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First They Come for the Muslims

Posted on Apr 16, 2012
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced Thursday in Worcester, Mass., to 17½ years in prison. It was another of the tawdry show trials held against Muslim activists since 9/11 as a result of the government’s criminalization of what people say and believe. These trials, where secrecy rules permit federal lawyers to prosecute people on “evidence” the defendants are not allowed to examine, are the harbinger of a corporate totalitarian state in which any form of dissent can be declared illegal. What the government did to Mehanna, and what it has done to hundreds of other innocent Muslims in this country over the last decade, it will eventually do to the rest of us.

Mehanna, a teacher at Alhuda Academy in Worcester, was convicted after an eight-week jury trial of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and providing material support to al-Qaida, as well as making false statements to officials investigating terrorism. His real “crime,” however, seems to be viewing and translating jihadi videos online, speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and refusing to become a government informant.

Stephen F. Downs, a lawyer in Albany, N.Y., a founder of Project Salam and the author of “Victims of America’s Dirty War,” a booklet posted on the website, has defended Muslim activists since 2006. He has methodically documented the mendacious charges used to incarcerate many Muslim activists as terrorists. Because of “terrorism enhancement” provisions, any sentence can be quadrupled—even minor charges can leave prisoners incarcerated for years.

“People who have committed no crime are taken into custody, isolated without adequate recourse to legal advice, railroaded with fake or contrived charges, and ‘disappeared’ into prisons designed to isolate them,” Downs told me when we met last week at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Downs calls the process of condemning people before they have committed a crime “pre-emptive prosecution.” The concept of pre-emptive prosecution mocks domestic law as egregiously as pre-emptive war mocks the foundations of international law.

Downs’ awakening to the corruption of the judicial system came in 2006 when Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Iraq who was an imam of a mosque in Albany, was entrapped in a government sting operation. Downs, who three years earlier had retired as chief attorney for the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, became part of Aref’s legal defense team. He met with Aref two or three times a week in the Rensselaer County jail over a six-month period.

“I was unprepared for the fact that the government would put together a case that was just one lie piled up on top of another lie,” Downs said. “And when you pointed it out to them they didn’t care. They didn’t refute it. They knew that it was a lie. The facts of most of these pre-emptive cases don’t support the charges. But the facts are irrelevant. The government has decided to target these people. It wants to take them down for ideological reasons.”

“In the past, when the government wanted to do something illegal it simply went ahead and broke the law,” he said. “They rounded up the Japanese during World War II and stuck them in concentration camps. They knew they were breaking the law when they decided to go after the activists with COINTELPRO in the 1960s but they rationalized that they were doing it for a higher purpose. This is different. The government is destroying the legal framework of our country. They are twisting it out of recognition to make it appear as though what they’re doing is legal. I don’t remember that kind of a situation in the past. The opinions of the court are now only lame excuses as to why the courts can’t do justice.”

“The government lawyers must know these pre-emptive cases are fake,” he said. “They must know they’re prosecuting people before a crime has been committed based on what they think the defendant might do in the future. They defend what they are doing by saying that they are protecting the nation from people who might want to do it harm. I’m sure they’ve been co-opted at least to believe that. But I think they also know that they are twisting the legal concepts, they are stretching them beyond what the framework of the law can tolerate. They have convinced themselves that it is OK to convict many innocent people as long as they prevent a few people from committing crimes in the future. They are creating an internal culture within the Justice Department where there is contempt for the law and for the foundational principle that it is better for one guilty person to go free than that one innocent person is convicted. They must know they do not do justice, and that they serve only ideological ends.”

Downs pointed out that if the government was actually concerned about the rule of law it would prosecute politicians and other prominent Americans who have publicly spoken out in support of Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK or People’s Holy Jihadis), an armed group on the State Department terrorism list that carries out terrorist attacks inside Iran. They include former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton, and Gen. James Jones, who was President Obama’s first national security adviser. Some of them voiced their backing in speeches for which they were paid lavishly.


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By Mad Angel on FB, April 16, 2012 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If this were anywhere but here ( in the US ) I would agree ....but there’s too much ‘creeping’ to ignore….I don’t want this country to become another Britain or France - or Belgium

Mad Angel on FB

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By mrfreeze, April 16, 2012 at 6:41 am Link to this comment

tony_opmoc - Thanks for that link. I really “enjoyed” it.

Actually, I’m not a conspiracy theory person. I grew up in UT where they invented “conspiracy theory.” There certainly are a lot of unanswered questions about 9/11. I’m not so much concerned about whether or not there were incendiary devices in the towers or any of that, but it’s pretty clear that our government knew something was up and was either too incompetent to act or….........................

