"The Stooges have landed and have the situation well in hand!" ~ Moe, Out West, 1947.
Ever hear of Rasheed Qadir Qambari, Amir Rashid, Ahmed Haji Abdullah or Fadhil Noroly? Do they sound like they might be terrorists? Well, the US government thinks so, specifically, US Attorney John L. Brownlee, the FBI, and a host of other courageous law enforcement types. What did the four blow up? Nothing, they just happened to care enough about Kurdish families in South Kurdistan, including their own, to send them money.
According to the press release of the indictment, over a period of six years they spirited nearly $3 million out of the country and into Kurdistan. They even made a business of this, providing the service to the Kurdish community of Harrisonburg, Virginia. The problem is, calling their "business" a business was a mere formality. None of the men made any money on the transactions. They simply wanted to help other Kurds in the US and their families back in Kurdistan. Of course, there was one small catch here, and that was that the Patriot Act requires anyone doing this to obtain a license.
When these men started their "business," transferring money out of the country wasn't illegal, as reported by a local Harrisonburg lawyer:
What did these men do to make the FBI think they were bad guys? Actually nothing different from what they had been doing -- perfectly legally -- for several years: supporting their families here and back home. With no functioning banking system in Iraq, sending money home was complicated. So Rasheed and several other trusted men helped transfer money for other Kurds here. They deposited the money in their Harrisonburg banks, with assurances the procedures were proper, and had the banks wire it to bank accounts of friends in neighboring countries or the U.S.-funded NGO they'd worked for before, which distributed it.
Then everything changed. The Patriot Act, enacted a month after 9/11, made a simple transfer of someone's money a felony regardless of knowledge or intent, a radical shift in law governing money transfers. Rasheed and the others had neither knowledge of this draconian provision nor any wrongful intent. But under the Patriot Act provision, that didn't matter. A score of FBI agents raided the four families' homes, taking belongings, financial records, even one family's cash down-payment for a house that Hope Community Builders had built them.
The investigation revealed that what the men said they were doing was, in fact, the truth. They were sending money home to Kurdish families who needed it. Anyone who is familiar with the situation in South Kurdistan knows darned good and well that the banking system is virtually non-existent, in spite of the efforts of the KRG to create one.
You can read the complete story from the RocktownWeekly.com, and I urge you to do so. Another article can be found from a local university paper and one carried on Kurdish Aspect.
One blogger in particular has been keeping pace with developments, so here are links to his posts, in chronological order:
FBI AS GESTAPO: OPPRESSING THE KURDS OF HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA
WE KNOW YOU'RE NOT THE BAD GUYS: UPDATE ON HARRISONBURG KURDS
KURDS IN HARRISONBURG: ANOTHER HEARING
HOW TO HELP THE HARRISONBURG KURDS NOW!
Please note also, that sentencing is now scheduled for June 26, and I'm sure it will be something to watch for. In the meantime, lets talk about the Patriot Act.
What does a judge and professor of constitutional law have to say about the Patriot Act? I found something from Judge Andrew Napolitano, and if you're familiar with the US, you will recognize the judge as a regular on the ultra-conservative, ultra-Republican FOX News channel. But Judge Napolitano is not at all ultra-conservative or ultra-Republican when it comes to law. He might be described as more of a Jeffersonian. Here's what he has to say about the Patriot Act:
It is a direct assault on at least three amendments to the Constitution: the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and the Fifth Amendment. The PATRIOT Act legitimates the notion that if we give up certain freedoms, the government will keep us safer. I reject that notion from a moral and legal point of view. I also reject it from a practical point of view. It doesn’t work. The government doesn’t need our freedoms to keep us safer. No one—no lawyer, judge, or historian—can point to a single incident in American history where national security was impaired because someone insisted on their right to free speech or their right to privacy or their right to due process.
[ . . . ]
[T]he government cannot point to a single successful prosecution for terrorist activity where the evidence obtained was under the PATRIOT Act—at least a successful prosecution that wasn’t overturned eventually. The PATRIOT Act creates one new independent crime, the crime of speaking. The rest of the PATRIOT Act does not create substantive crimes. It gives tools, unconstitutional tools, to law enforcers. They have used those tools, but they haven’t gotten a single prosecution for terrorist acts on the basis of it. They’ve gotten five prosecutions having to do with political corruption and drugs. One of the things that John Ashcroft gave to Congress in return for no debate was the sunset clause. The other was that the PATRIOT Act would only be used in the war on terror.
Both of those promises have been violated. We know from newspaper accounts that the PATRIOT Act was used to gather information on political corruption in Las Vegas and against drug dealers elsewhere. The Intelligence Reform Act of ’04 gets rid of one of the sunset clauses.
In a segment from FOX News, as quoted here, Judge Napolitano has the following discussion with talking head, Shepard Smith:
Napolitano: The Patriot Act, with a search warrant, allows Federal agents to break into your house, make it look like a burglary, steal your checkbook and leave and they don't have to tell you about it for a year. Now, you may say, well, why?
Smith: They would only do that for terrorism, though. Isn't that what they're supposed to do?
Napolitano: That's what they're supposed to do, however, they have used this power to fight organized crime, drug dealing, pornography and political corruption. The last in the city of Las Vegas.
Smith: But surely they've gotten some terrorist convictions out of this?
Napolitano: They've gotten no terrorist convictions out of any of this.....
Napolitano: ...evidence they've obtained out of the Patriot Act. Zero, never. They've gotten a series of guilty pleas, they've gotten convictions on these other crimes......
