PRECEDENT-SETTING VOTE IN ALBANY, NY
- PRECEDENT-SETTING VOTE IN ALBANY, NEW YORK!!!
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan
THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FOUNDATION
April 6, 2010
In the name of ALLAH, The Beneficent, The Merciful
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Mauri' Saalakhan. I serve as director of operations for a grassroots human rights advocacy organization known as The Peace And Justice Foundation, based in Metropolitan Washington, DC. I am here in support of the Resolution before you now.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said the following many years ago: "The ultimate measure of a man [or woman] is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life."
There is an old saying, "Blessed are those who forge first, to lead the way for others." The concerned citizens who have packed this chamber tonight are an example of the "true neighbor." You [the Council] are the other part of tonight's equation, with the potential to be the same.
As this evening's session opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, I was reminded of the Constitutional Convention of 1789, when one of the "founding fathers," Benjamin Franklin, was asked at the convention's conclusion (by one of the reporters of the time): "What have you wrought?" Franklin's response was: "A Republic, if you can keep it!"
The business before you this evening represents a continuation of that ever present challenge, passed on from one generation to the next - i.e. the ongoing quest for the establishment of a "Republic," predicated on "liberty and justice for all." (Still an illusive dream.)
I am also reminded of the words of two prominent figures of history. The first is one of the classical scholars from the Islamic tradition. Sheikh ibn Taymeeyah wrote many generations ago: "Civilization is based on justice, and the consequences of oppression is devastating. Therefore it is said, ALLAH aids the just state even if it is non-Muslim; yet withholds his help from the oppressive state, even if it is Muslim."
And then we have the words of American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote (and this can be found on the wall of his monument in Washington, DC): "I tremble for my country when I reflect: God is Just; His justice cannot sleep forever."
In my work I have traveled throughout a large part of America, and I have witnessed, up close and personal, the profound and ever expanding trauma produced by the so-called `war on terrorism.' I have seen the "collateral damage" done to mothers and fathers, wives and children, entire families and communities, when innocents are targeted for preemptive operations.
You have an opportunity with your vote on tonight's Resolution, to help move this potentially great, but deeply disturbed nation called America, from where it is, to where it's supposed to be.
Thank you for listening.
This is a brief summary of the five minute address I delivered last night to the Albany Common Council in Albany, New York (drawn from an outline I put together minuets before I was called upon to share a few thoughts).
I was privileged to be a witness for - and to make a minor contribution to - a truly precedent-setting vote undertaken by the city council of New York State's capitol city at about 10:40 last night.
The most powerful highlight of the proceedings were the FAMILIES who were present (representing a number of tragic cases) who provided sometimes emotional victim impact statements to the Council. Local activists and concerned citizens (the majority non-Muslim) supported the families with their own statements urging passage of the Resolution.
The day's initiative began with a short rally at the Armory, followed by a roughly 15 minute march to Albany's City Hall. The Council's proceedings began about 7PM to a packed chamber. A number of people had to sit outside in the hall and listen to the proceedings over a speaker. The Resolution in question is titled:
RESOLUTION URGING THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO REVIEW THE CONVICTION OF MUSLIMS WHO WERE "PREEMPTIVELY PROSECUTED," TO ENSURE THEIR FAIR TREATMENT UNDER THE U.S. CONSTITUTION AND BILL OF RIGHTS
Al-hamdullilah! After a little drama necessitating a five minute recess in the proceedings (and a slight re-working of some of the language contained in the Resolution), the Resolution passed by a vote of 10 voting "Yes" and 4 voting "Present."
To my knowledge, this is the first Resolution of this nature passed by a government jurisdiction anywhere in the nation! (Blessed are those who forge first to lead the way for others.)
A special note of thanks is due the Muslim Solidarity Committee & Project SALAM. Honorable mention is also accorded to Prof. Shamshad Ahmad, for being an "immigrant Muslim" who is not afraid to stand up for his brothers, their families, and his community; and so doing, demonstrating what true faith-based leadership is all about!
To be continued .
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan
Albany: Common Council Calls For Justice for Muslims
Dr. Shamshad Ahmad, president of the Masjid As-Salam mosque in Albany, holds a copy of his book about the local terror sting case.
