Carl Strock(Daily Gazette)
THE VIEW FROM HERE
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,
"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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.