Current Affairs

‘The real criminals in the Tarek Mehanna case’

This article originally appeared on

By Glenn Greenwald

In one of the most egregious violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech seen in quite some time, Tarek Mehanna, an American Muslim, was convicted this week in a federal court in Boston and then sentenced yesterday to 17 years in prison. He was found guilty of supporting Al Qaeda (by virtue of translating Terrorists’ documents into English and expressing “sympathetic views” to the group) as well as conspiring to “murder” U.S. soldiers in Iraq (i.e., to wage war against an invading army perpetrating an aggressive attack on a Muslim nation).  Adam Serwer several months ago wrote an excellent summary of why the prosecution of Mehanna is such an odious threat to free speech and more background on the case is here, and I’ve written before about the growing criminalization of free speech under the Bush and Obama DOJs, whereby Muslims are prosecuted for their plainly protected political views — but I urge everyone to read something quite amazing: Mehanna’s incredibly eloquent, thoughtful statement at his sentencing hearing, before being given a 17-year prison term.

At some point in the future, I believe history will be quite clear about who the actual criminals are in this case: not Mehanna, but rather the architects of the policies he felt compelled to battle and the entities that have conspired to consign him to a cage for two decades:

APRIL 12, 2012

Read to Judge O’Toole during his sentencing, April 12th 2012.

In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful. 

Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing my work shift at a local hospital. As I was walking to my car I was approached by two federal agents. They said that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy way, or I could do them the hard way. The “easy ” way, as they explained, was that I would become an informant for the government, and if I did so I would never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent the majority of the four years since then in a solitary cell the size of a small closet, in which I am locked down for 23 hours each day. The FBI and these prosecutors worked very hard-and the government spent millions of tax dollars – to put me in that cell, keep me there, put me on trial, and finally to have me stand here before you today to be sentenced to even more time in a cell.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, many people have offered suggestions as to what I should say to you. Some said I should plead for mercy in hopes of a light sentence, while others suggested I would be hit hard either way. But what I want to do is just talk about myself for a few minutes.

When I refused to become an informant, the government responded by charging me with the “crime” of supporting the mujahideen fighting the occupation of Muslim countries around the world. Or as they like to call them, “terrorists.” I wasn’t born in a Muslim country, though. I was born and raised right here in America and this angers many people: how is it that I can be an American and believe the things I believe, take the positions I take? Everything a man is exposed to in his environment becomes an ingredient that shapes his outlook, and I’m no different.  So, in more ways than one, it’s because of America that I am who I am.

When I was six, I began putting together a massive collection of comic books. Batman implanted a concept in my mind, introduced me to a paradigm as to how the world is set up: that there are oppressors, there are the oppressed, and there are those who step up to defend the oppressed. This resonated with me so much that throughout the rest of my childhood, I gravitated towards any book that reflected that paradigm – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I even saw an ehical dimension to The Catcher in the Rye.

By the time I began high school and took a real history class, I was learning just how real that paradigm is in the world. I learned about the Native Americans and what befell them at the hands of European settlers. I learned about how the descendents of those European settlers were in turn oppressed under the tyranny of King George III.

I read about Paul Revere, Tom Paine, and how Americans began an armed insurgency against British forces – an insurgency we now celebrate as the American revolutionary war. As a kid I even went on school field trips just blocks away from where we sit now. I learned about Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown, and the fight against slavery in this country. I learned about Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and the struggles of the labor unions, working class, and poor. I learned about Anne Frank, the Nazis, and how they persecuted minorities and imprisoned dissidents. I learned about Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights struggle.

I learned about Ho Chi Minh, and how the Vietnamese fought for decades to liberate themselves from one invader after another. I learned about Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Everything I learned in those years confirmed what I was beginning to learn when I was six: that throughout history, there has been a constant struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors. With each struggle I learned about, I found myself consistently siding with the oppressed, and consistently respecting those who stepped up to defend them -regardless of nationality, regardless of religion. And I never threw my class notes away. As I stand here speaking, they are in a neat pile in my bedroom closet at home.

