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All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 94% that Aren’t 

Posted on 20 January 2010 by Danios

CNN recently published an article entitled Study: Threat of Muslim-American terrorism in U.S. exaggerated; according to a study released by Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “the terrorist threat posed by radicalized Muslim-Americans has been exaggerated.”

Yet, Americans continue to live in mortal fear of radical Islam, a fear propagated and inflamed by right wing Islamophobes.  If one follows the cable news networks, it seems as if all terrorists are Muslims.  It has even become axiomatic in some circles to chant: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but nearly all terrorists are Muslims.” Muslims and their “leftist dhimmi allies” respond feebly, mentioning Waco as the one counter example, unwittingly affirming the belief that “nearly all terrorists are Muslims.”

But perception is not reality.  The data simply does not support such a hasty conclusion.  On the FBI’s official website, there exists a chronological list of all terrorist attacks committed on U.S. soil from the year 1980 all the way to 2005.  That list can be accessed here (scroll down all the way to the bottom).

Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil by Group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database

Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil by Group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database

According to this data, there were more Jewish acts of terrorism within the United States than Islamic (7% vs 6%).  These radical Jews committed acts of terrorism in the name of their religion.  These were not terrorists who happened to be Jews; rather, they were extremist Jews who committed acts of terrorism based on their religious passions, just like Al-Qaeda and company.

Yet notice the disparity in media coverage between the two.  It would indeed be very interesting to construct a corresponding pie chart that depicted the level of media coverage of each group.  The reason that Muslim apologists and their “leftist dhimmi allies” cannot recall another non-Islamic act of terrorism other than Waco is due to the fact that the media gives menial (if any) coverage to such events.  If a terrorist attack does not fit the “Islam is the perennial and existential threat of our times” narrative, it is simply not paid much attention to, which in a circuitous manner reinforces and “proves” the preconceived narrative.  It is to such an extent that the average American has no image of his head of any Jewish or Latino terrorist; why should he when he has never even heard of the Jewish Defense League or the Ejercito Popular Boricua Macheteros?  Surely what he does not know does not exist!

The Islamophobes claim that Islam is intrinsically a terroristy religion.  The proof?  Well, just about every terrorist attack is Islamic, they retort.  Unfortunately for them, that’s not quite true.  More like six percent.  Using their defunct logic, these right wingers ought now to conclude that nearly all acts of terrorism are committed by Latinos (or Jews).  Let them dare say it…they couldn’t; it would be political and social suicide to say such a thing. Most Americans would shut down such talk as bigoted; yet, similar statements continue to be said of Islam, without any repercussions.

The Islamophobes live in a fantasy world where everyone is supposedly too “politically correct” to criticize Islam and Muslims.  Yet, the reality is the exact opposite: you can get away with saying anything against the crescent.  Can you imagine the reaction if I said that Latinos should be profiled because after all they are the ones who commit the most terrorism in the country?  (For the record: I don’t believe in such profiling, because I am–unlike the right wing nutters–a believer in American ideals.)

The moral of the story is that Americans ought to calm down when it comes to Islamic terrorism.  Right wingers always live in mortal fear–or rather, they try to make you feel that way.  In fact, Pamela Geller (the queen of internet Islamophobia) literally said her mission was to “scare the bejeezus outta ya.” Don’t be fooled, and don’t be a wuss.  You don’t live in constant fear of radicalized Latinos (unless you’re Lou Dobbs), even though they commit seven times more acts of terrorism than Muslims in America.  Why then are you wetting yourself over Islamic radicals?  In the words of Cenk Uygur: you’re at a ten when you need to be at a four.  Nobody is saying that Islamic terrorism is not a matter of concern, but no more so than the acts of terrorism committed by people of other faiths.  So calm the bleep down, and continue living your life.


A reader by the name of Dima added:

The FBI Terrorism Report shows…[that] the highest number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. by region (90) took place in Puerto Rico.


An Islamophobe commented on this article, saying that the statistics are flawed because they would count small acts such as “stealing rats from a lab” as an act of terrorism.  Of course, this is patently false.  Here is a breakdown of the terrorist attacks by type (the pie chart is from the FBI’s official website and can be accessed here):

Terrorism by Event, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI DatabaseTerrorism by Event, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database

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By Scott Horton

This is the full text of an exclusive advance feature by Scott Horton that will appear in the March 2010Harper’s Magazine. The issue will be available on newsstands the week of February 15.

1. “Asymmetrical Warfare”

When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.

As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves. Only the prisoners’ families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen rejected the notion.

Two years later, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has primary investigative jurisdiction within the naval base, issued a report supporting the account originally advanced by Harris, now a vice-admiral in command of the Sixth Fleet. The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS documents were carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.

According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.

Al-Zahrani, according to the documents, was discovered first, at 12:39 a.m., and taken by several Alpha Block guards to the camp’s detention medical clinic. No doctors could be found there, nor the phone number for one, so a clinic staffer dialed 911. During this time, other guards discovered Al-Utaybi. Still others discovered Al-Salami a few minutes later. Although rigor mortis had already set in—indicating that the men had been dead for at least two hours—the NCIS report claims that an unnamed medical officer attempted to resuscitate one of the men, and, in attempting to pry open his jaw, broke his teeth.

The fact that at least two of the prisoners also had cloth masks affixed to their faces, presumably to prevent the expulsion of the rags from their mouths, went unremarked by the NCIS, as did the fact that standard operating procedure at Camp Delta required the Navy guards on duty after midnight to “conduct a visual search” of each cell and detainee every ten minutes. The report claimed that the prisoners had hung sheets or blankets to hide their activities and shaped more sheets and pillows to look like bodies sleeping in their beds, but it did not explain where they were able to acquire so much fabric beyond their tightly controlled allotment, or why the Navy guards would allow such an obvious and immediately observable deviation from permitted behavior. Nor did the report explain how the dead men managed to hang undetected for more than two hours or why the Navy guards on duty, having for whatever reason so grievously failed in their duties, were never disciplined.

A separate report, the result of an “informal investigation” initiated by Admiral Harris, found that standard operating procedures were violated that night but concluded that disciplinary action was not warranted because of the “generally permissive environment” of the cell block and the numerous “concessions” that had been made with regard to the prisoners’ comfort, which “concessions” had resulted in a “general confusion by the guard and the JDG staff over many of the rules that applied to the guard force’s handling of the detainees.” According to Harris, even had standard operating procedures been followed, “it is possible that the detainees could have successfully committed suicide anyway.”

This is the official story, adopted by NCIS and Guantánamo command and reiterated by the Justice Department in formal pleadings, by the Defense Department in briefings and press releases, and by the State Department. Now four members of the Military Intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, including a decorated non-commissioned Army officer who was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 9, have furnished an account dramatically at odds with the NCIS report—a report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.

All four soldiers say they were ordered by their commanding officer not to speak out, and all four soldiers provide evidence that authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners’ deaths. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harper’s Magazine that strongly suggests the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards’ accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred.


Satellite photograph from Terraserver.

2. “Camp No”

The soldiers of the Maryland-based 629th Military Intelligence Battalion arrived at Guantánamo Naval Base in March 2006, assigned to provide security to Camp America, the sector of the base containing the five individual prison compounds that house the prisoners. Camp Delta was at the time the largest of these compounds, and within its walls were four smaller camps, numbered 1 through 4, which in turn were divided into cell blocks. Life at Camp America, as at all prisons, was and remains rigorously routinized for both prisoners and their jailers. Navy guards patrol the cell blocks and Army personnel control the exterior areas of the camp. All observed incidents must be logged. For the Army guards who man the towers and “sally ports” (access points), knowing who enters and leaves the camp, and exactly when, is the essence of their mission.

One of the new guards who arrived that March was Joe Hickman, then a sergeant. Hickman grew up in Baltimore and joined the Marines in 1983, at the age of nineteen. When I interviewed him in January at his home in Wisconsin, he told me he had been inspired to enlist by Ronald Reagan, “the greatest president we’ve ever had.” He worked in a military intelligence unit and was eventually tapped for Reagan’s Presidential Guard detail, an assignment reserved for model soldiers. When his four years were up, Hickman returned home, where he worked a series of security jobs—prison transport, executive protection, and eventually private investigations. After September 11 he decided to re-enlist, at thirty-seven, this time in the Army National Guard.

Hickman deployed to Guantánamo with his friend Specialist Tony Davila, who grew up outside Washington, D.C., and who had himself been a private investigator. When they arrived at Camp Delta, Davila told me, soldiers from the California National Guard unit they were relieving introduced him to some of the curiosities of the base. The most noteworthy of these was an unnamed and officially unacknowledged compound nestled out of sight between two plateaus about a mile north of Camp Delta, just outside Camp America’s perimeter. One day, while on patrol, Hickman and Davila came across the compound. It looked like other camps within Camp America, Davila said, only it had no guard towers and it was surrounded by concertina wire. They saw no activity, but Hickman guessed the place could house as many as eighty prisoners. One part of the compound, he said, had the same appearance as the interrogation centers at other prison camps.

The compound was not visible from the main road, and the access road was chained off. The Guardsman who told Davila about the compound had said, “This place does not exist,” and Hickman, who was frequently put in charge of security for all of Camp America, was not briefed about the site. Nevertheless, Davila said, other soldiers—many of whom were required to patrol the outside perimeter of Camp America—had seen the compound, and many speculated about its purpose. One theory was that it was being used by some of the non-uniformed government personnel who frequently showed up in the camps and were widely thought to be CIA agents.

A friend of Hickman’s had nicknamed the compound “Camp No,” the idea being that anyone who asked if it existed would be told, “No, it doesn’t.” He and Davila made a point of stopping by whenever they had the chance; once, Hickman said, he heard a “series of screams” from within the compound.

