“[M]any of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
In a recent Pew Research poll, when rated on a “feeling thermometer,” which measures the “warmness” the average American feels toward a particular religion, 41 percent of all respondents rated Islam on the coldest part of the thermometer. This is one percentage point higher than what Americans rated atheism. While this may reflect simply that there are more Christians in this country than Muslims and that one looks favorably at their own ideology, it may also reflect something else — the notion that, among many Americans, the Muslim community is seen as “terrorists-in-waiting.”
This may be the product of government action. Take, for example, the case of the “Newburgh Four,” four Muslim men who were arrested in 2009 for allegedly planning to shoot down military airplanes flying out of the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, and planning to blow up two Bronx synagogues. It was later discovered that the FBI created this attack plan and encouraged the four — using money and food as incentives — to go along with it. Despite the fact that one of the men, James Cromitie, allegedly said that he wished to do something to America and wanted to be a martyr, many analyzing the case have came to the conclusion that without the government’s help, Cromitie would have only amounted to a harmless banterer.
“The government agent supplied a design and gave it form, so that the agent rather than the defendant inspired the crime, provoked it, planned it, financed it, equipped it and furnished the time and targets,” wrote U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs in his dissent of the 2-1 decision to uphold the “Newburgh Four”’s conviction last August, adding, “There simply was no evidence of predisposition under our settled definition of the term.”
While the federal government has made a significant number of legitimate terrorism convictions, a new report from Human Rights Watch indicates that almost 50 percent of the 500-plus federal terrorism plots that have been prosecuted by the federal government originated with, received material support from, or were encouraged by the federal government, with nearly 30 percent being sting operations in which a government informant played a significant and active role in the plot. This targeting was found not to be based on any perceived criminality, but primarily on racial and religious bias.
“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at HRW and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
Based on more than 215 interviews with those charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, the members of their families and communities, defense attorneys, judges, federal prosecutors, government officials and academics, the report argues that the government overwhelmingly builds cases to support surveillance and targeting objectives, using tactics that include the targeting of the indigent and individuals with intellectual and mental disabilities. An example of this would be the case of Rezwan Ferdaus. In 2012, Ferdaus was sentenced to 17 years incarceration for allegedly planning to fly remote-controlled model aircrafts filled with C-4 explosives into the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol Building. Despite the fact an FBI agent admitted that Ferdaus had mental health problems, and despite the fact that Ferdaus was suffering from depression and seizures at the time, the FBI still set up a sting, going so far as to pay for Ferdaus’ travel to Washington.
The use of entrapment by the FBI to make arrests or secure convictions is nothing new. Recently, the FBI’s use of Hector Xavier Monsegur — known online as “Sabu” — to entrap members of Anonymous, including Jeremy Hammond, an AntiSec member now serving a 10-year prison sentence, has come under scrutiny. Chat logs obtained from the Daily Dot showed that the FBI was aware that Hammond would be hacking into Stratfor’s computer network and exfiltrating an estimated 60,000 credit card numbers and millions of emails, but did nothing to stop it.
However, this use of entrapment, along with the use of coercion to obtain evidence, classified evidence that cannot be refuted by the defense and inflammatory evidence that may not be relevant to the accused individual’s case have led to a situation in which many targeted for terrorism by the federal government is denied due process. Other methods to deny due process include harsh and abusive pre- and post-trial detention — including solitary confinement and a denial of access to the outside world or other prisoners — and the assertion of government secrecy to conceal or challenge access to surveillance warrants.
The use of such tactics has hardened the Islamic-American community’s view on “the War on Terror,” denying the government a key ally in identifying and controlling domestic radicalization. In many communities, Muslim-Americans have admitted that the fear of government infiltration has limited how often they attend religious services and how they interact with others in public. Equally, media coverage of these arrests unjustly reinforces the “terrorists-in-waiting” notion, isolating, in effect, an entire community of Americans for no other reason than the religion they choose to celebrate.
“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” said Prasow. “The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses.”
“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats. It is possible to protect people’s rights and also prosecute terrorists, which increases the chances of catching genuine criminals,” she concluded.