Arguments that terror prosecutions are criminalizing protected speech took another hit Wednesday, when the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld terror-support convictions against Tarek Mehanna.
Mehanna is serving 17½ years in prison after a Boston juryconvicted him in 2011 of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida, conspiracy to commit murder abroad, providing material support to terrorists and lying to federal investigators.
Likening terrorism to a “modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague,” the First Circuit Court of Appeals found jurors had ample grounds to find Mehanna’s activities crossed the line into illegal material support. The ruling by Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya acknowledged a delicate balance between “vital national security concerns and forbidden encroachments on constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and association.”
But the evidence supports the verdict and Mehanna’s sentence because his work was done in coordination with al-Qaida in an attempt to benefit the terrorist group.
The appellate court at times took a dismissive tone in addressing Mehanna’s arguments to overturn his conviction. Some were cast aside as “meritless,” while others were described as “convoluted theories” and “fishing in an empty stream.”
Arguments offered in amicus, or friend of the court, briefs by Mehanna supporters including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also found little traction. In many cases, the external briefs raised issues Mehanna had not. “The law is settled that amici cannot ordinarily introduce into a case issues not briefed and argued by the appellant,” the ruling said.
Mehanna’s case drew sympathy from Islamist groups and others. ACLU Massachusetts Executive Director Nancy Murray wrote after the conviction that Mehanna’s case proved that, “There is a Muslim exception to the First Amendment,” and that Muslims were being prosecuted for “thought crime.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago chapter offered a similar claim, publishing an intern’s article which cast Mehanna as a victim of overzealous FBI surveillance because he is a Muslim. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) reposted a Guardian article on its Facebook and Twitter accounts titled, “Tarek Mehanna: Punished for Speaking Truth to Power.”
But the appellate court stood by the jury’s verdict in rejecting such arguments.
Mehanna came under investigation in 2006. By then, he already had traveled to Yemen in hopes of reaching a terrorist training camp. When that didn’t work, he returned to Sudbury, Mass., where he began translating and posting material supporting al-Qaida and “Salafi-Jihadi perspectives,” the court wrote.
Read more at IPT