Hickman and his men also discovered that there were odd exceptions to their duties. Army guards were charged with searching and logging every vehicle that passed into and out of Camp Delta. “When John McCain came to the camp, he had to be logged in.” However, Hickman was instructed to make no record whatsoever of the movements of one vehicle in particular—a white van, dubbed the “paddy wagon,” that Navy guards used to transport heavily manacled prisoners, one at a time, into and out of Camp Delta. The van had no rear windows and contained a dog cage large enough to hold a single prisoner. Navy drivers, Hickman came to understand, would let the guards know they had a prisoner in the van by saying they were “delivering a pizza.”

The paddy wagon was used to transport prisoners to medical facilities and to meetings with their lawyers. But as Hickman monitored the paddy wagon’s movements from the guard tower at Camp Delta, he frequently saw it follow an unexpected route. When the van reached the first intersection to the east, instead of heading right—toward the other camps or toward one of the buildings where prisoners could meet with their lawyers—it made a left. In that direction, past the perimeter checkpoint known as ACP Roosevelt, there were only two destinations. One was a beach where soldiers went to swim. The other was Camp No.

3. “Lit up”

The night the prisoners died, Hickman was on duty as sergeant of the guard for Camp America’s exterior security force. When his twelve-hour shift began, at 6 p.m., he climbed the ladder to Tower 1, which stood twenty feet above Sally Port 1, the main entrance to Camp Delta. From there he had an excellent view of the camp, and much of the exterior perimeter as well. Later he would make his rounds.

Shortly after his shift began, Hickman noticed that someone had parked the paddy wagon near Camp 1, which houses Alpha Block. A moment later, two Navy guards emerged from Camp 1, escorting a prisoner. They put the prisoner into the back of the van and then left the camp through Sally Port 1, just below Hickman. He was under standing orders not to search the paddy wagon, so he just watched it as it headed east. He assumed the guards and their charge were bound for one of the other prison camps southeast of Camp Delta. But when the van reached the first intersection, instead of making a right, toward the other camps, it made the left, toward ACP Roosevelt and Camp No.

Twenty minutes later—about the amount of time needed for the trip to Camp No and back—the paddy wagon returned. This time Hickman paid closer attention. He couldn’t see the Navy guards’ faces, but from body size and uniform they appeared to be the same men.

The guards walked into Camp 1 and soon emerged with another prisoner. They departed Camp America, again in the direction of Camp No. Twenty minutes later, the van returned. Hickman, his curiosity piqued by the unusual flurry of activity and guessing that the guards might make another excursion, left Tower 1 and drove the three quarters of a mile to ACP Roosevelt to see exactly where the paddy wagon was headed. Shortly thereafter, the van passed through the checkpoint for the third time and then went another hundred yards, whereupon it turned toward Camp No, eliminating any question in Hickman’s mind about where it was going. All three prisoners would have reached their destination before 8 p.m.

Hickman says he saw nothing more of note until about 11:30 p.m, when he had returned to his preferred vantage at Tower 1. As he watched, the paddy wagon returned to Camp Delta. This time, however, the Navy guards did not get out of the van to enter Camp 1. Instead, they backed the vehicle up to the entrance of the medical clinic, as if to unload something.

At approximately 11:45 p.m.—nearly an hour before the NCIS claims the first body was discovered—Army Specialist Christopher Penvose, preparing for a midnight shift in Tower 1, was approached by a senior Navy NCO. Penvose told me that the NCO—who, following standard operating procedures, wore no name tag—appeared to be extremely agitated. He instructed Penvose to go immediately to the Camp Delta chow hall, identify a female senior petty officer who would be dining there, and relay to her a specific code word. Penvose did as he was instructed. The officer leapt up from her seat and immediately ran out of the chow hall.

Another thirty minutes passed. Then, as Hickman and Penvose both recall, Camp Delta suddenly “lit up”—stadium-style flood lights were turned on, and the camp became the scene of frenzied activity, filling with personnel in and out of uniform. Hickman headed to the clinic, which appeared to be the center of activity, to learn the reason for the commotion. He asked a distraught medical corpsman what had happened. She said three dead prisoners had been delivered to the clinic. Hickman recalled her saying that they had died because they had rags stuffed down their throats, and that one of them was severely bruised. Davila told me he spoke to Navy guards who said the men had died as the result of having rags stuffed down their throats.

Hickman was concerned that such a serious incident could have occurred in Camp 1 on his watch. He asked his tower guards what they had seen. Penvose, from his position at Tower 1, had an unobstructed view of the walkway between Camp 1 and the medical clinic—the path by which any prisoners who died at Camp 1 would be delivered to the clinic. Penvose told Hickman, and later confirmed to me, that he saw no prisoners being moved from Camp 1 to the clinic. In Tower 4 (it should be noted that Army and Navy guard-tower designations differ), another Army specialist, David Caroll, was forty-five yards from Alpha Block, the cell block within Camp 1 that had housed the three dead men. He also had an unobstructed view of the alleyway that connected the cell block itself to the clinic. He likewise reported to Hickman, and confirmed to me, that he had seen no prisoners transferred to the clinic that night, dead or alive.

4. “He Could Not Cry out”

The fate of a fourth prisoner, a forty-two-year-old Saudi Arabian named Shaker Aamer, may be related to that of the three prisoners who died on June 9. Aamer is married to a British woman and was in the process of becoming a British subject when he was captured in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2001. United States authorities insist that he carried a gun and served Osama bin Laden as an interpreter. Aamer denies this. At Guantánamo, Aamer’s fluency in English soon allowed him to play an important role in camp politics. According to both Aamer’s attorney and press accounts furnished by Army Colonel Michael Bumgarner, the Camp America commander, Aamer cooperated closely with Bumgarner in efforts to bring a 2005 hunger strike to an end. He persuaded several prisoners to break their strike for a while, but the settlement collapsed and soon afterward Aamer was sent to solitary confinement. Then, on the night the prisoners from Alpha Block died, Aamer says he himself was the victim of an act of striking brutality.

He described the events in detail to his lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, who was permitted to speak to him several weeks later. Katznelson recorded every detail of Aamer’s account and filed an affidavit with the federal district court in Washington, setting it out:

On June 9th, 2006, [Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.

The treatment Aamer describes is noteworthy because it produces excruciating pain without leaving lasting marks. Still, the fact that Aamer had his airway cut off and a mask put over his face “so he could not cry out” is alarming. This is the same technique that appears to have been used on the three deceased prisoners.

The United Kingdom has pressed aggressively for the return of British subjects and persons of interest. Every individual requested by the British has been turned over, with one exception: Shaker Aamer. In denying this request, U.S. authorities have cited unelaborated “security” concerns. There is no suggestion that the Americans intend to charge him before a military commission, or in a federal criminal court, and, indeed, they have no meaningful evidence linking him to any crime. American authorities may be concerned that Aamer, if released, could provide evidence against them in criminal investigations. This evidence would include what he experienced on June 9, 2006, and during his 2002 detention in Afghanistan at Bagram Airfield, where he says he was subjected to a procedure in which his head was smashed repeatedly against a wall. This torture technique, called “walling” in CIA documents, was expressly approved at a later date by the Department of Justice.

5. “You All Know”

By dawn, the news had circulated through Camp America that three prisoners had committed suicide by swallowing rags. Colonel Bumgarner called a meeting of the guards, and at 7:00 a.m. at least fifty soldiers and sailors gathered at Camp America’s open-air theater.

Bumgarner was known as an eccentric commander. Hickman marveled, for instance, at the colonel’s insistence that his staff line up and salute him, to music selections that included Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the reggae hit “Bad Boys,” as he entered the command center. This morning, however, Hickman thought Bumgarner seemed unusually nervous and clipped.

According to independent interviews with soldiers who witnessed the speech, Bumgarner told his audience that “you all know” three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. This was a surprise to no one—even servicemen who had not worked the night before had heard about the rags. But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored. The meeting lasted no more than twenty minutes. (Bumgarner has not responded to requests for comment.)

That evening, Bumgarner’s boss, Admiral Harris, read a statement to reporters:

An alert, professional guard noticed something out of the ordinary in the cell of one of the detainees. The guard’s response was swift and professional to secure the area and check on the status of the detainee. When it was apparent that the detainee had hung himself, the guard force and medical teams reacted quickly to attempt to save the detainee’s life. The detainee was unresponsive and not breathing. [The] guard force began to check on the health and welfare of other detainees. Two detainees in their cells had also hung themselves.

When he finished praising the guards and the medics, Harris—in a notable departure from traditional military decorum—launched his attack on the men who had died on his watch. “They have no regard for human life,” Harris said, “neither ours nor their own.” A Pentagon press release issued soon after described the dead men, who had been accused of no crime, as Al Qaeda or Taliban operatives. Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Gordon, the Pentagon’s chief press officer, went still further, telling theGuardian’s David Rose, “These guys were fanatics like the Nazis, Hitlerites, or the Ku Klux Klan, the people they tried at Nuremberg.” The Pentagon was not the only U.S. government agency to participate in the assault. Colleen Graffy, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told the BBC that “taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good P.R. move.”

The same day the three prisoners died, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly completed a reporting trip to the naval base, where, according to his account on The O’Reilly Factor, the Joint Army Navy Task Force “granted the Factor near total access to the prison.” Although the Pentagon began turning away reporters after news of the deaths had emerged, two reporters from the Charlotte Observer, Michael Gordon and photographer Todd Sumlin, had arrived that morning to work on a profile of Bumgarner, and the colonel invited them to shadow him as he dealt with the crisis. A Pentagon spokesman later told the Observer it had been expecting a “puff piece,” which is why, according to the Observer, “Bumgarner and his superiors on the base” had given them permission to remain.

