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h/t Glenn Greenwald at Salon

Tarek Mehanna's Sentencing Statement: Read to Judge O’Toole during his sentencing, April 12th 2012.

In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful. Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing my work shift at a local hospital. As I was walking to my car I was approached by two federal agents. They said that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy way, or I could do them the hard way. The “easy ” way, as they explained, was that I would become an informant for the government, and if I did so I would never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent the majority of the four years since then in a solitary cell the size of a small closet, in which I am locked down for 23 hours each day. The FBI and these prosecutors worked very hard-and the government spent millions of tax dollars – to put me in that cell, keep me there, put me on trial, and finally to have me stand here before you today to be sentenced to even more time in a cell.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, many people have offered suggestions as to what I should say to you. Some said I should plead for mercy in hopes of a light sentence, while others suggested I would be hit hard either way. But what I want to do is just talk about myself for a few minutes. When I refused to become an informant, the government responded by charging me with the “crime” of supporting the mujahideen fighting the occupation of Muslim countries around the world. Or as they like to call them, “terrorists.” I wasn’t born in a Muslim country, though. I was born and raised right here in America and this angers many people: how is it that I can be an American and believe the things I believe, take the positions I take? Everything a man is exposed to in his environment becomes an ingredient that shapes his outlook, and I’m no different. So, in more ways than one, it’s because of America that I am who I am.

When I was six, I began putting together a massive collection of comic books. Batman implanted a concept in my mind, introduced me to a paradigm as to how the world is set up: that there are oppressors, there are the oppressed, and there are those who step up to defend the oppressed. This resonated with me so much that throughout the rest of my childhood, I gravitated towards any book that reflected that paradigm – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I even saw an ethical dimension to The Catcher in the Rye.

By the time I began high school and took a real history class, I was learning just how real that paradigm is in the world. I learned about the Native Americans and what befell them at the hands of European settlers. I learned about how the descendents of those European settlers were in turn oppressed under the tyranny of King George III. I read about Paul Revere, Tom Paine, and how Americans began an armed insurgency against British forces – an insurgency we now celebrate as the American revolutionary war. As a kid I even went on school field trips just blocks away from where we sit now. I learned about Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown, and the fight against slavery in this country. I learned about Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and the struggles of the labor unions, working class, and poor. I learned about Anne Frank, the Nazis, and how they persecuted minorities and imprisoned dissidents. I learned about Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights struggle. I learned about Ho Chi Minh, and how the Vietnamese fought for decades to liberate themselves from one invader after another. I learned about Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Everything I learned in those years confirmed what I was beginning to learn when I was six: that hroughout history, there has been a constant struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors. With each struggle I learned about, I found myself consistently siding with the oppressed, and consistently respecting those who stepped up to defend them -regardless of nationality, regardless of religion. And I never threw my class notes away. As I stand here speaking, they are in a neat pile in my bedroom closet at home.

From all the historical figures I learned about, one stood out above the rest. I was impressed be many things about Malcolm X, but above all, I was fascinated by the idea of transformation, his transformation. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “X” by Spike Lee, it’s over three and a half hours long, and the Malcolm at the beginning is different from the Malcolm at the end. He starts off as an illiterate criminal, but ends up a husband, a father, a protective and eloquent leader for his people, a disciplined Muslim performing the Hajj in Makkah, and finally, a martyr. Malcolm’s life taught me that Islam is not something inherited; it’s not a culture or ethnicity. It’s a way of life, a state of mind anyone can choose no matter where they come from or how they were raised.

This led me to look deeper into Islam, and I was hooked. I was just a teenager, but Islam answered the question that the greatest scientific minds were clueless about, the question that drives the rich & famous to depression and suicide from being unable to answer: what is the purpose of life? Why do we exist in this Universe? But it also answered the question of how we’re supposed to exist. And since there’s no hierarchy or priesthood, I could directly and immediately begin digging into the texts of the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, to begin the journey of understanding what this was all about, the implications of Islam for me as a human being, as an individual, for the people around me, for the world; and the more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a piece of gold. This was when I was a teen, but even today, despite the pressures of the last few years, I stand here before you, and everyone else in this courtroom, as a very proud Muslim.