From all the historical figures I learned about, one stood out above the rest. I was impressed be many things about Malcolm X, but above all, I was fascinated by the idea of transformation, his transformation. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “X” by Spike Lee, it’s over three and a half hours long, and the Malcolm at the beginning is different from the Malcolm at the end. He starts off as an illiterate criminal, but ends up a husband, a father, a protective and eloquent leader for his people, a disciplined Muslim performing the Hajj in Makkah, and finally, a martyr. Malcolm’s life taught me that Islam is not something inherited; it’s not a culture or ethnicity. It’s a way of life, a state of mind anyone can choose no matter where they come from or how they were raised.

This led me to look deeper into Islam, and I was hooked. I was just a teenager, but Islam answered the question that the greatest scientific minds were clueless about, the question that drives the rich & famous to depression and suicide from being unable to answer: what is the purpose of life? Why do we exist in this Universe? But it also answered the question of how we’re supposed to exist. And since there’s no hierarchy or priesthood, I could directly and immediately begin digging into the texts of the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, to begin the journey of understanding what this was all about, the implications of Islam for me as a human being, as an individual, for the people around me, for the world; and the more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a piece of gold. This was when I was a teen, but even today, despite the pressures of the last few years, I stand here before you, and everyone else in this courtroom, as a very proud Muslim.

With that, my attention turned to what was happening to other Muslims in different parts of the world. And everywhere I looked, I saw the powers that be trying to destroy what I loved. I learned what the Soviets had done to the Muslims of Afghanistan. I learned what the Serbs had done to the Muslims of Bosnia. I learned what the Russians were doing to the Muslims of Chechnya. I learned what Israel had done in Lebanon – and what it continues to do in Palestine – with the full backing of the United States. And I learned what America itself was doing to Muslims. I learned about the Gulf War, and the depleted uranium bombs that killed thousands and caused cancer rates to skyrocket across Iraq.

I learned about the American-led sanctions that prevented food, medicine, and medical equipment from entering Iraq, and how – according to the United Nations – over half a million children perished as a result. I remember a clip from a ’60 Minutes‘ interview of Madeline Albright where she expressed her view that these dead children were “worth it.” I watched on September 11th as a group of people felt driven to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings from their outrage at the deaths of these children. I watched as America then attacked and invaded Iraq directly. I saw the effects of ’Shock & Awe’ in the opening day of the invasion – the children in hospital wards with shrapnel from American missiles sticking but of their foreheads (of course, none of this was shown on CNN).

I learned about the town of Haditha, where 24 Muslims – including a 76-year old man in a wheelchair, women, and even toddlers – were shot up and blown up in their bedclothes as the slept by US Marines. I learned about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old Iraqi girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who then shot her and her family in the head, then set fire to their corpses. I just want to point out, as you can see, Muslim women don’t even show their hair to unrelated men. So try to imagine this young girl from a conservative village with her dress torn off, being sexually assaulted by not one, not two, not three, not four, but five soldiers. Even today, as I sit in my jail cell, I read about the drone strikes which continue to kill Muslims daily in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Just last month, we all heard about the seventeen Afghan Muslims – mostly mothers and their kids – shot to death by an American soldier, who also set fire to their corpses.

These are just the stories that make it to the headlines, but one of the first concepts I learned in Islam is that of loyalty, of brotherhood – that each Muslim woman is my sister, each man is my brother, and together, we are one large body who must protect each other. In other words, I couldn’t see these things beings done to my brothers & sisters – including by America – and remain neutral. My sympathy for the oppressed continued, but was now more personal, as was my respect for those defending them.

I mentioned Paul Revere – when he went on his midnight ride, it was for the purpose of warning the people that the British were marching to Lexington to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, then on to Concord to confiscate the weapons stored there by the Minuteman. By the time they got to Concord, they found the Minuteman waiting for them, weapons in hand. They fired at the British, fought them, and beat them. From that battle came the American Revolution. There’s an Arabic word to describe what those Minutemen did that day. That word is: JIHAD, and this is what my trial was about.

All those videos and translations and childish bickering over ‘Oh, he translated this paragraph’ and ‘Oh, he edited that sentence,’ and all those exhibits revolved around a single issue: Muslims who were defending themselves against American soldiers doing to them exactly what the British did to America. It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to “kill Americans” at shopping malls or whatever the story was. The government’s own witnesses contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I was free, the government sent an undercover agent to prod me into one of their little “terror plots,” but I refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury never heard this.

