Jihad, justice and the American way: is this a model for fair terrorism trials?

The government stokes fear and fails to understand the Muslim world. But inside at least one courtroom remains an unusual precedent: context can be served

July 17, 2014

Sitting and waiting in US District Court here on Wednesday, you got the undeniable sense that something unusual was about to happen.

Here was the end of a terrorism trial with two men who had already pled guilty – the British citizen Babar Ahmad to providing material support for terrorism by way of administering a website that called on Muslims to devote themselves to jihad, which he did, and the British-born Talha Ahsan to helping him, despite being a mailman for the site for five months in 2001 – but both of whom still looked nervous in that familiar shackle-and-jumpsuit uniform of so many Muslim foreigners in this country over the past 13 years.

Here was the final hearing for two men who had already spent two years in a US supermax prison – under the kind of no-contact conditions Edward Snowden refuses to come home for, in what Ahsan’s brother described to me as “solitary confinement torture” – before they even got a fair trial. By the time they arrived for sentencing on Wednesday, Ahmad and Ahsan had already sat and waited in prison for 10 and eight years, respectively.

Yet here was a terrorism trial about non-operational terrorism – about a website, and Ahmad’s visit to an Afghan training camp in 1999, and ultimately about over-aggressive prosecutors seeking 25 and 15 years, respectively – and here it was coming to a close not under the specter of xenophobia so much as all-American common sense.

No, Judge Janet Hall was not willing to entertain the Fox News-ification of terrorism. “There is no way to rationalize the sentences” the government had recommended, she said, at least not based on claims that two men promoted “violent jihad” and provided what is known as “material support” for terrorists. “In my view,” the judge said, “jihad does not equal terrorism. In a perversion of what Islam teaches, terrorists have misappropriated the concept of jihad from its true meaning – struggle. But jihad is not what happened on 9/11.”

But allegations of terrorist activity almost always lead to perceptions of guilt rather than even partial innocence, and too often it’s the government stoking that perversion of such a basic principle of justice. In this case, the judge found that extensive research by government lawyers ultimately led them to make little more than connections that didn’t exist. She gave Ahmad 12 years and handed Ahsan eight years, for time served.

“I’ve had to witness the agony in my mother’s voice every day,” Ahsan’s brother, Hamja, told me moments after learning the verdict, which will leave Talha in the custody of US immigration officials with the prospect of returning home to Tooting in London. (With time served and good-time credits, Ahmad has approximately 13 more months left on his sentence, at least some of which he will serve back in the UK. ) “I’m going to fight for the rest of my life to ensure that no other family goes through what we have gone through.”

I’ve written about the grueling extradition process of these two men and the uniquely American extreme conditions of detention they faced once they arrived, two years ago, at Connecticut’s Northern Correctional Institute, the notoriously harsh facility that also houses death-row inmates. On Wednesday, after a decade of incomplete justice and what Ahsen called “the best possible outcome”, context was served.

Of course, Dick Cheney and lawmakers like Congressman Peter King would rather forget, but in the mid- to late ’90s, around the time a 19-year-old Ahsan made his pilgrimage to Afghanistan, thousands of British Muslims were making similar journeys to fulfill religious obligations. Those obligations were made more urgent by the Bosnian War, and so an 18-year-old Ahmad traveled to Bosnia to assist Muslims who were being slaughtered in Srebenica while the international community looked the other way.

The vast majority of these “holiday jihadists” did not become radicalized. They just got trained in the real meaning of jihad – “struggle”, not “holy war” – and returned home.

Now Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan finally face the prospect of going home earlier than jingoist prosecutors wanted them to – much earlier. Next time, let’s understand the broader context of the Muslim world – and the basics of our own justice system – much, much sooner than that.

Briton Babar Ahmad given 12-year US prison term for aiding Taliban

Ahmad, who could be freed in a year because of time served, pleaded guilty to providing material support to the Taliban

July 16, 2014

Babar Ahmad, the British citizen who was extradited to the US two years ago, has been sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for providing material support to the Taliban at a time when they were harbouring the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Ahmad, 40, will be returning to the UK to serve the remainder of his sentence, which was issued by a federal court in New Haven, Connecticut. The 150-month sentence was substantially less severe than the 25 years US prosecutors had been seeking for him.