ALBANY, NY (WAMC) - Activists gathered outside Albany City Hall Monday evening in support of pressuring federal prosecutors to review the case against two imprisoned Muslim men Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.
Albany residents Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain were caught up in a complex US government operation that resulted in their arrests in 2004 on terrorism-related charges. They were subsequently convicted and sent off to prison. A coalition of advocates marched on City Hall urging the Common Council to ask the federal Justice Department to take another look at the case. Other Muslim families and their supporters traveled to the Capital City in a show of solidarity with locals: they marched from the Washington Avenue Armory to Eagle Street where the Common Council was meeting. Lynn Jackson is a volunteer with the Muslim Solidarity Committee and Project Salam: Jackson says: "Why should the Albany Common Council pass this resolution? Because Muslim men were wrongfully prosecuted in Albany and sent to prison for lengthy sentences. How can we work on other issues if the federal government can just swoop down and take innocent men away and imprison them? What safety and security do we have if the bill of rights is so ignored? We must ask for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into these cases of preemptive prosecution of Muslims as recommended by the Inspector General."
Family members and supporters of other Muslims preemptively prosecuted attended the event, including Lejla Duka, daughter of one of the Fort Dix 5 (from Cherry Hill, NJ), Alicia McWilliams, aunt of one of the Newburgh 4 (the FBI used the same "confidential informant" to entrap the Newburgh 4 as they did with the Albany case of Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain), and the sisters and friends of Betim Kaziu (from Brooklyn).
Common Council Member Dom Calsolaro introduced the resolution, co-sponsored by 6 other members, requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice implement the recommendation of its own Inspector General: to review all of the convictions of Muslims who have been preemptively prosecuted to determine whether these prosecutions met in all ways the high standards of truth, openness, fairness, and justice that are embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The council's attention to the federal case isn't sitting well with long-time local political activist Joe Sullivan, who believes council members should be focused on city resident's concerns: "What about property tax relief for city homeowners and small businesses? What about consolidating city schools with city government, establishing one property tax roll to finance both, returning to K-8 neighborhood schools and making the Mayor and Council responsible and accountable for the performance of city schools?"
Dom Calsolaro argues the Aref-Hossain case is an "Albany issue" - In the end, a council majority voted to ask the Justice Department to take another look at the controversial Albany case. Copies of the resolution that passed will go Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer and Congressman Paul Tonko... Calsolaro is also writing a personal letter to President Barack Obama.
Albany Common Council Passes Resolution Supporting Review Of Terror Prosecutions
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Albany, NY 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. (Resolution included below.)
A rally and march, organized by Albany's Muslim Solidarity Committee and attended by citizen-representatives from several area peace, justice, and civil liberties organizations, preceded the start of the Common Council meeting. The Muslim Solidarity Committee was founded in 2006 to advocate for the families of two Albany Muslims, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, who were convicted of terrorism in 2006 in an FBI "sting." Speakers in favor of the resolution during the public comment period preceding the council's vote included family members from the Newburgh 4 (New York), Fort Dix 5 (New Jersey), and Betim Kaziu (Brooklyn) cases, members of the Capital District's Muslim community, the founder of a nationwide peace and justice organization based in Maryland, and supporters of Aref and Hossain. Two of Mohammed Hossain's children also spoke, as did 12-year-old Lejla Duka, daughter of one of the Fort Dix 5.
The resolution, introduced by council members Dominick Calsolaro, Ronald Bailey, Richard Conti, Catherine Fahey, Anton Konev, James Sano, and Barbara Smith, 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.
Council member Dominick Calsolaro said, "We showed that the impact of a federal government sting affects more than just the family, it affects the community. That people came to the Albany Common Council last night from so far, Newburgh, Brooklyn, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Maryland, shows that when the federal government does not follow its laws, more people than just the family are affected. I was thrilled by the statements made by the pubic and the responses made by the Common Council members."
Council member Barbara Smith said, "I think the Common Council made an important statement this evening in calling attention to the improper prosecution and targeting of Muslims. It is important for us to communicate with the federal government, and this is a good way to do it."
