Imprisoned for refusing to inform

June 15, 2010

Safia Albaiti reports on the case of Tarek Mehanna, an Egyptian American who has spent months in solitary confinement on trumped-up charges.

IN A cell approximately 20 feet long and 15 feet wide, in a maximum security prison at the Plymouth Correctional facility, Muslim Egyptian-American pharmacist Tarek Mehanna, from Sudbury, Mass., has been in solitary confinement for more than five months for refusing to be an informant for the FBI at his local mosque.

A doctoral graduate of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, respected by the Muslim community for his leadership, charisma and dedication, as well as for his outspoken political views against the "war on terror" at home and abroad, Tarek was targeted by the FBI as a potentially valuable tool to corroborate any and all accusations against Muslims in Boston made by federal agents and their ranks of agent provocateurs and co-conspirators in the endless web of entrapment and detention of Arabs and Muslims in this country.

A victim of constant surveillance and blackmail, Tarek firmly refused to be, in his words, "a house slave to an agency that made my people the target of its abuse."

What you can do

The letters Tarek receives in prison are very important for his morale while in solitary confinement. You can write to Tarek at: Tarek Mehanna ID#50660 Unit GSE-108, Plymouth County Correctional Facility, 26 Long Pond Road, Plymouth, MA 02360

Donate money at the Paypal account set up through the Free Tarek Web site. All donations go to funding organizing for Tarek and to Tarek's account in prison to buy stamps, pay for phone calls, etc.

Federal agents threatened to make Tarek's life a "living hell" for his refusal, and after months, Tarek was arrested on November 2008 on spurious charges of making "false statements" to federal officers. He was subsequently released on bail after the case dragged on, with the FBI's failure to provide any evidence to the charges resorting in only more coercion.

Tarek not only refused to submit, but spoke out in his community against the ongoing detention of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who had been kidnapped in Pakistan and imprisoned and tortured for five years at Bagram prison in Afghanistan.

With no new evidence, but an explosive and vicious media campaign against Tarek, the FBI arrested him for a second time in the early morning hours of October 21, 2009, on charges of conspiracy to attack civilians at an unspecified local shopping mall and kill American soldiers abroad as well as members of the executive branch of the federal government.

The prosecution's only evidence came in a 55-page FBI affidavit, based mostly on testimony from "co-conspirators" in return for leniency in their own cases.

The presiding judge in this case, Judge Leo T. Sorokin, declared on November 19, 2009, that Tarek would be held without bail for having "demonstrated his ongoing support of terrorism, both by his own recorded statements and by investing his time and effort in promoting terrorism."

The evidence provided to justify this amounted to little more than translating an Arabic book to English, traveling to Arab countries, having political conversations, having a blog, and using words like "peanut butter and jelly" to supposedly mean planning for terrorist attacks.

THE MEDIA frenzy whipped up meant that there was no need to demand actual evidence for anything, including why the FBI needed to initially charge Tarek with making false statements if it had been known that Tarek was supposedly plotting something far more serious for years.

In a letter to his supporters responding to a February 2010 Boston Globe article on the case that noted that he had not even been formally charged with any crimes, Tarek remarked that it was:

interesting...So the most horrific of the allegations leveled against me is the only one I am not being charged with? Does that make any sense whatsoever?...

Does it make an iota of sense that I supposedly "plotted" to do this, and was then left untouched for years after the FBI supposedly "found out"--years during which I visited the mall countless times, worked, graduated from college, repeatedly boarded airplanes, taught children, came into daily contact with hundreds of people, and was then asked by the FBI to work for them?

Is this how a "dangerous terrorist" is treated? No intelligent mind can accept this.

Tarek's supporters point out that the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn, already has a history of misconduct with potential for disbarment or criminal sanctions for coercing a witness into giving false testimony, falsifying evidence and perjury while he was in the Racketeering Unit in the 1989 case of Vincent Ferarra v. U.S.

Instead of being sanctioned, Auerhahn was allowed by former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and by current U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz to continue working as a federal prosecutor in the Anti-Terrorism Unit, where he has been allowed to use the same tactics on a different set of victims.

Tarek spends 23 hours of everyday with no human contact as the case proceeds indefinitely, and he faces life imprisonment if found guilty. The same story can be found around the country as untold numbers of predominantly young Muslim men have been arrested and detained since 9/11, and at an accelerated rate over the last two years, in order to generate a constant level of Islamophobic hysteria at a time of majority opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the expansion of surveillance programs and wiretapping.

This has most recently led to the sentencing of 30-year-old Pakistani-American Fahad Hashmi to 15 years in prison, and the May bomb blast at a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque 10 days after the country's attention was fixated on the attempted Times Square bombing.

The May 13 high-profile FBI raids in Watertown and Brookline, Mass., that attempted to link the arrest of local Muslims based on immigration-related violations to the Times Square plot has also provided ample fodder for right-wing attacks on Muslims and immigrants in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race this year.

The wave of raids, FBI entrapment, arrests, sham trials, smear campaigns and hate crimes are the perfect climate to shore up support for the indefinite detention and torture of Arabs and Muslims and unpopular wars as part of a never ending "war on terrorism."

Tarek summed up his detention this way: "It is much more heroic at a press conference to have gotten a 'mall-shooter' than it is to have to reveal to the public that in the midst of an economic disaster, $50,000 tax-payer dollars a year are going to be spent keeping some guy in solitary confinement because you couldn't get him to do your bidding."

What is needed is a movement that can fight back against the war on terror against Arabs and Muslims here at home, and free Tarek Mehanna from the nightmare he is being made to endure for daring to refuse to repress his brothers and sisters.

Nick Chin contributed to this article.

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