Tag Archives: entrapment

Human Rights Watch Report Reveals Investigations & Trials of American Muslims Rife with Abuse

Human Rights Watch Report Reveals Investigations & Trials of American Muslims Rife with Abuse

WASHINGTON, DC — The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.

The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks, the groups found. But many others have targeted people who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them. And many of the cases involve due process violations and abusive conditions of confinement that have resulted in excessively long prison sentences.

The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.

In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. Multiple studies have found that nearly 50 percent of the federal counterterrorism convictions since September 11, 2001, resulted from informant-based cases. Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.

In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

The FBI often targeted particularly vulnerable people, including those with intellectual and mental disabilities and the indigent. The government, often acting through informants, then actively developed the plot, persuading and sometimes pressuring the targets to participate, and provided the resources to carry it out.

“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” Prasow said. “The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses.”

Rezwan Ferdaus, for example, pled guilty to attempting to blow up a federal building and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Although an FBI agent even told Ferdaus’ father that his son “obviously” had mental health problems, the FBI targeted him for a sting operation, sending an informant into Ferdaus’ mosque. Together, the FBI informant and Ferdaus devised a plan to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol, with the FBI providing fake weaponry and funding Ferdaus’ travel. Yet Ferdaus was mentally and physically deteriorating as the fake plot unfolded, suffering depression and seizures so bad his father quit his job to care for him.

The US has also made overly broad use of material support charges, punishing behavior that did not demonstrate an intent to support terrorism. The courts have accepted prosecutorial tactics that may violate fair trial rights, such as introducing evidence obtained by coercion, classified evidence that cannot be fairly contested, and inflammatory evidence about terrorism in which defendants played no part – and asserting government secrecy claims to limit challenges to surveillance warrants.

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is a US citizen who alleged that he was whipped and threatened with amputation while detained without charge in Saudi Arabia – after a roundup following the 2003 bombings of Western compounds in the Saudi capital of Riyadh – until he provided a confession to Saudi interrogators that he says was false. Later, when Ali went to trial in Virginia, the judge rejected Ali’s claims of torture and admitted his confession into evidence. He was convicted of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to assassinate the president. He received a life sentence, which he is serving in solitary confinement at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

The US has in terrorism cases used harsh and at times abusive conditions of confinement, which often appear excessive in relation to the security risk posed. This includes prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on communicating in pretrial detention, possibly impeding defendants’ ability to assist in their own defense and contributing to their decisions to plead guilty. Judges have imposed excessively lengthy sentences, and some prisoners suffer draconian conditions post-conviction, including prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on contact with families or others, sometimes without explanation or recourse.

Nine months after his arrest on charges of material support for terrorism and while he was refusing a plea deal, Uzair Paracha was moved to a harsh regime of solitary confinement. Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) – national security restrictions on his contact with others – permitted Paracha to speak only to prison guards.

“You could spend days to weeks without uttering anything significant beyond ‘Please cut my lights,’ ‘Can I get a legal call/toilet paper/a razor,’ etc., or just thanking them for shutting our light,” he wrote to the report’s researchers. After he was convicted, the SAMs were modified to permit him to communicate with other inmates. “I faced the harshest part of the SAMs while I was innocent in the eyes of American law,” he wrote.

These abuses have had an adverse impact on American Muslim communities. The government’s tactics to seek out terrorism suspects, at times before the target has demonstrated any intention to use violence, has undercut parallel efforts to build relationships with American Muslim community leaders and groups that may be critical sources of information to prevent terrorist attacks.

In some communities, these practices have deterred interaction with law enforcement. Some Muslim community members said that fears of government surveillance and informant infiltration have meant they must watch what they say, to whom, and how often they attend services.

“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” Prasow said. “It is possible to protect people’s rights and also prosecute terrorists, which increases the chances of catching genuine criminals.”

Read “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism ProsecutionsHERE

To arrange an interview with Naureen Shah or Tarek Ismail, contributors to this report, please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010. For more Human Rights Watch reporting on counterterrorism, please visit: https://www.hrw.org/topic/counterterrorism

Former Political Prisoner David McKay will Confront FBI Informant Brandon Darby at Lincoln Center Documentary Premiere

Former Political Prisoner David McKay will Confront FBI Informant Brandon Darby at Lincoln Center Documentary Premiere

[NEW YORK, NY]  Journalists and activists are invited to a free special advance screening of and discussion of INFORMANT, the documentary portrait of of Brandon Darby, former radical activist turned FBI informant, Wednesday, September 11, 7:30pm, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Amphitheater, 144 W. 65th St., in NYC.  This is the first time that Darby (in person) and David McKay (via Skype), will discuss the complete story of Brandon’s role as an FBI informant and the series of events that led to McKay’s imprisonment. The discussion will be moderated by NPR contributor Michael May.

