Friday, May 24, 2013

Muslim Legal Fund of America works for the people

TMO spoke to longtime community activist Muthanna al-Hanooti about the importance of the work of the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), which opened a new Greater Detroit office in September 2012. MLFA also has offices in Dallas, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Al-Hanooti is the regional director for MLFA in Southfield, Michigan.
This author first met al-Hanooti 20 years ago while doing charity work with Life for Relief and Development, while a Wayne State University undergrad student trying to raise awareness about the tragic effects of US sanctions on Iraqi children.
Al-Hanooti, a descendant of Palestinians expelled from Haifa in 1948, was born in Iraq, raised in Kuwait and moved to the US in 1980. He became interested in human rights at age 15 when he learned about relatives being persecuted by the former Iraqi regime. “I had a bad confrontation with the regime when I was 18 when I was denied enrollment in Baghdad University because I was not ‘Ba’thist.’ This experience was a great eye opener to me. Since then I was adamant advocate for the human rights violations in Iraq and elsewhere,” he told the Arab American News. His background involves TV production and management. Much of his career was spent in government and international relations.
“I’m a beneficiary of the Muslim Legal Fund of America,” Al-Hanooti said. “My experiences opened my eyes to the negative and positive things about the legal system.”
In 2003, al-Hanooti was wrongfully accused of being a spy for Iraq working for Saddam Hussein’s foreign intelligence arm, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, after inviting US Congressmen to Iraq to observe the humanitarian situation. People who knew him personally were shocked to learn about the charges, because of his upstanding character and long time service to the community. He helped establish Life for Relief and Development, the Council on American Islamic Relations of Michigan, Focus on American and Arab Interests and Relations and other organizations. The US government charges carried a 15-year sentence, and were eventually all dismissed.
Al-Hanooti’s attorney Linda Moreno, who was provided to him by MLFA, spent 18 months examining classified documents, and the prosecution’s allegations, and created a strong defense that saved Al-Hanooti’s dignity and freedom. Judge Paul Borman sentenced al-Hanooti to serve 10 months, citing his life of charitable and civic work in rejecting the government’s call for considerably more prison time.
“As an attorney handling federal national security cases across the country, I have never seen a judge depart so radically from the government’s recommended sentence,” stated Ahmed Ghappour, an Egyptian-American trial attorney who focuses on national security law. “This underscores the fact that al-Hanooti is a committed humanitarian and a role model for the community he so dearly served. In the end, a stunning trajectory for Muthanna al-Hanooti: from spy to patriot.”