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By balkas, April 16, 2012 at 6:14 am Link to this comment

please, note, CH shuns getting to the bottom or the FIRST CAUSE of it all:
infallible US ideology on whose altar even individuals like nixon is sacrificed.
so, anyone can become sacrificial lamb. it all depends on what the
TWENTYPERCENT, or the most privileged people think about any act by anyone.
if that act in its eyes undermines their paycheques, healthcare, powers. it’ll be
condemned as vitiating to AMERICANISM, and the perp will be dealt with.
so, a MSM columnist, army officer, et al have to be very careful not only about what
they do, but what they say/write.
even kucinich, gravel, nader, moore, et al stay away from evaluating the THOUGHT
on which US runs.
the holy of holies nobody dares touch!
this means that no change for better is possible. i hope OWS is aware of this fact.
if not, and only wants to patch the old pants just like most or all dissenters, i expect
only worsenings for at least 70% of americans and lots of ‘aleins’.

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By Wozzek, April 16, 2012 at 6:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

Albert Camus, The Plague (1947; trans. Stuart Gilbert)

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By katsteevns, April 16, 2012 at 5:54 am Link to this comment

“But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the U.S. military in foreign countries,...”

You mean, like how the American people woke up to the genocide they carried out on their own continent against its native population 200 plus years ago at a cost of up to 15 million lives???.......................

Yeah, well, don’t hold your breath. We are still killing them off today, the only difference is that the gov’t doesn’t deal in scalps any more.

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By balkas, April 16, 2012 at 5:48 am Link to this comment

there is that other legal, tho unwritten, system in US that trumps all
other US laws: you’re with us or against us.
this spoken or wishing law—wished for at least 60% of american pop
led by the 1%, is the only valid one now.
and it fits or defends US ideology or THE THOUGHT much better than
any other written law. 
and who decides who’s of, with, and for the US THOUGHT [its
ideological infallibility] and who’s not for, of, or with it?
congress, most pious people/clergy, army echelons, cia/fbi agents,
police hierarchy, banksters, MSM, most teachers; in short, better paid

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By Devon J. Noll, MPA, April 16, 2012 at 5:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nice to see that Christopher Hedges has joined the party.  I warned of this kind of thing back in 2003 and yet I was told here and on other sites that I was being a conspiracy nut, and that it could never happen here. 

Well, it is and we are just as much to blame as the DOJ because we stood by for over 10 years allowing these kinds of things to happen without speaking out because we voted in the people who enacted the laws that are being used now against our own citizens.  I only hope that as people like Mr. Hedges finally stop aggrandizing themselves in the media they will stop and realize that they are as much at risk as any Muslim or Black in this nation to this kind of trial, lawsuits not withstanding at the moment. 

And the rest of us better start finding politicians who will repeal the laws that set this in motion and find presidents who will prosecute those who passed and enforced them.  Until then, this slide is now in full swing to a corporate/theocratic state, or what is better known as FASCISM, and anyone of us could be arrested who writes on this site and others who does not support the GOP/Tea Party/Religious Right way of thinking.

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By prisnersdilema, April 16, 2012 at 5:28 am Link to this comment

These people are thinking just like Stalin did. From the same irrational place. How many
millions of his own people did Stalin murder?

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By tony_opmoc, April 16, 2012 at 5:28 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges again demonstrates his honesty,
integrity and courage, but like John Pilger and many
others who I have tremendous respect for, there is
one subject he won’t touch.

I am still trying to work out, whether this is
because he studied theology rather than physics and
maths. Or is it a case of cognitive dissonance -
despite all the evidence that our culture really is
evil, its not quite that evil…

Or more likely, is it a case of, if you discuss that,
not only will you not earn anything again, but you
are in danger of appearing in an orange jump suit
yourself - or even worse.

Now this subject really bores me, as I proved to
myself early in 2003, that the offical story was
impossible. I told everyone I knew at the time, and
they all thought I was mad, so I too kept quiet about
it. Its tough, and you feel very alone, when everyone
thinks you are insane. It doesn’t however alter the
facts. The fundamental laws of physics and maths just
are. An Orwellian Government can’t change these
facts. All it can do is change people’s beliefs using
very well understood methods of psychological
terrorism and tribal loyalty. It can’t have been our
tribe that did 9/11. It must have been another tribe
that is even more evil than we are.

