Tarek Mehanna: A Hero For Villains

This is an extended cross post by Zachary Novetsky of a shorter article which first appeared on LegalBlogger

It is strange that Tarek Mehanna connected with Batman, the comic-book superhero, when the role of villain is more befitting. Mehanna, a Bostonian who traveled to Yemen in search of training with a terrorist group in 2004 and later used the Internet to spread al-Qaeda’s message, was sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison on Thursday (for an extended profile of Mehanna, see here). Not even J.W. Carney Jr., one of the best defense lawyers in the country  (whose other clients include notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger), could convince the jury of Mehanna’s innocence. Yet this did not prevent an outpouring of support for Mehanna.

Glenn Greenwald, a blogger for Salon, referred to the case as “one of the most egregious violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech seen in quite some time,” and went so far as to declare that “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.” Writing for the Guardian, Ross Caputi offers total support Mehanna, even going so far as to admit that he has ”done everything that Mehanna has done” and freely ”advocates” for Mehanna’s “ideas” (actions and ideas that I will describe below in all their repulsive detail).

Those lionizing Mehanna as an exemplar of the First Amendment – an Amendment which Mehanna did not hold dear, to say the least – must either be ignorant of the facts of his case or are motivated by something more sinister (as appears the case with Caputi).

To begin with, Mehanna’s case implicated more than just the First Amendment. He was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terror organization, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to lie to federal investigators, and two counts of lying to federal investigators.

Additionally, a slight perusal of the “Free Tarek Mehanna Official Facebook Group” would assuage any remaining doubts as to the true nature of the Mehanna case. For example, after a video showing a “flash mob” of teens singing and dancing in support of Mehanna surfaced on the group page, several commenter’s objected and a conversation ensued. According to one (الأسير الأسير), “Anyone who knows Tariq . . . can not believe for an instant that he would approve, condone or want something like this done for him or in his name.” Why would Mehanna object? Because “like it or not”, we are told, “[Mehanna] is in prison BECAUSE of his religion and his ideals,” and singing, dancing, and “free mixing” (of the sexes) is “haraam,” a word meaning forbidden in Islam. What is singing, dancing, and “free mixing” if not guarantees of the First Amendment?

Next, Greenwald, and others, also highlighted and lauded Mehanna’s sentencing speech (where he proudly admits to supporting the mujahedeen, literally “people doing jihad”, which of course does not faze Mehanna stalwarts) – a speech which, tellingly, does not mention any of the implicating facts of his case.

From the court documents and supplementary material:

  • In 2003, Mehanna and others discussed the feasibility of assassinating a specific member of the executive branch of the United States Government.
  • In the second half of 2003, Mehanna and an accomplice discussed a plan to obtain automatic weapons, go to a shopping mall, and randomly shoot people, but abandoned the plans when learning that their weapon’s supplier could only provide handguns.
  • Mehanna was connected to Samir Khan (the Pakistani American editor and publisher of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s English magazine, Inspire, who was killed in a drone strike alongside Anwar al-Awlaki) (see here and here), Omar Hammami (better known as Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, an American member of the al-Qaeda wing in Somalia, al-Shabaab), and Daniel Maldanado (an American citizen charged with training in Somalia with al-Qaeda, who also testified against Mehanna).
    • It is strong evidence of what those closest to Mehanna knew about his desires, motives and objectives that, of all the people on the planet who Maldonado could have called to join him in fighting, he called Mehanna and only Mehanna.  It is also indicative of Maldonado and Hammami’s belief that Mehanna was capable of influencing others, in that he called Mehanna to ask him to come and to bring other co-conspirators (from Government’s Sentencing Memorandum).
  • Mehanna translated into English the publication 39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad for Tibyan Publications, made efforts to have the translation published on the Internet, and requested publication occur without using his own name (all on behalf of al-Qaeda of Iraq).
    • Abu Mundhir then bragged that others had recognized their efforts on behalf of al Qa’ida (“aqs”), and that they were already recognized as al Qa’ida’s “English Wing”.  Abu Mundhir: “were [sic: we’re] bait alrady [sic: already] aqs [al Qa’ida] english wing … were [sic: we’re] known.
    • 39 Ways instructs the readers to “do away with the Americans”; “go for jihad yourself, make jihad with your wealth, help prepare the fighter going for jihad, expose the hypocrites and traitors, train with weapons and learn how to shoot, have enmity toward the disbelievers and hate them, and engage in electronic jihad (including hacking).”
    • Tibyan Publications, as described by Evan Kohlman, “focused on distributing ideological material designed to convince likeminded individuals to sacrifice their lives in the cause of jihad. In fact, most of the material produced by At-Tibyan offered little in the way of public interest value—it would only be of use to someone with a genuine, deep-rooted interest in participating in violent jihad” (h/t AZ).
  • Mehanna expressed a hatred of living in the United States (“I really hate to live in the country longer … I wish to go back to arabia … or some other place where I don’t see these filthy kuffar [non-believer]”).
  • Regarding moderate Muslims leaders, of one he said “[s]he needs to be raped” and of another he said “I wish I could meet [the person] … and cut off his testicles.”
  • In a communication recorded on Mehanna’s computer, he suggested asking for “Allah’s [ ] mercy on just the buildings[,] [destroyed on 9/11] not the sinners that were in it[,] as at least the buildings weren’t sinners[.]”
  • In May 2006, Mehanna and his accomplice planned a movie night to watch video of Zarqawi beheading the 26-year-old American businessman Nicholas Berg.
  • When the FBI arrested Mehanna on the false statements charge, the FBI searched a computer that Mehanna used at his parents’ home. A forensic analysis found that large volumes of data related to jihad had been stripped or removed from the computer before it was seized. Needless to say, tampering with evidence is a crime of itself.
  • At Mehanna’s detention hearing, the judge concluded: “Mehanna joined a conspiracy to commit a violent act of terrorism aimed at killing both civilians at a shopping mall and the first responders. Mehanna traveled to Yemen in an effort to enroll in a terrorist training camp and to prepare to attack United States soldiers overseas. In both cases Mehanna was preparing to participate, personally, in violent acts of terrorism. Over a sustained period of time, Mehanna has demonstrated his ongoing support of terrorism both by his own recorded statements and by investing his time and effort in promoting terrorism. No condition or combination of conditions mitigates the serious risk of danger Mehanna poses.”

To anyone who remains skeptical about the Mehanna case, I suggest reading the court documents because the evidence is both damning and overwhelming (as it needed to be to gain the jury conviction that it did), too much to include in this short post.

And to those supporting Mehanna, let it be said: If Mehanna is a hero (or, as his lawyer declared, a modern day Martin Luther King Jr.), so is al-Qaeda.