2011 December 20
by Rick Holmes
I haven’t sat through every day of a trial since my cub reporter days, and ever since then I’ve tried not to second-guess a jury based on my own limited exposure to the evidence. My resolve is sorely tested bytoday’s verdict finding Tarek Mehanna guilty on all counts.
As I’ve argued before, Mehanna was never accused of committing violence or anything close to an actual act of terrorism. The prosecutors never provided evidence that he had any real contact with any members of al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. That should have been enough to win an acquittal on the conspiracy counts, since the judge instructed the jury that “in order to find Mehanna guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida, they must find that he worked “in coordination with or at the direction of” the terrorist organization. ”
I had assumed that the jury, which heard testimony for months, would have a more clear picture of Tarek as a person than your average Fox News viewer. He was born in the U.S. and raised as an ordinary American kid. He sat on Santa’s lap at Christmas time, his family apparently not having gotten the memo that only Christians can celebrate the holidays. He was a huge Nirvana fan, his brother told NPR, bringing an obsession to his study of grunge that he later turned to his study of Islamic philosophy. He got interested in politics after his history teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury HS turned him on to Howard Zinn. He dallied with extreme Islamist theory, and talked with his buddies about the greatness of Osama bin Laden. He was outraged by the invasion of Iraq. All the time, the FBI was listening, having used the “sneak and peek” provisions of the Patriot Act to break into his home and plant bugs while the family was away. The NPR piece (sorry I can’t find a link) interviewed people, including his students at a Worcester Islamic center, who said Tarek had mellowed and matured, as most people do between their early and their late 20′s, and was seen as a voice of Muslim moderation.
Doesn’t matter. The feds rounded up Tarek’s friends and got them to start rolling over on each other. As one friend, who had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in return for his testimony, told the jury, the feds “decide when I can see my son.”
Tarek Mehanna will be sentenced in the spring to as much as life in prison for the crimes of translating religious documents from Arabic to English, for thinking politically incorrect thoughts, for traveling to Yemen and back (not that he did anything there except discover what a pit it was) and for having conversations with his friends that led to nothing. He is a political prisoner, and this trial is a shame and an outrage.