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July 29, 2007


Carl Strock(Daily Gazette)


Yassin Aref: Another Look at Justice

Do you remember Yassin Aref? He was the Muslim prayer leader from Albany who was convicted last year along with a pizza-shop owner of supporting terrorism and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He is now in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., and specifically in what the Bureau of Prisons calls its "Communication Management Unit," which is a highly restrictive part of the prison used almost exclusively for foreign Muslim, of whom there are a couple of hundred. (His codefendant, Mohammed Hossain, is in a less restrictive prison in New Jersey.)

He is allowed one 15-minute telephone call a week, so if he talks to his lawyer one week, then he cannot talk to his family. If his wife and children ever manage to visit him, which so far they have not, it will be through a glass partition.

Why such limitations? I'm glad you asked, because I just happen to have in hand the official document from the Bureau of Prisons explaining the reason. It's because Yassin's offense included "significant communication, association and assistance to jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), a group which has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization."

When I read that I almost fell out of my chair, ladies and gentlemen. "Significant communication, association and assistance"!

I can't blame you if you don't remember what that's all about, but I remember, having sat through the trial and having the relevant transcript at hand.

It's about an attempt by the FBI's agent provocateur in this case, codenamed Malik, to trick Yassin into endorsing his, Malik's, pretended support of JEM and failirig. Yes, failing.

This Malik character met Yassin and, under the pretense of seeking religious guidance, claimed he was helping JEM in its efforts to liberate Muslim Kashmir from Hindu India, and asked Yassin what he thought. He was wearing a hidden microphone and recording all this for his FBI handlers, so we have a complete record of the conversation in both men's broken English. (Yassin's native language was Kurdish; Malik's E was Urdu.)

I go back through the transcript and count five times that Malik pressed if it was OK for him to assist t JEM, and each time that he asked, Yassin's reply was pretty much the same: "I can't say anything about that organization because I don't know them very close," as he put it. He had heard JEM mentioned on television, that's all.

"But how does Allah look at it?" Malik persisted.

And Yassin would discourse at disjointed length about Allah's laws and helping the poor, and then Malik would come back, "But helping JEM, is it good or bad?" and Yassin would say again he doesn't know anything about JEM so he can't say one way or the other.

And Malik, trying to satisfy the FBI so he could win a reprieve from his own crimes, kept persisting: "I want to take your blessing on this Is it right or wrong?"

The most damaging thing he could get Yassin to say was, "I believe if you know them, you trust them and you believe they are doing right, and you believe they are fearing Allah, and you believe they are working for Allah, I believe it is wise for you to help if you can."

And for that he is now confined as someone whose offense included "significant communication, association and assistance" to this JEM outfit. Can you imagine?

So naturally I wonder: If this is how our penal system works when everything is done in the light of day, with a trial by jury, competent defense lawyers and unfettered press coverage, what do you suppose things are like in Guantanamo a and elsewhere?

Carl Strock can be reached at 395-3085 or by e-mail at


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