Saturday, February 18, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #44 - Part 3

Hypocrisy on "terrorism" prosecutions

This is not a new story, it first circulated late last summer, but I was unaware of it until recently (I was alerted to it by Glenn Greenwald, from whose work much of the following comes) and it’s on-going.

The Mojahedin-e Khalq, or Warriors of God, usually known by its abbreviation MEK, is an Iranian group that is on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. It's more like a cult than a movement, with its central fantasy of overthrowing Iran marked by a focus on total devotion to its leaders, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, the former of who apparently regards herself as the rightful president of Iran.

A recent report by NBC news quotes two American officials as saying MEK was behind the string of murders of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010, the most recent of which occurred in January.

Whatever you think of the group in particular or the State Department list in general, the fact remains that providing such a group with "material support" is a felony. And a number of people have been convicted on exactly that basis despite having the most tenuous connections to a terrorist group. Just a few recent examples:

In 2009 a satellite TV salesman on Staten Island was sentenced to five years in federal prison merely for including a Hezbollah TV channel as part of the satellite package he sold to customers.

Last July, a 22-year-old former Penn State student named Emerson Winfield Begolly was indicted for posting comments on a “jihadist” Internet forum including a comment that appeared to praise the shootings at a Marine Corps base.

In September, Jubair Ahmad, a 24-year-old Pakistani legal resident living in Virginia, was indicted for a 5-minute YouTube video critical of US actions and policy in the Muslim world on the grounds that he allegedly discussed the video in advance with the son of a leader of a group labeled as terrorist.

On December 20, Sudbury, Massachusetts resident Tarek Mehanna was convicted of material support of terrorism "for posting pro-jihadist material on the internet" - that is, strictly for what he wrote.

One person who was ultimately acquitted was Sami Omar al-Hussayen, a Saudi Arabian graduate student who was indicted on a charge of providing material aid simply by maintaining a website with links to supposedly "jihadist" sites.

How far can this go? Pretty damn far: The Humanitarian Law Project wanted to advise the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK - which is on the US terrorist list - on how to file human rights complaints with the UN and on conducting peace negotiations with the Turkish government. That is, it wanted to advise the PKK on alternatives to violence.

In June 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could ban that as "material support of terrorism" on the grounds that the government's interest in denying the "terrorist" group legitimacy outweighed any constitutional considerations. Put another way, the Court found that the government could have a legitimate interest - one strong enough to overrule any Constitutional rights - a legitimate interest in keeping terrorist groups from learning about alternatives to terrorism.

Why am I going through this history? This is why:

A rather large number of prominent political figures from both parties - including Michael Mukasey, Andy Card, Tom Ridge, Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Bill Richardson, and Wesley Clark - have been paid tens of thousands of dollars by the MEK to speak in its support. The MEK is, again, listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Dept.

Not only have they been paid by the group to advance its cause and urge it be removed from that list, they have openly acknowledged repeatedly meeting with its leaders.

How much more obvious could "material support for a terrorist group" be - especially considering that in the Humanitarian Law Project case SCOTUS ruled that even peaceful advocacy on behalf of such a group is criminal if done in "coordination" with that group. And these people are being paid by, and meeting with the heads of, the MEK, which is pretty damn clear evidence of coordination.

So what possible justification can there be for Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, and the rest to be walking around free, collecting their fat terrorist paychecks, making speeches, going on TV, going to their fancy parties, and all the rest, while people you never heard of face years in prison for far less?

The question answers itself: People you never heard of. They will be investigated, they will be indicted, they will be prosecuted, they will be sent to prison - but Tom Ridge? Wesley Clark? The very idea of prosecuting such well-connected people is unthinkable. It can't even be broached. It would never occur to anyone in authority.

It's hard to imagine anything that could more clearly illustrate the fundamental moral corruption at the heart of our so-called justice system: the unknown go to prison; the elite go to parties. It's not new - there are many variations on the image of the law as being like a spider's web that can catch a fly but is easily broken through by a bird, some of those images quite old - but that makes it no less of an outrage.

Oh, and one more thing: That same NBC news report I mentioned at the top also quoted those two officials as saying that the MEK "is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service" - which would make Israel, by definition, a state sponsor of terrorism.

But that's okay, it seems, because the MEK's terrorism is aimed at Iran. So in addition to everything else, Giuliani, et. al. are safe because they're working for the "good" terrorists, the terrorists who are on our side, the terrorists whose terrorism is good terrorism because we don't like the people these terrorists intend to terrorize.


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