Lynne Jackson, a spokeswoman for Albany-based Project SALAM, which examines cases of unjust terrorism prosecutions of Muslims, said "We hope that passage of this resolution encourages other cities and counties to pass similar resolutions, to show that citizens demand a second look into some of the most unjust prosecutions that withheld classified evidence, such as the Fort Dix 5, the Newburgh 4, Betim Kaziu, Fahad Hashmi, and possibly hundreds of other cases."
Attorney Stephen Downs, a member of the Muslim Solidarity Committee, said, "Albany's Aref/Hossain case represents a classic example of preemptive prosecution. Two Muslims who were not involved in any illegal activity were entrapped and framed because of the remote possibility that they might become involved in illegal activities at some time in the future. Preemptive prosecution has entrapped and convicted hundreds of other innocent Muslims essentially because of their religion and has wreaked havoc in Muslims families and communities all across America. The program is illegal, unjust, and contributes nothing to national security."
A recent judicial decision seems to support the need for Muslim terrorism case review. On March 31, a federal district judge in San Francisco ruled that the government violated the law when the NSA wiretapped lawyers for and administrators of Al-Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, in 2004 without a warrant. The decision also said the government is liable for damages. The charity was considered to have contributed to terrorism. It is unclear whether or not the Obama Administration will appeal the ruling. #
Resolution Number 39.41.10R (As Amended)
RESOLUTION URGING THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO REVIEW THE CONVICTIONS OF MUSLIMS WHO WERE "PREEMPTIVELY PROSECUTED" TO ENSURE THEIR FAIR TREATMENT UNDER THE U.S. CONSTITUTION AND BILL OF RIGHTS
WHEREAS, the Declaration of Independence of the United States and the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the cornerstone of our democracy; and
WHEREAS, since 9/11 some Muslims in the United States have been targeted by the U.S. government for increased scrutiny, surveillance and prosecution; and
WHEREAS, the United States government created a warrantless electronic surveillance program which obtained secret classified information on Americans, apparently in violation of various laws including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Justice and the FBI created a program called "preemptive prosecution" in which Muslims who are not involved in criminal activity are targeted and prosecuted based on "secret evidence," often derived from warrantless electronic surveillance; and
WHEREAS, there is a substantial probability that the activities and programs of the U.S. government which target a religious minority in such a manner violate their civil rights as Americans; and
WHEREAS, in 2003 the Albany Common Council voted unanimously to object to the Patriot Act because of the dangers that this act posed to the civil rights and liberties of all Americans; and
WHEREAS, in 2009 the Albany Common Council voted to support immigrant rights in the City of Albany so that immigrant families would not live in constant fear of repression, jail, or deportation; and
WHEREAS, because of excessive secrecy by the U.S. government about its warrantless eavesdropping and preemptive prosecution programs, substantial doubt remains as to whether hundreds of Muslims were preemptively prosecuted, and guilty of crimes, and whether the defendants received their civil rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, including the right to receive exculpatory information and a fair trial; and
WHEREAS, after Senator Ted Stevens was convicted of bribery, the Justice Department did an independent assessment of how his case was prosecuted, determined that exculpatory information had been withheld by prosecutors, and dismissed the case; and
WHEREAS, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, in a July 10, 2009 report on U.S. surveillance programs recommended "that Department of Justice carefully consider whether it must re-examine past [terrorism] cases to see whether potentially discoverable but undisclosed Rule 16 or Brady material was collected under the President's Surveillance Program, and take appropriate steps to ensure that it has complied with its discovery obligations in such cases" (report p. 19).
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Common Council of the City of Albany requests that the U.S. Department of Justice implement the recommendation of its own Inspector General, and establish an independent panel within the Department of Justice, similar to what was done in the Stevens case, and to what was recommended by the Inspector General, to review all of the convictions of Muslims who were "preemptively prosecuted" to determine if these defendants were properly given exculpatory information and other rights of discovery to which defendants in criminal prosecutions are entitled, and whether these prosecutions in all ways met the high standards of truth, openness, fairness, and justice that are embodied in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Common Council of the City of Albany requests that the Clerk of this Council forward copies of this resolution to United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer and United States Representative Paul Tonko.
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