Many bloggers and the press have reposted Tarek Mehanna’s impassioned speech to the court as he was sentenced to 17-1/2 years for supposedly providing “material support” to terrorists. (See here, here, here, and especially the ACLU’s Nancy Murray’s widely quoted article at the Boston Globe here.) But few have commented on Mehanna’s charges that he was set up by an undercover agent to participate in a terrorist plot, and that he refused the agent’s overtures.
These are the relevant portions of Mehanna’s statement at his sentencing hearing (bold emphases added):
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….
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.
The Telegram and Gazette described the uproar in the courtroom when Mehanna brought up the accusations regarding the undercover agent’s attempt to recruit him into a terrorist plot.
After Mr. Mehanna said the government had sent an undercover agent to prod him into participating in a terror plot — that he refused — Mr. Chakravarty rose to call that “categorically false.” Mr. Mehanna yelled to him that “you’re a liar.”
Two U.S. marshals strode to Mr. Mehanna seated at the defense table in an orange prison jump suit, put a hand on him and spoke to him, but Judge O’Toole did not allow Mr. Chakravarty to continue.
What actually lie behind these accusations, the prosecutor’s interruption, and the Judge’s subsequent actions? (O’Toole later chided Mehanna for “lack of remorse” and “a quality of defiance.”)
The answer can be found in a February 25 posting by Mehanna at the Facebook page, “Free Tarek Mehanna.” While one can easily find online the young man’s stirring defense of himself in his April 12 sentencing statement, his statement about the attempt to frame him as part of a government-inspired terrorist “plot,” has virtually escaped coverage outside of some small blogs concerned with defending Islamic or Palestinian causes and defense (with the one notable exception of Richard Hugus at Boston IndyMedia).
This is not surprising as the widespread use of government undercover agents to gin up the terror threat in the U.S. is not fit matter for the mainstream press, who report these incidents as if they were gospel descended from the heaven populated by covert intelligence agencies. I think Mehanna’s accusations merit further investigation, and the way he describes (see below) the way the matter was kept out of court leaves little doubt that there is much to what he says.
In summary, Mehanna claims he was approached by a stranger in late 2005. This individual on numerous occasions tried to get him to “find American soldiers returning from Iraq (whose addresses he supposedly had) and kill them.” Mehanna subsequently cut off contact with this person because he would not let up on trying to seduce Mehanna into some kind of crime.
Mehanna wrote that in early summer 2011, his attorney was contacted by an AP reporter who had heard that “two sources within the NYPD had contacted her and confirmed to her that the NYPD had sent an undercover agent up to Boston to ‘befriend’ me, and try to prod me into carrying out a ‘terrorist attack,’ and that I had refused to go along (bingo!).” Mehanna’s attorneys filed a “motion asking the judge to compel the government to disclose these details so that they could be mentioned at trial.” The motion was denied after Judge O’Toole met with prosecutors in a closed hearing (closed to the defense).
Mehanna notes, “A brief mention of the motion and the hearing was made in an August 2th 2011 article in the Boston Globe, written by Milton Valencia. But the article was published before O’Toole had officially denied the motion. This was the only media attention that this incident received.” I was not able to verify there was such an article or coverage, as nothing about this comes up on Internet search or at the Boston Globe search engine.
What follows is Mehanna’s complete FB post, with only some bolding of certain text added for editorial emphasis:
My arrest and trial had little to do with “terrorism.”
The overwhelming majority of “terrorism” cases in America can fit into a category in which the FBI picks the gullible Muslim youth, sends an undercover agent to “befriend” him, and over a period of time, prod him to agree to carry out some attack. The agreement is recorded on tape. The undercover FBI agent offers the kid weapons, and arrests him as soon as he is about to proceed with the so-called “plot.” While the intended impression is that the Feds swooped in to save the day, the reality is that they “foiled” their own plot. An artificial victory, and this is the formula which you see every other day when you read the news, whose purpose is to compensate for the lack of authentic “terror plots.”
The government attempted this strategy with me, but failed. This has been one of the most underreported aspects of my case, despite it being in the public record. This is what happened:
In late 2005, I was approached by an individual whom I’d never met. Over the course of two years, he attempted to befriend me, and gradually began shifting otherwise mundane conversations to suggesting the need to “do something.” Eventually, this “something” that he was hounding me to “do” emerged as a plan of his to find American soldiers returning from Iraq (whose addresses he supposedly had) and kill them. He would show up at my house uninvited, and always try to steer the conversation in this directions, and I would steer it away and bury it, but he would never give up. Finally, I told this individual to never contact me again.
Two years later, I found myself here in a Plymouth jail awaiting trial on terrorism charges. From day one, I related this to my lawyers, and that I was 100% sure this had been an attempt by the FBI to entrap me in one of their artificial “plots” so that they could have additional firepower in this case. But my lawyers explained that without some acknowledgement from the government, it would be impossible to prove. So we filed numerous motions over the course of the two years before trial requesting exculpatory evidence (i.e., evidence that would be in my favor) from the government regarding this, but they feigned ignorance, and said that they had nothing.