In 2005, Darby became an overnight hero when he traveled to Katrina-devastated New Orleans and braved toxic floodwaters to rescue a stranded friend. Soon after, he co-founded Common Ground, a successful grassroots relief organization. But over the next few years, he began hiding a shocking secret. After two young protestors, David McKay and Bradley Crowder, were arrested at the 2008 Republican National Convention, Darby revealed he had been instrumental in their indictment as an FBI informant. Today, having renounced his radical past, he is a tea-party darling who writes regularly for the right-leaning website Breitbart.com.

The only film with access to Darby since his public confession, INFORMANT meticulously constructs a picture of his life – before and after the many death threats he has received – through interviews and tense reenactments starring Darby himself. Darby’s version of events is accompanied – and often contradicted – by evidence from acquaintances and expert commentators, posing complicated questions about trust and the nature of reality. As David Hanners of St. Paul Pioneer Press suggests, “When you interview people about Brandon Darby, you realize that everyone has a different idea of who he is.”

In addition to trying to unlock the mystery of Brandon Darby, INFORMANT offers a powerful insider look at the hidden use of informants in contemporary America – an especially timely issue in light of the recent leaks about government surveillance.

WHERE: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Amphitheater, 144 W. 65th St., New York
WHEN: Wednesday, September 11, 7:30pm
RSVP REQUIRED: email informantscreening@gmail.com

First come, First served, Admission not guaranteed*

Intersections Between the ‘War on Crime’ & ‘War on Terror’: A Town Hall Discussion on Confronting Islamophobia & Repression

Intersections Between the ‘War on Crime’ & ‘War on Terror’: A Town Hall Discussion on Confronting Islamophobia & Repression

[NEW YORK, NY] The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, in partnership with NCPCF, CAIR, DRUM NYC, The Sparrow Project and Justice by the Pen will present a historic “town hall” style discussion on state repression, the prison industrial complex, and the war on terror, This Thursday April 18th, at Riverside Church.  Constance Malcom (Mother of Ramarley Graham) and Yusef Salaam (wrongfully charged in the Central Park Jogger case) will join a dozen presenters —each with unique stories of imprisonment, entrapment, or experiences with clients who are currently imprisoned at facilities like Guantanamo Bay— and field questions from the community and press in an open space format.

The US’ “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror” have produced a parallel system of state violence and social control, manifested through unjust prosecutions and the mass incarceration of people of color. Join us on April 18th from 6:30-8:30pm for a historic town hall discussion wherein we will hear first-hand stories from former prisoners, family members, lawyers, intellectuals, historians and activists about excessive  sentences, discriminatory policing, suppression of political dissent, and mass incarceration.

SPEAKERS WILL INCLUDE

Constance Malcom
Mother of the late Ramarley Graham. In February 2012, Graham was slain by NYPD officers while unarmed in his grandmother’s Bronx home.

Jazz Hayden
Community activist & founding member of the Campaign to End The New Jim Crow.

Yusef Salaam
Wrongfully convicted in the Central Park jogger case. Yusef sits on the board of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the advisory board for the Learn My History Foundation & Inspired People United for Children.

Shaheena Parveen
Mother of Matin Siraj, who was entrapped & charged as a terrorist in a fabricated NYPD plot to destroy NYC landmarks.

Ramzi Kassem
Lawyer representing multiple detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Airforce Base, & other US “Black Sites” & a supervisor of Creating Law  Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project at CUNY.

Amir Varick
Community Activist sentenced to 25 years to life for a non violent drug offense under the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Co-founder of People Assisting Positive Actions.

Faisal Hashmi
Co-founder of the Muslim Justice Initiative. Faisal’s brother, Fahad, was accused of providing material support to Al-Qaeda.  He is currently being held in solitary confinement at the Federal “Supermax” Prison, ADX-Florence, Colorado.

Sohail Daulatzai
Author of “Black Star, Crescent Moon” & Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies & African American Studies at the UC Irvine.

Noor Elashi
Writer, organic baker, activist & daughter of Holy Land Five political prisoner, Ghassan Elashi.

Andy Stepanian
Cofounder of The Sparrow Project.  Convicted as a terrorist in 2006 for his animal rights activism & served the last 6 months of a 36-month prison sentence in a Federal Communications Management Unit (CMU).

Alicia McWilliams
Activist & Aunt of Newburgh 4 defendant, David Williams.

Fahd Ahmed
Legal & Policy Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), NYC.

Steve Downs
Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms and lawyer in the ‘US vs. Yassin Aref’ case.

WHAT: Town Hall Discussion
WHEN: Thursday, April 18, 2013 |  6:30pm-8:30pm
WHERE: Riverside Church Assembly Hall | 490 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027
INFO:  Facebook RSVP | andy@sparrowmedia.net

To arrange an interview with any of the speakers & presenters please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010