With that, my attention turned to what was happening to other Muslims in different parts of the world. And everywhere I looked, I saw the powers that be trying to destroy what I loved. I learned what the Soviets had done to the Muslims of Afghanistan. I learned what the Serbs had done to the Muslims of Bosnia. I learned what the Russians were doing to the Muslims Chechnya. I learned what Israel had done in Lebanon – and what it continues to do in Palestine – with the full backing of the United States. And I learned what America itself was doing to Muslims. I learned about the Gulf War, and the depleted uranium bombs that killed thousands and caused cancer rates to skyrocket across Iraq.

I learned about the American-led sanctions that prevented food, medicine, and medical equipment from entering Iraq, and how – according to the United Nations – over half a million children perished as a result. I remember a clip from a ’60 Minutes’ interview of Madeline Albright where she expressed her view that these dead children were “worth it.” I watched on September 11th as a group of people felt driven to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings from their outrage at the deaths of these children. I watched as America then attacked and invaded Iraq directly. I saw the effects of ’Shock & Awe’ in the opening day of the invasion – the children in hospital wards with shrapnel from American missiles sticking but of their foreheads (of course, none of this was shown on CNN).

I learned about the town of Haditha, where 24 Muslims – including a 76-year old man in a wheelchair, women, and even toddlers – were shot up and blown up in their bedclothes as the slept by US Marines. I learne about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old Iraqi girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who then shot her and her family in the head, then set fire to their corpses. I just want to point out, as you can see, Muslim women don’t even show their hair to unrelated men. So try to imagine this young girl from a conservative village with her dress torn off, being sexually assaulted by not one, not two, not three, not four, but five soldiers. Even today, as I sit in my jail cell, I read about the drone strikes which continue to kill Muslims daily in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Just last month, we all heard about the seventeen Afghan Muslims – mostly mothers and their kids – shot to death by an American soldier, who also set fire to their corpses.

These are just the stories that make it to the headlines, but one of the first concepts I learned in Islam is that of loyalty, of brotherhood – that each Muslim woman is my sister, each man is my brother, and together, we are one large body who must protect each other. In other words, I couldn’t see these things beings done to my brothers & sisters – including by America – and remain neutral. My sympathy for the oppressed continued, but was now more personal, as was my respect for those defending them.

I mentioned Paul Revere – when he went on his midnight ride, it was for the purpose of warning the people that the British were marching to Lexington to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, then on to Concord to confiscate the weapons stored there by the Minuteman. By the time they got to Concord, they found the Minuteman waiting for them, weapons in hand. They fired at the British, fought them, and beat them. From that battle came the American Revolution. There’s an Arabic word to describe what those Minutemen did that day. That word is: JIHAD, and this is what my trial was about. All those videos and translations and childish bickering over ‘Oh, he translated this paragraph’ and ‘Oh, he edited that sentence,’ and all those exhibits revolved around a single issue: Muslims who were defending themselves against American soldiers doing to them exactly what the British did to America. It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to “kill Americans” at shopping malls or whatever the story was. The government’s own witnesses contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I was free, the government sent an undercover agent to prod me into one of their little “terror plots,” but I refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury never heard this.

So, this trial was not about my position on Muslims killing American civilians. It was about my position on Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders – Soviets, Americans, or Martians. This is what I believe. It’s what I’ve always believed, and what I will always believe. This is not terrorism, and it’s not extremism. It’s what the arrows on that seal above your head represent: defense of the homeland. So, I disagree with my lawyers when they say that you don’t have to agree with my beliefs – no. Anyone with commonsense and humanity has no choice but to agree with me. If someone breaks into your home to rob you and harm your family, logic dictates that you do whatever it takes to expel that invader from your home.

But when that home is a Muslim land, and that invader is the US military, for some reason the standards suddenly change. Common sense is renamed ”terrorism” and the people defending themselves against those who come to kill them from across the ocean become “the terrorists” who are ”killing Americans.” The mentality that America was victimized with when British soldiers walked these streets 2 ½ centuries ago is the same mentality Muslims are victimized by as American soldiers walk their streets today. It’s the mentality of colonialism.