Judge Janet Hall also gave the Briton credit for the eight years he already spent in detention without trial in the UK, and the additional two years he has been held in solitary confinement in Supermax facilities in the US. The reduction for time served means that with good behaviour he stands to be released in 13 months.

He will now be sent to the metropolitan correctional center in Manhattan, before being eventually sent back to the UK, from where he was extradited in 2012.

Stephen Reynolds, addressing the court on behalf of the US government, had tried to secure a lengthy prison term for the defendant, on the grounds that he might reoffend. He alleged that Ahmad, through jihadist websites, had actively supported Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, and had shown no remorse.

But the judge pushed back on the accusations, pointing out in earlier hearings that even the government’s main co-operating witness had denied that Ahmad had helped al-Qaida. “Your own witness doesn’t support that. Fighting against US forces doesn’t necessarily equate to support of al-Qaida,” Hall said last week.

Ahmad pleaded guilty last December to providing material support to the Taliban and Chechen mujahideen by using websites to raise money, recruit fighters and provide equipment for the movements.

But his defence lawyer, Terence Ward, told the judge that only a few of the 4,000 articles he had posted mentioned the al-Qaida leader. The defendant was “horrified” by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he said.

The case was heard in Connecticut because Ahmad, and his co-defendant Syed Talha Ahsan, who has been released into the custody of US immigration officials pending possible deportation, used an internet service provider in the state to base one of their websites.

The sentencing follows the protracted battle Ahmad fought to avoid extradition to the US. In an article in the Guardian in October 2012, he argued that “as a British citizen who has lived since birth in Britain, studied, worked full-time and paid taxes, if I am accused of any offence here in Britain I expect at the very least to face trial here in Britain.”

He was awarded £60,000 in March 2009 as compensation for having been physically abused by Metropolitan police officers at the time of his initial arrest in December 2003.

Dress like a jihadist: Isis and terror-related merchandise flogged online and in Indonesian stores

June 24, 2014

As Isis whips up a tsunami of violence, barrelling through Iraq capturing towns and borders on a daily basis in its quest to create an Islamic state, a few entrepreneurial businessmen are capitalising on the exposure by selling a range of “terror”-related merchandise. All publicity is good publicity, particularly in the sale of jihadist apparel, with baseball T-shirts, caps and hoodies being flogged online emblazoned with “ISIS” or supporting the insurgent cause.

A number of Facebook groups marketing the Islamic goods have since been taken offline, including pages such as the “Koas Islamic State of Iraq and Sham” or “Muzalzil production.” The t-shirts, stamped with the al-Qa’ida splinter group’s name and bordered by automatic weapons, have been available for at least a few months and originate from Indonesian vendors. Islamic clothing has also, however, been seen in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

One Facebook account that’s still live, Rezji Militant, has pictures of a store that it says is in Pabelan, central Java, and proudly displays items it sells including an “Always Fight Against Jews Zionism” poster, camouflage vests, and militant dolls-come piggy banks. Another website, Zirah Moslem, has computer game-style images of men with scarves wrapped around their faces illustrated on t-shirts with the words “Muslim Brotherhood,” Fight For Freedom Till Last Drop of Blood,” or “Mujahideen Around the World.” Zirah Moslem has almost 5,000 friends on Facebook and shows off merchandise supporting Hamas, the Taliban and the Free Syrian Army.

 

TAGS: Radicalization, Security and Counterterrorism, Soldiers and Military Conflict, Public opinion and Islam in the media, and Issues in Politics and Immigration and Integration

Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly says Robert Bergdahl ‘looks like a Muslim’

June 6, 2014

This week Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly asserted that Bowe Bergdahl‘s father looks Muslim, and has not backed down from that assertion. And on MSNBC last night, Chris Hayes joined in the mockery of O’Reilly’s “blatant Islamophobia.”

O’Reilly contended that it’s wildly inappropriate for Bergdahl’s father to look Muslim, with the beard he’s sporting, and speaking in Pashto while he was at the White House. Hayes played clips of O’Reilly’s musings (as well as Sean Hannity‘s) and said, “The blatant Islamophobia here is eclipsed only by the sheer ridiculousness of the argument.”

Hayes proceeded to mock O’Reilly by wondering if he considers the Duck Dynasty guys, ZZ Top, or The Dude to be similarly Muslim-looking. And he ended with a sharp dig at O’Reilly, the author of a number of historical books.