So, this trial was not about my position on Muslims killing American civilians. It was about my position on Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders – Soviets, Americans, or Martians. This is what I believe. It’s what I’ve always believed, and what I will always believe. This is not terrorism, and it’s not extremism. It’s what the arrows on that seal above your head represent: defense of the homeland. So, I disagree with my lawyers when they say that you don’t have to agree with my beliefs – no. Anyone with commonsense and humanity has no choice but to agree with me. If someone breaks into your home to rob you and harm your family, logic dictates that you do whatever it takes to expel that invader from your home.

But when that home is a Muslim land, and that invader is the US military, for some reason the standards suddenly change. Common sense is renamed ”terrorism” and the people defending themselves against those who come to kill them from across the ocean become “the terrorists” who are ”killing Americans.” The mentality that America was victimized with when British soldiers walked these streets 2 ½ centuries ago is the same mentality Muslims are victimized by as American soldiers walk their streets today. It’s the mentality of colonialism.

When Sgt. Bales shot those Afghans to death last month, all of the focus in the media was on him-his life, his stress, his PTSD, the mortgage on his home-as if he was the victim. Very little sympathy was expressed for the people he actually killed, as if they’re not real, they’re not humans. Unfortunately, this mentality trickles down to everyone in society, whether or not they realize it. Even with my lawyers, it took nearly two years of discussing, explaining, and clarifying before they were finally able to think outside the box and at least ostensibly accept the logic in what I was saying. Two years! If it took that long for people so intelligent, whose job it is to defend me, to de-program themselves, then to throw me in front of a randomly selected jury under the premise that they’re my “impartial peers,” I mean, come on. I wasn’t tried before a jury of my peers because with the mentality gripping America today, I have no peers. Counting on this fact, the government prosecuted me – not because they needed to, but simply because they could.

I learned one more thing in history class: America has historically supported the most unjust policies against its minorities – practices that were even protected by the law – only to look back later and ask: ’what were we thinking?’ Slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of the Japanese during World War II – each was widely accepted by American society, each was defended by the Supreme Court. But as time passed and America changed, both people and courts looked back and asked ’What were we thinking?’ Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the South African government, and given a life sentence. But time passed, the world changed, they realized how oppressive their policies were, that it was not he who was the terrorist, and they released him from prison. He even became president. So, everything is subjective – even this whole business of “terrorism” and who is a “terrorist.” It all depends on the time and place and who the superpower happens to be at the moment.

In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. 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 US military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for “conspiring to kill and maim” in those countries – because I support the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look back on how the government spent millions of dollars to imprison me as a ”terrorist,” yet if we were to somehow bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on that witness stand and ask her who the “terrorists” are, she sure wouldn’t be pointing at me.

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.

Tarek Mehanna

Categories: Current Affairs

28 replies »

  1. There is nothing called “Freedom of Speech”. It is all about of drones and F-16s; whoever has them has the right to define “Freedom of speech” others can abide by it OR else become Tarek Mehanna – a labelled perpetrator.

    Eventually the pot of iniquity will fill and subsequently burst. Wait even we are waiting with tears in our eyes.

    Ibn Salim Khan

    • Whenever the Christendom waved crusades , their arose a Saladin .The Christendom have again started them ,again will rise a Saladin.


      The way to overcome America is to beat it in science and technology and to beat it in the economy .But how to do that ?

      Each and every Muslim should read ,research ,help others to do the same and to be top in what ever field they are ,work sincerely ,work ,work and work ,do not quarrel among each other ,help the poor ,be right ,do not harm innocent,whenever we see injustice happening to our people we should not respond emotionally instead we should work more ,educate our women ,establish institutes in our countries, establish libraries, establish business centers be top in it ,do not harm our Christian and Jew brothers, speak truth always,do good deeds ,open hospitals,open research centers,lead the world in science and technology and be an example to the world, then we will overcome it .

      1)Muslims contribute to 25% population of world ,but hold only 10%of the world wealth

      2)Christians contribute to 32% population of the world and has 60% world wealth

      3)Christians have a higher education percentage ,they have higher percapita income,more christian women are educated than Muslim women

      4)There are less institutes through the Muslim world than their are institutes in Britain

      5)There are less libraries throughout the Muslim world than their are libraries in Spain

      6)Their are less research papers published throughout the Muslim world than published in Israel

      7)The number of Muslim entrepreneurs in the world are less than that of entrepreneurs in India alone.

