conventions protections for “war on terror” detainees until February 7, 2002.

Neely told me a remarkable story about the hours before Hicks arrived at Camp X-Ray that underscores how impressionable he and his fellow soldiers were and how the US government conditioned its military personnel to view detainees as animals.

“When Hicks’ bus got to Camp X-Ray we were told this guy was a mercenary, he was fighting Americans and we had to be real careful around him, Neely said. “We were actually told Hicks tried to bite through the hydraulic cables on the C-130 en route to Guantanamo. So everyone was on edge.”

Neely was 21 when he was sent to Guantanamo. On June 2, 2002, his 22nd birthday, Neely received an “achievement medal” for “exceptional meritorious service while serving as a Military Policeman (MP) in support of Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

Nearly seven years later, Neely went public and revealed details about the abuses he witnessed and one that he participated in while he was at Guantanamo. Like Hicks, who Neely said reminded him “of a guy I would have just gone out and have a beer with,” he has been suffering all of these years. It was as if he was being tortured every time he saw or heard about a detainee being beaten or worse during the six months he worked at the prison facility. I can feel his pain.

Neely’s a cop in Houston now. He’s got a wife and three kids. He told me, “there has not been a day that goes by that I have not re-lived what I did or saw in Guantanamo.” Hicks reached out to Neely last year after he saw him on a BBC special. Neely had flown to London to meet a couple of former British detainees he used to guard and to apologize for the way they were treated. He and Hicks are pretty close now.

I asked Hicks if he could describe the facial expressions of his tormentors while he was being tortured and if he recalled how they reacted to his pain.

“Usually the guards seemed cold and indifferent,” Hicks said. “They deployed a just doing my job attitude, such as when they chained me to the floor in stress positions or made me sleep directly on a metal or concrete floor in a very cold air-conditioned room in only a pair of shorts. However some soldiers displayed discomfort and embarrassment. Usually guards were only used to restrain detainees, move them about, or help in the background with equipment. It was the interrogators who did the dirty work, expressing, hatred and frustration. At times soldiers did participate directly in beatings however, such the beatings I received before I arrived in GTMO (in Afghanistan, in transit, or when I was rendered to the two naval ships before being sent to Guantanamo). These soldiers made a sport of it.

“I was beaten by US forces the first time I saw them and realized straight away that torture was going to be a reality. It was very scary. As I say in my book, I could not help thinking of the saying, ‘like trying to get blood from a stone and I was afraid of becoming that stone.’”

There’s a harrowing section in Hicks’ book where he describes how he had given up all hope after years of detention and abuse and planned to commit suicide.

“I was desperate; there was no other way out,” Hicks wrote.

Those words. I’ve uttered them before. I’ve written them. I know what that kind of desperation feels like. I ask Hicks if we could talk about it, but there’s silence on the other end of the receiver.

“Hello? You still there, David?” I said.

“Yeah mate.”

I didn’t press him. Maybe he was having a flashback. Perhaps he didn’t want to talk about it. I decided to end our conversation.

“Let’s catch up later in the week. We covered a lot of ground.”

“Cheers, mate,” David said and hung up.

I had a knot in my stomach. I had a hard time sleeping for the next few nights. I could not focus on anything but the images in my mind of a helpless Hicks being tormented. It made me realize that one can never comprehend the extent of someone’s pain and suffering until we hear about it first hand. I would get out of bed during those sleepless nights and walk into my son’s room and just stare at him sleeping in his crib. There was something about that image of pure innocence that was soothing to me.

One afternoon, a couple of hours after another session on the phone with Hicks, I took my son to school. As I stood in the background and watched him interact with about 30 other two-year-old boys and girls, tears began streaming down my cheeks. I had not expected to be overcome with so much emotion. I’m embarrassed admitting that I was. Unsure of what was happening at first, I touched my eyes thinking that perhaps something else was coming out of the tear ducts. I didn’t spend much time thinking about what I was feeling at that moment. But, in hindsight, I believe I was coming to terms with how we all eventually lose our innocence. Something about that seems tragic to me. It reminds me of a passage in another memoir, “The Ticking Is the Bomb,” by Nick Flynn, who wrote about his own obsession with the Bush administration’s torture program.

“Here’s a secret: Everyone, if they live long enough, will lose their way at some point. You will lose your way, you will wake up one morning and find yourself lost. This is a hard, simple truth.”

Not surprisingly, the Pentagon has vehemently denied Hicks’ torture claims. In 2007, as a condition of his guilty plea and release from Guantanamo, the US government forced him to sign a document stating that he had “never been treated illegally.” Hicks, who was the first detainee sentenced under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, said he is also “not allowed to challenge or collaterally attack my conviction, seek compensation or other remedies, or sue anyone for my illegal imprisonment and treatment.”

What makes Hicks’ story all the more tragic is how badly he’s been vilified by Australian media since his book was published. Reporters doubt he’s being truthful and they have questioned the veracity of his claims about being tortured. But those same outfits treat Howard’s characterization of Hicks as gospel and refuse to acknowledge that their former prime minister actually urged the Bush administration to charge Hicks with a war crime, despite a lack of evidence, because Hicks “had unexpectedly become a political threat,” according [7] to Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman,

Gellman, author of a book on Dick Cheney titled “Angler,” wrote that Howard, “under pressure from home,” met with Cheney during the vice president’s trip to Sydney in February 2007, where the two discussed Iraq, and told Cheney, “there must be a trial ‘with no further delay’ for David Hicks who was beginning his sixth year at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay.”

“Five days later, Hicks was indicted as a war criminal,” Gellman wrote. “On March 26 [2007], he pleaded guilty to providing ‘material support’ for terrorism. Shortly after Cheney returned from Australia, the Hicks case died with a whimper. The U.S. government abruptly shifted its stance in plea negotiations, dropping the sentence it offered from 20 years in prison to nine months if Hicks would say that he was guilty.”

“Only the dramatic shift to lenience, said Joshua Dratel, one of three defense lawyers, resolved the case in time to return Hicks to Australia before Howard” faced re-election in 2007, Gellman reported.

Hicks’ plea deal prohibited him from speaking to the media for a year. That’s how Howard dealt with this “political threat.” But justice was poetic when Howard lost his bid for another term in office.
Hicks’ plea deal, “negotiated without the knowledge of the chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, was supervised by Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority over military commissions. Crawford received her three previous government jobs from then-Defense Secretary Cheney – she was appointed as his special adviser, Pentagon inspector general and then judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.”

Political interference in Hicks’ case, however, began even earlier. Davis, who resigned as chief prosecutor from military commissions at Guantanamo over the government’s handling of terrorism cases, revealed that a day after US officials met with the Australian ambassador to the United States in early January 2007, Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes called him up and asked, ‘how quickly can you charge David Hicks?’ even though at the time he had no regulations for trial by military commissions.”

Davis would later say that Hicks should not have been charged. Stephen Kenny, one of Hicks’ former attorneys, said that “it has always been my position that [Hicks] never committed any crime.”

