Thursday, March 17, 2011

So much for liberty...

16 March 2011
Khaleej Times

In the aftermath of 9/11 the US Department of Justice and especially the FBI have had a policy of rooting out a phantasmagorical worldwide anti-US terrorist conspiracy by arresting and prosecuting Muslim Americans on ridiculous charges based on a bizarre conspiracy theory that has moved from the Zionist Lobby to the highest levels of the US government.

Of all the political prosecutions orchestrated by the Neocons, that of Albany, New York’s Imam Yassin Aref is among the most outrageous.

Imam Yassin notes that his own preemptive prosecution is “a form of selective prosecution which targets certain individuals for prosecution for crimes not yet committed, based on their adherence to the Muslim religion, and that such unequal protection of the laws is prohibited under the Constitution.”

The US government claimed that Aref made 14 calls to terrorists in Syria, even though Aref was only keeping in touch with old friends at the general office of IMK (Islamic Movement in Kurdistan), a perfectly legal political party for which Aref had worked in Syria. The US government refused to hand over transcripts of these conversations that would have shown that there was nothing of alarm being discussed, claiming this evidence was “classified.” Aref’s conviction was based on the US government’s assertion that Mullah Krekar, who was later accused of forming a terrorist organisation, Ansar al-Islam, had also called that number in the past.

Imam Yassin had never once encouraged terrorism to his mosque congregation and had character witnesses to prove it. Yet, under government pressure, Judge McAvoy told the jury that the government had good reason to target Aref. This seriously swayed the outcome of the verdict despite the lack of evidence.

The US government had been trying to come up with a way to frame Aref for years before his actual arrest. There were a number of potential witnesses with very interesting stories who had been willing to testify. One was Abraham Youssef, who said the FBI had interviewed him before Aref’s arrest. Youssef was facing some potential felony charges. He said the FBI told him they could make these charges “disappear” if he would give a statement against Imam Yassin, “that one week prior to the September 11, 2001 attack, Ibrahim had seen two of the nineteen hijackers sleeping over at my house.” Youssef flatly refused their offer.

Another man, Ali Yaghi, was approached by FBI agents in Jordan and asked to testify against Aref in exchange for legal residency in the US so he could be reunited with his estranged American wife and their children. Yaghi also refused.

Imam Yassin Aref stated: “the testimony of Youssef and Yaghi were critical in showing that the government was attempting to frame me and were willing to give valuable consideration in order to get false but incriminating testimony.”

In 2004, the FBI targeted Aref in a sting operation, which was so farcical that it could have been a comedy. The imam had simply witnessed a loan transaction that took place between a member of his mosque and a paid FBI informant, who was apparently trying to avoid prosecution for his own criminal acts by setting up and framing Aref and pizzeria owner Mohammed Hossain in a fictional crime. As a result, Aref was charged with Conspiracy, Money Laundering, Material Support for a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, and Lying to the FBI.

Aref was sentenced in 2007 to 15 years of incarceration. His appeal was denied in 2008 while his petition to the Supreme Court was denied in 2009.

Developing a public consciousness of the issues is essential to prevailing in future political prosecutions. According to Aref’s lawyer Steve Downs, “I do not think the issue in sentencing is the ability of the lawyers but particular judges and the amount of community support that the defendants were receiving. Most judges stick to the guidelines. Some judges as in Aref’s case can be persuaded to deviate down, and some judges as in the Ft. Dix 5 are persuaded to deviate up.”

Sadly, Aref and many other wonderful people will rot in jail until American citizens are willing to battle the Islamophobic politics, on which the prosecutions of Arabs and Muslims have been based.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics, and Editor of World View News Service