Bumgarner quickly returned to his theatrical ways. As Gordon reported in the June 13, 2006, issue of the Observer, the colonel seemed to enjoy putting on a show. “Right now, we are at ground zero,” Bumgarner told his officer staff during a June 12 meeting. Referring to the naval base’s prisoners, he said, “There is not a trustworthy son of a bitch in the entire bunch.” In the same article, Gordon also noted what he had learned about the deaths. The suicides had occurred “in three cells on the same block,” he reported. The prisoners had “hanged themselves with strips of knotted cloth taken from clothing and sheets,” after shaping their pillows and blankets to look like sleeping bodies. “And Bumgarner said,” Gordon reported, “each had a ball of cloth in their mouth either for choking or muffling their voices.”

Something about Bumgarner’s Observer interview seemed to have set off an alarm far up the chain of command. No sooner was Gordon’s story in print than Bumgarner was called to Admiral Harris’s office. As Bumgarner would tell Gordon in a follow-up profile three months later, Harris was holding up a copy of the Observer: “This,” said the admiral to Bumgarner, “could get me relieved.” (Harris did not respond to requests for comment.) That same day, an investigation was launched to determine whether classified information had been leaked from Guantánamo. Bumgarner was suspended.

Less than a week after the appearance of the Observer stories, Davila and Hickman each heard separately from friends in the Navy and in the military police that FBI agents had raided the colonel’s quarters. The MPs understood from their FBI contacts that there was concern over the possibility that Bumgarner had taken home some classified materials and was planning to share them with the media or to use them in writing a book.

On June 27, two weeks later, Gordon’s Observer colleague Scott Dodd reported: “A brigadier general determined that ‘unclassified sensitive information’ was revealed to the public in the days after the June 10 suicides.” Harris, according to the article, had already ordered “appropriate administrative action.” Bumgarner soon left Guantánamo for a new post in Missouri. He now serves as an ROTC instructor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Bumgarner’s comments appear to be at odds with the official Pentagon narrative on only one point: that the deaths had involved cloth being stuffed into the prisoners’ mouths. The involvement of the FBI suggested that more was at issue.

6. “An Unmistakable Message”

On June 10, NCIS investigators began interviewing the Navy guards in charge of Alpha Block, but after the Pentagon committed itself to the suicide narrative, they appear to have stopped. On June 14, the interviews resumed, and the NCIS informed at least six Navy guards that they were suspected of making false statements or failing to obey direct orders. No disciplinary action ever followed.

The investigators conducted interviews with guards, medics, prisoners, and officers. As the Seton Hall researchers note, however, nothing in the NCIS report suggests that the investigators secured or reviewed the duty roster, the prisoner-transfer book, the pass-on book, the records of phone and radio communications, or footage from the camera that continuously monitored activity in the hallways, all of which could have helped them authoritatively reconstruct the events of that evening.

The NCIS did, however, move swiftly to seize every piece of paper possessed by every single prisoner in Camp America, some 1,065 pounds of material, much of it privileged attorney-client correspondence. Several weeks later, authorities sought an after-the-fact justification. The Justice Department—bolstered by sworn statements from Admiral Harris and from Carol Kisthardt, the special agent in charge of the NCIS investigation—claimed in a U.S. district court that the seizure was appropriate because there had been a conspiracy among the prisoners to commit suicide. Justice further claimed that investigators had found suicide notes and argued that the attorney-client materials were being used to pass communications among the prisoners.

David Remes, a lawyer who opposed the Justice Department’s efforts, explained the practical effect of the government’s maneuvers. The seizure, he said, “sent an unmistakable message to the prisoners that they could not expect their communications with their lawyers to remain confidential. The Justice Department defended the massive breach of the attorney-client privilege on the account of the deaths on June 9 and the asserted need to investigate them.”

If the “suicides” were a form of warfare between the prisoners and the Bush Administration, as Admiral Harris charged, it was the latter that quickly turned the war to its advantage.

7. “Yasser Couldn’t Even Make a Sandwich!”

When I asked Talal Al-Zahrani what he thought had happened to his son, he was direct. “They snatched my seventeen-year-old son for a bounty payment,” he said. “They took him to Guantánamo and held him prisoner for five years. They tortured him. Then they killed him and returned him to me in a box, cut up.”

Al-Zahrani was a brigadier general in the Saudi police. He dismissed the Pentagon’s claims, as well as the investigation that supported them. Yasser, he said, was a young man who loved to play soccer and didn’t care for politics. The Pentagon claimed that Yasser’s frontline battle experience came from his having been a cook in a Taliban camp. Al-Zahrani said that this was preposterous: “A cook? Yasser couldn’t even make a sandwich!”

“Yasser wasn’t guilty of anything,” Al-Zahrani said. “He knew that. He firmly believed he would be heading home soon. Why would he commit suicide?” The evidence supports this argument. Hyperbolic U.S. government statements at the time of Yasser Al-Zahrani’s death masked the fact that his case had been reviewed and that he was, in fact, on a list of prisoners to be sent home. I had shown Al-Zahrani the letter that the government says was Yasser’s suicide note and asked him whether he recognized his son’s handwriting. He had never seen the note before, he answered, and no U.S. official had ever asked him about it. After studying the note carefully, he said, “This is a forgery.”

Also returned to Saudi Arabia was the body of Mani Al-Utaybi. Orphaned in his youth, Mani grew up in his uncle’s home in the small town of Dawadmi. I spoke to one of the many cousins who shared that home, Faris Al-Utaybi. Mani, said Faris, had gone to Baluchistan—a rural, tribal area that straddles Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—to do humanitarian work, and someone there had sold him to the Americans for $5,000. He said that Mani was a peaceful man who would harm no one. Indeed, U.S. authorities had decided to release Al-Utaybi and return him to Saudi Arabia. When he died, he was just a few weeks shy of his transfer.

Salah Al-Salami was seized in March 2002, when Pakistani authorities raided a residence in Karachi believed to have been used as a safe house by Abu Zubaydah and took into custody all who were living there at the time. A Yemeni, Al-Salami had quit his job and moved to Pakistan with only $400 in his pocket. The U.S. suspicions against him rested almost entirely on the fact that he had taken lodgings, with other students, in a boarding house that terrorists might at one point have used. There was no direct evidence linking him either to Al Qaeda or to the Taliban. On August 22, 2008, the Washington Post quoted from a previously secret review of his case: “There is no credible information to suggest [Al-Salami] received terrorist related training or is a member of the Al Qaeda network.” All that stood in the way of Al-Salami’s release from Guantánamo were difficult diplomatic relations between the United States and Yemen.

8. “The Removal of the Neck Organs”

Military pathologists connected with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology arranged immediate autopsies of the three dead prisoners, without securing the permission of the men’s families. The identities and findings of the pathologists remain shrouded in extraordinary secrecy, but the timing of the autopsies suggests that medical personnel stationed at Guantánamo may have undertaken the procedure without waiting for the arrival of an experienced medical examiner from the United States. Each of the heavily redacted autopsy reports states unequivocally that “the manner of death is suicide” and, more specifically, that the prisoner died of “hanging.” Each of the reports describes ligatures that were found wrapped around the prisoner’s neck, as well as circumferential dried abrasion furrows imprinted with the very fine weave pattern of the ligature fabric and forming an inverted “V” on the back of the head. This condition, the anonymous pathologists state, is consistent with that of a hanging victim.

The pathologists place the time of death “at least a couple of hours” before the bodies were discovered, which would be sometime before 10:30 p.m. on June 9. Additionally, the autopsy of Al-Salami states that his hyoid bone was broken, a phenomenon usually associated with manual strangulation, not hanging.

The report asserts that the hyoid was broken “during the removal of the neck organs.” An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.

All the families requested independent autopsies. The Saudi prisoners were examined by Saeed Al-Ghamdy, a pathologist based in Saudi Arabia. Al-Salami, from Yemen, was inspected by Patrice Mangin, a pathologist based in Switzerland. Both pathologists noted the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy: the throat. Both pathologists contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, requesting the missing body parts and more information about the previous autopsies. The institute did not respond to their requests or queries. (It also did not respond to a series of calls I placed requesting information and comment.)

When Al-Zahrani viewed his son’s corpse, he saw evidence of a homicide. “There was a major blow to the head on the right side,” he said. “There was evidence of torture on the upper torso, and on the palms of his hand. There were needle marks on his right arm and on his left arm.” None of these details are noted in the U.S. autopsy report. “I am a law enforcement professional,” Al-Zahrani said. “I know what to look for when examining a body.”

Mangin, for his part, expressed particular concern about Al-Salami’s mouth and throat, where he saw “a blunt trauma carried out against the oral region.” The U.S. autopsy report mentions an effort at resuscitation, but this, in Mangin’s view, did not explain the severity of the injuries. He also noted that some of the marks on the neck were not those he would normally associate with hanging.

9. “I Know Some Things You Don’t”

Sergeant Joe Hickman’s tour of duty, which ended in March 2007, was distinguished: he was selected as Guantánamo’s “NCO of the Quarter” and was given a commendation medal. When he returned to the United States, he was promoted to staff sergeant and worked in Maryland as an Army recruiter before eventually settling in Wisconsin. But he could not forget what he had seen at Guantánamo. When Barack Obama became president, Hickman decided to act. “I thought that with a new administration and new ideas I could actually come forward, ” he said. “It was haunting me.”

Hickman had seen a 2006 report from Seton Hall University Law School dealing with the deaths of the three prisoners, and he followed their subsequent work. After Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, he called Mark Denbeaux, the professor who had led the Seton Hall team. “I learned something from your report,” he said, “but I know some things you don’t.”

Within two days, Hickman was in Newark, meeting with Denbeaux. Also at the meeting was Denbeaux’s son and sometime co-editor, Josh, a private attorney. Josh Denbeaux agreed to represent Hickman, who was concerned that he could go to prison if he disobeyed Colonel Bumgarner’s order not to speak out, even if that order was itself illegal. Hickman did not want to speak to the press. On the other hand, he felt that “silence was just wrong.”