While MLFA has been criticized because the high profile Holy Land Foundation trials, and that of Aafia Siddique did not go well, resulting in life sentences, MLFA director Janney told Ihsan Alkhatib, Esq., PhD in an interview that “MLFA has won many other important cases, including that of Jamal Abusamhadeneh, who was falsely accused of being a member of a foreign organization. MLFA funded his defense and was successfully cleared of those charges. He is now a free American citizen; Linda Mahmoud, who had her 20-year security clearance revoked by her employer, the U.S. Department of Defense. MLFA funded her defense against accusation she was tied to Palestinian terrorists, and her security clearance was reinstated; Mohammad Salah, who has been wrongfully designated as a terrorist for the past 17 years, despite a jury finding him innocent. MLFA funded the lawsuit to lift the crippling designation. He is now free of this designation and can function normally in society; Imam Foad Farahi, who was the victim of government heavy-handed attempts to turn him into a spy against his congregation. He refused to deceive his community, but it nearly costs him his bid for citizenship. MLFA funded his defense and he is now on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen again.”
MLFA is currently funding around a dozen cases and has handled nearly a dozen past cases on the basis of each case’s potential impact on the status of civil liberties in America.
One of the initiatives MLFA is launching this year is a preventative campaign aimed at increasing awareness of informants who try to snare community members into manufactured plots. They are providing posters for mosques to display that warn their communities that “If that new friend starts calling for ‘violent jihad,’ he might be an informant.”
“Law enforcement should focus on preventing crime, not creating it. Every community member needs to be aware of this issue. We also include our phone number on these posters for people who believe they are being targeted by informants,” said Janney.
Janney told Forum and Link that the Muslim Legal Fund of America is a charity organization started in late 2001 by a group of activists in the Dallas, TX area. “After watching the Clinton Administration lock away over two dozen Muslims and citing ‘secret evidence’ as justification, we knew that things could be taking a bad turn for Muslims in America. After the 9/11 terrorists attacks the government raided and shutdown Muslim charities and business in various American communities and prosecuted their leaders. We witnessed new laws being passed that grant the government unprecedented power to criminalize speech, treat religious observation as suspicious activities and violate the very civil liberties that serve as the basis of our society. Fortunately, we have MLFA, our supporters, and other like-minded organizations that are actively standing up to these challenges.”
The MLFA is one of the nation’s leading organization’s committed to upholding justice.  It is a 501(c)(3) charity that supports legal cases impacting the civil rights and liberties in America. Its staff, volunteers and supporters all share the common belief that treating people unfairly because of their religious beliefs undermines the core values that make America great. In addition to financially and logistically supporting legal cases, MLFA promotes justice by informing the media of the important issues and cases it supports in order for the public to learn more about them and see first hand the discrimination surrounding Muslim Americans.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Malcolm X’s Grandson Gone at 28

