Tarek Mehanna and Babar Ahmad illustrate the shocking decline in balance and justice, even to one’s own citizens, post-9/11
It will be interesting to see how history will look back upon the times in which we live.
Sometimes, it takes lifetimes to realise our folly and accept who the real wrongdoers are. Other times it takes far less. While Nelson Mandela spent years in prison as a ‘terrorist’, today he stands as one of the most celebrated and respected leaders globally. While Malcolm X was reviled by the establishment at the time, today his memory lingers in honour and dignity as one who struggled for justice and sacrificed all for it.
Following the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11, what has followed in retaliation has been, in the mildest terms possible, disastrous. Our nations have laid siege upon much of the world and, with the mask of fighting terror, have unleashed a brand of colonial conquest more destructive than any seen before now, not least for modern technological advancements in warfare. Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are the most outstanding examples of the pile of rubble and bodies left in the wake of ‘counter-terror’, accompanied by the craters abundant across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
Placing aside the physical destruction we witness on our computer screens and our televisions, there is also the destruction of souls we have witnessed from home. These past few weeks and months have displayed a steady succession of victims of counter-terror campaigns at home, in both Britain and the US.
Babar Ahmad’s case, one that has gained the most attention on this side of the Atlantic, including a high profile BBC interview, has been particularly troubling. Ahmad’s case began from his appalling assault by police officers during a raid upon his home – resulting in 73 forensically recorded injuries – and arrest to his release without charge six days later, and from the sheer time it took for the Met police to admit its violent assault and provide compensation – another six years – to the acquittal of his assailants. Then on to being held in high security prison in Britain for eight long years without charge, in spite of the admission by both the Crown Prosecution Services and the Attorney General that there was insufficient evidence to charge Ahmad of any criminal activity under UK law. Finally, under the Extradition Act 2003, a skewed treaty that does not require the US to provide any evidence before seeking the deportation of British citizens, Ahmad was condemned to extradition to the US by both the courts in Britain and the European Court of Human Rights.
Arrested as a young man at the age of 30, Ahmad is now 38 and appears strikingly aged from his eight year ordeal. That the British government could treat one of its own born and bred citizens in this manner at the behest of the US is unbelievable. One can’t help but wonder whether its own people or its one-sided trans-Atlantic partnership holds more importance in the authority’s eyes. The Ahmads are determined to fight the case to the end. Meanwhile, cases across the Atlantic provide legitimate cause for their concern.
Over the past few weeks America has been following its own muted course of questionable justice with one of its own born and bred citizens. An almost parallel event, which sadly shared very little popular attention compared to the Ahmad case last week, saw the indictment of Tarek Mehanna, a pharmacist from Massachusetts. Convicted on various ‘material support to terrorism’ charges, Mehanna was handed a 17.5 year sentence in a notorious supermax prison. No direct evidence was found linking him to any terror groups, and he never had any weapons. His main crime was in allegedly translating documents and sharing videos online – in other words, he was a perpetrator of freedom of thought and speech. His conviction has been condemned as a direct flouting of the First Amendment and one of the jurors later stated too much was wrong in the case and Mehanna deserved mercy.
More significantly, Mehanna was targeted by the FBI to be an informant, with the explanation that by doing so he ‘would never see the inside of a courtroom or prison cell.’ He refused. He was then targeted by an undercover NYPD operative who attempted to lure him into carrying out a terrorist attack. He again refused, ultimately asking the individual to never contact him again. Interestingly, the jury were not told of this during the trial. Furthermore, when a friend – who later became a CIA operative and has never been charged – suggested staging violent attacks within the US, Mehanna firmly objected.
The hypocrisies are telling and the measures taken, astounding. That the FBI regularly seeks informants from within the Muslim community is a recognised fact. Yet how this is not creating a whirlwind of protest at the targeted, invasive and divisive culture of spying created by such a system is beyond me. Furthermore, that this can then translate into the criminal conviction of individuals who refuse to be recruited whilst permitting the freedom and recruitment of those with a background of violent intent is a telling reflection on the ‘safety’ and ‘justice’ behind these measures.
Yet, if the FBI-led spying is astonishing, how much more so is that of the New York Police Department’s entrapment? When an individual is prodded and influenced into a crime and then ‘caught’, that is not prevention of terror; it is the influencing of impressionable minds and framing of vulnerable individuals. This is in addition to the recent scandal surrounding the NYPD’s wholesale surveillance of Muslim students in New York and surrounding states. The measures taken reflect a stealthy and speedy curtailment of freedom in the name of preventing terror, targeting a single religious minority.
It is no wonder that the families of those facing extradition from the UK are seeking trial in Britain. The case of Tarek Mehanna is one more in a growing list which proves that solid evidence is no longer required to send a man behind bars in America’s infamous high security prisons, particularly if he happens to be Muslim. This is a harrowing challenge to the constitution that renders the First Amendment moot.
Upon his conviction, Mehanna delivered a remarkable speech, commenting on the irony and apparent dishonesty surrounding the outcome of his trial: ‘But one day, America will change and people will recognise this day for what it is…The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with “killing Americans.” But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.’ The speech is likely to find a place in the history of our times.
Tarek Mehanna and Babar Ahmad may not be the great change-making leaders that Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X were, although the campaign by the Ahmads may certainly one day set a great precedent in securing ‘British Justice for British Citizens.’ Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that having redefined Mandela and X, the judgement of history is likely to prove far more impartial than that passed over Mehanna or Ahmad in our courts today.
Artwork by Rukia Begum
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