The two lawyers quickly made arrangements for Hickman to speak instead with authorities in Washington, D.C. On February 2, they had meetings on Capitol Hill and with the Department of Justice. The meeting with Justice was an odd one. The father-and-son legal team were met by Rita Glavin, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; John Morton, who was soon to become an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security; and Steven Fagell, counselor to the head of the Criminal Division. Fagell had been, along with the new attorney general, Eric Holder, a partner at the elite Washington law firm of Covington & Burling, and was widely viewed as “Holder’s eyes” in the Criminal Division.

For more than an hour, the two lawyers described what Hickman had seen: the existence of Camp No, the transportation of the three prisoners, the van’s arrival at the medical clinic, the lack of evidence that any bodies had ever been removed from Alpha Block, and so on. The officials listened intently and asked many questions. The Denbeauxes said they could provide a list of witnesses who would corroborate every aspect of their account. At the end of the meeting, Mark Denbeaux recalled, the officials specifically thanked the lawyers for not speaking to reporters first and for “doing it the right way.”

Two days later, another Justice Department official, Teresa McHenry, head of the Criminal Division’s Domestic Security Section, called Mark Denbeaux and said that she was heading up an investigation and wanted to meet directly with his client. She went to New Jersey to do so. Hickman then reviewed the basic facts and furnished McHenry with the promised list of corroborating witnesses and details on how they could be contacted.

The Denbeauxes did not hear from anyone at the Justice Department for at least two months. Then, in April, an FBI agent called to say she did not have the list of contacts. She asked if this document could be provided again. It was. Shortly thereafter, Fagella Justice official [see update] and two FBI agents interviewed Davila, who had left the Army, in Columbia, South Carolina. Fagell The official asked Davila if he was prepared to travel to Guantánamo to identify the locations of various sites. He said he was. “It seemed like they were interested,” Davila told me. “Then I never heard from them again.”

Several more months passed, and Hickman and his lawyers became increasingly concerned that nothing was going to happen. On October 27, 2009, they resumed dealings with Congress that they had initiated on February 2 and then broken off at the Justice Department’s request; they were also in contact with ABC News. Two days later, Teresa McHenry called Mark Denbeaux and asked whether he had gone to Congress and ABC News about the matter. “I said that I had,” Denbeaux told me. He asked her, “Was there anything wrong with that?” McHenry then suggested that the investigation was finished. Denbeaux reminded her that she had yet to interview some of the corroborating witnesses. “There are a few small things to do,” Denbeaux says McHenry answered. “Then it will be finished.”

Specialist Christopher Penvose told me that on October 30, the day following the conversation between Mark Denbeaux and Teresa McHenry, McHenry an official [see update] showed up at Penvose’s home in south Baltimore with some FBI agents. She had a “few questions,” she told him. Investigators working with her soon contacted two other witnesses.

On November 2, 2009, McHenry called Mark Denbeaux to tell him that the Justice Department’s investigation was being closed. “It was a strange conversation,” Denbeaux recalled. McHenry explained that “the gist of Sergeant Hickman’s information could not be confirmed.” But when Denbeaux asked what that “gist” actually was, McHenry declined to say. She just reiterated that Hickman’s conclusions “appeared” to be unsupported. Denbeaux asked what conclusions exactly were unsupported. McHenry refused to say.

10. “They Accomplished Nothing”

One of the most intriguing aspects of this case concerns the use of Camp No. Under George W. Bush, the CIA created an archipelago of secret detention centers that spanned the globe, and authorities at these sites deployed an array of Justice Department–sanctioned torture techniques—including waterboarding, which often entails inserting cloth into the subject’s mouth—on prisoners they deemed to be involved in terrorism. The presence of a black site at Guantánamo has long been a subject of speculation among lawyers and human-rights activists, and the experience of Sergeant Hickman and other Guantánamo guards compels us to ask whether the three prisoners who died on June 9 were being interrogated by the CIA, and whether their deaths resulted from the grueling techniques the Justice Department had approved for the agency’s use—or from other tortures lacking that sanction.

Complicating these questions is the fact that Camp No might have been controlled by another authority, the Joint Special Operations Command, which Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had hoped to transform into a Pentagon version of the CIA. Under Rumsfeld’s direction, JSOC began to take on many tasks traditionally handled by the CIA, including the housing and interrogation of prisoners at black sites around the world. The Pentagon recently acknowledged the existence of one such JSOC black site, located at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, and other suspected sites, such as Camp Nama in Baghdad, have been carefully documented by human-rights researchers.

In a Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture released last year, the sections about Guantánamo were significantly redacted. The position and circumstances of these deletions point to a significant JSOC interrogation program at the base. (It should be noted that Obama’s order last year to close other secret detention camps was narrowly worded to apply only to the CIA.)

Regardless of whether Camp No belonged to the CIA or JSOC, the Justice Department has plenty of its own secrets to protect. The department would seem to have been involved in the cover-up from the first days, when FBI agents stormed Colonel Bumgarner’s quarters. This was unusual for two reasons. When Pentagon officials engage in a leak investigation, they generally use military investigators. They rarely turn to the FBI, because they cannot control the actions of a civilian agency. Moreover, when the FBI does open an investigation, it nearly always does so with great discretion. The Bumgarner investigation was widely telegraphed, though, and seemed intended to send a message to the military personnel at Camp Delta: Talk about what happened at your own risk. All of which suggests it was not the Pentagon so much as the White House that hoped to suppress the truth.

In the weeks following the 2006 deaths, the Justice Department decided to use the suicide narrative as leverage against the Guantánamo prisoners and their troublesome lawyers, who were pressing the government to justify its long-term imprisonment of their clients. After the NCIS seized thousands of pages of privileged communications, the Justice Department went to court to defend the action. It argued that such steps were warranted by the extraordinary facts surrounding the June 9 “suicides.” U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson gave the Justice Department a sympathetic hearing, and he ruled in its favor, but he also noted a curious aspect of the government’s presentation: its “citations supporting the fact of the suicides” were all drawn from media accounts. Why had the Justice Department lawyers who argued the case gone to such lengths to avoid making any statement under oath about the suicides? Did they do so in order to deceive the court? If so, they could face disciplinary proceedings or disbarment.

The Justice Department also faces questions about its larger role in creating the circumstances that led to the use of so-called enhanced interrogation and restraint techniques at Guantánamo and elsewhere. In 2006, the use of a gagging restraint had already been connected to the death on January 9, 2004, of an Iraqi prisoner, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Jameel, in the custody of the Army Special Forces. And the bodies of the three men who died at Guantánamo showed signs of torture, including hemorrhages, needle marks, and significant bruising. The removal of their throats made it difficult to determine whether they were already dead when their bodies were suspended by a noose. The Justice Department itself had been deeply involved in the process of approving and setting the conditions for the use of torture techniques, issuing a long series of memoranda that CIA agents and others could use to defend themselves against any subsequent criminal prosecution.

Teresa McHenry, the investigator charged with accounting for the deaths of the three men at Guantánamo, has firsthand knowledge of the Justice Department’s role in auditing such techniques, having served at the Justice Department under Bush and having participated in the preparation of at least one of those memos. As a former war-crimes prosecutor, McHenry knows full well that government officials who attempt to cover up crimes perpetrated against prisoners in wartime face prosecution under the doctrine of command responsibility. (McHenry declined to clarify the role she played in drafting the memos.)

As retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, the former judge advocate general of the Navy, told me, “Filing false reports and making false statements is bad enough, but if a homicide occurs and officials up the chain of command attempt to cover it up, they face serious criminal liability. They may even be viewed as accessories after the fact in the original crime.” With command authority comes command responsibility, he said. “If the heart of the military is obeying orders down the chain of command, then its soul is accountability up the chain. You can’t demand the former without the latter.”

The Justice Department thus faced a dilemma; it could do the politically convenient thing, which was to find no justification for a thorough investigation, leave the NCIS conclusions in place, and hope that the public and the news media would obey the Obama Administration’s dictum to “look forward, not backward”; or it could pursue a course of action that would implicate the Bush Justice Department in a cover-up of possible homicides.

Nearly 200 men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. In June 2009, six months after Barack Obama took office, one of them, a thirty-one-year-old Yemeni named Muhammed Abdallah Salih, was found dead in his cell. The exact circumstances of his death, like those of the deaths of the three men from Alpha Block, remain uncertain. Those charged with accounting for what happened—the prison command, the civilian and military investigative agencies, the Justice Department, and ultimately the attorney general himself—all face a choice between the rule of law and the expedience of political silence. Thus far, their choice has been unanimous.

Not everyone who is involved in this matter views it from a political perspective, of course. General Al-Zahrani grieves for his son, but at the end of a lengthy interview he paused and his thoughts turned elsewhere. “The truth is what matters,” he said. “They practiced every form of torture on my son and on many others as well. What was the result? What facts did they find? They found nothing. They learned nothing. They accomplished nothing.”

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Deadly FBI Raid in Dearborn Prompts Concern Over Informants

By: Niraj Warikoo

He called himself Jabril. Two years ago, a white man who claimed he was an ex-con and convert to Islam started attending a predominantly African-American mosque on a run-down street in Detroit.He touted his Islamic ways while offering poor members of the mosque cash for odd jobs at an auto shop on the city’s west side. He told tales of sick family members and brought a young boy to the mosque who he said was his son.

Jabril soon became a brother in faith and a confidante of the mosque’s fiery leader, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who was killed in a shootout during an Oct. 28 raid by FBI agents to arrest men suspected of dealing in stolen goods.

Members now believe Jabril was an FBI informant who infiltrated their mosque.

“He built up trust in the community,” said Omar Regan, 34, one of Abdullah’s sons.

The case — one of several in the past year involving informants in Muslim-American communities — has prompted growing concern among Muslims and civil rights advocates about undercover surveillance in religious institutions.