28 year old Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson and only male descendant of Malcolm X, who reportedly embraced Shia Islam recently and was becoming known as a political activist engaged with and serving to unite many different causes and communities, was murdered in Mexico on May 9, 2013.
“As the son of Qubilah Shabazz, Malcolm Shabazz was apparently in the process of putting his life on a positive and productive path, attending the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and writing his memoirs. But now the family has to deal with yet another devastating setback,” writes Herb Boyd in the Daily Beast.
Shabazz had made recent headlines in March 2013 when he was arrested after applying for a visa to travel to Iran to be a participant of the International Fajr Film Festival, in order to give a lecture addressing the issues of Hollywood and violence; in particular he was to address the use of film to promote modern violence & terrorism, and provoking clashes between religions & populations. He had already been featured from January 15th through 18th, 2013 as a featured interviewee for the Press TV documentary “The Façade of the American Dream.”
Soon after his arrest, he appeared live on Iran’s Press TV reporting from New York under a headline reading, “They drew guns on my mother and me.” He also issued a public statement to former US Representative and presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney that she posted on her Facebook page:
“Given the storm of lies, and half-truths that come with being associated with being the descendant of El Hajj Malik el Shabazz, also known as Minister Malcolm X, any and everything that I do; great or small, good or not so good, real or imagined is subject to controversy. However, in this missive I will take this opportunity to properly & fully disclose what transpired. In the beginning of 2012 I had been informed that I was under investigation by the F.B.I.’s Counter Terrorism Task Force Unit located in Goshen, N.Y.”
Shabazz goes on to describe various incidents of police harassment that had transpired recently, including the questioning of his neighbors. “They seek to neutralize my networking abilities… The formula for a public assassination is: the character assassination before the physical assassination; so one has to be made killable before the eyes of the public in order for their eventual murder to then deemed justifiable,” he wrote to McKinney last March. He also had this to say:
“I was not arrested by federal agents. I was taken in by a squad from the City of Middletown, N.Y.’s Police Department. I was not being held in an “undisclosed location” so to speak. I was actually being held in the Orange County Jail in Goshen, N.Y. However, from the time that I was booked at the precinct, to standing before a Judge the next day who told me to come back in 7 more, to being processed at the Orange County Jail and up until 7 days later I was not permitted to make any calls to notify anyone of my status; as though I had just been kidnapped from of the street.”
Dave Zirin writes in the Nation: “Malcolm Shabazz had everything going for him. He was 28 years old, handsome as hell and a remarkably charismatic public speaker. He was an activist, an organizer and a proud father… He wanted to wield Malcolm’s memory to fight for a better world.”
Malcolm Shabazz was the guest of a Mexican labor organizer, Miguel Suarez, who had recently been deported from the US, when he was reportedly thrown off the roof of the Palace Bar in Mexico while resisting robbery at 3am. Speculation abounds, about whether this Suarez, who was allegedly affiliated with narcotics trafficking, had lured him into a trap, or if he was just a new friend with a very stupid idea of fun.
Herb Boyd writes in the Daily Beast: “With the confirmation of Malcolm Lateef Shabazz’s death, it marks the third generation in which the family has lost a member violently. Malcolm X’s father, Earl Little, was killed by the Black Legion or the Ku Klux Klan in 1931. As Malcolm X recalled in his autobiography, “Negroes in Lansing have always whispered that he was attacked, and then laid across some tracks for a streetcar to run over him. His body was cut almost in half.” Three of his father’s brothers were also killed by white men in Georgia, which prompted his father to leave the state. Malcolm Sr. was shot by assassins on February 21, 1965, as he prepared to address an audience at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights. Along with the tragic deaths in the family’s patrilineal line, Betty Shabazz was killed in 1997 by a fire in which her grandson, Malcolm Shabazz, was accused and convicted of setting.”
His grandmother, Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X, was killed in a fire he started 11 years ago. He was 12 years old. He had been shuttled in and out of correctional institutions until his release from Attica Prison in February 2007. Malcolm Shabazz at age 24 declared to media that he was on a mission: to clear his name, stay out of jail and rise from the ashes of his past. In an extensive interview with NewsOne in 2004, Shabazz explained the terrible event that led to his imprisonment as a youth.
“I didn’t mean for my grandmother to get hurt. I wasn’t thinking anything like that would happen. [I thought] she would go to the fire escape [but] she walked through the fire to get to me. I didn’t think she would walk through a fire for me.”
The death of Malcolm Shabazz at 28 makes him the youngest in the family to have his life end so violently. His grandfather was 39, still in the prime of his life, and on the road to even greater success after meaningful contacts with world leaders in Africa and the Middle East.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Assata Shakur Returns to Headlines

