April 12, 2012

Tarek Mehanna's Statement in Boston Federal Court	
In the name of God, The Most Gracious, The Most

Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing my
work shift at a local hospital. As I was walking to my
car I was approached by two federal agents. They said
that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy
way, or I could do them the hard way. The "easy way,"
as they explained, was that I would become an informant
for the government, and if I did so I would never see
the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the
hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent the
majority of the four years since then in a solitary
cell the size of a small closet, in which I am locked
down for 23 hours each day. The FBI and these
prosecutors worked very hard—and the government spent
millions of tax dollars - to put me in that cell, keep
me there, put me on trial, and finally to have me stand
here before you today to be sentenced to even more time
in a cell.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, many people
have offered suggestions as to what I should say to
you. Some said I should plead for mercy in hopes of a
light sentence, while others suggested I would be hit
hard either way. But what I want to do is just talk
about myself for a few minutes.

When I refused to become an informant, the government
responded by charging me with the "crime" of supporting
the mujahideen fighting the occupation of Muslim
countries around the world. Or as they like to call
them, "terrorists." I wasn't born in a Muslim country,
though. I was born and raised right here in America and
this angers many people: how is it that I can be an
American and believe the things I believe, take the
positions I take? Everything a man is exposed to in his
environment becomes an ingredient that shapes his
outlook, and I'm no different.  So, in more ways than
one, it's because of America that I am who I am.

When I was six, I began putting together a massive
collection of comic books. Batman implanted a concept
in my mind, introduced me to a paradigm as to how the
world is set up: that there are oppressors, there are
the oppressed, and there are those who step up to
defend the oppressed. This resonated with me so much
that throughout the rest of my childhood, I gravitated
towards any book that reflected that paradigm - Uncle
Tom's Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I even
saw an ethical dimension to The Catcher in the Rye.

By the time I began high school and took a real history
class, I was learning just how real that paradigm is in
the world. I learned about the Native Americans and
what befell them at the hands of European settlers. I
learned about how the descendents of those European
settlers were in turn oppressed under the tyranny of
King George III. I read about Paul Revere, Tom Paine,
and how Americans began an armed insurgency against
British forces - an insurgency we now celebrate as the
American Revolutionary War. As a kid I even went on
school field trips just blocks away from where we sit
now. I learned about Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John
Brown, and the fight against slavery in this country. I
learned about Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and the
struggles of the labor unions, working class, and poor.
I learned about Anne Frank, the Nazis, and how they
persecuted minorities and imprisoned dissidents. I
learned about Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther
King, and the civil rights struggle. I learned about Ho
Chi Minh, and how the Vietnamese fought for decades to
liberate themselves from one invader after another. I
learned about Nelson Mandela and the fight against
apartheid in South Africa. Everything I learned in
those years confirmed what I was beginning to learn
when I was six: that throughout history, there has been
a constant struggle between the oppressed and their
oppressors. With each struggle I learned about, I found
myself consistently siding with the oppressed, and
consistently respecting those who stepped up to defend
them -regardless of nationality, regardless of
religion. And I never threw my class notes away. As I
stand here speaking, they are in a neat pile in my
bedroom closet at home.

From all the historical figures I learned about, one
stood out above the rest. I was impressed by many
things about Malcolm X; but above all, I was fascinated
by the idea of transformation, his transformation. I
don't know if you've seen the movie "X" by Spike Lee,
it's over three and a half hours long, and the Malcolm
at the beginning is different from the Malcolm at the
end. He starts off as an illiterate criminal, but ends
up a husband, a father, a protective and eloquent
leader for his people, a disciplined Muslim performing
the Hajj in Makkah, and finally, a martyr. Malcolm's
life taught me that Islam is not something inherited;
it's not a culture or ethnicity. It's a way of life, a
state of mind anyone can choose no matter where they
come from or how they were raised.

This led me to look deeper into Islam, and I was
hooked. I was just a teenager, but Islam answered the
question that the greatest scientific minds were
clueless about, the question that drives the rich &
famous to depression and suicide from being unable to
answer: what is the purpose of life? Why do we exist in
this Universe? But it also answered the question of how
we're supposed to exist. And since there's no hierarchy
or priesthood, I could directly and immediately begin
digging into the texts of the Qur'an and the teachings
of Prophet Muhammad, to begin the journey of
understanding of what this was all about; the
implications of Islam for me as a human being, as an
individual, for the people around me, for the world;
and the more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a
piece of gold. This was when I was a teen, but even
today, despite the pressures of the last few years, I
stand here before you, and everyone else in this
courtroom, as a very proud Muslim.

With that, my attention turned to what was happening to
other Muslims in different parts of the world. And
everywhere I looked, I saw the powers that be trying to
destroy what I loved. I learned what the Soviets had
done to the Muslims of Afghanistan. I learned what the
Serbs had done to the Muslims of Bosnia. I learned what
the Russians were doing to the Muslims of Chechnya. I
learned what Israel had done in Lebanon - and what it
continues to do in Palestine - with the full backing of
the United States. And I learned what America itself
was doing to Muslims. I learned about the Gulf War, and
the depleted uranium bombs that killed thousands and
caused cancer rates to skyrocket across Iraq. I learned
about the American-led sanctions that prevented food,
medicine, and medical equipment from entering Iraq, and
how - according to the United Nations - over half a
million children perished as a result. I remember a
clip from a ‘60 Minutes' interview of Madeline Albright
where she expressed her view that these dead children
were "worth it."