Federal officials say they don’t send informants into congregations without reason. But last week, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat, called upon the U.S. Justice Department to review its policies on using informants in houses of worship.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are seeking a protective order to shield the identities of three informants used in the case.

With tattoos on his neck and a full beard, the newcomer arrived at the Detroit mosque in 2007 with stories of turning to Islam while in prison.

“He had this hard-life story,” recalled Regan, a son of the mosque’s imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah.

For two years, the man known as Jabril to many at Masjid Al-Haqq ingratiated himself with members of the mosque, according to Abdullah’s followers. They accepted him as a brother in Islam.

On Oct. 28, Regan said Jabril asked mosque members to help him move some goods in a Dearborn warehouse. Authorities said the men were there to deal in stolen items.

Once inside the warehouse, Jabril reportedly told the mosque members: “I’m going to go get some water, a drink of water,” Regan said in an interview with the Free Press.

Jabril then disappeared.

Moments later, federal agents stormed inside. Abdullah, 53, was shot dead by FBI agents after an exchange of fire during the raid.

Jabril was never seen again by members of the mosque.

The story of Jabril’s alleged infiltration offers a rare look into the use of FBI informants in Muslim-American communities in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Members of the Detroit mosque say they believe Jabril was a key undercover informant in helping the FBI build a case against Abdullah and his followers.

Muslim advocates say there’s a growing problem of improper use of informants, particularly in houses of worship. Some accuse the informant of luring Abdullah to his death in the fatal shooting, which has raised questions about excessive force.

FBI agents’ actions defended

But the FBI and federal prosecutors have said that agents acted appropriately in trying to apprehend members of a criminal operation led by Abdullah. They said the group preached violence and hatred against law enforcement and non-Muslims.

Abdullah and his followers were not charged with any acts of terrorism. The charges against the 11 men arrested include dealing in stolen goods such as laptops and fur coats, firearms violations and tampering with vehicle identification numbers. The criminal complaint, however, highlights the radical views of the group. “America must fall,” Abdullah once said, according to the complaint.

While some Muslim leaders have expressed concern about civil rights, federal officials say informants are vitally needed, especially with the recent surge in domestic terrorism.

The FBI would not comment on whether Jabril was one of the three informants in the case. But the recollections of Jabril by mosque members interviewed by the Free Press match parts of the 43-page criminal complaint filed against Abdullah and 10 others. Mosque members say, for example, that the complaint’s descriptions of car trips to Virginia and Chicago with an informant named S-3 jibe with their memories of rides they and Abdullah took with Jabril.

Mosque members said they believe S-3 is Jabril, though the criminal complaint only identifies S-3 as “an FBI confidential source who has proven to be reliable and credible in the past.”

Last week, federal prosecutors filed a motion in which they expressed concern about the safety of the informants used by federal agents in the investigation. Prosecutors appeared particularly worried about S-3, saying the defendants have discovered his identity.

They are seeking a protective order barring the defense from releasing undercover audio and video because they are worried about S-3’s safety. Prosecutors note that the criminal complaint includes references to threats by Abdullah — reported by S-3 — that he would kill any informants. According to the complaint, Abdullah told S-3 in June 2009 that he suspected there was an informant in his mosque, saying “that if somebody is trying to gather information on him, he would kill them himself or have them killed.”

Muslims, and some civil rights advocates, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have raised concern that using informants in mosques infringes on the constitutional right to free assembly and worship.

Other cases involving informants in Muslim communities in California, Ohio and New York have surfaced over the past year, alarming some who say mosques are supposed to be safe places where people can be free to speak their minds.

Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the Detroit FBI office, said his agency doesn’t target anyone based on religion.

“Without predication, without reason, we cannot send informants into a religious institution just to see what is going on,” Arena said. “That is illegal. On the flip side, if there are individuals involved in criminal activity, and they are trying to hide behind a religious institution, that’s not going to fly.”

He said informants are used in a wide range of investigations including “mortgage fraud, gangs and public corruption — and counterterrorism is no different.”

Human intelligence

In recent years, the FBI has increasingly used human intelligence in the United States. After Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI told all of its field offices across the U.S. to increase its use of informants as it made terrorism its No. 1 priority. Keeping an eye on Islamic extremism became a priority and remains so — as highlighted by the Dec. 25 failed bombing attempt suspected to have been carried out by a Muslim man on a Detroit-bound airplane.

The increase in reported cases of informants comes after the Justice Department gave the FBI more leeway a year ago on when the agency could use undercover sources in terrorism cases. The new rules allow the FBI for the first time to use informants and undercover agents in preliminary investigations and to spy on suspects without clear evidence of wrongdoing.

In July, the ACLU said in a report that the use of informants has had a “chilling effect on congregants’ rights to association, speech and religion.”

And last week, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat and chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking that he review the policy of using informants inside mosques, saying that “our traditions, and our constitution, simply do not permit undercover fishing expeditions in our nation’s houses of worship.”

But some terrorism and legal experts disagree.

“Radicalization and recruitment to terrorism does take place here,” and so using informants can be helpful and legitimate, said Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser at the Rand Corp. who studies terrorism. But he said it needs to remain under tight controls.

Ultimately, an open court system must be used to let a judge and jury decide whether any informants were used legitimately in particular cases, he said.

Some legal experts say the use of informants in mosques doesn’t violate the Constitution.

“There is nothing in the … First Amendment that would preclude the FBI from using informants at a mosque,” said Robert Sedler, distinguished professor of law at Wayne State University who teaches constitutional issues. “A true informant is not going to have any chilling effect, so there is no constitutional objection to the FBI using informants within a religious organization because it doesn’t interfere with the religious practices of the people. The service at the mosque goes on even when you have the FBI” informant listening.

“It doesn’t affect what the imam is saying.”

Informant prodded violence

Tensions over the use of informants in Muslim communities came to a head last year after reports that the FBI had used an informant in Orange County, Calif., who had acted as an agent provocateur by trying to get Muslims to wage violent attacks against Western targets. In Michigan, Muslim leaders said in April that agents were pushing some local Muslims to act as spies inside their mosques.

“It’s brought paranoia in the community,” said Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Some are now wary of coming to the mosque.”

The controversy over Abdullah’s death has been heightened because his autopsy results have not been released by Wayne County, which says that Dearborn police have requested a delay pending their investigation. Authorities maintain that Abdullah opened fire on federal agents, and he was killed when they returned fire. The family contends he was shot 18 times.

A close friend of Abdullah, Akil Fahd, 40, said he remembers the imam as peaceful and focused “on calling people to Allah.”

‘Stuck out like a sore thumb’

When Jabril showed up in 2007, Masjid Al-Haqq sat on a rough stretch of Joy Road in Detroit. It has since relocated to Clairmount.

Most of its members are African American, some of them former convicts looking to improve their lives through Islam. Because of their felony records, some had problems finding steady employment.

So, Jabril’s job offers made him popular despite the fact that he “he stuck out like a sore thumb, a white guy among all these black people,” said Abdullah’s son, Mujahid Carswell, 30. Carswell is among the 11 indicted in the case.

“When he started offering the brothers jobs, that’s when he got close to my dad,” Regan said.

But the federal complaint suggests that it was S-3’s offer of cash through criminal activities that drew him close to Abdullah. The criminal complaint, for example, shows Abdullah and S-3 talking multiple times about how to deal with a stolen Dodge truck.

In the nearly three months since the imam’s death, talk about Jabril has swirled throughout parts of the African-American Muslim community. Those who met him say they never suspected Jabril.

One of them, Mikail Stewart, 34, of Detroit remembers Jabril as a cordial man who always shook his hands and said “As-salamu Alaykum,” the traditional Muslim greeting that means “Peace be upon you.”

Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO: 313-223-4792 or warikoo@freepress.com

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By Ahmed Rehab | Huffington Post

By now, I am sure most people are privy to the raging public debate on racial profiling, reignited courtesy of a young Nigerian Muslim male’s attempt to detonate an inc2010-01-07-umar_farouk.jpgendiary device aboard a Detroit-bound Northwest flight last Christmas.

After Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slipped by airport security only to be stopped thanks to the vigilance of fellow passengers, a debate on the effectiveness of airport security and counter-terrorism intelligence is no doubt in order.

But trying to fix a problem without actually fixing the problem is misguided. Trying to fix it by introducing a new problem is dumb.

This guy seemed to have left every clue short of raise his hand and proclaim, “arrest me, I am a terrorist!”

Can someone explain to me how he managed to purchase a one way ticket, pay for it in cash, board the plane with no luggage, have his own father report him as a radicalized threat to a CIA base in Nigeria, be denied a visa to the UKwhere he previously lived and worked, and on top of that be on an active US terror watch list for two years, yet still not be flagged by the system as a security threat?

And can someone explain to me how after those six glaring red flags were missed – not to mention the explosive material in his underwear – the debate today is not about why and how they were missed, but about whether he could have been flagged for being of a certain skin color, hair texture, place of birth, faith, or namesake?

The racial profiling argument is lazy and unimaginative; most of all it is irresponsible because it evades the real problem starring us in the face: a fatal breakdown in communication between our intelligence units. Ironically, this is a problem so troubling that an entire new department, the National Homeland Security Department, was created with the sole mission to address it.

Make no mistake about it; it is hardly ever a case of not having the necessary Intelligence. Even in the case of the 9/11 hijackers, we had security files on each of the 19 hijackers. The problem is in our repeated failure to act upon intelligence between our fingertips in a timely manner. Introducing new and untested wild card measures will not correct what’s failing, though the debate makes for a convenient distraction from bearing responsibility.

The idea that there are some racial profiles we need to check out thoroughly in order to conclusively determine that they do not have bombs on them is not what troubles me most. What truly troubles me is the corollary of that idea: that we know of a way to conclusively determine whether someone has a bomb on them or not but we are going to exempt most people from it because we do not deem them suspicious enough, or we do not have the resources for it. How is that supposed to make us feel safer?