“We looked at Australian law, international law and Afghani law and we were unable to identify any breach of those laws, Kenny said. The law that he eventually pleaded guilty to [material support for terrorism] was not actually an international war crime at all. In fact it was a crime that didn’t exist.”

Recently, the Australian government entered into a secret financial settlement with Mahmoud Habib, another Australian citizen abandoned by the Howard administration. Habib was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 and rendered to Egypt where he said he was brutally tortured for seven months before being he ended up at Guantanamo. Habib was released in 2005 and was never charged with a crime, but he sued the Australian government after he got out, claiming it was complicit in his torture.

Hicks said if he were offered a similar financial settlement he wouldn’t turn it down. But what he really wants is the Australian government “to formally recognize that the 2006 Military Commissions Act was unfair” and designed simply to obtain guilty pleas.

“The Australian government has acknowledged that I have never hurt anyone or committed a crime under Australian law, so the least they can do is formally recognize my conviction as null and void,” Hicks said.

Although the Pentagon and the Australian government continue to deny Hicks was tortured, at least one former Guantanamo military guard said he was.

“David Hicks was tortured, no doubt,” said Albert Melise, who has never spoken publicly before, in several video chats we had via Skype. “Solitary confinement is torture and I think what it did to David’s mind is torture. Would you want to be in a windowless room 23 hours a day?”

But Melise said he didn’t witness any of Hicks’ physical torture or his interrogations. He only knows what Hicks told him. But, “being a cop and having experience separating what’s true and false,” he believes Hicks was being truthful.

“His [physcial] torture did not happen when I reached his camp,” Melise said. “He cut deals so [the torture] would stop. David is one of those people who was easily manipulated [into making false confessions]. He was an easy target for the interrogators. They knew they could break him mentally and physically and they did.”

Melise, 40, was a housing officer in the city of Boston when his Army reserve unit was activated and he was shipped off to Guantanamo to work as an MP.

Melise’s job duties called for him to escort detainees held in Camp Delta to their interrogations where he would “chain them down” to the floor or chair “knowing what [the detainees were] going to go through.”

The detainees sat there for hours in stressful positions while Melise stood behind a one-way mirror and watched their interrogations and waited for it to come to an end. He was present when detainees were slapped, when the temperature in the interrogation room was turned down real low and the volume on the music was turned up to excruciatingly loud levels and when the strobe lights were flicked on, part of the standard operating procedure designed to break the detainees and make them feel as uncomfortable as possible.

“That’s torture,” Melise said.

But I wanted Melise to tell me what happened in those rooms after the interrogators started questioning the detainees.

“Please don’t ask me about those things,” Melise said. “I saw a lot and I still have nightmares over it. I’ve seen these guys cry.”

I wondered if Melise bore witness to any of the horrific pictures my mind created during that split-second gap in our conversation.

“O.K. I understand,” I told Melise “I won’t go there. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m a good soul and I was put in a horrible place,” Albert said.

“I know you are,” I told him. “Well, how about this. Can you tell me what you saw in the detainees’ eyes?

“Sadness,” Melise said. “Like they could not believe the Americans are putting them through that. It was an emotional look. I’ll never forget it.”

Melise hated his job. He started drinking.

“Baccardi 151,” he said. “Two bottles a night.”

He said, “when you see people broken down so much you tend to drink a little to cope with what you’re seeing. I couldn’t deal with what they were putting me through.”

Melise said “fake” detainees were planted at Camp Delta to try and gather intelligence from the “real” detainees. He said he knew they were “fake” because they were “placed in cells for two or three months and then they would pretend to be going to another camp for interrogations.” But, “I would see them shopping, dancing or ordering a sandwich or hanging out at McDonald’s during that time.” Then the “fake” detainees would return to their cells.

He said detainees were also bribed with prostitutes as incentive to get them to work as agents for the US government. He said there was a camp at Guantanamo that just housed children, some of who were as “young as 12 and over 8” years old, called Camp Iguana.

“One of my buddies worked there,” Melise said. “Sick.”

There was also a camp where CIA interrogators worked out of called Secret Squirrel.

Eventually, Melise asked for a transfer.

“I begged them to get me out of there,” Melise said. “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Albert, do you know what would make a human being torture another human being?” I asked him.

“I don’t have the answer,” he said, shaking his head. “It takes a really disturbed individual to torture someone. That’s not me. I didn’t sign up for that. I couldn’t live with myself and I couldn’t drink it away.”

So, Melise was transferred to Camp 4 for a few weeks and in December 2003 landed at Camp Echo. That’s where he met Hicks, who was being held in complete isolation, and detainees from the UK who have since been released like Mozaam Begg or “Mo,” which is how Melise referred to him.

“Mo once cried in front of me and said he should become Christian,” said Melise, who has frequent Skype chats with Begg now and said the ex-detainee taught him how to play chess. “I told him to tighten up and stay with your heart. Fuck what’s happening now. You’ll pull through. I said ‘don’t question your faith. Don’t think you need to change.’ He once told me I was not like the other soldiers, something shined in me that he could not explain.”

At Camp Echo, Melise said he “redeemed” himself.

“I let [the detainees] out of their cells and just let them talk and hang out,” he said. “I knew it would help them mentally. I knew it would help them cope with many things they had gone through. I also gave up what I had. I gave them normal food from my lunch to eat, cigarettes, protein bars, whatever was mine was theirs. I could have gone to prison myself for doing that, believe me. But I know I did the right thing.”

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“For sympathetic reasons,” he said. “Because I sat in on interrogations. I wanted to give them a sense of humanity. Nobody deserves to be treated like that. They were not the ‘worst of the worst,’” a description placed upon the detainees by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “I’m an ex-cop and I can tell whose a criminal and who isn’t and a lot of these detainees I met were not terrorists.”

Melise told me he “likes getting this stuff off my chest” and I wanted to tell him that listening to him gave me a sense of hope and made me feel like maybe the dearth of compassion is not as widespread as I originally thought. But I held back.

Melise wanted Hicks to feel like he was back home in Australia, so he would sneak his handheld DVD player into Hicks’ cell, lock the door, and watch movies with him, such as “Mad Max,” which starred Mel Gibson. For Begg and the other British detainees Melise played “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels,” directed by British filmmaker Guy Ritchie.

“I figured if [Hicks] heard Mel Gibson’s accent he would feel like he was back in Australia,” Melise said. “And if Mo heard a British accent he would feel like he was home too.”

Melise kept that up for six months. Until June 2004.

I sent an email to Hicks asking him if he remembered Melise.

“I remember him well because he did what he could in that controlled high security environment to help slow the deterioration of my sanity for the few months I spent with him,” Hicks said. “I hope to gather enough funds so I can fly [Melise and Neely] to Australia to thank them personally and show my gratitude for their friendship and trust. I would like to show them my hospitality and my country and to show them how much I appreciate their past kindness and current bravery.”

