Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Lessons of the Wissam Allouche case: About lies, not terrorism

Wissam Allouche arrested by the JTTF

Flag of the Lebanese Shia Amal Movement

The Lessons of the Wissam Allouche case:
An American Lebanese Shiite Muslim caught in the government and media dog- and- pony show

Wissam Allouche, a Lebanese Shia immigrant from Lebanon was sentenced to five years in prison for lying on his citizenship application and for lying to get a security clearance from the Department of Defense. The US government had asked for a ten- year sentence.

Allouche’s criminal case began in 2013 and he was tried and convicted in 2015 in the Western District of Texas district court.  After conviction, the US Attorney for the Western district of Texas issued a press release that read in part:

“Jurors found that defendant lied about his previous association with the Amal militia This afternoon in San Antonio, a federal jury convicted 45–year-old Lebanese–born Wissam “Sam” Allouche of knowingly lying to federal authorities on his U.S. citizenship petition about his relationship with the Amal militia, announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin, Acting United States Attorney Richard Durbin, Jr., and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.

Following a two-week trial, jurors convicted Allouche of making a false statement to a federal agent and an unlawful attempt to procure and obtain naturalization and citizenship. Evidence presented during trial revealed that Allouche, who migrated to the United States after marrying a U.S. Army soldier, failed to disclose to U.S. immigration authorities the fact that in the 1980s, he was a member of the Amal militia in order to remain in the United States. In addition, while seeking a contract linguist position with the U.S. Department of Defense that required top security clearance, evidence revealed that Allouche failed to disclose that he was held as a prisoner of war by Israel. Present and former relatives testified Allouche later made statements that he subsequently killed an Israeli pilot captured by Hezbollah in retaliation for his imprisonment.
Allouche remains in federal custody pending sentencing scheduled for April 27, 2015. He faces up to ten years in federal prison.”

The indictment filed on May 15, 2013 had three counts, below is an excerpt from the indictment:

[18 U.S.C. § 1425(b)]

            On or about January 12, 2009, within the Western District of Texas, the Defendant
for himself, a person not entitled to naturalization and citizenship, knowingly procured and obtained, and attempted to procure and obtain naturalization and citizenship by falsely stating regarding his Form-400 Application for Naturalization, Part 10, Question 9.c, “No” in response to the question “Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with a terrorist organization?” when in truth and fact the Defendant was a fighter in the Amal militia in Lebanon during the early to mid-1980s and after his release as an Israeli prisoner of war, the Defendant was made a commander in the Amal militia; as an Amal commander, the Hizballah fighters in his sector had to notify the Defendant of their operations. Hizballah is classified by the United States government as a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
            In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1425(b).
[18 U.S.C. § 1425(b)]

            On or about January 12, 2009, within the Western District of Texas, the Defendant,
for himself, a person not entitled to naturalization and citizenship, knowingly procured and obtained, and attempted to procure and obtain naturalization and citizenship by falsely stating regarding his Form-400 Application for Naturalization, Part 2, Question B, Defendant claimed that he and his wife were married and living together for the last three years, when in truth and actuality, the Defendant and his wife they had not lived together since May 2007 and filed for divorce in Bexar County on December 7, 2007.
            In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1425(b).
[18 U.S.C. § 1001]

            On or about October 14, 2009, within the Western District of Texas, the Defendant,
knowingly and willfully made a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch, to wit: in order to gain security clearance from the United State Department of Defense, on his Form SF-86, Questionnaire for National Security Position, Section 29 Question g, “Have you EVER participated in militias (not including official state government militias) or paramilitary groups?”, the Defendant answered “No” when in truth and fact, the Defendant was a fighter and commander of the Amal militia in Lebanon during the early to mid-1980’s.
            In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2)."