When Sgt. Bales shot those Afghans to death last month, all of the focus in the media was on him-his life, his stress, his PTSD, the mortgage on his home-as if he was the victim. Very little sympathy was expressed for the people he actually killed, as if they’re not real, they’re not humans.

Unfortunately, this mentality trickles down to everyone in society, whether or not they realize it. Even with my lawyers, it took nearly two years of discussing, explaining, and clarifying before they were finally able to think outside the box and at least ostensibly accept the logic in what I was saying. Two years! If it took that long for people so intelligent, whose job it is to defend me, to de-program themselves, then to throw me in front of a randomly selected jury under the premise that they’re my “impartial peers,” I mean, come on. I wasn’t tried before a jury of my peers because with the mentality gripping America today, I have no peers. Counting on this fact, the government prosecuted me – not because they needed to, but simply because they could.

I learned one more thing in history class: America has historically supported the most unjust policies against its minorities – practices that were even protected by the law – only to look back later and ask: ’what were we thinking?’ Slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of the Japanese during World War II – each was widely accepted by American society, each was defended by the Supreme Court. But as time passed and America changed, both people and courts looked back and asked ’What were we thinking?’ Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the South African government, and given a life sentence. But time passed, the world changed, they realized how oppressive their policies were, that it was not he who was the terrorist, and they released him from prison. He even became president. So, everything is subjective - even this whole business of “terrorism” and who is a “terrorist.” It all depends on the time and place and who the superpower happens to be at the moment.

In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the US military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for “conspiring to kill and maim” in those countries – because I support the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look back on how the government spent millions of dollars to imprison me as a ”terrorist,” yet if we were to somehow bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on that witness stand and ask her who the “terrorists” are, she sure wouldn’t be pointing at me.

The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ”killing Americans.” But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.

-Tarek Mehanna

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Comment Preferences

  •  amazing... (4+ / 0-)

    tipped and rec'd
    astounding what has become of US

    The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all. John F. Kennedy

    by ebbet on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:07:02 AM PDT

    •  yup and thanks...n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Don midwest

      The Later it Gets, The Faster it Gets Late

      by Michael Alton Gottlieb on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:28:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Sentence via Rawstory (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Diane Gee
        BOSTON, Massachusetts — A US District judge sentenced a Boston man to 17.5 years in federal prison Thursday on charges of plotting to kill Americans by joining militants in Yemen and spreading Al-Qaeda publicity.

        US District Judge George O’Toole delivered his sentence to Tarek Mehanna, 29, after a two-hour hearing. The prison sentence is to be followed by seven years of supervised release.

        "the government's role should be to uplift, enlighten, educate and ennoble the citizen, not oppress them with taxation and intrusive laws," Gatewood Galbraith, Historic Marijuana Advocate, aka "The Last Free Man In America," RIP 1-3-12

        by SmileySam on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 11:38:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I agree with Greenwald on this one (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Michael Alton Gottlieb

    I think it's as legal to do what Mehanna did as it was legal for Jane Fonda to visit Hanoi.  (Or the praise that several members of Congress have showered on the Iran's MeK, and which I largely agree with.)  But that makes Operation Rescue's expressions of support for the people who murdered doctors in Florida and Kansas legal as well.  So defenders of free speech have to be ready to take it all in stride.

    But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

    by Rich in PA on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:07:30 AM PDT

    •  Not really (4+ / 0-)

      Women's health clinics are not invasions by a foreign country.

      They can SAY whatever they want, true, but the murder of doctors in our own country is not the same as defending your home from occupiers when it comes to action.

      •  Yes it is--it's the same thing. (0+ / 0-)

        There's no test of merit in whether it's justified or not to advocate violence.  Besides, Mehanna is (as he notes repeatedly) American born and bred, so the "Muslim world" is not his home in any legally relevant sense.  

        But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

        by Rich in PA on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 11:14:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So killing a doctor (0+ / 0-)

          because you don't like his practice is the same as defending your home from invading murderers and rapists?

          Wow, the logic totally evades me.

          There is a merit of justification codified in the law, in fact.

          Its called self-defense.  

          And in this case?  They are trying to codify his "thought crimes" or free speech crimes by the new NDAA law, under which I could be imprisoned for saying half of what I say online criticizing the US.