Melise, who is married with a wife and son, is now studying to be a nurse “so I can really help people in the future.” He recently re-enlisted in the Army reserves for another three years.

I was about to end my interview with Melise, but I had one last question.

“Do you think David is a terrorist?”

“No,” Melise said. “I don’t think he’s a terrorist. I plan on visiting him one day. Why would I do that if I thought he was a terrorist?”

Melise got up from his chair and walked out of sight. He shouted, “Sit tight!” He said he wanted to show me something. It was a letter. He held it up to the video camera on his computer so I could read it.

“I took this with me when I left Guantanamo in ‘04,” Melise said. “It’s a letter David wrote that he asked me to send to his father.”

Melise never sent it. It was too risky, he said.

“I was worried that if someone found out I mailed it I would have been arrested,” Melise said.

Melise faxed a copy of the letter to me. Letters to and from detainees were reviewed by military personnel and were often redacted to remove, for example, emotional phrases such as a “I love you” and any other information the military deemed “sensitive.”

But this six-page letter, written in April 2004 as Hicks’ legal team was challenging the legality of the military commissions, is clean. It clearly shows the psychological torture Hicks had endured and how he was being coerced into pleading guilty to crimes the US government knew he did not commit. The letter is addressed to Hicks’ father, Terry Hicks, who waged a campaign in Australia and the US to raise awareness about his son’s plight.

Hicks wrote that he owed his life to Melise. He said the letter he sent to his father “is very important because it’s the first and probably only time I will be able to tell you the truth of my situation.”

“Before I start I want you to know that the negative things I am going to say has nothing to do with the MP’s that are watching me,” Hicks wrote. “Some of them are marvelous people who have taken risks to help improve my day to day living. It’s because of such people that I have kept my sanity and still have some strength left. In the early days before I made it to Cuba I received some harsh treatment in transportation including mild beatings (about 4). One lasted for 10 hours. I have always cooperated with interrogators. For two years they had control of my life in the camps. If you talk and just agree with what their saying they give you real food, books and other special privileges. If not they can make your life hell. I’m angry these days at myself for being so weak during these last two years. But I’ve always been so desperate to get out and to try to live the best I can while I’m here …”

Hicks wrote that he was being pressured into pleading guilty to a wide-range of war crimes charges and he feared that if he didn’t comply he would be sent to “camp 5,” a “very bad place with complete isolation.”

“They know that this is my worst nightmare,” Hicks wrote about the threat of being transferred to camp 5. “If I end up in there I will probably lose my sanity or crack” and plead guilty. “That’s what they want … Being in my current situation the deal is tempting but only in the last week I’ve decided I’m going to call their bluff and say that I’m gonna fight them. Only know [sic] do I feel like being strong and standing up for myself … I’m sick of writing you letters saying how good it is here. I’ve always done that because I’m afraid of what the authority’s [sic] may do to me. If I told you the reality they wouldn’t give you the information. I want to be able to make as much noise as possible. To let people know of what’s really happening here.”

Hicks then predicted his own future.

“Know that if I make a deal it will be against my will,” he wrote. “I just couldn’t handle it any longer. I’m disappointed in our government. I’m an Australian citizen. If I’ve committed a crime I can be man enough to accept the consequences but I shouldn’t have to admit to things I haven’t done or listen to people falsely accuse me. We can’t let them get away with it.”

I sent Hicks the letter. He said he doesn’t recall what he wrote. But he intends on giving it to his father.

“How were you able to survive?” I asked Hicks.

“I survived because I had no choice, as many of us may unfortunately experience at some time in our lives,” he said. “It was a psychological battle, a serious and dangerous one. It was a constant struggle not to lose my sanity and go mad. It would have been so easy just to let go: it offered the only escape.”

Like Melise, however, Hicks said he, too, still suffers from nightmares.

“I see myself having to begin the long process of imprisonment again accompanied with vivid feelings of hopelessness and no knowledge of the future or how long it will last,” Hicks said, describing his dreams. “The other dreams consist of gruesome medical experimentations too horrible to describe. Losing my personality, my identity, memories and self is much more frightening to me than any physical harm. It is these dreams that are the most common and terrifying.”

Hicks isn’t a practicing Muslim anymore. A couple of years ago, he got married – to a human rights activist named Aloysia. He also has a job working as a landscaper.

He said counseling has helped him, “but the passing of time has been just as helpful.”

“Being exposed to such a consuming environment for five and a half years leaves a stain that cannot be removed overnight,” Hicks said. “It will take longer to reverse the consequences but even so, some experiences, especially one so prolonged, can never be entirely forgotten.”

I had no idea how this story would end or what I would discover when I finally sat down at the computer and started to type. I now know that torture not only permanently scars the torture victim, but it also leaves its mark on everyone who comes in contact with that person.

Editor’s Note: Hicks’ book is not available for sale in the US. However, it can be ordered from online bookshops in Australia.

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The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality

By Naomi Wolf

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding.

Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”
In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first.

Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”.

Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum.

Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting  from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can’t suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.
Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

The Guardian (UK)

13-49

The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality

By Naomi Wolf

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding.

Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”
In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first.

Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”.

Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum.

Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting  from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can’t suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.
Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

The Guardian (UK)

13-49

Huda Graduates, Onward and Upward

November 17, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

PB150147
r-l:  Hossam Musa, Omar Mahmood, Abdelrahman Allam, Zac Saleh, Mohammad Rathur, Hassan Saleh, Moaz Sinan, Principal Azra Ali.

Huda School’s Class of 2008 are young Muslims with promising futures.  They are now in their senior years at local high schools and have been achieving academic excellence.  I interviewed six members of the 16-member class Tuesday night at Huda, and they recited their accomplishments.  Their ACT scores range from 26 to 35 (the maximum possible is 36), from the 86th percentile up to the 99th.  All except one have ACT scores above 30.  One has a GPA of 4.0, but that is not the highest GPA among them–one has a 4.2. 

They attend the best local secular private and public schools, such as the International Academy (IA), Detroit Country Day School (DCDS), and Lahser High School.  They hold leadership positions–one serves as the captain of his school’s basketball team.

One is a published poet. Two have received full scholarships at local universities.

All those I spoke with showed their love for friends and family through their familiarity with one another, and most by one telling decision. They mostly had a preference for attending university in Michigan–most of those present intended to attend the University of Michigan Ann Arbor–despite their all being likely successful candidates at very selective East coast or California universities.

Moaz Sinan, who earned a 32 on his ACT and attends the International Academy, expressed a desire to attend the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Abdelrahman Allam received a 31 on his ACT, has a 4.0 at Lahser High School.  He would like to go to Stanford but also applied to Ann Arbor.

Zac Saleh has a 4.2 average at IA.  He applied to Ann Arbor, Michigan State, and Wayne State. He received a 31 on his ACT.

Mohammed Rathur received a 26 on his ACT (which gives him a score in the high 80s percentile), attends DCDS, and plans to attend either the University of Michigan Ann Arbor or Michigan State.