There is nothing comforting about a de facto admission by security officials that our primary airport security lines are a prop up and that secondary ones are where it’s really at. So, what’s the point of primary security? Placebo? Clearly, what will make us safer is beefing up our primary security measures so that they actually do what they are supposed to do for the entire population (conclusively determine that no bombs or explosive material makes it through). It certainly isn’t adding a secondary layer that, by design, most passengers will end up skipping. As good as that layer may be it won’t be good enough, given that it is only partially applied to the passenger population.

To begin with, any Security analyst will tell you that if we have a national security defense system that waits until an airport security gate to identify terrorists, then it’s only a matter of time before it’s good night and good luck. But even at security gates, our last-guard measures need to be scientific and objective, like improving bomb detecting machines; you know, the ones that didn’t beep when dynamite underpants stepped through. Objective and scientific measures however do not include part-timers eyeballing passengers for people who look like characters out of Disney’s Aladdin or whatever image their mind conjures of what a terror suspect looks like that day of the week.

So what do they look like? Presumably we are talking about Muslim men, but short of Muslims wearing green arm bands, what does that really mean?

Any Middle-Eastern looking person with an exotic sounding name?

Fine, this may work, provided we can count on Middle-Eastern terrorists with exotic sounding names being unaware of our little precautionary measure. Nobody tell them. As for non-terrorists who fit that profile (which would unfortunately include Jesus himself should he come back and try to enter the United States with his real name Yeshua Bin Yosef), get ready to take one for the team.

An African looking person with an exotic sounding name?

Well, fortunately for Barack Obama, he does not work for say Microsoft or Motorola, instead of the White House, otherwise he’d be spending his days at airports.

But never mind the absurdity in a system that is unfriendly to people who look like our president and Jesus, here’s the real problem with racial profiling: it is ineffective. There are two main reasons for that, the first is scientific as concluded by what few studies on racial profiling have taken place.

The second is logical:

Think about it, the purpose of security checkpoints is to prevent future terror attacks not past ones. If it is future ones, then should we limit ourselves to what did happen or would it make more sense to address the possibilities of whatcould happen?

Racial profiling is an elusive game, and Al Qaeda can always racially profile too. This is not a probability game, one improbable situation is enough to do the damage we hope to prevent.

Do we really want a system where we are always one step behind?

Say we do go for the bearded brown guy, Al Qaeda will send a clean-shaven black one next. Oh wait, they already did; in fact, one that looks like your average all-state American high school athlete. Will that now be the next profile to look out for?

And when we’ve flagged all Middle-Eastern and Black men with exotic names, they are going to send a white British guy with an Anglo name like Richard Reid. Oh wait, they already did that. And after they send a Russian recruit and a Chinese one and we start profiling all men of all races, they’ll recruit a woman. Oh wait, there were two cases of women blowing up Russian airliners in 2004.

At this rate, the only profile that won’t be racially profiled is that Scandinavian grandmother everyone keeps talking about.

Of course, after billions are spent and humanity inconvenienced to no avail, we could always go back to actually acting upon hard intelligence and actually detecting bomb material at airports.

Or, we could do that now.

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Spy or Say Goodbye

By Trevor Aaronson

Foad Farahi  


Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards signs littered the lawns as Imam Foad Farahi walked from a mosque to his North Miami Beach, Fla., apartment a few blocks away. It was November 1, 2004, the day before George W. Bush would win a second term in office. But Farahi, an influential South Florida Muslim holy man, had been too busy fasting and praying to pay much attention to the presidential election.
For Farahi, an Iranian citizen who had lived in the United States for more than a decade, it was simply another month of Ramadan in Florida. Then, around 5 p.m., as he neared his apartment, he saw two men standing outside. They were waiting for him.
“We’re from the FBI,” one of the men said.
“OK,” he responded.
They wanted to know about José Padilla and Adnan El Shukrijumah, two South Florida men linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network. Padilla, the so-called “Dirty Bomber,” was arrested in May 2002 and initially given enemy combatant status. He eventually stood trial in Miami and was convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Shukrijumah is a Saudi Arabian and an alleged al Qaeda member whose last known address was in Miramar. The FBI is offering up to $5 million for information leading directly to his capture.
“I know José Padilla, but I don’t know Adnan,” Farahi told the agents.
As imam of the Shamsuddin Islamic Center in North Miami Beach, Farahi was in a unique position to know about local Muslims. He had once met Shukrijumah, the son of a local Islamic religious leader, but had no contact with him after that. Padilla had prayed at Farahi’s mosque and was once among his Arabic students.
“I have had no contact with Padilla since 1998, when he left the country,” Farahi told the government agents. As for Shukrijumah, Farahi told the agents:
“I don’t know anything about his activities.”
“We want you to work with us,” Farahi remembers an agent telling him.
And this is when the imam’s five-year battle with the federal government began.
“I have no problem working with you guys or helping you out,” Farahi recalls telling them. He could keep them informed about the local Muslim community or translate Arabic. But the relationship, he insisted, would need to be public; others would have to know he was helping the government.
But that wasn’t what the FBI had in mind, Farahi says. The agents wanted him to become a secret informant who would investigate specific people. And they knew Farahi was in a vulnerable position. His student visa had expired, and he had asked the government for a renewal. He had also applied for political asylum, hoping one of those legal tracks would offer a way for him to stay in the United States indefinitely.
“We’ll give you residency,” the agents promised. “We’ll give you money to go to school.”
Farahi considered the offer for a moment and then shook his head.
“I can’t,” he told them.
The slender, bearded Farahi frowns as he recalls all of this while sitting on a white folding chair in the Shamsuddin Islamic Center on a recent afternoon. “People trust you as a religious figure, and you’re trying to kind of deceive them,” he says, remembering the choice he faced. “That’s where the problem is.”
Farahi soon discovered that the FBI’s offer wasn’t optional. The federal government used strong-arm tactics — including trying to have him deported and falsely claiming it had information linking him to terrorism — in an effort to force him to become an informant, he says.
The imam has resisted the government and took his political asylum case to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
“As long as you’re not a citizen, there are lots of things [the government] can do,” says Ira Kurzban, Farahi’s attorney. “They can allege you’re a terrorist and try to bring terrorist charges against you, or they can get you deported.”
              Ira Kurzban, Farahi’s attorney.  

