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The real criminals in the Tarek Mehanna case

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This article cross-posted from Salon

Tarek Mehanna is seen in this image from video footage taken in Boston in 2009.
Tarek Mehanna is seen in this image from video footage taken in Boston in 2009.  (Credit: Reuters/WHDH-TV)

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). I'm still traveling and don't have much time today to write about the case itself -- 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

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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.

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