Civil Rights activist Assata Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Byron-Chesimard, has re-appeared in the headlines after years of exile in Cuba, because on May 2, 2013, the State of New Jersey raised the bounty on her head to $2 million after the FBI promoted the 66-year-old woman to its Most Wanted Terrorist list.

Many in the African American community are shocked to learn that this astonishingly beautiful woman, whose inspirational significance has been compared to Leila Khalid, and whose contributions to the Civil Rights movement are legendary, is now being treated like the next Osama bin Laden!
Nick Chiles writes in the Atlanta Black Star that “to many blacks Shakur is a hero for standing up to law enforcement while she was a leader of the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s and for her forceful writings and commentary on the conditions of black people after she fled to Cuba sometime around 1984. She has been the subject of films, documentaries and rap songs over the years.” 

Why would the government do this, and why now? Is this an act of war against Cuba? Are they trying to create a Black Messiah in order to instigate a racial civil war in the US? Professor Julio Pino, who teaches history at Kent State University, told TMO, “It’s part of the long Cold War against Cuba, but also a warning to African Americans to act like Obama or else.” 

During the earlier part of the 1970s, Shakur, an active member of the Black Panther Party and its paramilitary arm, the Black Liberation Army (BLA), assisted in clothing, educational and food drives within many dilapidated communities, and gave speeches at rallies in efforts to help empower the everyday people. The BLA organization was known to mimic the current tactics of other liberation movements around the world by robbing banks, hijacking planes, and bombing courthouses in order to make public the grievances of American blacks. They also trained and organized black people to stand up to police brutality by shooting back when attacked. Importantly, they appealed to International Laws protecting people engaged in revolutionary struggle against tyrannical government. They regarded themselves as warriors, as political prisoners, not as criminals. While their approach was very radical, the aggressive tactics of the BLA paved the road towards acceptance of Martin Luther King’s message of human equality, in large part out of white fear that if segregation did not end, blacks would retaliate with organized violence.
Assata Shakur was convicted of killing a New Jersey State Trooper during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973, though she has always maintained her innocence. Evidence shows she was shot by the police while her hands were in the air. In the aftermath, Zayd Shakur and a police officer lay dead.
Davey D writes in Hip Hop Corner, “If we’re gonna talk about Assata and say she’s a ‘cop killer,’ let’s be completely honest and put such accusations into perspective. Everyone wants to forget that in the 60s and 70s the FBI and police declared War on the black community and organizations that formed in the community to end oppression. The police and FBI went all out to destroy Black leaders and these organizations with undaunted impunity. The reason why you had BPP (Black Panther Party), SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and BLA (Black Liberation Army) was because they responded to police terrorism. They were tired of seeing the police come into our communities and take them over like an ‘occupying army,’ if I may quote Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale.”
The FBI had long viewed Shakur as a black leader that needed to be neutralized, but the police hatred of her was intense. The white police officer who arrested Shakur raped her with his gun and dragged her broken and bleeding body on the street. That the New Jersey government just contributed another $1 million to the existing $1 million Federal reward for her capture on the 40th anniversary of her arrest shows that there remains a very personal sense of vendetta against her.
“Although I drifted in and out of consciousness I remember clearly that both while I was lying on the ground, and while I was in the ambulance, I kept hearing the State troopers ask ‘is she dead yet?’” remembers Shakur.
“Sundiata Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial. We were both convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison.”
Shakur was treated in an extraordinary way, put in a high security men’s prison where she had to take care of her bodily functions in front of male guards, and was frequently tortured and beaten. She became pregnant by another Black Panther who shared a cell with her during her trial. She was then put in solitary confinement in a women’s prison. She gave birth in her prison cell and her baby daughter was immediately taken away from her. She was violently brutalized while still in postnatal weakness.
On November 2nd 1979, BLA comrades broke Shakur out of New Jersey’s Clinton Correctional Facility for Women by seizing the visiting area, brandishing previously concealed 45 caliber pistols, taking two officers hostage, and hijacking a prison van to escape the premises, then switching vehicles at an undisclosed area & fleeing further. Assata’s brother, Mutulu Shakur and Sekou Odinga along with two white women, Silvia Baraldini and Marilyn Buck got life sentences for aiding Shakur’s escape. Shakur went underground, and was given political asylum by Fidel Castro in 1983.
In 1997, the New Jersey State Police wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II upon his visit to Cuba, unprecedented in history, asking him to intervene in order to get Shakur extradited back to the US. This was combined with a vicious media smear campaign against her, coordinated with then Governor Christine Whitney.

“It is nothing but an attempt to bring about the re-incarnation of the Fugitive Slave Act. All I represent is just another slave that they want to bring back to the plantation. Well, I might be a slave, but I will go to my grave a rebellious slave,” responded Shakur.
“They wanted to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie,” Castro told Cuban TV.
Shakur addressed her own letter to the Pope:
“I first learned of the struggle and the sacrifice of Jesus in the segregated churches of the South… It was in the dungeons of prison that I felt the presence of God up close, and it has been my belief in God, and in the goodness of human beings that has helped me to survive… I am not writing to ask you to intercede on my behalf. I ask nothing for myself. I only ask you to examine the social reality of the United States and to speak out against the human rights violations that are taking place.”

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Guantanamo Unrest Linked to Navy-Army Guard Switch