On his eponymous show, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said that if he had been president, he “would not have made the deal” to exchange Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. “These are top Taliban leaders — enemies who bring death and destruction to thousands,” said O’Reilly.

The Fox News commentator, however, took a detour from the sweeping issues of national security to address the case of Robert Bergdahl, Bowe’s father. O’Reilly: “But it is Robert Bergdahl, the father, who is also engendering some controversy. He has learned to speak Pashto, the language of the Taliban, and looks like a Muslim. He is also somewhat sympathetic to Islam, actually thanking Allah right in front of the president.”

Debate stirs over US-Taliban captive swap

June 2, 2014

WASHINGTON — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl can expect a buoyant homecoming after five years in Taliban hands, but those in the government who worked for his release face mounting questions over the prisoner swap that won his freedom.

Even in the first hours of Bergdahl’s handoff to U.S. special forces in eastern Afghanistan, it was clear this would not be an uncomplicated yellow-ribbon celebration. Five terrorist suspects also walked free, stirring a debate in Washington over whether the exchange will heighten the risk of other Americans being snatched as bargaining chips and whether the released detainees — several senior Taliban figures among them — would find their way back to the fight.

U.S. officials said Sunday that Bergdahl’s health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action to secure his release. “Had we waited and lost him,” said national security adviser Susan Rice, “I don’t think anybody would have forgiven the United States government.”

And in Kabul Monday, the Afghan Foreign Ministry called the swap “against the norms of international law” if it came against the five imprisoned Taliban detainees’ will. The ministry said: “No state can transfer another country’s citizen to a third country and put restriction on their freedom.”

Tireless campaigners for their son’s freedom, Bob and Jani Bergdahl thanked all who were behind the effort to retrieve him. “You were not left behind,” Bob Bergdahl told reporters, as if speaking to his son. “We are so proud of the way this was carried out.” He spoke in Boise, Idaho, wearing a long bushy beard he’d grown to honor his son, as residents in the sergeant’s hometown of Hailey prepared for a homecoming celebration.

In weighing the swap, U.S. officials decided that it could help the effort to reach reconciliation with the Taliban, which the U.S. sees as key to more security in Afghanistan. But they acknowledged the risk that the deal would embolden insurgents.

Republicans pressed that point. “Have we just put a price on other U.S. soldiers?” asked Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “What does this tell terrorists, that if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorists?”

New Mexico television interview with local Muslim captures passerby’s ‘Taliban’ insult

An Albuquerque Republican hoping to unseat a Democratic incumbent is unsettling many — but not all — potential voters with his anti-Islamic social media posts.

KRQE interviewed Khadija Chudnoff, a member of the University of New Mexico’s Muslim Student Association, about Louis Tafoya’s anti-Islamic posts on Facebook.

The posts include one titled “Pedophilia & Islam” (picture below) which links to a site that informs readers that “pedophilia is widely accepted in many Muslim countries” and encourages them to burn a virtual Koran.

“New Mexico deserves somebody who is going to check their facts before they click, ‘share,’ on their Facebook page,” Chudnoff told KRQE.

“This is something a teenager would do. It’s not something someone searching for political office should be doing.”

“As New Mexicans, as people who have lived through this, we should be aware of this kind of hateful rhetoric and we shouldn’t allow it,” she said, only to be interrupted by a passerby who loudly inquired why KRQE was interviewing “a Taliban.”

According to KRQE, a crying Chudnoff continued to explain how she hoped that some day, such hateful rhetoric will not be a part of political discourse.

Mustafa Maya, a convert that defended the Taliban treatment of women

March 15, 2014

 

Mustafa Maya Amaya, alleged leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist cell dismantled yesterday by a police operation is an old acquaintance in Malaga. His name came to the fore a month after the attacks of September 11, 2001. All eyes turned also to him when he placed outside a local Mosque a pro-Taliban manifesto that among other things, defended the status of Afghan women and the use of the Islamic headscarf.

He converted in prison in 1996 while serving sentences for burglary. Rafael Amaya Maya was born 51 years ago in Brussels and is the son of Spanish immigrants.

