Yassin Aref: a matter of (in)justice

The evidence shows that as early as December 2002, the FBI thought Yassin Aref was really an Al Queda agent named Mohammed Yasin, using a pseudonym. The real Yassin, who was missing two finger, was killed in Gaza in 2010.

picture from the projectsalam.org webpage

It was local front-page news, of course, back in 2006: two Muslims convicted of material support for TERRORISM, in Albany, New York! But even a casual reading of the news reports running up to the conviction of Yassin Aref, an Albany iman, and Mohammed Hossain, a pizzeria owner, didn’t add up. The clips of them with the FBI “informant” did NOT indicate the hate-filled speech I was told to expect.

Read about Yassin Aref’s arrest, conviction, and incarceration in this 2011 article for New York magazine. It discusses the government’s “controversial policy of preemptive prosecution—taking down those thought to possibly become terrorists in the future.”

Now Aref’s lawyers will file papers this month (July 2013) asking that the conviction be overturned or for a new trial, in something called a 2255 motion.

From the press release from Project Salam: “Aref discovered significant new evidence about his case as a result of an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request he made in 2011.” The prosecution had it, the trial judge and appeals judge saw it, but the defense team did not. Incidentally, the defense tried and failed, to get this information earlier.

“The evidence shows that as early as December 2002, the FBI thought Aref was really an Al Queda agent named Mohammed Yasin,” using a pseudonym. The real Yassin, who was missing two-finger, was killed in Gaza in 2010. Aref writes, “I am still alive and have all my fingers so I cannot be Mohammed Yassin.”

The FOIA documents were heavily redacted, but it’s reasonable to believe that the trial judge was given classified information that misidentified Aref as Al Queda member Yasin.

So my friend Lynne Jackson is on a walk from Albany to Binghamton, a distance of 133 miles (214 km), to bring attention to this case, as she brings petitions to Judge Thomas McAvoy, as I noted here; I attended the kickoff event on July 12. She can still get more names on the online petition until July 23. If, after reading the materials, you are so moved, please sign it.

Ultimately, though, the case is about more than Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, who likely just got caught up in the FBI’s zeal. It’s about: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” In other words, it’s about the 6th Amendment to the Constitution. The withholding of these documents that hold secret, and evidently false, information, is unconstitutional. THAT is the crime here.