Friday, August 21, 2009

The Release of Political Prisoner Yemeni Imam Al Moayad: The End of a Saga of an Innocent Victim of “War on Terror" Gone Wild

Three Appellate Judges, McLaughlin, Parker and Wesley, Exemplify Judicial Integrity
Another Bush/Ashcroft Ugly Chapter Closes

The recent release of the Yemeni Imam Al Moayad closes one of the ugliest chapters of the Presidency of George W. Bush. The frail Imam Al Moayad is now free, with his many friends, supporters, and people he helped in his long career in charity works. Upon arrival in Sana’a, he was met by a crowd of supporters that included three Yemeni government cabinet- level ministers.

Seeds of the Imam's Trial and Tribulation: A Desperate/Disturbed Man, a Religious Fundamentalist Attorney General, and an Overly Ambitious FBI Agent

The saga of Imam Al Moayad makes excellent material for a Hollywood drama. A down on his luck Yemeni “illegal immigrant “walks into an FBI office offering help in "bagging a big terrorist." An ambitious FBI agent in the post 9/11 heady times wants glory, just like his President George W Bush, and the law-despising Christian fundamentalist Attorney General Ashcroft and his successor Gonzalez- regardless of the collateral damage. A plan is hatched to set up the well- respected Yemeni Imam, the Imam of the biggest mosque in Sana’a, Al Moayad. The informer is sent to Yemen to sell the Imam on a plan to send money to Hamas. Mind you this happens in Yemen where Hamas is hugely popular and support for Hamas, material and/or sentimental, is perfectly legal in Yemen. In the US, however, in 1997 Hamas was designated as a terror group and it’s a crime to provide it with “material support.” Al Qaeda was designated in 1999. As to the support of Hamas, the Imam’s defense was that support for Hamas is legal in Yemen. As to Al Qaeda, the Imam admitted supporting al Qaeda during America’s Jihad against the Soviet Union. The Imam argued that his relationship with al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden ended with the end of the American Jihad with America’s defeat of the Soviet Union.

From Yemen to Germany to Judge Johnson's American Kangaroo Court

"The Most Significant Terrorism Case since 9/11"
5-week Legal Lynching in 2005

In the US, the informer’s statements and taped conversations with Al Moayad are used to get an indictment for Imam al Moayad for material support of Al Qaeda and Hamas. The Iman is induced to travel to Germany from where he is extradited to the United States to face charges. The politics of the case is obvious. The administration was eager to show progress in the “War on Terror.” The media reported that the Bush administration hailed the capture of the Imam as a "significant blow to al Qaeda." Attorney General Ashcroft claimed that al Moayad had "personally" handed Osama Bin laden twenty million dollars. The media described the case as "the most significant terrorism case since 9/11."

The behavior of the prosecutors and the district judge was troubling. The government wanted to win at any cost and dealt with evidentiary rules and fairness as obstacles in America's way to winning its “war on terror.” One of the government attorneys in the courtroom "celebrated" American ethnic and religious diversity and inclusion by referring to a Quranic verse as "the terrorist verse." The district judge, Sterling Johnson Jr., took leave of judicial sense and functioned as a part of the team of the prosecution. The defense team that included Robert J. Boyle and William Goodman put up a great fight but the playing field was uneven. The judge was a de facto part of the prosecution team. The district judge sentenced the good Imam to seventy- five years in prison. The Imam was mind boggled with the sentence and turned to the judge and asked: "Your Honor, what have I done? [to deserve this sentence.] But for the judge that was his Patriot day and he was making sure that the government bags the alien Imam.

The Other Irrational Exuberance: Government and Media Celebrate

The conviction of the Imam was celebrated in the media. A New York Post headline read "Brooklyn Jury Nails Bin Laden's Sheik. Imam Al Moayad was repeatedly described as Bin Laden's "spiritual advisor." Attorney general Gonzalez stated "[t]oday's convictions mark another important step in our war on terrorism." While the case was still on appeal to the Second Circuit Court, cheerleader John H. Richardson wrote a puffery jingoistic piece in Esquire of February 26, 2007, "Brian Murphy and The Bad Guys- How the FBI and One Extraordinary Agent Pursued and won a Terrorism case without Changing the Standards of American Justice." Mr. Richardson described the Al Moayad case as "the biggest and cleanest terrorism prosecution cases of our time." Reading the appellate court’s opinion it becomes abundantly clear the reality is the exact opposite.