Finally, in the early summer of 2011, my lawyer, Jay Carney, got a call from an Associated Press reporter who said that two sources within the NYPD had contacted her and confirmed to her that the NYPD had sent an undercover agent up to Boston to “befriend” me, and try to prod me into carrying out a “terrorist attack,” and that I had refused to go along (bingo!). Furthermore, these sources in the NYPD told this journalist that when the prosecutors in my case found out about this – the same prosecutors at my trial, Aloke Chakravarty and Jeffrey Auerhahn – they became frantic and called the NYPD to come up to Boston for a meeting, where they admonished them for “interfering” in my case. With this information, my lawyers filed an additional motion asking the judge to compel the government to disclose these details so that they could be mentioned at trial – the logic being that this is a “terrorism” trial, and here was an attempt by the government to actually push me to carry out an act of “terrorism,” and I had refused, and they were trying to cover this up. The motion was filed on July 15th, 2011.
A hearing took place in court on August 3rd, 2011 to discuss this. A number of other motions were discussed first, then at the end, Jay got up to argue this one. He mentioned to the judge tat [sic] we were seeking exculpatory evidence from the government, as they had thus far given us none. And then he mentioned that from the items we sought were details of an attempt by the NYPD to prod me to engage in a domestic attack, which I refused, etc. This was apparently the first the prosecutors knew that we were privy to this, and the surprise was evident on their faces. The judge asked them if they knew anything about this, and Mr. Chakravarty’s response was an ambiguous “we have no information from our office on this, and it is the defendant who should know,” to which Jay stood up again, faced Mr. Chakravarty, and asked: “So you’re willing to say, on record, before the court, that no members of the NYPD came up to Boston at anytime to meet with you to discuss an attempt to prod Tarek Mehanna to engage in an act of terrorism that he refused to go along with?” The prosecutor’s response, verbatim, was: “Well, I didn’t say that either…”
O’Toole said he would wait to rule on the motion, and immediately, the prosecutors requested a private meeting with him in the judge’s chambers. He granted their request. My lawyers stood outside the judge’s door as the prosecutors walked in and protested: “Well, that’s not fair. How are you going to meet with the judge privately about this motion, and we have no idea what is being said?” But the judge met with them for almost 20 minutes. We will never know what was said in that meeting, but the next morning, O’Toole denied our motion, and that was the last anyone had ever heard of it: nothing about this topic was allowed to be mentioned to the jury at trial. Not a single word.
A brief mention of the motion and the hearing was made in an August 2th 2011 article in the Boston Globe, written by Milton Valencia. But the article was published before O’Toole had officially denied the motion. This was the only media attention that this incident received.
Conversely, the baseless “shopping mall plot” received the lion’s share of media attention, and was freely introduced at trial by the government. The progression of this particular story is interesting, and quite telling as to how dishonest the government is:
-October 21st, 2009: I’m introduced to the world as having plotted to gun down shoppers at a local mall.
-10/21/09 to 10/24/11: The two year period before my trial: not a single additional detail is presented about this.
-My trial: Not only was no evidence presented to support this, but the government’s own witnesses admitted that I never participated in any such discussions, and that I in fact spoke against such ideas.
-Closing arguments at trial: The prosecutor backtracks, and says that even if these were not my ideas, that I knew people who had these ideas was enough.
In the end, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. At this point, it should be clear that my trial was about many things, but it was not about “terrorism.”
(To be continued…)
– Tariq Mehanna
One can only assume that Mehanna’s story of being approached by undercover operatives and informants, of being “recruited” into government-originated terrorists “plots” is so consistent with other such reports that what we have here is an orchestrated government program (or even, as we see with the NYPD accusations above) competing programs meant to frame-up militant Muslims, radicalized, or even just made angry, about U.S. government policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The end result is meant to feed the domestic police and intelligence agencies need for “enemies” and “threats,” the better to justify their existence. An added justification could be the government’s paranoid need to destroy what it sees as a threat — in this case Muslim “extremism” or opposition to US aims in the Muslim world — and it is using COINTELPRO methods to do just that.
I don’t doubt that bad or even deranged people exist, people who mean to cause harm to others, or who even have adopted terrorist methods as a means of furthering their cause. This certainly isn’t restricted to Muslims (as this Murray article linked above makes clear), nor even to our own time or era. But what is clear is that U.S. government agencies have acted in secrecy and in bad faith, and without any means to hold them to account, we are all Tarek Mehanna, we are all threatened by a government that feels it can any method it wishes to undermine differing points of view.
Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist living in Northern California and a regular contributor to Truthout and The Public Record, blogs about civil liberties and issues revolving around the US government’s torture program at The Dissenter. He can be reached at sfpsych at gmail dot com. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @Jeff_Kaye
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