Now, sit back and relax and allow your brain to be
exposed for 5 minutes. Just like being at the

“9/11: A Conspiracy Theory”


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By eatcaketoo, April 16, 2012 at 5:25 am Link to this comment
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By thecrow, April 16, 2012 at 5:17 am Link to this comment

“At the start on Tuesday, Mr. Obama got a big burst of applause when he donned the FBI cap given to him by the bureau’s director, Robert Mueller.

On a more sober note, the president warned of a long struggle against al Qaeda terrorists.

He repeatedly said the FBI protects both U.S. security and ideals, rejecting what he called a “false choice” between preserving one or the other.

‘We know that al Qaeda is not constrained by a constitution or by allegiance to anything other than a hateful ideology and a determination to kill as many innocents as possible,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘But what makes the United States of America so special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals, not just when it’s easy but when it’s hard.’”

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By heterochromatic, April 16, 2012 at 5:16 am Link to this comment

such wonderful bullshit. the guy wasn’t taken off because he’s a Muslim but
because he thought that being a Muslim meant he should kill American
soldiers….and he attempted to act on that fick sucking idea.

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By David J. Cyr, April 16, 2012 at 5:09 am Link to this comment

QUOTE, of Project Salam’s Stephen F. Downs:

“Justice is now justice for corporations… Anybody who interferes with the corporations, who interferes with their profits, who interferes with their rights, will become labeled ‘terrorists.’ They become people we need to get rid of.”

This is among the mounting many terrible consequences of corporatism’s consumers obediently providing 99% popular vote mandates for the corporate party’s money manufactured Republicans and Democrats, who work together in perfect solidarity relentlessly representing the sociopathic desires of corporate persons, while destroying the life nurturing capacity of Nature and neglecting the needs of natural persons.

The global corporatism that Republican and Democrat voters flock together to vote for is a malignant cancer that will not be satisfied until it consumes all of its hosts.

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

Jill Stein for President:

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By SoTexGuy, April 16, 2012 at 4:26 am Link to this comment

.. after the statements of the accused about how his education and early experiences framed his sense of conscience are shared in the halls of power we’ll see an end to all that history and civics education for sure.


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By Lisa Simeone, April 16, 2012 at 4:18 am Link to this comment

Meh, Niemöller Schmiemöller.

That’s the attitude of countless Americans, including so-called
liberals, who, if Bush were in power, would be screaming bloody
murder.  But now that Obama is, are curiously silent. 

The hypocrisy is off the charts.

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By Dadster, April 16, 2012 at 4:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If one doesn’t agree with gov views ,then that doesn’t mean that one goes for the help
of external powers .That is akin to treason and treachery and no self- respecting nation
would tolerate such wanton behavior from the citizens of a country.those who don’t like
a country or the culture of a country then they. Should leave that country and go to
another country where they are more compatible , muslim or non-muslim. Just as
citizens expect justice from the country, the country also expects justice from their
citizenry.  Justice is not a one way transaction . Rights are based on responsibilities
and duties . When people fail in responsibile behavior and fail in their duties to the
nation ,they forfeit their rights too. There are no rights without duties and some loyalty
to the nation . One cant expect mercy or protection from the nation if one works with
the enemies of the nation . There are no absolute rights . Even human rights are for
those who live as a human being but not to those who live like animals or ith animalistic
attitudes . It’s society that is the dispenser of these rights and it’s not god- given .the
society that has given certain rights expecting the enjoyer of such rights would also do
their duties to the society , has the right to abbreviate or deny individual rights enjoyed
by an individual if that society decides that an individual has misbehaved or has failed
in her / his duties. There is no free lunch, in a civilized society !

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By vector56, April 16, 2012 at 4:06 am Link to this comment

Senator Harry Reid a few weeks ago on CNN declared that Anwar Awlaki, his 16 year old son and the other US citizen killed without trial by drone attack “deserved what they got!” Reid saw no need to offer any details or proof of their guilt after the fact.

What is being done to Mehanna was also done to the Black Panther Party in the 60’s. The thing that “breaks my heart” is that many in the Jewish community are leading the slide toward Muslim “Concentration camps” and the Black civil rights leaders are “cowering, incontinent in a Conner” glad it is not them. These are two groups that should know that eventually, when the brutes are done with the Muslims, they will be next.

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By vector56, April 16, 2012 at 3:28 am Link to this comment

Bravo Chris Hedges for broaching this subject the media chooses to over look. Other then Alyona Minkovski (TR’s “Alyona Show”) few in the Corporate Media want to go near this story important.

Again, Bravo!

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