The National Coalition for the Protection of Civil Freedoms held a town hall last Sunday at the Martin Luther King Library in Washington, DC. Headlined “Know Your Rights — before they’re read to you!”, the town hall provided both important advice on how to handle an unexpected knock on the door by the FBI, and moving testimony about people ensnared in a web of informants, vague charges, prejudice, and draconian sentences.
“Give me your card; I’ll have my lawyer call you”
That is what you should say if the FBI or other law enforcement come knocking on your door without a search warrant. A skit illustrating what not to do and then what one should do in that situation was put on by civil rights lawyer Ashraf Nubani, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad (Minaret of Freedom Institute), and a friend:
NCPCF chair Peter Erlinder (a law professor in Minnesota) noted that you should say that even if you don’t yet have a lawyer, and suggested contacting the National Lawyer’s Guild if you ever need help in a situation like this. The trap that can be sprung is lying — even in a small way, i.e., leaving out something — to federal law enforcement, which is a federal offense. The threat of being charged for that can be used to pressure people to become informants and trap friends and acquaintances into statements or actions that are all too easily and willingly misconstrued by prosecutors, grand juries, juries, and judges.
“Homegrown terrorists” or victims of preemptive prosecution?
That may be part of what happened to Hysen Sherifi, Ziyad Yaghi, and Omar Hassan in North Carolina. The three were recently punished with breathtaking sentences of 45, 31.5, and 15 years for charges that, as NCPCF executive director Steve Downs put it, “are very hard to understand.”* They were essentially convicted of thought crimes in advance of any overt violent act — which it is not at all clear was intended. Instead, things like trips to Israel and Kosovo, gun purchases, and some Facebook trash talk — all still legal, last I checked — were among the thin reeds with which prosecutors built their tale of a terror conspiracy. The leader of their paintball and target practice club, one Daniel Patrick Boyd, apparently turned informant after being caught in misstatements to federal customs officials.
You can learn more about the case and how you can help at freeziyadyaghi.com. Sherifi’s brother Shkumbin spoke to the town hall about his brother (video soon); he and his sisters Merve and Julia also talked more about the case to journalist Pete Tucker and myself afterwards:
Torture in Saudi Arabia = life sentence in the U.S.
The case of Falls Church, VA resident and American citizen Ahmed Abu Ali is if anything even more disturbing. That’s because the evidence against Mr. Ali — now serving a life sentence in a Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado — was obtained under torture by Saudi Arabian police.
As his sister’s friend M. explained to the town hall (video soon), Mr. Ali was studying Islamic religion in Saudi Arabia when he was arrested during his final exams, taken to a prison and beaten into confessing terrorist plans. His family succeeded in having him brought back to the U.S., but prosecutors decided to pursue charges — and the judge decided to ignore and prevent evidence corroborating torture.
Mr. Ali’s living conditions are inhumane: he is in 24 hour solitary confinement, with 1 hour for exercise. There is also evidence of petty mistreatment by prison officials: Mr. Ali’s request to read President Obama’s book “Audacity of Hope” was turned down on the grounds that this would be “potentially detrimental to national security”.
To follow each of these cases and learn how you can help, please visit
- freeziyadyaghi.com; freeziyadyaghi.blogspot.com/
- “Please Support Ziyad Yaghi” Facebook group
To learn about similar cases of “preemptive detention” and trumped-up “material support” charges, visit
- What *not* to do if the FBI knocks at your door
- Laila Yaghi talks about her son Ziyad’s prosecution, 32 yr sentence
- Shkumbin Sherifi talks about his brother’s prosecution, 45 yr sentence
- Sister’s friend discusses Ahmed Abu-Ali’s torture, life sentence
- Hysen Sherifi family members denounce prosecution, 45 yr sentence
* A grand jury indictment leading to the prosecution and trial can be read online here; the document specifies violations of U.S. codes 18 U.S.C. 2339A (conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists), 18 U.S.C. 956 (conspiracy to murder persons in a foreign country), 18 U.S.C. 924b, 922c, and 922d (firearms charges), and 18 U.S.C. 1001 (false statement to federal officer) as the specific, terror-related charges for which the three defendants and several other people were charged. Note the false statement charges; moreover, note that the indictment speaks of “manner and means by which the conspiracy was sought to be accomplished,” suggesting that even the prosecutors saw the conspiracy as a possibility rather than a fact.