The character among the group was Hassan Saleh, a young man with a full ride at Wayne State University–he would not give his GPA but he said that the average full ride at Wayne is a 3.83 GPA and 30 ACT. He has published 2 poems.  His family moved here from Palestine in 1983.

One standout from the graduating class was not present.  Tariq Akeel, the son of prominent local attorney Shereef Akeel, is, in the words of one of his classmates “the best soccer player ever to come from Detroit Country Day School.”  He was recruited by many Ivy League colleges, including Princeton, Yale, and Brown.

The Huda class of 2008 was unique in that they were all together for at least six years, most since kindergarten but all from at least 2nd grade through 8th.  They remain close, as was evidenced during my visit with them–the six of them joked playfully with one another during the entirety of my time with them.

They spoke highly of their time at Huda, and again and again the students referred to the character education they had received there.

“I miss touch football during recess, exploring the forest and swamp next to the school, collecting frogs and bringing them back to the lab,” said one.

They all studied Arabic during their time at Huda, and Hossam Musa, a trained hafiz who serves as the head of Huda’s Qur`an, Arabic and Islamic Studies (QAIS) program, explained that the students learn half a juz of Qur`an every year.  Some Huda students even take a break to attend the Tawheed Center’s Hifz school until they finish memorizing Qur`an, then return to their classes at Huda.

After Huda, the students go on to the best local schools.  The students explain that “About a dozen students from Huda are at DCDS,” and “about 20 at IA.”

“The non-Muslim kids know Huda is good.”

Mr. Musa has so much belief in his students that you can almost feel his love for them in his words.  “All you guys are at the top of your class–insha`Allah this will continue at the national level.” 

He compares the students to Steve Jobs, or the CEO of Domino’s.  “Keep up whatever you did in high school–continue through college–whatever you do, stay on the same track.”

The principal of Huda for the past four years is Azra Ali, a very bright young woman originally from Hyderabad, whose well-behaved children also attended the meeting. 
She speaks with great pride about Huda’s prominence.  “Huda is the first Islamic IB school in the Midwest.” 

In fact, although she does not mention that fact herself, Mrs. Ali was the one to bring Huda the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. 

She speaks highly of the quality of the Huda education, and of its staff.  On the mandatory state exams, she explains, “98% of the students test  proficient if not advanced.”

“QAIS is strong as well.”  She speaks highly of the moral lessons learned at the school, which begin with a group du’a every morning. 

There are 10 major character themes that Huda inculcates, and she explains that “this month was compassion, last month friendship, the previous month respect.”

What seems unique and enlightened in her approach, however, is that Huda inculcates belief in Islam and patriotism at the same time.  Both she and Hossam Musa explain that Huda tries to teach the students to be “patriotic but at the same time have a Muslim identity.”

They cite a recent Veteran’s Day observance, where the students focused on the achievements of veterans, as evidence.

The school is very diverse.  There are students from the Middle East and from South Asia, and also recently more African American Muslims.  “All together under a Muslim umbrella,” as Mrs. Ali puts it.

In fact what was most remarkable about the students was that one of the few that I met, and one I did not meet, took the time to write short but heartfelt notes about what they felt Huda had given them:

Below is the note from Abdelrahman Allam:

“Huda School did prepare us very well academically. I noticed that immediately freshman year that it was an easy transition academically. Yes I have a high GPA, and yes I did well on my ACT, Alhamdullilah, but those are things that anyone can learn to do. There are plenty of people who didn’t go to Huda School who were able to accomplish these things. The one thing you’ll notice about our class, and this is due to the environment we were taught in, is the strength of our character. It has allowed us to continue to be leaders. Walk into any Senior or even Junior class at some of our high schools and ask people to tell you about myself, or Zac, or [one other student]. You will only hear great things. The social transition was not a breeze. But our high character made it easy to adjust and have people see us as role models and people they want to get to know. This is what will determine our future success, not how well we do in school, but how we respect and elicit respect from others. We learned to do that at Huda School.”

Another Huda grad who could not be present but who sent some biographical information was Uzair Khan, who received a 35 on his ACT.  Mr. Khan wrote a brief essay which again emphasized the character building he experienced at Huda.

Khan explained that “[t]he best part about Huda School is the small grade size.  It allowed for many of us to enjoy our times at Huda, from playing basketball to the end of the year field trips to Cedar Point.  To this day, many of us former Huda students remain very close friends and I am sure that those bonds will never break throughout our life.”

13-47

Jordan’s Aqaba Port Thrives Amid Region’s Instability

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

2011-09-21T151251Z_1249690098_GM1E79L1S6H01_RTRMADP_3_JORDAN-PORT
2011-09-21T141512Z_01_BTRE78K13LI00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-JORDAN-PORT
2011-09-21T152533Z_1388484729_GM1E79L1S6Q01_RTRMADP_3_JORDAN-PORT

Immediately above:  Trucks transporting containers drive past the Port of Aqaba, 350 km (217 miles) south of Amman, September 18, 2011. It has not been as busy for a long while for vessel supervisor Mohammad Qassem, who is overseeing the loading of a commercial cargo ship that has just anchored in the sparkling blue waters of Jordan’s Aqaba port. Picture taken September 18, 2011.

REUTERS/Abraham Farajian

AQABA, Jordan (Reuters) – It has not been as busy for a long while for vessel supervisor Mohammad Qassem, who is overseeing the loading of a commercial cargo ship that has just anchored in the sparkling blue waters of Jordan’s Aqaba port.

“With all the problems around us, it’s amazing. These few months have been very active,” said Qassem, 49, near one of the port’s six large cranes at a berth that has become a huge construction site.
APM Terminals, part of the Danish A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, which won a 25-year contract to manage the port in 2006, has begun a $235 million investment to double the container terminal capacity’s to 1.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) by 2013.

“This will allow the port to reach new efficiency levels and enhance its role as a shipping hub for the Middle East and Levant,” said Soren Hansen, chief executive officer of Aqaba Container Terminal (ACT).

The fortunes of the port, which is wedged between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and is Jordan’s only outlet to the sea, have fluctuated from boom to bust over the last several decades with every major political upheaval.

There was a golden era in the mid-1980s, when the port serviced Iraq during its eight-year war with Iran, and then a near-complete standstill during a U.S. naval blockade and United Nations sanctions in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The last watershed was a boom after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Now, as political unrest sweeps the Arab world, hurting trade flows through nearby ports including Syria’s Latakia and Tartous and Egypt’s Alexandria and Suez, Aqaba is enjoying a fresh revival.

“At the moment everyone is seeking security. Security is very, very important and Aqaba has it,” said Captain Mohamad Dalabieh, executive manager of Jordan’s Shipping Association.

“Aqaba is more of a political than an economic port.”

Last year, the port handled close to 16.8 million tonnes of freight, while throughput at its container terminal was around 605,000 TEU, almost double the level in 2003.

Since the start of this year, Aqaba has bucked the regional trend. Incoming cargo has climbed 27 percent from a year earlier to 6.69 million tonnes in the first eight months of 2011, while transit trade, mostly to Iraq, has jumped 68 percent, according to data from port authorities.