      8)There is no Muslim country in the top economies in the world .

      9)Muslim scientist who do research and have won noble prize are virtually absent .

      10)The money what Muslims in western countries have is more than that of the Muslims living in Muslim world combined



      • The question is whether Islam can overcome using the means you mention without becoming what it is fighting. All of the things the West used to achieve what is currently viewed as its “successes” have led it farther and farther away from God.
        Perhaps if Islam “wins” via the means you mention, it will be up to Christianity to rise and restore worship of God to a world made secular by a misshapen Islam.

  2. @ brother Ashmath,

    Salamalaikum bro 🙂

    I dont think that brother Jesus wanted to say how you interpreted it. Rising in Science and Technology must not necessarily mean giving up of Faith and Islam – those two may not be mutually exclusive. In fact, those two were not mutually exclusive, we had our best days in which we advanced in both fields – we did monumental works in Islam (volumes after volumes of Islamic literature came out) and Science was ruled by us at the same time.

    I think what is happening now is, we are moving nowhere – faith and deed generally is decayed if not low spirited and we have just no standing in technology.

    This was just an opinion.

    Allah knows best.

    Ibn Salim Khan

    • what enemy is that? The enemy that is fighting the brutal occupation of their own countries? I am not a nationalist when it comes to injustice, are you? Do you believe in the bankrupt maxim my country right or wrong?

      • First let me state very clearly. Although I did support the invasion of Afghanistan because it was just that the USA invade any country in order to remove, capture and or Kill anyone who was involved with Al Quida and 9-11. That includes the country of your birth.

        Let me ask you do you think it was an injustice for the Taliban to actively support, and harbor Al Quida after 9-11? Or are you one of those 9-11 conspiracy nutters?

        If the Taliban would of just turned over Al Quida there would have been no reason for the invasion, it would of saved a lot of lives. But bringing Muslims to justice is injustice to you.

        Secondly all though I did support the invasion of the Afghanistan for the sole purpose of capturing and or Killing Al Quida I did not support and do not support “Nation Building” or “Regime Change” in other words after Al Quida had been driven out and destroyed, after your Sheik Osama Bin Ladden was killed then the US should unilaterally with draw from the region.

        Finally I did not support at any time, the Invasion of Iraq. That was an unjust invasion. I spent three days in Jail for protesting on the second night of the invasion.

        I also found it unjust what was done at Al Garrab prison, I think that the top brass should have been held accountable, and it was an injustice that this did not happen.

        I find many things that are wrong with the USA, but one thing I do not do, one thing a citizen of a country does not do is betray that country to a foreign government, or entity. We protest, we strike, we file law suits, we boycott, we write letters WE VOTE. But we do not give support, sympathy, aid and or comfort to those that are killing our own people.

        This is something you Muslims do not understand, and it is the reason why I support repatriation of Muslims to the land from which THEY FLED. Or in the case of reverts like yourself, living on a reservation where you can have Sharia all the Sharia you want.

        Now let me ask you something. Is there any thing that a Muslim could do that would justify you supporting the Kuffar instead of the Muslim? Or do you believe in the Maxima “The Kuffar are the worst of creatures and the believers the best.” and “Do not take for protectors from amoung the Christians and the Jews”?

      • My answer is simple: I support the right of people to resist by all means necessary the brutal military occupation of their country, wherever they are in the world.

        Secondly, Islamic teaching is absolutely clear: killing non-combatants or targeting innocent civilians is a serious crime and utterly prohibited in Islam.

    • Radicalmoderate01, I wonder whether there is any action which your country could take that you might oppose? Could your country commit any injustice? And if your country committed an act or acts which you saw as injust, would you still support your country in that act or acts which had been committed in your name?

      • I believe I answered the first part of your question to in my Response to Mr Williams. To answer the second part if I would support my country if I found it did something injust commited in my name the answer is YES. Here is how I would and do still support it.

