The Justice Department has escalated the criminalization of First Amendment activities.
Ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Chicago, hundreds gathered for a People’s Summit hosted by Occupy Chicago. Various speakers discussed how NATO perpetuates policies of war abroad. A number of speakers also described the war at home that includes austerity measures and a culture of fear that violates the civil liberties or rights of certain groups of people, like Muslims.
Abdul Malik Mujahid, founder of the Muslim Peace Coalition, spoke about the targeting of Muslims in America. He notes 400,000 Muslims live in Chicago, but very few Muslims will be out protesting NATO this weekend. That is because there is a “fear regime” that discourages Muslims from participating. This regime includes monitoring and spying by the FBI, which has grown into a domestic intelligence agency that has interviewed over 700,000 Muslims since the September 11th attacks.
The fear regime includes the disappearing of people from congregations. For example, Mujahid recounts how someone he knew had not shown up for a long time. He returned and Mujahid asked him after a sermon where he had been. He said he had gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca. When he came back to the United States, he was detained by agents that asked him to inform on “these people, these people and these people.” He refused to be “recruited for this purpose.” Then the agents said, “There’s something on you.” This Muslim man was arrested, tried and sentenced for two years.
“Based on what? Based on evidence that was secret,” Mujahid explains. With sharp irony, Mujahid adds, like other Muslims, he too has been detained many times, so many that he can’t remember all the times and may “need to sit down and write a diary.”
Mujahid is a Pakistani, who migrated to the United States not because he needed money or a job but because he read and compared different countries’ constitutions. He determined the Bill of Rights would afford him protection. But, now people like him can be “tried indefinitely without trial” and convicted with evidence that can be kept secret. As he put it, America is turning into a “funny country.”
As the Project for Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims (SALAM) outlined at the People’s Summit, the FBI and Justice Department now operates under the paradigm of preemptive prosecution, which means people are prosecuted on suspicion alone before a crime is even committed. This questionable and illegal practice that does away with the presumption of innocence that citizens are supposed to enjoy under the US Constitution makes it possible for government authorities to criminalize dissent, transform Islamic people into suspects and explicitly place Muslims at the “top of the list of terrorism prosecutions.”
The case of 29-year-old Tarek Mehanna is a salient example of preemptive prosecution. He was recently sentenced to 17 years in prison for translating a document, “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad.” The translation of this document historically would have been protected under the First Amendment. However, as David Cole writes, the government relied on the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision, which expands how peace and human rights activists can be targeted for providing “material support” to “terrorism.” The decision determined “any aid to a foreign terrorist organization might ultimately support illegal ends.” Mehanna’s act did not lead to any violent act whatsoever, but it could have aided al Qaeda and pushed readers to “jihad, which is all the prosecutor had to argue to convict Mehanna of “terrorism.”
This development is part of why President Obama’s regime is worse than regime of President George W. Bush. The Justice Department has escalated the criminalization of First Amendment activities. It has been done under the pretext of the “war on terrorism.” Unlike Bush, the administration has not engaged in this conduct and sought to get away with it but instead has sought to legitimize policies of repression by legalizing them through either of the three branches of US government.
Additionally, according to Project SALAM:
A variety of tactics are used against defendants once they are arrested, to get them to plead guilty, cooperate as informants, or conversely to silence them. For example, federal prosecutors can hold defendants before trial in solitary confinement under a legal device called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). Pre-trial solitary confinement can last for years and impair defendants’ mental ability to cooperate in their own defense or testify coherently.
After trial, defendants with terrorism convictions may also be sentenced to highly restrictive isolation prisons called Communication Management Units (CMUs), in retaliation for expressing their constitutionally protected religious beliefs or unpopular political views, or for challenging rights violations in the federal prison system. It is no accident that the majority of prisoners in CMUs are Muslim; according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the proportion of Muslims in the two CMUs is so high––upwards of two-thirds––that this over-represents the proportion of Muslim prisoners in BOP facilities by at least 1,000%.
The transformation that has occurred in the United States now has Mujahid asking, “What law? What is the due process?” It’s a compelling question given the fact that President Barack Obama is currently overseeing an administration that is redefining the term entirely. The administration is redefining it to justify and expand a drone war in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Individuals who are allegedly “terror suspects” are executed without charge. These people have included US citizens, like Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. The intelligence used to justify executing Khan without charge likely includes content from blogging Khan did that, according to Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill, the FBI told Khan’s family they were “concerned” about.
The process people of the world are expected to accept is a review process that goes on without oversight inside the Executive Branch. This skirting of checks and balances that are supposed to prevent the Executive Branch from claiming such a power to be judge, jury and executioner of human beings would be utterly appalling to individuals if it weren’t for the fact that those being bombed are brown-skinned Muslim people.
Finally, Mujahid acknowledges the erosion of due process has not only impacted Muslims. He recently visited New York City to protest the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy that targets blacks and Latinos. Someone took him to a street and told him right here a person was asked through no process, “Just you move here, drop your pants, lift your shirt.” Mujahid could not believe this would be accepted as right. He then mentions that he found out 30% of all kids in New York public schools are stopped and frisked.
“What law? What process? What humanity?” he asks. “Raising that question is the most honorable thing that we all can do.”
The sad reality is that 10 million people have been turned into refugees in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan as a result of the US and NATO’s war-making agenda. The people of these countries may desire to come to America for freedom and sanctuary. Yet, increasingly, it seems America is the last place a refugee should go. For if those refugees would come to resent the policies of American empire that displaced them, the government of the United States is likely to target and further destroy their lives.
Here’s Abdul Malik Mujahid at the People’s Summit in Chicago:
More on Tarek Mehanna here in lengthy article by Michael May for The American Prospect – “Keyboard Jihadist?“