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July 21, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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July 21, 2007

A Letter From Yassin Aref

The celebrated victim of government terrorism struggles with his fate

Kurdish refugee Yassin Aref, the former Imam of the Albany Mosque, has been shoved into a racially segregated unit at the Federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Unless some judge or elected official uncharacteristically develops common sense, Mr. Aref will languish in near solitary confinement for the next fifteen years.

Yassin Aref
Yassin Aref

Now, if Mr. Aref had been plotting to shoot missiles at the Governer’s Mansion, or step onto the Central Avenue bus at rush hour and explode, then I would say, “Good. Let him rot. How come only fifteen years?” But as anyone who has followed the case is aware, there is not the tiniest shred of evidence that Mr. Aref wanted to wreak havoc. Nothing.

Indeed, nothing shows the lame foolishness of the whole thing more than the fifteen year sentence. I mean, if the guy is a dangerous terrorist, why didn’t they lock him up for life, or execute him?

The Wife feels personally responsible for his bogus conviction. She has decided to do her best to keep in constant communication with the man, keeping him informed of current events for the next fifteen years if necessary.

I pointed out to her that she has enough to do in her life. “Why are you taking on one more thing?”

After hemming and hawing and hyperventilating she said, “Look, I don’t believe in . . . what do you call it . . . it’s like religion, you know, when you do something wrong and want to make up for it?”

“Um, atonement, or penance?”

“Right, penance. I feel like my government did a terrible thing to this man, a poor refugee who came here trying to escape terrible conditions. It’s my responsibility to try and make up for what they’ve done.”

The woman is a third generation Unitarian Universalist, but claims to be an atheist. But like most atheists I know, she is not at all a strict materialist, although she sometimes claims to be. Basically, she has a practical notion of interconnectedness that does not involve accepted mythology or a guy named God.

Actually, I don’t know what she believes. Neither does she. That doesn’t bother her one bit, but normally she avoids religious people like she avoids Chicken McNuggets. But apparently her outrage over the gross injustice imposed upon the Imam transcends her usual suspicion of religious leaders.

She had heard via Carl Strock’s column in the Daily Gazette that while the Imam was languishing in Rensselaer County Jail, he listened to Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman weekdays on WRPI-FM, 91.5. Indeed, Mr. Aref told Mr. Strock that he greatly admired the show and Ms. Goodman in particular.

But that came to a sudden end after his sentencing and transfer to Terre Haute. We heard that he could no longer hear his beloved Amy Goodman broadcasts.

The Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute, Indiana
The Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute, Indiana

The Wife decided that Aref needed a CD player and daily shipments of Democracy Now! burned onto CDs. But the package containing the player and the envelopes with the CDs were returned by the Terre Haute prison authorities, adorned with an official rejection sticker. It seems that CDs are forbidden at Terre Haute. No reason given.

Mr. Aref has been dumped into a newspeak titled part of the Terre Haute prison complex called the Communications Management Unit, or CMU. This CMU houses exclusively Muslim and other Middle Eastern prisoners who have been labeled “terrorist” by the federal government. According to Peter Goldberger, a Philadelphia civil rights attorney:

"What's different" about the [CMU] program, "is limitation of contact with friends, family and outsiders -- instead of 300 minutes of telephone time per month, it's one 15 minute call per week, which can be reduced in the Warden's discretion to a mere three minutes once a month."

"Instead of all-day visiting every week or every other week, it's only two hours at a time, twice a month, with no physical contact, presumably sitting on opposite sides of a plexiglas window," Goldberger continued.

"And all letters, except to lawyers, courts, and Congress, will be read and copied, with weeks of delay, instead of cursorily inspected and sent right on," he adds. "It's a totally new and different program."

What bothers me about this is how the feds are segregating and concentrating convicted Muslims. The prisoners are being subjected to blatant discrimination, of which we can be sure that playing nasty manipulation games with their outside contacts is just the tip of the iceberg. You’d better believe that this CMU is already or will quickly become the new Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib on American soil.

The result of such segregation, discrimination and persecution will be to create resentment among the prisoners. And eventually, they will develop a sense of solidarity, similar to the way white supremacist gangs have done at other high security facilities.