        “I find many things that are wrong with the USA, but one thing I do not do, one thing a citizen of a country does not do is betray that country to a foreign government, or entity. We protest, we strike, we file law suits, we boycott, we write letters WE VOTE. But we do not give support, sympathy, aid and or comfort to those that are killing our own people.”

        Now let me ask you.

        I wonder if there is any action the UMMA could take that you might oppose? Could the UMMA commit any injustice? ANd if the UMMA commited an act or acts whic you say as injust, would you still support your UMMMA in that acts or acts which ad been commited in yoru name and the name of your religion and GOD?

      • ‘I wonder if there is any action the UMMA could take that you might oppose? Could the UMMA commit any injustice? ANd if the UMMA commited an act or acts whic you say as injust, would you still support your UMMMA in that acts or acts which ad been commited in yoru name and the name of your religion and GOD?’

        the Quran gives you a clear answer:

        ‘Oh you who believe!
        Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God,
        even against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin,
        and whether it be against rich or poor,
        for God can best protect both.

        Follow not the cravings of your hearts, lest you swerve,
        and if you distort justice or decline to do justice,
        verily God is well acquainted with all that you do.’

        Quran 4:135

  3. Radmod, were you to protest and strike against the actions of your country, you do not believe that would be giving support, symptathy and comfort to those who are killing “your own people”?
    And now my answer to you:
    You ask about the Umma. As you likely know, the Umma is the community of believers. The Ummah is not an organized political entity with a unified will. So, I will assume that you are asking me whether I would oppose any actions committed by other Muslims in the name of Islam. Of course I would. Especially if those individual members of the Ummah were acting in direct opposition to the actual dictates of the Qur’an and Islam, as were Al Qaeda in attacking the World Trade Center, as was Mohammed Merah in killing innocent children and non-combatants, etc.

    • To answer your first point. Working with in the system of the government is not is giving aid and compfort to Muslims. What is giving aid and compfort to Muslims is what that man did. He traneslated Propoganda material. Big difference but you do not see that.

      Thank you for having the coruage to answer my question unlike Paul Williams.

      So then I take it since you believe it was an injustice for Al Qeada to attack the US on 9-11 you supported the US invasion of Afganistan to remove, capture and or Kill Al Qeada.

      • RM01 do you not have a spell check on your computer? If you do please use it, as it is a basic courtesy to write text without a mass of elementary spelling mistakes.

      • Your logic is flawed: I by no means support the US invasion of Afghanistan. It was simply one injustice to answer an earlier injustice and has resulted in far greater suffering than that inflicted by the events of 9/11 on the US.
        The US should have worked with Afghanistan to bring Al Qaeda to justice or, failing that, sought diplomatic solutions. Waging war against Afghanistan is a horrific, horrific act and out of all proportion to the original offense.

  4. Another one last thing. Was it Just for the Geraman people to defend their country when allied forces invaded Germany? A armistice could of been singed after they where driven out of france and easttern Europe. The Allies could of just stopped at the border.

    If it was just for the German people to “defend their lands” would it have been just for a German American, or a German Englishman to translate Nazi propganda material into English?

    • to be blunt RM01 I didn’t understand your question: the English was so badly phrased and the spelling so poor that I gave up in the end.

      To successfully engage in debate on this blog you need to have reached a fairly competent level of English expression. Sadly not everyone has this.

    • not everyone is as clever as Ashmat. I still think you owe us the courtesy of writing good basic English that can be easily understood by everyone, free from masses of spelling mistakes.

      “undestood” should be spelt ‘understood’

      “Becasue” should be spelt ‘Because’

      “its” and “doesnt” should be spelt ‘it’s’ and ‘doesn’t’

      Not too much to ask don’t you think?

  5. blind faith is NOT patriotism nor loyalty. Every loyal, patriotic citizen of a country must require the “propoganda”/views of those they oppose in order to ensure that their own positions are really just. Without this excercise, a citizen can be in danger of being held captive to the self-interest of a group or groups. Therefore, if the citizens of a country are confident of the ethico-moral principles/ideals that govern their own “propoganda”/views–then there should be no censorship of opposing “propoganda”/views. In fact, a responsible government–that truly believes in representing the people—would encourage such freedoms.

    Only a government that knows it does not have a leg to stand on, would encourage blind faith/patriotism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s