There are currently 166 people imprisoned in Guantanamo, the majority of whom are known to be innocent. 86 of them have already been cleared for release by the US government since many years. Yet their indefinite detention without trial continues. More than 130 of the prisoners are now embroiled in an agonizing hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. Shaker Aamer, the sole UK citizen still at Guantanamo, who has been locked up for 11 years despite being cleared for release 6 years ago, has already lost more than a quarter of his body weight.
“I barely notice all of my medical ailments any more – the back pain from the beatings I have taken, the rheumatism from the frigid air conditioning, the asthma exacerbated by the toxic sprays they use to abuse us. There is an endless list. And now 24/7, as the Americans say, I have the ache of hunger,” Aamer told the Observer, UK.
“I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow. But if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.”
Yemeni prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel wrote in a letter published in The New York Times, “The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply… And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.”
The US Supreme Court ruled (Hamdan vs Rumsfeld) on June 29, 2006 that Guantanamo detainees were legally entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention and under US laws regarding prisoners’ rights during armed conflicts. In a speech on August 1, 2007, Obama, then a senator, said, “In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantanamo, we have compromised our most precious values.” On January 22, 2009, the new president Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility within one year, in order to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.”
Ramzy Baroud writes on, “While his second term is unlikely to deliver much of the “change” he had so industriously promised, skeletal men continue to sink into utter despair at the American gulag at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.”
Attorney Carlos Warner, who represents 11 prisoners at Guantánamo, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, “The president has the authority to transfer individuals if he believes that it’s in the interests of the United States. He doesn’t have the political will to do so because 166 men in Guantánamo don’t have much pull in the United States. But the average American on the street does not understand that half of these men, 86 of the men, are cleared for release.”
Things had been improving at Guantanamo in terms of prison conditions. Torture had stopped. Once the prisoners were found to lack any useful information, the brutal interrogations stopped. Warner continues:
“There are about four years of détente between the guards and the men, where really, the guards were understanding of the men and the men were very respectful to the guards. And the guard force was changed in September. It went from the Navy to the Army. It was from that time, we started to have crisis…
“Basically, the Army made a decision: We want to take everything out of the camps and know what we’re dealing with. This all came to a head on February the 6th when the men’s cells were stripped and Muslim linguists were leafing through the Qur’ans with the Army looking on. And this was, as I’ve said, the spark that ignited this current strike. And from there, we’ve just devolved and devolved.”
Guantanamo prisoner Fayiz al-Kandry reported that he is being force-fed with a bigger tube than is required. This makes it difficult for him to breathe, and induces vomiting.
Sami al-Hajj, the al-Jazeera journalist who was held in Guantanamo for over 6 years, reported that while he was on the hunger strike that led to his release, guards forcibly shoved a large tube through his nose down into his stomach, and violently yanked it out after the feeding was done. They reused the same tube filled with blood and vomit to shove inside the hunger striking prisoners.
The new Army guards have attempted to break the hunger strikers’ resolve by placing them in solitary cells. This led to violent clashes, with guards firing “non-lethal” rounds on prisoners.
On March 21, 2013, al-Kandry sent a gift to Attorney Warner with a letter that reads: “I made this lantern with my brothers. It’s made with bits of paper and cardboard. We used a water bottle sanded on the floor as glass. We painted it with bits of paint and fruit juice. It’s held together by pressure only. We made this lantern for those in the world who remember and pray for us during this time of suffering. Let its light fill you. Use it to bring peace to your heart.” Attorney Warner said that it felt like a goodbye letter.
Without any serious pressure from concerned Americans to close Guantanamo, and without any heroic attempt by the Cuban people to rid themselves of the grotesque American occupation on their soil, it appears that an entire corporate industry has grown around the continuing injustice towards these men, most of whom were randomly kidnapped while traveling abroad, and sold to the US for a couple thousand dollars’ bounty. Releasing them would mean Americans admitting they were wrong. Something we are not used to doing.
Ryan J Reilly reports in the Huffington Post, “As Obama’s second term begins, Guantanamo seems to be putting down roots. Indeed, parts of the naval base have taken on the appearance of a new beach side housing development. Hundreds of homes are currently under construction in neighborhoods with names like Iguana Terrace and Marina Point, to house the growing population of military personnel, civilian contractors and their families, which currently stands at approximately 5,000… The base features a Starbucks, a Subway, a McDonald’s, a KFC/Taco Bell, a supermarket, a golf course, a restaurant serving Jamaican jerk chicken and an Irish pub. A gift shop sells stuffed iguanas and T-shirts emblazoned with Guantanamo Bay slogans like ‘Close, But No Cigar.’”