Speak Truth To Power… Spend 17 Years In Jail

It seems that will be the story of Tarek Mehanna, American citizen who believes in the framework our nation’s founders built for us. Mehanna’s crime is alleged to be, in the words of Glenn Greenwald, “supporting Al Qaeda” and “conspiring to ‘murder’ U.S. soldiers in Iraq.”

So… what did Mehanna actually do? He translated some Al Qaeda documents into English (Dog forbid we should understand our enemy!) and appended comments “expressing ‘sympathetic views’ toward [Al Qaeda].” He refused an offer-you-can’t-refuse from the FBI to become a spy on his religious community. Those were his crimes.

Mehanna viewed the US war on Iraq as an invasion, with the US as the aggressor. Well, hell, so did I… how else is a reasonable person to read the actual events? Not surprisingly, he stridently opposed that invasion. So did I.

So why is he facing 17 years in jail, while I sit at my desk, at least for the moment a free man?

Did I mention… Mehanna is Muslim?

Federal prosecutions for what is by rights protected speech are not new to America. Pacifists around W.W. I were regularly prosecuted and sentenced. That doesn’t change the fact that such speech, now as then, is protected by the First Amendment. If the First Amendment protected only the expression of consensus views, it wouldn’t be very damned much use. Views on every extreme must be protected; otherwise, the debate is constrained to what pleases the current government. And believe me, Mr. Obama is a lot bigger fan of consensus than I am. I want to hear it all, right to the bleeding edge of sedition. If your speech is constrained by consensus or convention, you aren’t offering your country the best you can give it.

I didn’t write this screed just to rant about a right that is both constitutionally explicitly protected and essential to the functioning of a government that claims a representative form. I wrote it to point you to Mr. Mehanna’s statement upon sentencing… a statement that surpasses mere eloquence and goes to the essence of the matter. I’ll shut up now, if you promise to go read his words. They begin about halfway through Greenwald’s post.

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