A major reason is the turmoil in Syria, where the political unrest and international economic sanctions have sharply cut the use of Syrian ports for regional transit trade. Much of this business is now going through Aqaba.

Another factor is U.S. military cargo being transported out of Iraq and through Aqaba as U.S. forces scale back their presence in that country, local shippers say.

“U.S. army cargo is trucked all the way from their bases in Iraq to both terminals in Aqaba, containers as well as general cargo, and this is helping boost traffic,” said Dreid Mahasneh, a former head of Aqaba port and a prominent shipper.

Both factors are expected to be temporary; U.S. forces are due to complete all or at least the vast bulk of their withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year, while Syria’s port business should recover when the country eventually regains political stability.

But Jordanian officials hope that even when calm returns to the region, Aqaba will be able to hang on to much of the business it has gained this year — particularly business related to the reconstruction of Iraq.

Port officials estimate as much as 40 percent of Aqaba’s incoming cargo is destined for Iraq, while ACT’s Hansen predicts total container throughput will rise 15 percent to around 700,000 TEU this year, mainly driven by Iraqi transit demand.

Shippers say Umm Qasr, Iraq’s main port, may not have enough capacity to handle the volume of imports that many predict Iraq will need when it begins reconstruction in earnest. Aqaba may also be helped by bottlenecks at Umm Qasr that include poor service and high handling costs.

“Iraqi cargo has increased to Aqaba simply because there are so much bureaucracy, capacity limitations and corruption…” Mahasneh said.

REGIONAL HUB

After years of underinvestment, ACT officials say the construction underway at Aqaba will allow the port to become a key conduit for regional trade on a permanent basis. Bulldozers are cutting more of the rugged mountains by the port’s tiny sliver of coast to make more space.

The average stay for a vessel is now 12-14 hours, down from two to three days several years ago, ACT officials say. The turnaround time for loading and unloading trucks has dropped to 40 minutes compared to as much as 48 hours in 2004.

“Aqaba is now working at nearly 60 percent of its capacity. We can handle at least 25 million tonnes annually with ease,” Dalabieh said.

Shippers say, however, that without improved efficiency in Jordan’s fleet of over 16,000 trucks, other competing regional ports could undercut Aqaba.

“Turkish, Iraqi and Kuwaiti ports, each of them have an edge. Jordan has a phenomenal opportunity to strengthen its position for Iraqi trade — but all components of the supply chain must work together,” said Hansen.

(Editing by Andrew Torchia)

13-39

What a Difference a Decade Makes: Ten Years of “Homeland Security”

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nancy Murray and Kade Crockford, “Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the ‘Homeland’”

090111tenOn August 5, 2002, President George Bush declared, “We’re fighting … to secure freedom in the homeland.” Strikingly, he did not use the word “nation,” or “republic,” but instead adopted a term, with its Germanic overtones of blood, roots and loyalty going back generations, for a country that is not the ancestral home of most of its citizens.

Soon after, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the massive Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an amalgam of 22 agencies and nearly 200,000 employees. The FBI and CIA remained outside the DHS, while the military, in October 2002, established its own Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to defend the “homeland.”

In the years since then, the full weight of government has been bent on ensuring “homeland security” – a term rarely heard before the 2001 attacks. Over the decade, the government’s powers of surveillance have expanded dramatically. They are directed not just at people suspected of wrongdoing, but at all of us. Our phone calls, our emails and web site visits, our financial records, our travel itineraries, and our digital images captured on powerful surveillance cameras are swelling the mountain of data that is being mined for suspicious patterns and associations. 

It doesn’t take much to come to the attention of the watchers, as 13-year-old Vito LaPinta discovered earlier this year. Members of the Secret Service came to his Tacoma, Washington, middle school to question him about his Facebook posting urging President Obama to be aware of the danger from suicide bombers in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee was no less surprised to find itself listed by the Tennessee Fusion Center on an Internet map of “Terrorism Events and other Suspicious Activity.” Why? The organization had carried out a “suspicious activity” by sending a letter to the state’s school superintendents encouraging them to be supportive of all religions during the holiday season. 

While the government has gained more and more power to watch us, we are being kept in the dark about what it is doing. Over the past decade, a new architecture of mass surveillance has been erected, and we know very little about it.

Surveillance in what we term the “age of Total Information Awareness” will be the subject of our Truthout postings throughout September. After providing an overview of 20th century surveillance, we will examine both the intelligence failures that opened the door to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the government’s response. Rather than fix the obvious problems and hold specific individuals and institutions accountable, the government embarked on a radical shift in how intelligence and law enforcement agencies interact and do their work and rapidly expanded their powers. 

Over the decade, we have seen the emergence of a national security surveillance state, in which some 800,000 local and state operatives file reports on the most common everyday behaviors and members of the public contribute hotline tips about “suspicious” people and activities. We will trace the contours of the new domestic intelligence architecture in terms of its nationwide and regional structures and its evolving technologies, drawing upon public sources and information obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and leaks. We will also describe the impact of the surveillance system on specific targets – Muslims, political activists, immigrants – as well as on the general public, and on what have long been assumed to be core American values.

It is our hope that this series will help stimulate a broader debate about whether we are on the right track in the “war against terrorism.” In the decade since 9/11, there has been no sustained national attempt to probe root causes behind the September 11 attacks and subsequent plots. The federal government has yet to come up with a single definition of “terrorism,” and there is not even a public agreement about what constitutes a ‘”terrorist” attack. So cowed was the DHS by the shrill denunciation of its April 2009 report on the danger of “right-wing extremism” that it has reportedly decided to focus its attention solely on “homegrown extremism” involving Muslims – despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center has compiled a long list of homegrown plots in its report, “Terror from the Right,” and that the DHS itself recognizes that Muslims have had nothing to do with the majority of terrorist plots and attacks within the United States in the 21st century.

Amid all these ambiguities, a new surveillance network has been steadily constructed in the shadows with the help of DHS grants. Among the questions that should be asked is this:  What happens to actual public safety when “homeland security” commands the lion’s share of federal funds to fight the “terrorist” threat?

The statistics suggest skewed priorities. According to the FBI, terrorist incidents in the United States accounted for 3,178 deaths in the period between 1980 and 2005. Apart from those killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11, 2001 attacks, 48 people lost their lives to terrorism in that 25-year period. Within the same time frame, 500,000 people were murdered in the United States. Being listed on a terrorist watch list might keep someone from getting on an airplane – and could conceivably land an American citizen on a government assassination list -  but it will not prevent that person from legally buying a weapon  – or several! – at a local gun store.

What kind of “homeland” will we become if we do not demand that secretive domestic surveillance operations are brought in line with longstanding principles of liberty and the Constitution?