Diario Sur: http://www.diariosur.es/v/20140315/malaga/mustafa-maya-converso-defendio-20140315.html

Killer Marine told he ‘increased risk of revenge attacks’ and sentenced to minimum 10 years

December 6, 2013

 

A Royal Marine who murdered a badly wounded Taliban insurgent must serve at least 10 years in prison for a cold blooded killing that tarnished the reputation of the Armed Forces, a judge has said. Sgt Alexander Blackman was dismissed in disgrace and told his crime had betrayed the Marines and potentially increased the risk of revenge attacks on British troops.

Blackman was given a life sentence at court martial for the battlefield execution of a badly wounded Taliban fighter during a patrol in Helmand province in September 2011. Jeff Blackett, Judge Advocate General, said Blackman’s behaviour during the murder, inadvertently captured on helmet camera, had been “chilling”. The video showed Blackman shoot the insurgent in the chest, telling him to “shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.” He then told the rest of his patrol to keep quiet because he had broken the Geneva Convention.

The judge said: “You treated that Afghan man with contempt and murdered him in cold blood.” “By doing so you have betrayed your Corps and all British service personnel who have served in Afghanistan and you have tarnished their reputation.” He continued: “Your actions have put at risk the lives of other British service personnel. You have provided ammunition to the terrorists whose propaganda portrays the British presence in Afghanistan as part of a war on Islam in which civilians are arbitrarily killed.

Judge Blackett said the seven-strong military board, which included three Royal Marine officers, had taken 15 years as the starting point for deliberations on Blackman’s minimum sentence. They had reduced the term because of his record, the strains he was under and the provocation of brutal fighting against the Taliban.

The case is unprecedented in modern times, with no other serviceman having been convicted of murder on a foreign battlefield since at least the Second World War.

A consultant psychiatrist report concluded Blackman had suffered fatigue, poor sleep, grief from the recent death of his father and “the feeling, though unspoken, of paranoia that he was there to be shot at every time he went out.”

Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, said he was surprised by the severity of the sentence. A minimum sentence of 10 years is comparable with what some murderers received in Britain and Blackman could not be seen as a common criminal.

Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, said he had concerns about the decision to name Blackman and felt it had put his family at risk from domestic terrorists.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/10500133/Killer-Marine-told-he-increased-risk-of-revenge-attacks-and-sentenced-to-minimum-10-years.html

NYC man sentenced to 13 years for lying about his plans to join al-Qaida

NEW YORK — An American citizen was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Friday for lying to the FBI about his attempts to wage violent jihad against U.S. forces by joining the Taliban or al-Qaida.

Prosecutors in federal court in Brooklyn had sought the maximum 21 years behind bars for Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, arguing that he was following a proven formula of other would-be, homegrown terrorists who succeeded in aligning themselves with extremist groups by traveling to Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.

 

 

But U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano imposed the lesser term after suggesting the defendant proved too immature and inept to pull it off.

Shehadeh, 23, appeared in court with his long hair pulled back in a ponytail. He spoke only briefly, telling the judge a letter he had written asking for leniency expressed his position.

His outlook on jihad “has matured over time,” he wrote. “Jihad and terrorism are not synonymous, they are conflicting in my view.” The letter portrayed a failed attempt to get to Pakistan as “an impulsive move” by a misguided young man.

Florida imam sentenced to 25 years in prison for financially supporting Pakistani Taliban

MIAMI — An elderly Muslim cleric was sentenced Friday to 25 years in prison following his convictions on terrorism support charges for sending tens of thousands of dollars overseas to finance the Pakistani Taliban, which has launched numerous violent attacks against both Pakistan’s government and U.S. targets.

Hafiz Khan, 78, had faced up to 60 years behind bars on four terrorism support-related charges. But U.S. District Judge Robert Scola opted for less than the maximum term, although it is 10 years more than the sentence recommended by federal prosecutors.

The case against Khan, who was imam at a Miami mosque prior to his 2011 arrest, was built on hundreds of FBI recordings of both telephone calls and Khan’s face-to-face conversations with an undercover informant. In the calls, Khan discusses details of numerous wire transfers to Pakistan over a three-year period that totaled about $50,000.

“I did not send one dollar to the terrorists or the fighting Taliban,” Khan said. “I am absolutely against the terrorists and the violence.”

Two of Khan’s sons, Izhar and Irfan, were initially charged along with their father but the charges against them were dismissed. Three others in the indictment, including Khan’s daughter, remain free in Pakistan, which will not allow them to be extradited to the U.S.