In other words, the feds have created a school for Muslim revolution. Call me paranoid if you are naive enough to think that our leaders are not depraved scum, but I think that this is conscious and deliberate on their part. They want to create angry terrorists where there were none before.

If there is no enemy to fear and hate, then you have to make one. If Adolph Hitler did not have the Jews, he would have had to create them. An enemy justifies dictatorial power, an enemy justifies looting the wealth from society by the elites. An enemy compels the citizens to remain passive when confronted by government terror.

The communications restrictions in the Terre Haute CMU are a form of psychological torture. No less an expert than Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war, has declared that psychological torture is worse than physical torture. What we need to ask is why our federal government is torturing prisoners like Yassin Aref.

Torture has no practical benefits. Besides, these prisoners have already been convicted of crimes, bogus or otherwise. The only reason the authorities are torturing these prisoners is because they can. Torture is an end in itself.

Mr. Aref had a relative degree of freedom at Rensselaer County where, according to Mr. Strock, he was highly regarded by his fellow inmates. Indeed, his optimistic attitude and inner strength served as an inspiration to his neighbors. But that came to a sudden end after his sentencing and transfer to Terre Haute.

Interior, Rensselaer county Jail
Interior, Rensselaer County Jail

In this five page handwritten letter, presented below, Yassin Aref is clearly struggling with the enormity of the injustice that fate and a corrupt government has delivered to him. He is clearly suffering in his cage, and struggling to understand.

I can imagine, if I were to commit a heinous crime, got caught and sent to prison, that sooner or later I would become resigned and accept my fate. After all, it would be my own damn fault I got locked up. But what would it be like to be locked up for nothing? How could one deal with the rage for so many years?

In a time of supreme crisis in his life, we have a man of religion, a leader and scholar of a community of faith, who believes that all that is right and good comes from outside of ourselves. He is being offered comfort by a woman who calls herself an atheist, who believes that the desire to do right and good is part of what makes us human.

Is it for the Imam to come to terms with his fate and provide comfort and guidance for his fellow inmates, criminals and victims together? Will he be able to help bring peace to a cauldron of hatred and despair, like he did at Rensselaer County Jail?

One sad thing occurs to me, though. Being in the Communications Management Unit, the prison authorities will no doubt use The Wife’s letters as a means of applying psychological torture to Mr. Aref. (“Now Yassin, give us what we want and we’ll let you stand up. And if you really cooperate, we’ll let you read another letter.”)

In the letter below from Mr. Aref, I have corrected his more outrageous spellings but kept his convoluted grammar, which is understandable. Really, he is remarkably conversant for someone who has learned most of our language since his arrest. As The Wife wrote back to him, “As a typical American I know only one language. I’m sure your English is much better than my Kurdish.”

A few clarifications. Mr. Steve is Steve Downs and Ms. Kathy is Kathy Manley, both lawyers who are continuing to work on his case. They have arranged a series of interviews which they have collected into a biography of Mr. Aref’s life, which should hopefully be published by Autumn. Mr. Aref has had quite an interesting 37 years, it should be good reading.

Mr. Aref is mistaken, Amy Goodman has reported on the progress of his case at least eight times. The Wife transcribed the reports and sent them to him. And Amy's book is called "Exception To The Rulers."

The Wife (“Ms. Lynne”) has not written any novels that she has told me about, nor is she personally acquainted with Amy Goodman or Cindy Sheehan. As far as I know.


Yassin Aref #12778052
Federal Correctional Institution
PO Box 33
Terre Haute IN, 47808


Dear Ms Jackson

Thank you very much for your kind words, beautiful letter and generous gift. I really appreciate it here because I am very danger!! They put me in special unit. We are not allowed to have CD player, and we can’t get any books or magazine or newspaper or clothes or food from any one out side. That are some things we can get them from commissary. And other big problem here its phone we have just 19 minutes one time a week including legal phone, and visit its uncontact one. It’s really unfair to pick up innocent man on street and distress his family - send him too far - lock him down and claim he is threat for National Security. While you know he is completely innocent and everything was fabricated!!

What we can do? I am waiting for Appeal Court to prove people are good and freedom is for everyone in this country, and being Muslim is not crime. My big problem is my family my children are too young and my wife is sick they are really suffering. They are real victim.