13-37

Terrorism: the Most Meaningless and Manipulated Word

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Glenn Greenwald

Yesterday, Joseph Stack deliberately flew an airplane into a building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas, in order to advance the political grievances he outlined in a perfectly cogent suicide-manifesto.  Stack’s worldview contained elements of the tea party’s anti-government anger along with substantial populist complaints generally associated with “the Left” (rage over bailouts, the suffering of America’s poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants).  All of that was accompanied by an argument as to why violence was justified (indeed necessary) to protest those injustices:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual” . . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

Despite all that, The New York Times’ Brian Stelter documents the deep reluctance of cable news chatterers and government officials to label the incident an act of “terrorism,” even though — as Dave Neiwert ably documents — it perfectly fits, indeed is a classic illustration of, every official definition of that term.  The issue isn’t whether Stack’s grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition.  But as NBC’s Pete Williams said of the official insistence that this was not an act of Terrorism:  there are “a couple of reasons to say that . . . One is he’s an American citizen.”  Fox News’ Megan Kelley asked Catherine Herridge about these denials:  “I take it that they mean terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to?,” to which Herridge replied: “they mean terrorism in that capital T way.”

All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon.  The term now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity.  It has really come to mean:  “a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies.”  That’s why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist:  he’s not a Muslim and isn’t acting on behalf of standard Muslim grievances against the U.S. or Israel, and thus does not fit the “definition.”  One might concede that perhaps there’s some technical sense in which term might apply to Stack, but as Fox News emphasized:  it’s not “terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to . . . terrorism in that capital T way.”  We all know who commits terrorism in “that capital T way,” and it’s not people named Joseph Stack.

Contrast the collective hesitance to call Stack a Terrorist with the extremely dubious circumstances under which that term is reflexively applied to Muslims.  If a Muslim attacks a military base preparing to deploy soldiers to a war zone, that person is a Terrorist.  If an American Muslim argues that violence against the U.S. (particularly when aimed at military targets) is justified due to American violence aimed at the Muslim world, that person is a Terrorist who deserves assassination.  And if the U.S. military invades a Muslim country, Muslims who live in the invaded and occupied country and who fight back against the invading American army — by attacking nothing but military targets — are also Terrorists.  Indeed, large numbers of detainees at Guantanamo were accused of being Terrorists for nothing more than attacking members of an invading foreign army in their country, including 14-year-old Mohamed Jawad, who spent many years in Guantanamo, accused (almost certainly falsely) of throwing a grenade at two American troops in Afghanistan who were part of an invading force in that country.  Obviously, plots targeting civilians for death — the 9/11 attacks and attempts to blow up civilian aircraft — are pure terrorism, but a huge portion of the acts committed by Muslims that receive that label are not.

In sum:  a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists.  A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T — not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process.  Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers.  Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change — the Glorious Shock and Awe campaign and the pummeling of Gaza.  Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.

All of this would be an interesting though not terribly important semantic matter if not for the fact that the term Terrorist plays a central role in our political debates.  It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does.  Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it’s only being done to “Terrorists,” who, by definition, have no rights.  Even worse, one becomes a “Terrorist” not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch.  The President decrees someone to be a Terrorist and that’s the end of that:   uncritical followers of both political parties immediately justify anything done to the person on the ground that he’s a Terrorist (by which they actually mean:  he’s been accused of being one, though that distinction — between presidential accusations and proof — is not one they recognize).

If we’re really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call “Terrorists,” we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means.  But there is none.  It’s just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e., The Terrorists).  It’s really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word:  its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.

UPDATE:  I want to add one point:  the immediate official and media reaction was to avoid, even deny, the term “terrorist” because the perpetrator of the violence wasn’t Muslim.  But if Stack’s manifesto begins to attract serious attention, I think it’s likely the term Terrorist will be decisively applied to him in order to discredit what he wrote.  His message is a sharply anti-establishment and populist grievance of the type that transcends ideological and partisan divisions — the complaints which Stack passionately voices are found as common threads in the tea party movement and among citizens on both the Left and on the Right — and thus tend to be the type which the establishment (which benefits from high levels of partisan distractions and divisions) finds most threatening and in need of demonization. Nothing is more effective at demonizing something than slapping the Terrorist label onto it.

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Spy vs. Spy, Israel vs. America

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Dark Side of the “Special Relationship”

By Justin Raimondo, http://intifada-palestine.com/

A silent battle has been raging right under our noses, a fierce underground struggle pitting the U.S. against one of its closest allies. For all its newsworthiness, the media has barely noticed the story — except when it surfaces, briefly, like a giant fin jutting above the waves. The aggressor in this war is the state of Israel, with the U.S., its sponsor and protector, playing defense. This is the dark side of the “special relationship” — a battle of spy vs. spy.

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard — now serving a life sentence — stole secrets so vital that an attempt by the Israelis to get him pardoned was blocked by a massive protest from the intelligence and defense communities. Bill Clinton wanted to trade Pollard for Israeli concessions in the ongoing “peace process,” and he was only prevented from doing so by a threat of mass resignations by the top leadership of the intelligence community.

The reason for their intransigence: among the material Pollard had been asked by his Israeli handlers to steal was the U.S. attack plan against the Soviet Union. According to Seymour Hersh, then-CIA director Bill Casey claimed Tel Aviv handed over the information to Moscow in exchange for relaxation of travel restrictions on Soviet Jews, who were then allowed to emigrate to Israel.

The Pollard case is emblematic — but it was just the beginning of a years-long effort by U.S. counterintelligence to rid themselves of the Israeli incubus. Law enforcement was — and presumably still is — convinced Pollard was very far from alone, and that a highly placed “mole” had provided him with key information. In his quest to procure very specific information, Pollard knew precisely which documents to look for — knowledge he couldn’t access without help from someone very high in government circles.

In addition, the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted a phone conversation between an Israeli intelligence officer and his boss in Tel Aviv, during which they discussed how to get hold of a letter by then-secretary of state Warren Christopher to Yasser Arafat. The Washington spy suggested they use “Mega,” but his boss demurred: “This is not something we use Mega for,” he averred.

The search for Mega and his underlings continues to this day, as U.S. counterintelligence attempts to rip up what appears to be a vast Israeli spy operation by its very deep roots. That’s why they went after Ben Ami Kadish, who handed over U.S. secrets to Tel Aviv and shared a handler with Pollard, and why they indicted Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two top officials of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. That’s why they were listening on the other end as Jane Harman promised an Israeli agent to intervene in the Rosen-Weissman case. And now a new front has been opened up in this subterranean war with the arrest of Stewart David Nozette, a top U.S. scientist who worked for the Pentagon, had access to the most closely guarded nuclear secrets, and was the lead scientist in the search for water on the moon.

Nozette’s case is interesting because of his impressive resume: he held top positions with the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and NASA, and he served on the White House National Space Council under George H.W. Bush. From 1989 until March 2006, he held “Q” clearance, which means he had access to “critical nuclear weapon design information” and vital information concerning 20 “special access programs” — secrets only a very few top government officials had knowledge of.