Not a terror-related case
Just because Mr. Allouche is a Shiite Lebanese does not make his immigration case terror related. He was charged and convicted for lying to the government authorities about his membership in Amal. He was a member of the Lebanese Shia Amal Movement. Amal is not a designated terror group.  In his capacity as an Amal commander, he was in contact with Hizbullah. Hizbullah is classified as a terror group. But it is highly doubtful that the mere contact he had with Hizbullah in Lebanon during his involvement with Amal would count as an illegal association with Hizbullah that would lead to imprisonment and/or deportation. Interestingly, there is a terrible history of violence between Amal and Hizbullah.  The time Allouche was in Amal, there were violent clashes between Amal and Hizballah. In fact, the clashes resulted, in part, from  Amal not wanting Hizbullah to conduct operations against Israel that would invite reprisals against the Southern civilian population.

The media follows the government’s lead: Allouche as a terror case
Some media sources have gotten the facts of the case mixed up. Allouche was not charged with being a Hizbullah member or a former Hizbullah member as a mysanantonio article described him. He was neither charged nor convicted of being a member or a former member of Hizbullah. The bottom line is that Allouche lied on his application. Allouche also had marital problems. But he also seemingly lived an otherwise law-abiding life. He even volunteered to work in Iraq as a linguist when it was vital for US armed forces to have linguists and being a linguist was a very dangerous undertaking in Iraq.

Reasonable minds would agree: Allouche was neither a terrorist nor a security risk
Was Wissam Allouche a national security risk? Despite the fact the Joint Terrorism Task Force led the investigation and made the arrest, there is zero evidence that, at any point in time, even during his Lebanon years, Allouche was even remotely a risk to US security. He was a member of the Shia Amal Movement, a movement that used to be the leading Shiite Lebanese group before Hizbullah eclipsed it. His involvement with Amal led him to contact with Hizbullah- and it was contact during a period when the relationship was adversarial turning into bloody violent.

Had Allouche not lied on his citizenship application and his security clearance application, he would not have been in his situation now facing a five year imprisonment followed by deportation to Lebanon.  

Allouche made mistakes but the critical fact here is that he is a victim of a bad marriage and the war on terror. Allouche is an American Lebanese Shiite Muslim caught up in the government and media  WOT dog- and- pony show

ADC's Abdrabboh column in the Detroit News

Attorney Fatina Abdrabboh

Wayne county prosecutor Kim Worthy

In the Detroit News, American-Arab anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Michigan office regional director wrote a column entitled "Yes hate crimes happen here." The column's genesis is in the Kroger case that ADC took but the Wayne County prosecutor Kim Worthy declined to prosecute as a hate crime. [This is the same Kim Worthy that charged an Arab immigrant gas station clerk with first degree murder for shooting a customer in the back, once, with the customer dying later from complications]

The picture that attorney Abdrabboh describes as to the prosecution of hate crimes is accurate. Many times meeting the burden of proof is a great challenge and going the civil route with its lower evidentiary standard is the only avenue of relief. Arab Americans need organizations such as the Arab American anti- Discrimination Committee (ADC) to defend their civil rights and civil liberties and the Kroger case shows that while our society is admirably tolerant and inclusive, there are individuals who hate Arab Americans and are willing to act on this hate.  Hating Arabs as a people is immoral, acting on this hate is illegal.
Ms Abdrabboh’s column, however, should not be perceived as an invitation to revisit the issue whether our society should criminalize “hate crime” as such.  The case is settled and the law will not be changed in the foreseeable future.
 'In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, Chief Justice Rehnquist said: "a defendant's abstract beliefs, however obnoxious to most people, may not be taken into consideration by a sentencing judge." However, "the belief is no longer abstract once it provides the motive for discriminatory action.'
In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 9/9 Justices approved enhanced punishment for hate crimes and 49 states filed amicus briefs in support of harsher sentences for hate crimes. "Hate crimes" exist and state governments, the federal government and the Supreme Court support hate crime legislation.

Link to column: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2015/05/05/hate-crimes-happen/26885183/

The wisdom of the importation of the politics of division to the Muslim and Arab American communities

My dissertation was on the political behavior of Arab Americans. Using the data from the Detroit Arab American study, I examined three forms of political participation- voting, campaign donations and writing to political officials. I looked at the differences between national groups, faith groups and generations. I found that there is no significant difference in political participation between Christians and Muslims and that education and income are, as expected, strongly linked to political participation. One finding that showed assimilation of Arab Americans was the consistent increase in participation between the generations-from the first generation through the third generation.