I watched on September 11th as a group of people felt
driven to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings
from their outrage at the deaths of these children. I
watched as America then attacked and invaded Iraq
directly. I saw the effects of ‘Shock & Awe' in the
opening day of the invasion - the children in hospital
wards with shrapnel from American missiles sticking out
of their foreheads (of course, none of this was shown
on CNN).  I learned about the town of Haditha, where 24
Muslims - including a 76-year old man in a wheelchair,
women, and even toddlers - were shot up and blown up in
their bedclothes as they slept, by US Marines. I
learned about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old
Iraqi girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who
then shot her and her family in the head, then set fire
to their corpses.

I just want to point out, as you can see, Muslim women
don't even show their hair to unrelated men. So try to
imagine this young girl from a conservative village
with her dress torn off, being sexually assaulted by
not one, not two, not three, not four, but five
soldiers. Even today, as I sit in my jail cell, I read
about the drone strikes which continue to kill Muslims
daily in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Just
last month, we all heard about the seventeen Afghan
Muslims - mostly mothers and their kids - shot to death
by an American soldier, who also set fire to their
corpses. These are just the stories that make it to the
headlines, but one of the first concepts I learned in
Islam is that of loyalty, of brotherhood - that each
Muslim woman is my sister, each man is my brother, and
together, we are one large body who must protect each
other. In other words, I couldn't see these things
being done to my brothers & sisters - including by
America - and remain neutral. My sympathy for the
oppressed continued, but was now more personal, as was
my respect for those defending them.

I mentioned Paul Revere - when he went on his midnight
ride, it was for the purpose of warning the people that
the British were marching to Lexington to arrest Sam
Adams and John Hancock, then on to Concord to
confiscate the weapons stored there by the Minuteman.
By the time they got to Concord, they found the
Minuteman waiting for them, weapons in hand. They fired
at the British, fought them, and beat them. From that
battle came the American Revolution. There's an Arabic
word to describe what those Minutemen did that day.
That word is: JIHAD, and this is what my trial was
about. All those videos and translations and childish
bickering over ‘Oh, he translated this paragraph' and
‘Oh, he edited that sentence,' and all those exhibits
revolved around a single issue: Muslims who were
defending themselves against American soldiers [who
were] doing to them exactly what the British did to

It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever
plotted to "kill Americans" at shopping malls or
whatever the story was. The government's own witnesses
contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert
up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every
written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I
was free, the government sent an undercover agent to
prod me into one of their little "terror plots," but I
refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury
never heard this.

So, this trial was not about my position on Muslims
killing American civilians. It was about my position on
Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that
Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders
- Soviets, Americans, or Martians. This is what I
believe. It's what I've always believed, and what I
will always believe. This is not terrorism, and it's
not extremism. It's the simple logic of self-defense.
It's what the arrows on that seal above your head [over
the head of Judge O'Toole] represent: defense of the
homeland. So, I disagree with my lawyers when they say
that you don't have to agree with my beliefs - no.
Anyone with commonsense and humanity has no choice but
to agree with me. If someone breaks into your home to
rob you and harm your family, logic dictates that you
do whatever it takes to expel that invader from your
home. But when that home is a Muslim land, and that
invader is the US military, for some reason the
standards suddenly change. Common sense is renamed
"terrorism" and the people defending themselves against
those who come to kill them from across the ocean
become "the terrorists" who are "killing Americans."

The mentality that America was victimized with when
British soldiers walked these streets 2 ½ centuries ago
is the same mentality Muslims are victimized by as
American soldiers walk their streets today. It's the
mentality of colonialism. When Sgt. Bales shot those
Afghans to death last month, all of the focus in the
media was on him-his life, his stress, his PTSD, the
mortgage on his home-as if he was the victim. Very
little sympathy was expressed for the people he
actually killed, as if they're not real, they're not
humans. Unfortunately, this mentality trickles down to
everyone in society, whether or not they realize it.
Even with my lawyers, it took nearly two years of
discussing, explaining, and clarifying before they were
finally able to think outside the box and at least
ostensibly accept the logic in what I was saying. Two
years! If it took that long for people so intelligent,
whose job it is to defend me, to de-program themselves,
then to throw me in front of a randomly selected jury
under the premise that they're my "impartial peers," I
mean, come on. I wasn't tried before a jury of my
peers, because with the mentality gripping America
today, I have no peers. Counting on this fact, the
government prosecuted me - not because they needed to,
but simply because they could.

I learned one more thing in history class: America has
historically supported the most unjust policies against
its minorities - practices that were even protected by
the law - only to look back later and ask: ‘what were
we thinking?' Slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of the
Japanese during World War II - each was widely accepted
by American society, each was defended by the Supreme
Court. But as time passed and America changed, both
people and courts looked back and asked ‘What were we
thinking?' Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by
the South African government, and given a life
sentence. But time passed, the world changed, they
realized how oppressive their policies were, that it
was not he who was the terrorist, and they released him
from prison. He even became president. So, everything
is subjective - even this whole business of "terrorism"
and who is a "terrorist." It all depends on the time
and place and who the superpower happens to be at the

In your eyes, I'm a terrorist, I'm the only one
standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it's perfectly
reasonable that I be standing here in an orange
jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people
will recognize this day for what it is. They will look
at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and
maimed by the US military in foreign countries, yet
somehow I'm the one going to prison for "conspiring to
kill and maim" in those countries - because I support
the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look
back on how the government spent millions of dollars to
imprison me as a "terrorist," yet if we were to somehow
bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she
was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on
that witness stand and ask her who the "terrorists"
are, she sure wouldn't be pointing at me.

The government says that I was obsessed with violence,
obsessed with "killing Americans." But as a Muslim
living in these times, I can think of a lie no more

back button