I did not read the trial- court’s transcript but I read the appellate court’s sixty- eight page ruling. Reading the transcript makes you scratch you head and wonder what on earth was the district judge thinking. You would think that you see kangaroo- court antics from judges and prosecutors only in authoritarian regimes. It happened in Brooklyn. That travesty of justice was swept away with a unanimous 3-judge panel in October 2008.

Arabic- Media Reports on the Imam’s Release:
Appellate Court’s Courage and Analysis Shortchanged

While the district court’s proceeding is a travesty, the appellate court’s decision is American justice at its best. The appellate court’s courage in tackling the case with integrity without surrendering to jingoism and political pressure highlights the best feature of American government. There is so much to learn and admire about America, the Constitution and the American justice system from examining the appellate court’s opinion. The appellate court raised serious questions about the admissibility of the evidence in trial and determined that the fact that many highly prejudicial pieces of evidence were admitted, cumulatively, lead to an unfair trial. The appellate court held that the graphic testimony on the bus bombing in Israel, the video on the bombing, and the Bin Laden tape were all meant to inflame the jury with prejudicial effect outweighing the benefit of the evidence- especially that the defendant stipulated to the arguments the government wanted to make. The appellate court not only took the unusual step of vacating the judgment but also the rare step of sending it back, if it were to be retried, with direction that a different judge preside over the case.

These three appellate judges, McLaughlin, Parker and Wesley, should be honored for their judicial integrity in a time of crisis and enormous political pressure to deny due process to those who look like the enemy or are perceived as the enemy.

To read the opinion go to http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/opinions.htm and under search type al Moayad.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Landmark Senate Hearing on Islamists- Insights into Explaining Government Behavior toward Muslims in US and Abroad- Part II-

Baran Advises Open War on American Activist Muslims
Void Likely to Result, Most Likely to be filled by Radicals

In the landmark hearing on Islamists held on July 10, 2008 before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Zeyno Baran, a Turkish immigrant and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute offered a broad indictment of almost all American Muslim institutions. If her argument is accepted by the government, and there is evidence it is, then the existing American Muslim institutional presence is at risk with no plausible alternative offered by Baran's favorite Muslims: "the secular, liberal and cultural Muslims." This void is bound to be filled by a radical alternative that will make the present Muslim establishment dearly missed.

The Islamist Infrastructure in the US

Activist Muslims are often associated with schools of thinking such as the Brotherhood and the Salafis. Baran states: "To understand how and why this [American Muslim radicalization process] is happening, one has to look at where people learn about Islam, who represents Muslims and Islam, what activities are conducted by these groups, and other related infrastructure questions. This is where the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] comes in- the most prominent Muslim organizations in America are either created by or are associated with the Brotherhood and the Wahhabis and are therefore been heavily influenced by Islamist ideology. Over the course of four decades, Islamists have taken over the leadership in almost all Islam related areas in America. This is worrisome, yet almost no one in the US government deals with it" [Baran's emphasis].
While individuals influenced by one school of thought might have been involved in violence this does not indict the whole school of thought. After all, the Crusaders claimed to be motivated by Christianity. The Jewish, Eastern Christian and Muslim victims can not justly argue that the Crusades present an indictment of Western Christianity.

NAIT: The Waqf as a Radical Idea

Baran does not spare any of the major American Muslim organizations from her indictment. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) is indicted though MAS it is not unlike Christian or Jewish campus groups. This obsession with Muslims takes away from attention that should be paid to American Christian and Jewish extremists. I am not sure if Baran saw the documentary Jesus Camp to see what very young children are exposed to in the name of Christianity to know what radicalism and brain washing is. Baran even attacks the North American Islamic trust (NAIT)- NAIT is a Muslim endowment that holds title to Muslim institutions.