In other words, this wasn’t just some mid-level schmuck who wanted to sell out his country for cash: he was one of the big boys — the principal author of the Clementine biostatic radar experiment, which allowed U.S. scientists to discover water on the moon — a kind of J. Robert Oppenheimer figure, whose singular contributions to the U.S. space program and its military applications granted him security clearances available to a very select few.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint [.pdf] alleging espionage is terse, vague in parts, and brimming with implication. Taking their cues from the Department of Justice press release, most news reports state, “The complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offense under U.S. laws,” leaving out the last three words in the DOJ’s sentence: “in this case.”

In this particular case, it’s true, prosecutors are going after Nozette for violations that occurred while they were reeling him in, with a federal agent pretending to be a Mossad officer offering him money (not very much, by the way) in exchange for secrets. The real question, however, is what caused them to zero in on Nozette? A Washington Times piece cites Kenneth Piernick, a former senior FBI agent, who opined:

He must have made some kind of attempt, which triggered the FBI’s interest in him. They cut in between him and whoever he was trying to work with and posed as an intelligence officer, agent, or courier to handle the issue, and then when he delivered what he intended to deliver to that person, his contact was likely an undercover FBI agent or [someone from] another U.S. intelligence service.

Yet Nozette may have made more than a mere “attempt.” The affidavit alleges that, from 1998 to 2008, he served as a consultant to “an aerospace company wholly owned by the government of Israel,” during which time “approximately once a month representatives of the aerospace company proposed questions, or taskings, to Nozette.” He answered these questions, and, in return, received regular payments totaling $250,000.

This indicates the Feds had been on to Nozette for quite some time, and with good cause. The affidavit also notes that, at the beginning of this year, he traveled to “a different foreign country” in possession of two computer “thumb” drives, which seemed to have mysteriously disappeared upon his return some three weeks later. What was on the drives — and who were the recipients?

In 2007, federal authorities raided the offices of Nozette’s nonprofit company, the Alliance for Competitive Technology (ACT), purportedly because ACT, having procured several lucrative government contracts, had defrauded the federal government by overcharging. The affidavit cites an anonymous colleague of Nozette who recalled the scientist said that if the U.S. government ever tried to put him in jail he would go to Israel or another foreign country and “tell them everything” he knows.

Perhaps the real reason for the raid, however, had to do with the FBI’s growing suspicion — if not certainty — he was funneling U.S. secrets to Tel Aviv. ACT is a curious creation, a “nonprofit” group that nevertheless generated over half a million dollars last year according to documents filed with the IRS, with over $150,000 in salary and benefits paid out to Nozette. But it wasn’t just about money. ACT’s mission statement reads like a spy’s dream come true:

“The Alliance for Competitive Technology has been created to serve the national and public interest by conducting scientific research and educational activities aimed at expanding the utilization of National and Government Laboratory resources. The National Laboratories possess significant technology, technologists, and resources, of great potential value to growing U.S. industrial organizations, both small and large. Recent changes in national policy (the Stevenson-Wydler Act of 1986 and the NASA Technology Utilization Program) have sanctioned the pursuit of technology transfer from these organizations. However, the capabilities and resources present in National Laboratories are often difficult to access by small and medium sized organizations with limited resources. ACT will research the best mechanisms to facilitate this transfer through focused research on technology transfer mechanisms, and educational and instructive programs on technology transfer from National Laboratories. In addition, ACT will enable U.S. organizations to utilize the resources of National Laboratories through existing established mechanisms (e.g., the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Technology Affiliates Program). Transfer of commercially valuable technology is significantly enhanced by such direct support of private sector efforts.”

In short: ACT is all about technology transfer — from the U.S. to Israel. This, as is well-known, is one of the favored activities of the Israeli intelligence services, which regularly pilfer the latest American technology (especially military applications) to such an extent that a General Accounting Office investigation once characterized the effort as “the most aggressive espionage operations against the U.S. of any U.S. ally.”

ACT had contracts with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, Va., and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. It is hardly a leap of faith to conclude that vital data flowing from these projects was fed directly into the waiting maw of the Mossad.

Nozette was a key figure in developing and promoting the “Star Wars” ballistic missile defense system. His colleague in the “High Frontier” movement — and the official director of ACT — is one Klaus Heiss, like Nozette an enthusiast [.pdf] of space colonization (who also has some strong views on other subjects).

Contacted by an FBI agent masquerading as an Israeli intelligence agent, Nozette didn’t blink when told his lunch companion was from the Mossad: “Good,” he said. “Happy to be of assistance.” This was well before the issue of money was raised. Later in the conversation, Nozette boasted of his top-level security clearances and the range and depth of his knowledge of U.S. secrets, adding, “I don’t get recruited by the Mossad every day. By the way, I knew this day would come.” Questioned further by the undercover agent, Nozette said, “I thought I was working for you already. I mean, that’s what I always thought [the foreign company] was — just a front.”

Which it no doubt was.

Nozette agreed to be a regular “asset,” yet he clearly felt his position was increasingly precarious. He inquired about the right of return and raised the possibility that he might go to Israel. He wanted a passport as part of his payment, in addition to the few thousand dollars the FBI was putting in a post office “dead drop” for him on receipt of stolen secrets.

Well, then, so what? Don’t all nations, even allies, spy on each other? What’s the significance of this particular case?

On the surface, our relationship with Israel is encompassed by the terms of the “special relationship, “which has so far consisted of the U.S. giving unconditional support to Tel Aviv’s every action, no matter how brutal [.pdf] or contrary to our interests — and tolerating, to a large degree, its extensive covert operations on U.S. soil (or, at least, keeping quiet about them). On a deeper level, however, the tensions in this one-way love affair have frayed the specialness of the relationship almost to the breaking point.

This is not just due to the election of Barack Obama, who is widely perceived in Israel as being biased against the Jewish state. These tensions arose during Bush’s second term, when U.S. policy began to perceptibly tilt away from Tel Aviv. A particularly telling blow to U.S.-Israeli relations was the decision by the U.S. to clamp down on visa requirements for Israelis entering the U.S.: potential visitors from Israel are now required to undergo an interview, restrictions on their length of stay have been extended, and admission to the U.S. is no longer assured.

In the secret world of spooks spying on one another, the U.S.-Israeli relationship is increasingly adversarial, while in the diplomatic-political realm, it has nearly reached the point of open hostilities. This is thanks to the objective conditions that determine relations among nations: in the post-Cold War world, Israel necessarily became much less of an asset to the U.S. In the post-9/11 world, as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have so trenchantly pointed out, it is an outright liability.

Our self-sacrificial policy of unconditional support for Israel has earned us implacable enemies in the Arab world and granted our adversaries a priceless propaganda prize — and the growing awareness of this disability is something the Israelis no doubt find disturbing. The distortion of our foreign policy by the power of the Israel lobby is also being widely noted, and this is their real Achilles heel.