Mr. Aref's Family:  Zuhor Jalal, Alaa, 8, Raiber, 7, and Kotcher, 5, in their home.
Mr. Aref's Family: Zuhor Jalal, Alaa, 8, Raiber, 7, and
Kotcher, 5, in their home.

Yes when I was lock down in County Jail alone by myself for about 16 months Amy Goodman and her great program was biggest help for me to have patience - and have the hope because in this country there are many great people really they believe in freedom they love peace, they want justice and they don't accept discrimination. Amy Goodman She is shiny stars in the dark night they to give the light to the earth. Democracy Now its peaceful revolution to bring the changes. I wish them best.

I sent two letter to Amy never respond. Some try to tell me forget Amy? I said no I did not love people best off how much they do for me! Amy she support justice everywhere and she want peace everywhere and she talk for human’s rights and dignity even if she never mention my case or never talked about unjust had been done to me. But she do and doing great job. I really love her. But I thought my case is good example for what all ways talking about.

Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman

She is example and prove women can have a voice. Can do a lot even can stop leaders from going wrong direction. I was very glad when Cindy Sheehan started too! But not every one have enough patience to work for peace and ready to see difficulty in that. Sake I really feel sorry for Sheehan. Please if you have any contact with them, thank Amy for me and on behalf of millions Iraqi victim of this war and billions over the world. And tell Miss Sheehan billions over the world waiting for peace looking for Justice and crying for bread. Why she left them? Why she stop?

Please encourage her to come back to work. Let woman FIX what is mens destroyed!! Let women make peace when men make war!!

Again thank you very much for CD and letter. I am sorry they returned back to you. I sent this unit’s policy to Ms Kathy my lawyer and sister. You can ask her. After that you know what I am allowed to have and how I can get them.

At least daytime I can listen to NPR Radio. It’s good channel from their news I knew what is going on out side. Its really sad in 21st century people live like this . . . hunger in Africa, war in Asia and sickness in South America and drugs in North America, HIV and AIDS in Europe and global warming everywhere. Place dryness are real threat for our planet and ourselves. Above all come terrorist and there are no many Amy to warn and shout - tell them stop it before it will be too late!

If you can some time just download some news for me or good articles please I like to see. I am here looking for anything from outside. I feel good when I get any thing from free world. Your letter was God’s GIFT to me. Thank you very much.

I think Amy collect most parts of her program and published as the book. I did read the book called Exception of the Law, mostly was about Iraq war. Please if she have any new book let me know. Maybe that way I can get most part of her program.

-You can check her site - and find out in Terre Haute how and when I can find the program. I searched a lot and asked other but I was not successful.

I heard that Ms. Lynne she published novel. If that you please tell Ms. Kathy or Mr. Steve I want to get your novel. I am not writer but by Mr. Steve’s courage I wrote something. Its my personal life story, you can ask Ms Kathy and get it. It will help you to know my entire life. . .

Finally, I like to assure you I never in my life participate in any violence and never did any thing against this country. God knew my intention, never had any intention to do any harm for anyone. Doesn’t matter what is they did and how much more make my Family to suffer, I am not person of revenge or hate. God knew and I promise you never do any revenge or call for it. I told my children and friends I am not allowed any one be cause me hate them or think for revenge. May God guide them and forgive all.

I said that because I want you to be sure you are not writing or supporting terrorist or some one don’t like your country. Your self can check all the evidences and they checked all my entire life. They interviewed 1000 of people and they knew very well I am not terrorist and never I was and never I will be. All I have its my tongue. Many time I shouted against the war. That why they wanted to stop me but I will never keep silent, because more than anyone else I know war. It bring no good and take us nowhere. Since I born in 1970 Iraq is in fighting what they gain! 30 years Kurd fight what they gain. 10 year with Iran what was result. And First Gulf War and now, millions of people died and economy destroyed. Freedom never reach. Peace is disappear!! Five million refugees. Sectarian fight and humiliation is all we gain. Its bother me people use God’s name or religion for their crime.

Sorry for bothering you. I hope you to understand my English and be able to read my hand writing really this is my best.

Your letter and people like you make me believe justice, peace, freedom are possible. Let us never give up. God bless earth with them. Thank you. Peace.

Sincerely, Yassin 7-5-07

Yassin. Aref in 2004 After Posting Bail
Yassin Aref in 2004 After Posting Bail


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