by Richard Hugus
March 3, 2012
New York City appears to be going all out to win a world award for racism and bigotry. On February 24 the New York Post published a cartoon (1) depicting three men with long noses, long beards, turbans, and dishdashas assembling bombs in a locked upstairs tenement room. One of the men has a bomb strapped to his waist. He is looking out a window at a New York Police Department car in the street. The cartoon shows him speaking into the phone: “Hello, AP Press? . . . I’d like to register a complaint against the N.Y.P.D. for spying on us.”
This racist cartoon is an attempt at satire of an Associated Press story of February 20 exposing a blanket campaign of surveillance of Arabs and Muslims in New Jersey and upstate New York by the New York City Police Department. The surveillance was not only well outside New York City’s jurisdiction but also had no basis in any kind of criminal investigation. It was what the police would call an intelligence gathering operation, and what everyone else would call profiling and spying. It targeted Arabs and Muslims for being Arabs and Muslims, doing such things as attending mosques and meeting in campus student groups. The operation has been funded by the White House and advised by the CIA through both the Bush and Obama administrations. With this funding, the NYPD invented a new role for itself as a regional secret police force. Others have commented that had this cartoon depicted any other religious or ethnic group it would have been immediately condemned for its bigotry. Indeed, so would the entire NYPD spying program. But the “war on terror” has made it open season on Arabs and Muslims, so that instead of apologies from New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly and mayor Bloomberg, we got a back-in-your-face defense that the police are only trying to keep New York safe, and you’re lucky they are. The billionaire mayor used the mind-boggling reactionary argument that without the police doing what they do (destroying constitutional rights, among them freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly), we could not enjoy our freedoms and constitutional rights.
Not reported by any of the media so far was an outrageous attempt by an NYPD undercover agent to ensnare a young man as far away as Boston in a plot to undergird the war on terror by actually creating a “terrorist.” The young man was Tarek Mehanna, an Egyptian American and Muslim from Sudbury, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Tarek wrote a statement (2) about this experience, which was read aloud to a rally on Boston Common on February 25. The statement says:
“In late 2005, I was approached by an individual whom I’d never met. Over the course of two years, he attempted to befriend me, and gradually began shifting otherwise mundane conversations to suggesting the need to “do something.” Eventually, this “something” that he was hounding me to “do” emerged as a plan of his to find American soldiers returning from Iraq (whose addresses he supposedly had) and kill them. He would show up at my house uninvited, and always try to steer the conversation in this directions, and I would steer it away and bury it, but he would never give up. Finally, I told this individual to never contact me again. “
Perhaps because of the fact that once the police have made someone a victim, they never let that person go, Tarek went on to being targeted by the FBI, who wanted him to become an informant at his mosque. When Tarek refused, the FBI simply made up stories about him, saying that he was planning to shoot up a shopping mall. This story was splashed all over the press, and Tarek then entered into a special hell prepared for him by the federal judicial system in the shape of the notorious Michael Sullivan, then US Attorney in Boston, and his corrupt prosecutor, Jeffrey Auerhahn, who brought him up on charges of terrorism (3).
Tarek’s statement goes on to say:
“Two years later, I found myself here in a Plymouth jail awaiting trial on terrorism charges. From day one, I related this to my lawyers, and that I was 100% sure this had been an attempt by the FBI to entrap me in one of their artificial “plots” so that they could have additional firepower in this case. But my lawyers explained that without some acknowledgement from the government, it would be impossible to prove. So we filed numerous motions over the course of the two years before trial requesting exculpatory evidence (i.e., evidence that would be in my favor) from the government regarding this, but they feigned ignorance, and said that they had nothing.”