  •  If you refuse to be an informant, you will get it (7+ / 0-)

    You probably know that many cases in the US are handled with plea bargaining. The prosecutor describes the maximum sentence and to avoid that a person confesses to a lesser crime. Or the person becomes an informant to avoid prosecution. Without the wide spread use of these tactics, the courts would be completely unable to handle the case load.

    There have been many cases of plea bargaining when the confession was a lie, but it was necessary trade off. And we heard about the collapse of the government's case against  Tom Drake, who pointed out waste, fraud and abuse in the NSA, in these pages and what minor offense he was convicted of, but in the mean time he lost his government retirement and spent over $100,000 defending himself over several years.

    And we have seen that the big terrorists plots blocked by the FBI have mostly included an FBI involvement with informants who get training from the FBI on how to do their bad stuff.

    This is a case of a Muslim who refused to become an informant for the FBI. He states what he stands for in his statement above. It is a rational position that should be covered by our free speech laws. But, because he refused to become a pawn in the FBI's crackdown on Muslims, he has been in solitary confinement for years an now faces a 17 year prison sentence.

    Anyone concerned with free speech should be concerned with this case which is another step to oppression by the security state.

  •  Lost and confused (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Michael Alton Gottlieb

    On the one hand, this is a very eloquent statement. On principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what he said. One side's freedom fighters are another side's terrorists, and it is the victors who decide who is right and who is not. Simply examining US foreign policy since the 1950s onward suggests an insane level of imperialism, and of course, it goes much, much further back, that whole "Manifest Destiny" thing. So I can at least agree with him on that point.

    But at the same token, some of these figures that he talks about, specifically Nelson Mandela, should represent everything that he is not. Mandela sought a free South Africa, where blacks were not kept down by whites. But he himself never took up arms to fight. Though he was imprisoned for several years, in the end, it was only through non-violent means that the country was saved. Another example, the British in India. They ruled for 150 years or more, but when Ghandi stepped forward, it was through peaceful protest, marches and boycotts, that the system was ultimately changed.

    What Tarek is saying is that his actions are just. That reprisal killings are an acceptable means to seek justice. And that is where it breaks down. When you use violence to combat violence, all you have down is create a never ending circle of hate that will continue indefinitely. There are other means of changing the world, and I still believe in those means, even if the the possibility of picking up arms is a sure-fire way to draw attention to your cause.

    •  Let me get this straight (5+ / 0-)

      If there were Soviet Troops occupying parts of the US, would it be appropriate to use force to resist them?

      If Saudi Arabia was flying drones over US cities and killing innocent citizens, what should be done about that?

      A few months ago an Iraqi, who is now an American citizen and a journalist, went back to visit his home in Baghdad. He was on Democracy Now.  His family had lived there for many generations.  He could not even find his way around the city of Baghdad. There are blast walls everywhere and the streets are unrecognizable. There is no one left in the city that he knows.

      Thus the place has been destroyed and the people are gone.

      Would this be enough to call for a protest? And don't we have free speech in this country to raise these issues?

      Muslims have become the new communist menace used to justify wars and repression here at home. As a country, we not only are hell bent on destroying other countries, but now want to bring these tactics back home.

      Look for the surveillance state crack downs on the protests this summer.

    •  Ward Churchill speaks for me (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      truong son traveler, downsouth

      in that in the Us Pacifism has become PATHOLOGY.

      I guess were it happening to us, we would all "turn the other cheek" and let them kill, rape and maim us?

      Phewww.....  pollyannaism is easy when its not your grandfather being shot, nor your daughter gang raped by invaders bent on stealing your oil.

    •  Mandela was a terrorist in these terms (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diane Gee
      But at the same token, some of these figures that he talks about, specifically Nelson Mandela, should represent everything that he is not. Mandela sought a free South Africa, where blacks were not kept down by whites. But he himself never took up arms to fight. Though he was imprisoned for several years, in the end, it was only through non-violent means that the country was saved.
      Unfortunately you are wrong - in fact Mandela would still be in a Supermax to this day if he had been convicted in the USA.