In this case, too, the Lobby will no doubt rush to exert their influence to downgrade Nozette’s crime and even depict him as an innocent victim of entrapment. Defenders of the AIPAC duo conjured a vast “anti-Semitic” conspiracy within the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI to explain the alleged persecution of Rosen and Weissman, and the same tactics are bound to be trotted out in this instance.

That is nonsense. The FBI didn’t just pick Nozette arbitrarily and conjure his crimes out of thin air. Their target was already deeply involved with the Israelis, and this is what brought him to their attention in the first place.

The nature and extent of Israeli spying in the U.S. is not a subject you’ll see the “mainstream” media very often touch with so much as a 10-foot pole, but when it does the results can be ominously disturbing. I, for one, haven’t forgotten Carl Cameron’s four-part series on Israeli spying in the U.S., broadcast by Fox News in December 2001. According to Cameron, his sources in law enforcement told him the Israelis had been following the 9/11 hijackers and had foreknowledge of their plans but somehow neglected to tell us. And then there were those dancing Israelis, leaping for joy at the sight of the Twin Towers burning!

This is the dark side of the “special relationship,” so dark that hardly anyone wants to acknowledge it, let alone consider its implications.

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Kafkaesque Justice Under the USA Patriot Act

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

A Book Review By Mirza A. Beg

December 15, 2009

Book:              Rounded Up – Artificial Terrorists and Muslim Entrapment after 9/11
Author:             Shamshad Ahmad, Ph.D; with a forward by Stephen Downs.
Publisher:        The Troy Bookmakers, Troy N Y 12180, www.troybookmakers.com.
Year:                2009,
Pages:             267 pages
Sale price        $17 (donated to the family of the victims of entrapment)
ISBN 978-1- 9345534-174

In the wake of 9/11, the Bush Justice Department arrested almost 1,200 Muslims throughout the United States. They were ordinary American immigrants, mostly of Arab origin. The evidence at best was flimsy based on someone’s vendetta or in some cases neighbor’s paranoia.

Within a week the Justice Department unveiled the infamous “USA Patriot Act”. Congress passed it in early October 2001 over the objection of many thoughtful Americans. The word USA PATRIOT is an acronym designed to pull at American heart strings. It stands for ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism’

None of the arrested were ever brought to trial; although a few were summarily deported at the slightest irregularity in their immigration documents. Many were tortured. Exactly how many were tortured and how badly is a secret under the aegis of the “Patriot act”. Perhaps some day it will come out.

Overnight Muslim organizations became suspect. FBI undercover operations were taken in stride by most Muslims as a part of the job of the FBI to protect the citizens. But what unfolded in many cases was incitement and entrapment by implanted agent Muslim provocateurs with shady pasts, in trouble with the law.

On August 5, 2004, the lead national news was that two Muslims associated with the Albany Mosque were arrested in a terrorist plot. There names were Yassin Muhiddin Aref and Mohammed Mosharref Hossain.

The book “Round Up” is written by Dr. Shamshad Ahmed, a professor of Physics, who established the Masjid As -Salam in 1980 and serves as its president. He knew the two victims of entrapment to be honest decent people.  It is essentially a short account of Yassin Muhiddin Aref, an immigrant from the Kurdish part of Iraq and Mohammed Mosharref Hossain from Pakistan, their background and how were they entrapped by the FBI.

Why were they entrapped is best known to the government or perhaps it is not even known to them. It is just possible that because they could not convict any of the 1,200 arrested, they tried random entrapment under the “one percent Cheney doctrine”, that is if the law enforcement authorities suspected someone of having a1% chance of supporting terrorism, America would treat him as if he were 100% a terrorist. Once the process was in motion, the Justice Department did not back down because the conviction was under the Kafkaesque “Patriot Act”.

The chapters are generally arranged chronologically from the day of the FBI raid on the Mosque (Masjid) on the 5th of April 2004, with a few flash back chapters describing the establishment of the mosque and how the author met the two victims of the FBI sting.

Dr. Shamshad in this book exposes the “Catch 22” nature of the infamous “Patriot Act”. One would expect that by planting an informer, the FBI had a clear case. No, the case lasted three years, and all the delays were by the FBI asking extensions to prepare their case. The defense was kept in the dark even about the exact charges. Every piece of information had to be pried out after lengthy court petitions. Occasionally when they succeeded, the information was so redacted to be almost useless. Even the judges ruling, why the information was classified, was classified and the defendant was denied access. In essence the “Patriot Act” renders justice of a Kangaroo Court, so well described by Franz Kafka in his dark novel “The Trial”.

Parts of the transcribed taped evidence by the Pakistani informer that were procured after long court battles are in the Appendixes of the book. They clearly show, it was the informer who kept on badgering the victims to say and do things that could be construed as illegal. At times the victims objected to his proposals as immoral and un-Islamic. He persisted, and on occasions the victims appear to be humoring the informer. The case rested on Musharraf Hossain being induced to take a loan from the informant at very favorable terms. The fact that the informer could launder his money and perhaps buy Chinese made rockets Hussain did not condone. Though the informant wanted the loan to be unrecorded, Hossain insisted on the propriety of it being recorded .The only crime for which Yassin Aref was roped in at the time was that as a friend he acted as witness to that loan.

Aref’s command of English was not very good. It often appears that he was not quite clear about the tenor of the conversation. The conversations with Hossain were often in Urdu and the FBI’s paid translator intentionally mistranslated taxes to terrorist. In 2005, a raid on a Kurdish camps in Iraq yielded a tape recording was unearthed, where someone seems to refer to Aref almost ten years earlier by a word in Kurdish that translates as elder brother. But if one wanted to stretch the meaning, it could be commander. Only this nebulous translation was presented to the jury to prove that he was a militant.

Dr. Shamshad Ahmad presents a very cogent account of the atmosphere in Albany during the publicity and the trial of the two defendants. On the one side the rightwing talk radio was in overdrive demonizing the Muslim and Arab community that we have become very familiar nationwide. The politicians such a Governor Pataki also took advantage of the situation. But the author also very lucidly portrays the support they got from the thoughtful American, including some in clergy in the best of American traditions. They not only joined the vigils in support of the defendants but gave material help and wrote petitions.

The balanced and thoughtful reporting of the Albany Times Union was exemplary. The author has included many of the incisive cartoons by John deRosier castigating the bizarre nature of the case. Those cartoons are indeed worth the proverbial thousand words.

The lawyers worked assiduously towards an impossible task of defending the accused where parts of the charges, the evidence and even the rationale judge’s rulings are reminiscent of a Kangaroo court without the clowns. Stephen Downs who voluntarily joined the case pro bono and has written the forward to this book especially worked hard in the best tradition of the American legal system.

In the introduction of the book Dr. Ahmad has described his own conservative education in a Madarsa where he learned his basic values of Islamic decency and caring. From his short narration of his background, it becomes clear that one can be conservative in the best sense of the words as well as a progressive with liberal values as well.  He has dedicated this book to the peace and justice loving humanitarians, and the proceeds from this book go to help the victims of the justice system gone awry in the shadow of the unpatriotic, “Patriot Act”.

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