Terrorism, he explains, can even be defined as giving “money to a hospital in the West Bank that turns out to be run by Hamas.”
Farahi asserts unequivocally he is innocent of any terrorism charges the government could bring against him. In fact, he says, he would report anyone in the Muslim community who was supporting terrorism. “From the Islamic perspective, it’s your duty to respect the law, and if there’s anything going on, any crime about to be committed, or any kind of harm to be caused to people or property, it should be reported to the police.”
The FBI’s intense efforts to pressure Farahi into becoming an informant reveal the government’s desperation to infiltrate local Muslim communities. The hard-line tactics have become so widespread that the San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates distributes a video advising how to respond if FBI agents approach.
In fact, relations between the FBI and U.S. Islamic communities are so strained that a coalition of Muslim-American groups in March accused the government of using “McCarthy-era tactics” and threatened to sever communication with the FBI unless it “reassessed its use of agent provocateurs in Muslim communities.”
Despite this public conflict, few specific cases of Muslims being recruited as informants have become public. Farahi’s battle with the government is not only daring but also unusual.
“People have two choices,” Farahi says. “Either they end up working with the FBI or they leave the country on their own.
It’s just sometimes when you’re in that situation, not many people are strong enough to stand up and resist and fight — to reject their offers.”
* * *
By law, Foad Farahi is an Iranian, but in his 34 years, he has never set foot in the country. He was born in Kuwait, but under Middle Eastern law, he is an Iranian because his father was from there.
Farahi grew up in Kuwait, where his father operated a currency exchange business in Kuwait City. His mother, a Syrian, raised him and his younger sister to speak Arabic and worship as Sunnis, an Islamic sect that is persecuted in Iran. But he knew his future would never be secure in Kuwait. “Even if I married a Kuwaiti woman, I wouldn’t become a citizen,” he says. “Kuwait could deport me to Iran at any time for any reason.”
At age 19, he applied for and received a student visa from the United States. He chose to come to South Florida, where his family once vacationed when he was a teenager. He enrolled at Miami Dade College. He received an associate’s degree there and transferred to Barry University, a private Catholic school in Miami Shores, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
While at Barry, he served on the university’s interfaith committee, several faculty members recall. This continued even after he graduated. He helped put together interfaith dinners and talked about Islam. In addition, he participated as a teacher in a Barry University peace forum attended by Jewish, Christian and Muslim children. “He has had a positive influence at this university,” says Edward R. Sunshine, a theology professor at Barry. No one who knows Farahi, Sunshine says, would suspect he is radical or militant.
Farahi went on to obtain a master’s degree in public health from Florida International University. He also began an intensive, three-year imam’s training course administered by the director of Islamic studies at a mosque in Miramar. In 2000, the Shamsuddin Islamic Center opened near his home in North Miami Beach. Six months later, its imam returned home to Egypt, and Farahi was a logical successor.
It was through this position that he met several South Floridians who have been linked to terrorism. In addition to Padilla and Shukrijumah, he encountered Imran Mandhai, a 19-year-old Pakistani man living in Hollywood, Fla., who was arrested in 2002 for an alleged plot to bomb power plants.
“Imran came here once years ago during Ramadan,” Farahi recalls as he sits in a corner of the mosque. “It was a big event for him at the time. He memorized and recited the Qur’an.”
When Farahi met with the FBI agents on Nov. 1, 2004, he said he couldn’t spy on members of his mosque in good conscience. Two days later, FBI agents phoned him. They requested he come to their office to take a polygraph. “I had nothing to hide,” Farahi recalls. “They asked the same questions over and over, to see if my answer would change, and it didn’t.”
The agents were still focused on Shukrijumah.
“What is your relationship with him?”
“When was the last time you were in contact with him?”
“Where is he now?”
For two and a half years after the polygraph, Farahi didn’t hear from the FBI. Then, in summer 2007, he received another call. An agent asked to meet with him immediately. In Cooper City, two FBI agents — a man and a woman — again asked Farahi if he would work with the government. He again declined, and the meeting ended amicably.
Farahi didn’t know the pushback would come later.
* * *
On a November day in 2007, Farahi arrived at Miami Immigration Court for what he thought would be a routine hearing on his political asylum case. The imam had requested asylum because he is a Sunni, a persecuted religious minority in Iran. Fear of religious persecution is one of the internationally recognized grounds the United States considers in granting asylum from Iran.
As Farahi entered the courthouse, he saw four men from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They wore body armor and had guns holstered at their sides. All followed Farahi from the security checkpoint on the ground level to the third-floor courtroom of U.S. Immigration Judge Carey Holliday.
Farahi’s attorney at the time, Mildred Morgado, spoke with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and then asked to talk to Farahi in private. “They have a file with evidence that you’re supporting or are involved in terrorist groups,” Farahi recalls Morgado telling him. (Morgado did not return repeated calls seeking comment.)
Farahi says the ICE agents gave him an ultimatum: Drop the asylum case and leave the United States voluntarily or be charged as a terrorist.
Indeed, luck wasn’t on Farahi’s side when drawing a judge for his asylum claim. Appointed to the immigration court in October 2006 by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Holliday was a Louisiana Republican who had quickly earned a reputation for being tough on immigrants in Florida. In one case, he declined to hear arguments from an Ecuadorian couple who alleged they were targeted for deportation because their daughter, Miami Dade College student Gabby Pacheco, was a well-known activist for immigration reform. “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” Holliday wrote. (The judge resigned in January after the Department of Justice found that Bush administration officials had illegally selected immigration judges based on their political affiliation.)
After ICE agents threatened Farahi with terrorism charges, he told Holliday he would voluntarily leave the country within 30 days. Although his Iranian passport was expired — a bureaucratic problem that should have given him more time to consider the government’s threat — Holliday granted the order of voluntary departure.
The agents let Farahi go free after he promised to leave the country. But Farahi decided instead to appeal the government’s action, which is called an “order of voluntary departure.”
Farahi believes that the government’s claim that it would prosecute him as a terrorist was a bluff — nothing more than leverage to coerce him into becoming an informant. To this day, the government has not shared with Farahi or his attorney any information about this professed evidence, and he has not been charged with a crime.
“If they have something on Foad, they should make it public. They haven’t done that,” says Sunshine, the Barry University theology professor. “They are intimidating and bullying, and I resent that type of behavior being paid for by my tax dollars.”
Farahi’s assertion that the government is trying to coerce him to become an informant cannot be verified independently because the FBI won’t comment on his case, says Miami FBI Special Agent Judy Orihuela. “It is a matter of policy that we do not confirm or deny who we have asked to be a source,” Orihuela says.
But similar claims from other would-be informants seem to support Farahi’s assertion. In November 2005, for example, immigration officials questioned Yassine Ouassif, a 24-year-old Moroccan with a green card, as he crossed into New York from Canada. The officials confiscated his green card and instructed him to meet an FBI agent in Oakland, Calif. The bureau’s offer: Become an informant or be deported. Ouassif refused to spy and won his deportation case with the help of the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement, a nonprofit that advocates for civil rights on behalf of Muslims and immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia.
The government employed a similarly tough tactic against Tarek Mehanna, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen living in Sudbury, Mass. After FBI agents failed to persuade Mehanna to spy, the government charged him with making a false statement. Prosecutors allege Mehanna told FBI agents a suspect was in Egypt when he knew that person was in Somalia. Mehanna is awaiting trial, and his attorney has alleged the prosecution is a form of revenge for Mehanna’s unwillingness to be an informant.
Among more recent cases is that of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan. Charged with making a false statement to obtain citizenship, he alleged in a February detention hearing in Orange County, Calif., that he was arrested and indicted for refusing to be an informant.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) suspects there are hundreds of similar cases in which the government has used deportation or criminal charges to force cooperation from informants. Most of these cases will never be made public. What’s more, the FBI is now working under guidelines, approved in December 2008 by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, that allow agents to consider religion and ethnic background when launching undercover investigations. Today, many Muslims in the United States simply assume informants are working inside mosques.
“This is becoming increasingly common,” says Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director. “Law enforcement authorities seek to use some vulnerability of the individual, whether it be business, immigration, or personal, to try to gain some sort of informant status.
“The issue is law enforcement’s basic understanding of the community. Is it one that law enforcement needs to have blanket suspicion toward, or is it well integrated into our multifaith nation and wants to preserve public safety as well as civil liberties?”
* * *
Ira Kurzban’s law office is a mile from the alfresco restaurants of Miami’s Coconut Grove. On a hot day in late August, Kurzban wears a white guayabera and shows no concern for the disheveled gray hairs on the sides of his balding head.
He leans forward at his desk, having been asked a question about Farahi. “He’s an imam in his mosque,” Kurzban says as he throws his hands in the air in a sort of protest. “He’s basically, you know, the rabbi.”
Kurzban has become a well-known advocate for immigrants’ rights, having argued more immigration-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than any of his peers. He is also on the board of directors of Immigrants’ List, the first political action committee in Washington, D.C., established to support candidates who endorse immigration reform.
Farahi, desperate not to leave the country but frightened after government agents threatened to charge him as a terrorist, hired Kurzban to take his case on appeal.
In November 2007, Kurzban asked the Board of Immigration Appeals to throw out Farahi’s voluntary departure order and reopen his political asylum case, arguing that the imam was illegally intimidated. The board denied the request, so Kurzban petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Farahi’s order of voluntary departure has been stayed as the appeals court considers his request.
For now, the legal battle makes Farahi a kind of no land’s man. He no longer has an official immigration status in the United States, and in asking for political asylum, he has rejected his Iranian citizenship. As he was in Kuwait, Farahi is home in a land that could expel him at any time.
“I think the real issue is, does the government have the right to pressure people… to make them informants?” Kurzban says. “It’s clearly modus operandi of the FBI to (a) recruit people who are going to be informants and (b) to use whatever leverage they can.”
In late September, the end of Ramadan signaled the five-year anniversary since the FBI first approached Farahi. “I’m not bitter about what has happened,” the imam insists.
Dressed in khaki pants and a white buttoned-down shirt, he walks barefoot through the mosque as members begin to arrange food on folding banquet tables. After sundown, everyone will eat and drink together to break the fast. Farahi is distracted as he waves at attendees and hugs others entering the mosque.
“I’m not bitter,” he repeats after a few moments. “I wouldn’t say I’m bitter at all. But I’m tired. I want to live my life in this country. I want to stay here. That’s all.”
Farahi stops and waves to another man. The imam shakes his head quickly. “I wish the case would be over,” he says. “I just wish I could stay here.”
Trevor Aaronson is an investigative journalist who lives in Florida. For more information about his work, visit trevoraaronson.com.

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**Note: since writing this blog post, Naji Hamdan has been released and is currently residing in Lebanon. To listen to an interview with Naji after his release, click here  for a podcast of the live interview.

Written by: Reem Salahi

Naji Hamdan shuffled into the prisoner visitation area wearing a dark blue prisoner jumpsuit. He was thin and pale, a consequence of having been detained incommunicado, tortured and subsequently imprisoned at Al Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi since August 26, 2008.  His eyes were bloodshot and his hands quivered as a result of the torture he underwent. As he motioned for me to sit opposite the glass barrier, he looked around nervously. Just as I was about to sit, he signaled that we sit in another part of the visitation area, in a corner. Again he looked around nervously. Throughout the conversation, Naji would often pause and look around, in a seemingly yet understandably paranoid fashion. As soon as I sat down and picked up the phone, three men dressed in traditional Emirati outfits who had previously been lounging around the visitation area, sat next to me. One of the men stood over my head and leaned against the wall, apparently trying to act inconspicuous.  Reading my thoughts, Naji nodded and mouthed that these men were U.A.E. State Security personnel. 

Speaking quickly, I introduced myself. I was a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California. I was working on his habeas case in the U.S. He smiled a grimace in response and thanked me for coming. And so began my meeting with Naji Hamdan, a meeting which I had almost given up hope in having after nearly two weeks of promised and denied access.

During the course of our conversation, Naji told me grueling accounts of the torture he endured while in U.A.E. custody. He also gave me a detailed description of the American interrogator. From underneath his blindfold, Naji could see the man who approached him forty-five minutes into one of his daily torture sessions. Unlike the other interrogators who wore traditional Emirati sandals or military boots, this man wore dress shoes and slacks. He had been in the room the entire time and had witnessed the interrogators who repeatedly kicked Naji in his liver area and all over his body. He had also seen the interrogators push Naji’s face into the ground on multiple occasions as they yelled at Naji to eat the dirt floor. The American approached Naji and spoke with a clear American accent. He told Naji that he was not the only one with a Masters Degree in the room and that Naji better cooperate with the local interrogators or else they would “f**k him up.” When Naji agreed to cooperate if the American would help him, the American smirked and asked Naji if he would even trust the American to help him out.

Naji, a U.S. citizen who lived mostly in Hawthorne, California for over twenty years and ran a highly-successful auto parts business there, is at the center of one of the most unfortunate and unusual cases stemming from the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror. After moving to the U.A.E. in 2006 for business and family reasons, Naji was picked up by local State Security forces and tortured for over three months. One week after the ACLU filed a habeas petition on his behalf, Naji was transferred from an unknown location to Al Wathba Prison and put on trial before the U.A.E. Supreme Court on vague “terrorism-related” charges.  Earlier this month, Naji was convicted by the U.A.E. Supreme Court on the undefined crime of terrorism based solely on his confessions procured under torture. And the punishment for this horrid crime? Eighteen months, which ever so conveniently converts to time served.