      Mandela persuaded the ANC to form Umkhonto we Sizwe as an armed wing. At Rivonia he planned and organised acts of sabotage against the economy of the Aparthied regime.

      In arguably the most profound moment in the Nelson Mandela made a speech in the dock in which he condemned the very court he was appearing in as illegitimate. He then proceeded to argue that the laws in place were equally draconian and that defiance of these laws was justified.

      The Rivonia Trial and the arrest of the MK high Command highlight a conundrum faced by those in the liberation struggle: the way that justice was often at odds with legality. Liberation movements, while rejecting the legitimacy of the racial minority state, were forced to deal with the legal system – when activists were apprehended they simply could not disregard it.

      In the Rivonia Trial, the ‘accused’ addressed this problem by using the courts as a site of struggle. They argued that the law was drawn up without the consent of the majority; it was enforced to ensure the perpetuation of an unjust system, and therefore the struggle would be waged to establish a new system, including a legal system that would embody the values of a non-racial constitution that protected human rights

      Mandela did select targets like the power transmission towers to avoid injury to people. His great achievement though was that he recognised that the apartheid system and its government were also repressive to poor whites. The ANC had always been, and remained a multi-ethnic organization. Although obviously mainly black, it had support among the other three main ethnic groups (whites, Indians and Cape Coloureds).

      Mandela's supreme achievement was his negotiation of a peaceful transition to the Rainbow Nation but please do not distort history. The liberation was long and bloody for both sides.

      Fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur.

      by Lib Dem FoP on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:08:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Still Lost and Confused (0+ / 0-)

        Then what is the answer? I never questioned the right of anybody to respond when their homes are under attack. My problem is that I can't see how this solves anything. Tarek believed that muslims were being killed on a daily basis. I accept that. US Drone strikes in Pakistan routinely kill civilians and Pakistani troops, probably killing more innocents than terrorists. During both the Iraq War and the Afgan War, US forces committed atrocities. This naturally should allow for response. But my question is in regards to something else. Al Queda isn't just targeting US forces. They are blowing up civilians by the truck load, targeting police and army recruiting stations, markets, and schools. And they have killed at least as many, if not more, than American forces, probably on a scale of 10-1. When Saddam was gassing the Kurds, or when Assad's father leveled Homs back in the 1980s, where was the outcry?

        To me at least, it still feels like the debate is broken somewhere. I just wish I knew where, and how problems could be resolved without having to strap a bomb vest to yourself.

        •  al quada (0+ / 0-)

          is less than 30 dudes in a cave somewhere now, by our own intelligence's admission. I am pretty sure Gottlieb has written about that before, though I haven't the time to look it up.  My guest for tonights show flaked and I have to make up a show on the fly, and am trying to finish a chapter in my series.


          Civilians by the truckload? You are swallowing propaganda by the truckload. 10 to 1?  That is patently absurd.

          This reminds me of the old saying "78% of all statistic cited in blog comments are made up, including this one."

          The basic thing you are missing here, Blaze, is that without US invasions there would be no need for resistance.  Without US invasions, Muslim countries kept extreme elements alienated and marginalized to where they had no power.

          We need to get the fuck out of those countries, period.

          The debate is only broken because most US citizens can only see through the lens of their own framing and propaganda.

  •  Heartbreaking statement (5+ / 0-)

    I understand fully, and empathize with every word, despite the fact I am irreligious.

    One man's terrorist has always been another man's freedom fighter, and anyone with their head above ground knows everything the US is doing in these illegal invasions and wars against civilians is IMMORAL and INDEFENSIBLE.

    Thanks for bringing this here.

  •  Powerful statement. (4+ / 0-)

    And one that hits very close to home for me personally.  Thank you for publishing this, tipped and recc'd.

    Terror has no religion.

    by downsouth on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:43:10 AM PDT

  •  Selective Outrage (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diane Gee

    Unlike Trayvon Martin, the victim is not black, nor was 3 US citizens assassinated by President Obama a while back. And unlike Zimmerman, the aggressor is not a regular person, but the government.

    I highly doubt there would be same protests in street, and if there is any hope for justice. Because no body cares about Muslims enough to protest, and dailykos and liberals cannot protest their own President. So just few diaries and here and there, and matter would be forgotten soon.

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