We know that Arab Americans are assimilating and are part of the political process. However, my study relied on survey data. Surveys are snapshots of reality. The data was gathered after 9/11. Did political participation increase after 9/11? The survey numbers could not address that. In addition to relying on the survey data, I interviewed a number of Muslim Arab American and Arab American activists to get their insights on Arab- American participation. They were able to provide the history and the contextual knowledge to help better understand and explain the numbers.

An Arab American activist told me that a number of factors helped increase Arab- American political participation.  One of them was the Gulf War. Another was the unification of Yemen. Before the unification of Yemen, the Yemeni community was divided between North and South. The pro South would not attend the events attended by the pro North and vice versa. Foreign- based organizations were very active and their American supporters’ attention was on international politics rather than American national politics. Yemen was unified, the Cold War ended, Saddam invaded Kuwait and the US forced him out. All these factors, he said, made Arab Americans turn inward and work together as Arab Americans and get more involved in American politics.

The Muslim American activist attributed increased and accepted Muslim political participation to generational change. He said some in the old generation was divided over whether participating in American politics is halal or haram. Still others even questioned whether a Muslim can live a real Muslim life in America. One argument was that if Muslims cannot change American politics toward the Muslim world, especially as to the Palestinian issue, then there is no point to involvement in American politics. The 9/11 attacks settled this ongoing conversation in favor of those who wanted participation and national Muslim American organization not only said it is permissible to participate in American politics, they now say it is even religiously obligatory. Part of the change is in leadership with younger generations more familiar with and more comfortable with American politics and culture. The other reason the young activist gave was the realization that in a democracy if you do not participate then your interests are not represented or protected. There is strength in numbers, working with large blocs, therefore, these groups tried to minimize internal divisions and work together to counter real threats facing American Muslims.

Political developments overseas again threaten to weaken whatever Arab and Muslim political unity have coalesced.  Unity, or the appearance of unity, was evident until 2003. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the first divisive development. With the Arab Spring came more polarization. One way to gauge the extent of polarization is listening to anecdotes of daily friction between member of different Arab and Muslim communities. The level of polarization and division is seen in the harsh rhetoric on the Facebook community group, Dearborn Area Community Members, with the division being Sunni-Shia, pro Iran v. pro Saudi Arabia.

Given this reality, are the years of collective action gone? Are the days when Arab Americans used to protest together in support of unifying causes such as Lebanon or Gaza against Israeli aggression over? Are the days when Arabs and Muslims stood together facing the national backlash from the 9/11 attacks long gone?
Arab and Muslim Americans are all together facing a very serious challenge. The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath is not behind us.  That challenge is not gone and the community’s future is still connected to national and international events beyond Arab American and Muslim American control.

The Arab American activist told me that in the aftermath of 9/11 Bush’s Attorney General visited Dearborn and met with Arab American leaders. Listening to the complaints and concerns of the attendees, he told them that if there were another attack on US soil, all bets are off.

We as Arab and Muslim Americans are still demonized by key mainstream media. Our loyalty and patriotism are questioned by important figures. We have a problem of the threat of the radicalization of our youths that risk being brainwashed into joining terrorist organizations or engaging in terrorist acts. This threat of youth radicalization is added to the other threats facing them as American youths- teenage pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, etc. Those who organize divisive events, protests and counter protests are invited to visit the Dearborn courthouse to see what issues face our youths that we are not taking care of.

Young people on Facebook are saying all kinds of things, including speech that is abusive or sectarian and divisive. But it is one thing for the young and immature to be divisive but a completely different thing for the adults, those in leadership positions, to organize around division and conflict.

Importing inter Arab and inter Islamic disputes to our community is simply unwise. The leaders behind the organization of divisive protests and counter protests, divisive events, have to rethink the wisdom of importing division to our community in light of former attorney general Ashcroft candid warning.*

Entry appeared in the Forum and Link of April 30, 2015.