From the time of his arrest by the FBI in October 2009 to the time of his trial in November 2011, the shopping mall shoot-up charge was forgotten and an equally bogus new charge of “material support for terrorism” was created. But a few months before that trial began Tarek’s lawyer got a call:
“Finally, in the early summer of 2011, my lawyer, Jay Carney, got a call from an Associated Press reporter who said that two sources within the NYPD had contacted her and confirmed to her that the NYPD had sent an undercover agent up to Boston to “befriend” me, and try to prod me into carrying out a “terrorist attack,” and that I had refused to go along (bingo!). Furthermore, these sources in the NYPD told this journalist that when the prosecutors in my case found out about this – the same prosecutors at my trial, Aloke Chakravarty and Jeffrey Auerhahn – they became frantic and called the NYPD to come up to Boston for a meeting, where they admonished them for “interfering” in my case. With this information, my lawyers filed an additional motion asking the judge to compel the government to disclose these details so that they could be mentioned at trial – the logic being that this is a “terrorism” trial, and here was an attempt by the government to actually push me to carry out an act of “terrorism,” and I had refused, and they were trying to cover this up. The motion was filed on July 15th, 2011.”
Now comes federal judge George O’Toole, an apparently affable man in black robes who appeared in court to have no prejudice one way or the other against the defendant, but who acted behind the scenes, in all rulings, from the beginning, to aid the prosecution and hobble the defense of now 29 year old Tarek Mehanna. At a hearing in August 2011, when the subject of airing NYPD’s role in court, before a jury, was brought up, Judge O’Toole met made a cheating, underhanded agreement with the prosecutors behind closed doors. Tarek reports that his lawyer . . .
“ . . . mentioned to the judge that we were seeking exculpatory evidence from the government, as they had thus far given us none. And then he mentioned that from the items we sought were details of an attempt by the NYPD to prod me to engage in a domestic attack, which I refused, etc. This was apparently the first the prosecutors knew that we were privy to this, and the surprise was evident on their faces. The judge asked them if they knew anything about this, and Mr. Chakravarty’s response was an ambiguous “we have no information from our office on this, and it is the defendant who should know,” to which Jay stood up again, faced Mr. Chakravarty, and asked: “So you’re willing to say, on record, before the court, that no members of the NYPD came up to Boston at anytime to meet with you to discuss an attempt to prod Tarek Mehanna to engage in an act of terrorism that he refused to go along with?” The prosecutor’s response, verbatim, was: “Well, I didn’t say that either…”
O’Toole said he would wait to rule on the motion, and immediately, the prosecutors requested a private meeting with him in the judge’s chambers. He granted their request. My lawyers stood outside the judge’s door as the prosecutors walked in and protested: “Well, that’s not fair. How are you going to meet with the judge privately about this motion, and we have no idea what is being said?” But the judge met with them for almost 20 minutes. We will never know what was said in that meeting, but the next morning, O’Toole denied our motion, and that was the last anyone had ever heard of it: nothing about this topic was allowed to be mentioned to the jury at trial. Not a single word.”
This is just one story about one individual who was a part of NYPD’s attack on Arabs and Muslims. If the cartoon in the New York Post were accurate, it would show three white men in coats and ties, representing the CIA, the FBI, and New York City undercover police, bringing all the weight of the state against a young man (pictured on a torture rack) to present him to the public as someone about to commit a crime which they – the police – had not only thought up and provided the materials for, but miraculously “prevented.” The FBI agent would be calling the press to say, “Hey, we have another phony terrorism story for you – let’s keep the war going strong.” Outside the window would be an ignorant US public, eyes wide, ready to believe anything they were told.
The games of the police have consequences, as those in prison well know. Tarek Mehanna has now been in jail, in solitary confinement, for 864 days. He is real. His family is real. This racist scapegoating affects their lives. The NYPD, Mayor Bloomberg, and the Obama administration are not protecting anybody. They’re attacking innocent people in order to prop up a war that keeps them in power. This is the height of dishonesty and cowardice.
1 Cartoon republished at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/nypd-surveillance
2 See statement at Free Tarek website: http://www.freetarek.com/my-arrest-a-continued-explanation/
3 Richard Hugus, “FBI Repression in Boston”, February 2011, http://www.onepalestine.org/resources/articles/FBI_Repression_In_Boston.html