MAS and CAIR

Of course an Islamic conspiracy would not be a ball without CAIR and MAS. The federal government has received much criticism for its engagement efforts with CAIR, the largest American Muslim advocacy group with national and international credibility. Caving in to the pressure the noise produced on the web based garbage spread by extremist Jewish and Christian extremists and fanatics, the government has disengaged CAIR. One Arab American leader told me that he heard that the “government unhappiness” with the leadership of CAIR is behind the government’s position. Baran’s argument shows otherwise.

A Huge Conspiracy: Islamization Effort or Political Islam?

Immigrant communities are close knit communities. Personal relationships and friendships are very important. However, when it comes to American Muslims this reality is seen as part of a conspiracy:
"What is critically important in all these organizations is their support for one another; the same leaders appear in multiple organizations, tend to have familial relations, and move within the same close trusted circles. Outwardly they all appear different entities, but they are actually part of a carefully planned Islamization effort."

Intelligence and Advocacy: You quote me I quote You

The most troubling aspect of the wild accusations of “experts” on American Muslims is their circular argument. Intelligence relies on them to indict Muslims and they in turn reference the government action to validate their position. Baran adds: "It is also very important to note that despite their outwardly moderate positions, NAIT, ISNA, and CAIR were all named as un-indicted co-conspirators in the federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which was charged with providing millions of dollars to Hamas." One Muslim activist told me that the government provided his attorney with a blogger’s hateful lunatic rants as evidence of his culpability in the case. The blogger in turn referenced the government case as evidence that she was right all along about the Muslim activist. This is the justice the US provides Muslim activists.

Baran’s Illogic: American Islamists Hate the US but Genuinely Want to Cooperate to Thwart Terrorism

Muslim activists have unequivocally condemned attacks against the US and offered their sincere efforts to combat extremism. It is not uncommon to hear these dedicated, ethical, indeed model citizen activists say to anyone who cares to listen from the government: "we are an asset not a liability," "we are against violence." "We are not the problem," "let us be part of the solution." These offers of partnership have been rebuffed due to this Baran logic:"Terrorist acts inside the US are huge setbacks for American Islamists…It is not surprising that most of these organizations offer their cooperation to prevent Islamist terrorism inside the US."[my emphasis]

America and the Turkish Un-delight: DOJ as an Islamization Agent

Baran's testimony is based on her immigrant background as a secular Muslim from a country that has adopted radical secularism that is completely different from the comparatively nuanced and sophisticated American secularism. The US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of association, no establishment of religion and most importantly the free exercise of religion. While Baran's native Turkey bans the Muslim scarf in universities and government buildings with this ban strongly backed by the hard line secularizing courts, the United States department of Justice (DOJ) sued on behalf of a Muslim girl who was not allowed to wear her head scarf in school. Given Baran’s logic, one would conclude that the DOJ is an Islamizing organization intent on spreading Dawa and imposing Shariah on the US.

The Government Unleashed on Baran’s “Undesirable Muslims”

While Ms Baran is entitled to her personal preference to the "secular, liberal and cultural" Muslims, she is not entitled to privileging this group as “true Islam” and using the government as a sledgehammer to bludgeon the others who incidentally have more credibility and grassroots following. It is a stubborn fact that activist Muslims are the ones who have built the institutions of American Islam that provided the much needed services that a “Friday Muslim” or a “Eid Muslim” needs from a place to pray Jumaa/Friday prayer to an Islamic will template. Those who are not happy with the "Islamists" dominance in American Muslim life are outlaw them, Turkish style, due to American tradition and the US Constitution. The battle is therefore being waged through investigations, prosecutions, indictments, harassment (an example is the Holy Land case who’s who list of Muslim activists unindicted co conspirator) and exclusion based on dubious allegations and legal theories.

The Other Muslims to the Test: Creating Alternatives

It is time for Ms Baran and her “pious and practicing, liberal, secular, and cultural Muslims” to establish their own American Muslim institutions and compete in the marketplace of ideas for the hearts and minds of American Muslims. I highly doubt that Baran’s favored groups are willing or able to produce alternatives. Baran’s ideas carried into government policy would ultimately create an institutional void that is bound to be filled by radical alternatives that will make the present Muslim establishment sorely missed.