Yet Naji’s upcoming release, despite his conviction of nothing less than terrorism, is not a sign of good fortune. Rather, it is yet another sad tale of an innocent Muslim man wrongly picked up at the behest of the United States and placed at the mercy of an authoritarian government which lacks both the rule of law and prohibitions against torture. Similar to Maher Arar, Binyam Mohamed and Saud Memon, who were also victims to the U.S.’s extrajudicial tactics, disappearing into legal black holes only to inexplicably reappear months, if not years later, Naji will soon be released without ever understanding why he was detained, tortured and imprisoned in the first place. For Naji and those who represent him, his upcoming release only reaffirms that the real criminals are those in the U.S. government who have unofficially legalized the policies of rendition, proxy detention and torture by proxy.

After two and a half hours, a prison guard came up to me and told me to get off the phone. It was time for me to go. As I sat there and looked at Naji, I tried to hold back the tears that burned in my eyes. I was sad to see Naji look so helpless in his prison outfit, but more so, I was ashamed that my government had fallen so low as to disregard the civil liberties of its citizens and outsource its fundamental duties of due process. As I was about to leave the visitation area, I looked once again through the glass barrier and saw Naji from a distance waving goodbye. “Thank you” he mouthed.

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Written by: Reem Salahi

A few weeks ago, five young Muslim men were arrested in Pakistan for allegedly seeking to join militant groups. The boys’ sudden disappearance coupled by a “farewell” video reignited the media’s obsession with homegrown terrorism and radicalization. Yet this time, the media was joined by an unlikely ally; some Muslim American organizations and their leadership. Rather than critically question the media’s premise of radicalization, Muslim organizations and their leaders jumped on the bandwagon and now seek to put an end to “Muslim youth radicalization,” whatever that means.

But seriously, what does that mean? House Resolution 1955 defined violent radicalization as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.” In other words, the (unexplained notion of) adopting or promoting an (undefined) extremist belief, which could potentially facilitate (in unclear terms) ideologically based violence is violent radicalization. Now if that doesn’t clarify radicalization, I don’t know what does. According to my reading, this definition of radicalization could encompass everything from violent acts to civil disobedience to even voicing an unpopular stance.

More problematic than this open-ended definition of radicalization is the supposed source of radicalization: the World Wide Web. As someone who frequents the internet most of my waking hours, I do not deny that there are many bad websites and posts on the internet. But I refuse to believe that these websites could lead a normal, integrated Muslim teen to “radicalization.” Yet according to the media and to governmental reports, the internet is that powerful. Without providing any contextual background or analysis, the media, the government, and now some Muslim organizations have simplified Muslim youth into a two-part cause and effect: since Muslim youth are intrinsically prone to radicalization, then the most simplistic of triggers such as the internet will change a law-abiding Muslim youth to Osama bin Laden’s prodigy.

While I cannot speak to the psychological deficiencies of this cause and effect analysis, I can speak to its fundamentally racist and Islamophobic origins and its misguided premises. In recent years, the concept of homegrown terrorism and radicalization has been codified into the public psyche by a number of reports and a proposed legislation. Interestingly, the individuals fueling this policy analysis include none other than the four self-described experts on Islam and counterterrorism: Daniel Pipes, Stephen Emerson, Marc Sageman, and Bruce Hoffman. These men are known for “mainstreaming” Islamophobia and lack the academic and research credentials to even assert an opinion on the matters of Islam and Muslims, much less influence policy and discourse. Yet rather than marginalize these men’s work, mainstream media, governmental bodies, and even some Muslim organizations have capitalized on their flawed and sloppy theories and writings.

In 2007, the New York Police Department engaged in a study of homegrown terrorism. While the study was broadly titled “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” the NYPD often interchanged the term “homegrown terrorism” with “Islamic-based terrorism.” Thus, homegrown terrorists were exclusively Muslim. In attempting to understand homegrown terrorists, the NYPD analyzed the psyche of local Muslim residents/citizens who went from being “unremarkable” to Al-Qaeda wannabes. In doing so, it developed a four-phased radicalization process with the internet acting as the enabler for the process of radicalization. Despite wide criticism of the report and its faulty underlying assumption that “unremarkable” Muslims can spontaneously, autonomously, and unconnectedly transform into terrorists through the aid of the internet, the report became the trailblazer on the question of homegrown terrorism and radicalization.

In late 2007, Jane Harman introduced House Resolution 1955, titled the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007,” which sought to create a national commission on the prevention of violent radicalization and ideologically based violence. After HR 1955 died a quiet death, Senator Lieberman in May 2008 re-energized the overly simplified and unsubstantiated discourse on homegrown terrorism and radicalization. Known for his hawkish military and security stances, Senator Lieberman (I-Conn) along with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) co-authored the report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorism Threat,” on behalf of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. The report reproduced much of the NYPD Report and claimed to have “fully identif[ied] the best way to combat” homegrown terrorism threats by outlining “the process by which individuals or groups of individuals are radicalized to become violent Islamist extremists.” As evidence, the Committee report conveniently cited the NYPD report and the testimony of Marc Sageman.

At the time of its release, the Muslim American leadership rose up and rejected the Committee’s report and its findings. In a joint letter, a number of Muslim and Arab organizations stated, “Unfortunately, the Committee’s report undermines fundamental American values (as well as its own stated recommendations) by encouraging alienating suspicion of several million Americans on the basis of their faith. Contrary to Secretary Chertoff’s recommendations, it thus exacerbates the current climate of fear, suspicion and hate mongering of Islam and American Muslims.” Rather than similarly standing up in critical opposition to the media’s heightened discourse of radicalization following the capture of the five Virginian youth, many of these same organizations conceded that radicalization is a problem and the internet does pose a large threat. Such a simplified assertion ignores the complexities of the inaccurate comparison of the American Muslim populations with European Muslims, the FBI’s role of entrapment, and the tremendous harm in the continued vilification and marginalization of the Muslim community.

Much of the discourse on homegrown terrorism and radicalization looks at European case studies. Yet the European experience hardly relates or compares to the American Muslim experience. Whether it is South Asians in the U.K. or Algerians in France, many of the Muslims in Europe are the product of colonization. They have been afforded minimal rights and prevented from even superficial integration, leading to their “ghettoization.”

On the other hand, American Muslims are 44% African-Americans, the descendants of slaves and as indigenous to the United States as the unhyphenated White American. The remaining “immigrant” Muslims lack the citizenship barriers of European Muslims and are overall more affluent and educated than their European counterparts. Hence, there is no equivalent ghettoization of Muslims here in the United States. In other words, by trying to understand why European Muslims might engage in violent acts, we in the U.S. are in no way closer to understanding why American Muslims have committed or sought to commit violent acts here.

Rather, if Senator Lieberman, Representative Harman, and the researchers at the NYPD, including Marc Sageman, were to have looked closely at many of the cited examples of so-called U.S. homegrown terrorism, they would have found a common thread connecting the majority of them: the manipulation of FBI informants and agent provocateurs. From Fort Dix to Lodi to Herald Square Subway to Newburgh, N.Y. to Rockford, Illinois, the U.S. government has spent millions of tax dollars on agent provocateurs who entrap Muslims to engage, or in some cases, threaten to engage, in illegal and violent acts. And while I do not condone the actions of the men in these scenarios, it is worth noting that entrapment is an affirmative defense, which if argued successfully, preempts criminal conviction.

Yet even in cases where agent provocateurs were not employed, the reality is that the government and media have too long treated Islam and Muslims as a homogeneous, non-dynamic, suspect group. Whenever a Muslim engages in a criminal act, the individual is always qualified by his religious background. Very rarely do we see similar treatment of non-Muslims. For example, I have never read an article describing Timothy McVeigh as the Christian white man. But nearly every article on Nidal Hasan qualifies him as a Muslim and Palestinian within the first few sentences.

As a consequence, Muslims are forced to account for the (negative) actions of a fourth of the world’s population. Ironically, I have never been congratulated for the positive actions of other fellow Muslims. The acts of a few bad apples or even a few misguided youth become the norm and not the exceptions. Put differently, it would be like suspecting that every White high school student was prone to commit a massacre as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine High School, did.

The reality is that the discourse on radicalization and homegrown terrorism is fundamentally racist and Islamophobic. It is based on seeing Muslims as the “other” and viewing our actions through an “orientalist” lens which frames any Muslim’s questionable action as terrorism. Hence, a Muslim overstaying an immigration visa or improperly filing taxes or even paintballing becomes evidence of terrorism and radicalization, justifying the government’s infiltration of our mosques, surveillance of our youth groups, and mapping of our populations. Maybe, just maybe, Muslims don’t need to be understood by a different rubric than other populations. Further, by framing Muslims as terrorists and as the internal enemy within, the government and media have alienated and disenfranchised many law-abiding Muslims who seek nothing more than to actually live “unremarkable” lives.

Those in the media, in the government, and in Muslim organizations who have jumped on the bandwagon, you have missed the boat. Muslims and Muslim youth are not intrinsically prone to radicalization through the aid of the internet, just as White youth are not intrinsically prone to commit massacres or lynch ethnic minorities in solidarity with the KKK. Rather, the problem is the media and the government’s continued vilification and the consequential disenfranchisement of the Muslim community. It is the government’s infiltration of mosques and community centers with informants and agent provocateurs. It is the FBI’s prolonged fishing expeditions and false prosecutions of many innocent Muslims. And it is an ever-worsening foreign policy that wastes away our tax dollars on killing innocent civilians throughout the world. So please stop parroting the misguided construct of homegrown terrorism and Islamic radicalization as the problem, when the real problem is xenophobia couched in politically correct terms.

(also published in the Huffington Post)

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