2011-07-22 "National meeting targets government repression" by Kris Hamel from "Workers World" newspaper
An important national meeting on stopping repression, human rights abuses and the curtailing of civil freedoms in the U.S. took place July 16 at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore in Detroit. The well-attended event featured an overview of specific cases along with panels on how the federal government is carrying out “preemptive prosecution and prosecutorial persecution.”
Sponsored by the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, with a wide array of cosponsoring organizations, the three-hour meeting was moderated by Debbie Johnson of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice based in Detroit.
Speakers from cities around the U.S. described some of the many repressive actions the federal government has taken against individuals and organizations and the effects on the civil liberties and human rights of Arab, Muslim, African-American, South Asian, Latino/a and all immigrant communities, as well as on the broader social justice movement in the U.S.
Many speakers remarked about how the curtailing of civil liberties has increased dramatically during President Barack Obama’s tenure. Instead of easing the repressive measures associated with the Patriot Act, which was signed by George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11, the Obama administration and the repressive state apparatus have stepped up their wiretapping, harassment, arrests and illegal detentions in U.S. federal prisons.
Speakers talked about the “war on terror” political climate in the U.S. and the use of preemptive prosecution and other measures by the state. Preemptive prosecution is the investigation, prosecution and imprisonment of a person by U.S. law enforcement agencies based on a person’s religion, country of origin, political beliefs and alleged intent to act — and not on material actions.
Tom Burke spoke from the National Committee to Stop FBI Repression. A member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and a Colombia and Palestine solidarity organizer, Burke is one of 23 progressive activists who last fall received subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. The FBI also raided many homes and confiscated belongings.
“The government is trying to recreate that period of intimidation like in the 1950s during McCarthyism, going after Muslims, solidarity activists and people who believe in socialism,” said Burke. He talked about the support movement that arose immediately following the initial raids and subpoenas and reiterated his and the other defendants’ resolve not to cooperate with the government’s witch hunt and grand jury. “We will not back down,” he asserted.
‘War of terror’ against the people -
Speakers gave heart-wrenching accounts of the ‘war of terror’ being waged by U.S. government agencies at home and abroad against their family and community members.
Dr. Tamer Mehanna spoke about the FBI’s harassment and frame-up of his brother, Dr. Tarek Mahenna, his false arrest and upcoming trial in Boston in October. “He hasn’t done anything, yet he’s charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. He has suffered in solitary confinement since October 2009.” Dr. Tamer Mehanna said his brother was targeted for being a young, devout Muslim and community leader in the Worcester, Mass., area.
Sharmin Sadequee spoke about her brother’s case. Shifa Sadequee, born in the U.S. in 1986, was kidnapped at gunpoint in 2006 “under the direction of the U.S. government” while he was in Bangladesh for his wedding, which had taken place just weeks before. Shifa Sadequee was returned to the U.S. to face trial in Atlanta for alleged “terrorism” and was sentenced to 17 years after his conviction on unproven charges. Sharmin Sadequee poignantly described the ordeal her family has undergone because of her brother’s kidnapping and imprisonment. “Shifa was tortured in solitary confinement for over three years before his trial,” she said.
Speakers discussed the U.S. government’s refusal to sign international conventions that prohibit torture by solitary confinement for more than 30 consecutive days and how it uses “Communications Management Units” to socially isolate and torture federal prisoners. Currently two CMUs — one in Terre Haute, Ind., and the other in Marion, Ill. — house about 70 federal prisoners, “over two-thirds [of whom] are Muslim, even though Muslims represent only 6 percent of the general federal prison population,” according to literature from the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the cosponsoring organizations.
Mel Underbakke of Tampa, Fla., presented a video highlighting some of the approximately 400 known cases of Muslims and others unjustly targeted. On the front and back walls of the meeting hall was a graphic display with the names of about 150 repression victims, including Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, people’s attorney Lynne Stewart, the Fort Dix 5, the Newburgh 4 and others from all over the United States.
Abayomi Azikiwe, a Workers World contributing editor and MECAWI leader, spoke on the history of racist repression inside the U.S. and the “need for a broad-based alliance to fight this domestic policy, which is reflected in U.S. foreign policy and is used to justify imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and now Libya.”
Other speakers included Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations; Steve Downs of Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims); Shahid Buttar from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee; and Efia Nwangaza from the U.S. Human Rights Network.
For more information on specific cases and campaigns against government repression, visit www.stopfbi.net, www.civilfreedoms.org, www.ccrjustice.org and www.projectsalam.org.
Photograph by Kris Hamel from "Workers World" newspaper showing, at podium, Efia Nwangaza of U.S. Human Rights Network, with Abayomi Azikiwe (left) and Dawud Walid.