Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Questioning "preemptive prosecutions"

Right after I finished writing the previous unhappy post about the Obama administration's terrible record of disrespect for the rule of law, I ran across this heartening example of ordinary people working to stem the tide of official lawlessness.

According to the blog Dhafir Trial, on April 5 the Albany, New York Common [city] Council asked the Obama Justice Department to take a look at prosecutions of Muslims involving evidence that may have been influenced by post 9/11 "security" hysteria. Specifically

The City of Albany's Common Council passed an amended resolution on Monday that urges the U.S. Justice Department to implement the recommendation of its own Inspector General and establish an independent panel to review the convictions of Muslims who have been "preemptively prosecuted" to ensure their fair treatment under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Ten council members voted yes; four voted present. ...

The resolution ... was inspired by a declassified July 2009 report by the Justice Department's Inspector General on domestic surveillance programs. His report recommended that the Justice Department carefully consider whether it should re-examine past [terrorism] cases to see whether potentially exculpatory evidence was collected under President George Bush's secret President's Surveillance Program (PSP), which was established in 2001 and included the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless wiretapping program. If such exculpatory information was uncovered during a classified surveillance operation, the government must nevertheless provide the information to the defense or else make adjustments, such as dropping the charges, so that the defendant is not penalized by the fact that the information is classified. Because so many "preemptive" Muslim prosecutions have been based on classified information from the PSP, the issue of disclosure of exculpatory classified information has always been critical in such cases.

Under the preemptive prosecution program, hundreds of Muslims all over the country have been prosecuted and convicted to "preempt" them from committing crimes in the future. If people are being prosecuted before they commit a crime, there is a substantial danger that innocent people will be convicted who had no intention of ever breaking the law.

Albany has been the site of quite a number of these "preemptive prosecutions," including that of Dr. Rafil Dhafir who has been jailed in a case involving charitable work in Iraq and murky charges of Medicare billing discrepancies.

The resolution was passed after a rally organized by Albany’s Muslim Solidarity Committee which was joined by other local peace and civil liberties groups.

I was not surprised to learn that my old friend, pioneering Black feminist Barbara Smith (author of Home Girls and numerous influential articles), was part of the Council majority that put Albany on record as concerned about potential injustices in the "preemptive prosecution" policy. (Isn't that idea out of 1984?) We need to rememeber that "an injury to one is an injury to all," however momentarily unpopular that might be among the frightened. Go Albany!

(The "Muslim" doll pictured was hung in a California suburb in some of the worst days of the post 9/11 panic.)

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