Smith: But not on terror?
Napolitano: But not on terror. They have done their best to keep evidence obtained under the Patriot Act from being introduced into Federal court because they don't want a Federal Judge to find the Patriot Act unconstitutional. Now, five Federal Judges have ruled on it so far, two appointed by President George H.W. Bush. All five have found it unconstitutional. They've found the self written search warrant aspect unconstitutional. They found the part that says 'thou shall not speak' unconstitutional. It violates the first amendment.
But the Justice Department keeps enforcing it and the Congress has just made it stronger, made it more difficult for people targeted under the Patriot Act, whether it's acts of terror or whatever to challenge the government's behavior.
Smith: What's the fear?
Napolitano: The fear is that Government Agents, without the restraint of a judge, will have too much power and will violate the rights that the Constitution guarantees us. Remember, we wrote the 4th Amendment because British soldiers had the right to write their own search warrants, we didn't want any of that. 200 years later we're back where we started.
Let's see, what kind of tally do we have from the Patriot Act? Drug busts? Check. Political corruption stings? Check. Mafiosi? Check. Pornography? Check. Kurds wiring money to family in the mother country? Check.
Terrorists? Zip. Zilch. Zero. NADA!
As we see in the example of the Harrisonburg Kurds, the Patriot Act also insinuates itself into the financial world where the subject of wire transfers comes up, but "financial institutions" are also defined as "auto dealers, jewelry stores, travel agencies, and financial service providers, as well as any other type of business the Treasury Department regulators deem to have a connection to money laundering." In other words, whatever the federal government defines as a "financial institution" is a financial institution, even if it's the neighbor's kid's lemonade stand on the corner.
But there is a slight problem with this, as the 9/11 Commission found out, quoted from the Reason article in the previous paragraph:
In a press release, Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (which has not responded to requests for comment), cited the 9/11 Commission report as justification for the sunset repeal and other measures. But that report actually casts a skeptical eye on whether a broad-brush approach such as that contained in the PATRIOT Act would ever be able to find the terrorist money trail. For the 9/11 attacks, "Al Qaeda had many avenues of funding. If a particular funding source dried up, al Qaeda could have easily tapped a different of diverted funds from another project to fund an operation that cost $400,000 to $500,000 over nearly two years," the report notes in Chapter 5. And in a stunning statement in footnote 90 of Chapter 6, the Commission stated with regard to the reporting rules for wire transfer businesses that went into effect shortly after 9/11 and other anti-money laundering regulations, "It is an open question whether such legislative or regulatory initiatives would have significantly harmed al Qaeda, which generally made little use of the U.S. financial system to move or store its money."
Amazingly enough, the US had laws in place before the September 11 attacks. Federal laws, things like immigration laws and anti-terror laws, which were supposed to be enforced by federal law enforcement. The odd thing was that no one bothered to do their job and enforce these laws. So you get a bunch of Arabs who had a few visa irregularities, coupled with the fact that there were known al-Qaeda operatives among them, but why should federal government workers be bothered with this? It's only their job.
So we have a pack of baboons, known collectively as the FBI, along with a pack of chimpanzees, known as the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), who were too lazy, too stupid and too incompetent to enforce the law. What's the answer? Build another law, a "better" law, one with more "tools" so that the same pack of baboons and chimpanzees can, in turn, go around terrorizing innocent, hardworking citizens or legal immigrants, like the Harrisonburg Kurds. I mean, come on! These primates still won't bother with illegal immigrants and that's why everyone seems to have their panties in knots over illegal immigration.
We won't even go into the subject of NSA wiretapping. Did anyone check items number 7 and 12 on our list of characteristics of a fascist state?
What's a far better line of attack? Human intelligence (HUMINT). But HUMINT is hard, you have to learn a foreign language and culture, or you have to trust a native, plus it takes time and patience. Time and patience remind me of another problem with the Patriot Act. As Judge Napolitano repeatedly remarks, there was no debate on the Act before it was passed. Even if anyone in Congress had paid attention to the findings of the 9/11 Commission, there could have been a serious overhaul of the Patriot Act. It looks like now there are only two avenues of hope against it, the dissenters and the federal judges.
The reason for lack of debate, I believe, is that the Act was passed in a rush in order to help insure incumbent re-election. It was a way of proving that your local congressperson was actually doing something about terrorism. It was a way of proving that the White House was doing something about terrorism. It had the added bonus of covering federal primate ass--you know, the ones who weren't doing their jobs.
Besides, the Patriot Act helps US Attorneys, like John L. Brownlee, rack up the necessary brownie points to catapault them to ever more powerful jobs in the federal government. He might even become US Attorney General one day, or--Ya Allah!--Chief Justice of the Supreme Court! It's irrelevant that these brownie points were made at the expense of innocent people, both here and in Kurdistan. That's why Justice is always depicted as blindfolded, right?
As we await the sentencing of Rasheed Qadir Qambari, Amir Rashid, Ahmed Haji Abdullah and Fadhil Noroly, can we say that anything good has come of this federally-wrought mess? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. The greater community of Harrisonburg, composed of ordinary American citizens, have rallied behind the Kurds in their community. They have learned about Kurds and Kurdistan. They believe that the four Kurds should be exonerated and not punished, and have created a petition to that effect. Local university students created a documentary about the Kurds of Harrisonburg.
Additionally, letters of support have appeared in the local papers, one of which you can read here and another here.
So tell me, really, who are the terrorists?