6.18.2005

imminent threats

I've been looking for more news about the two teenage girls who were abducted and "detained" - love that euphemism! - on suspicion of terrorism. I blogged about it briefly when one was released after six weeks: my post here and the story I linked to saved here by Islamophobia Watch.

The second girl was eventually released on condition that her family leave the country. The only charges filed were her parents' immigration violations.

Yesterday the Times ran a follow-up on the girl who was deported, with this CYA note:
This account is, in large part, her version of events. Some of it is supported by documents and other interviews, but it cannot all be corroborated because a court has sealed the case record at the F.B.I.'s request and barred participants from disclosing government information. The government has declined repeated requests to present its side.
The FBI says the girls' behavior set off "alarm bells". Pre-9/11, thousands of alarm bells were missed and ignored. Even on the fateful day itself, a few dozen more - too many to be dismissed as coincidence or incompetence - slid by. Now a 16-year-old girl chooses a life of faith, visits an internet chat room, and she's put in prison, then deported.

Americans who agree with this kind of thing often play the immigration card. When all other arguments fail, they say, Hey, her family was here illegally anyway, they should be deported. But the US immigration process is, to put it mildly, extremely difficult to navigate. It's an arcane, convoluted, byzantine system - a mine field.

In New York City, families like Tashnuba's are driving our cabs, repairing our buildings, preparing our food, paying taxes, and contributing to the life of the city. (Elsewhere, of course, they are mowing lawns and harvesting fruit.) Their half-baked immigration status often keeps them from participating more fully: they usually can't become citizens, so they don't vote or sit on juries. If something happens to them - if someone is raped, or sexually harassed, or taken advantage of by an employer - they are highly unlikely to report it, out of fear of discovery and deportation. They have only a tenuous, second-class status, and almost anyone can be deported on immigration violations. The system is designed that way.

Tashnuba Hayder herself sounds like a terrific girl - smart, strong and savvy. In prison with young drug offenders and girls being held for assaults, she was strip-searched regularly, forced to march at attention and forbidden to wear her Muslim dress.
"The F.B.I. tried to say I didn't have a life - like, I wasn't the typical teenager," Tashnuba said bitterly, fingering her long Muslim dress. "They thought I was anti-American because I didn't want to compromise, but in my high-school ethics class we had Communists, Democrats, Republicans, Gothics - all types. In all our classes, we were told, 'You speak up, you give your opinion, and you defend it.'"

The lesson backfired, she said, when she found herself stubbornly debating the Koran's definitions of jihad with the lead F.B.I. agent: Foria Younis, a Muslim immigrant of a much more secular stripe.

. . .

From childhood, Tashnuba embraced religion with a kind of rebellion. By 10 she was praying five times a day - and reproaching her more secular father, a salesman of cheap watches. At 12, Tashnuba even explored Christianity. But at 14, she adopted a full Islamic veil.

In part, she was emulating her closest friend, Shahela, an American citizen who, in an interview, described veiling as a way to oppose "the degrading treatment of women's bodies as commodities" and "to hold on to my faith after 9/11." It also provided Tashnuba a refuge from her parents' marital rifts and fragile reconciliations. Soon, the two friends were conducting religious classes for other girls at city mosques.

"This is what gives me an identity," Tashnuba said of her religion.
This speaks to something I mentioned yesterday: the religious zealotry in this country is very specific. Bible good. Koran bad. Faith-based my ass.

Meanwhile, because the government hides behind its own veil, we don't know whether Tashnuba was actually "an imminent threat to national security" or even if there was reason to think so.
Mike German, who left the bureau a year ago after a long career chasing homegrown terror suspects, said that the agency's new emphasis on collecting intelligence rather than criminal evidence has opened the door to more investigations that go "in the wrong direction."

"If all these chat rooms are being monitored, and we're running down all these people because of what they're saying in chat rooms, then these are resources we're not using on real threats," said Mr. German, who has publicly complained that F.B.I. management problems impeded terror investigations after 9/11.

The stress on intelligence increases the agency's demands for secrecy, to protect its sources. And secrecy, he said, leads to abuses of power.

"Perhaps the government has some incredibly incriminating piece of information and saved us from a terrible act of violence; it would make everybody feel better to know it," he said. "Conversely, if they did something wrong, the public needs to know that."

From the beginning, the government framed this case as purely an immigration matter. When a dozen federal agents plucked the girl from her home in a dawn raid on March 24, they cited only the expiration of her mother's immigration papers, telling the family that Tashnuba would probably be returned the next day.

Instead, after two weeks of frantic inquiries by her parents, The New York Times learned that Tashnuba was one of two girls being held, officially on their parents' immigration violations, but actually for questioning by F.B.I.'s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Her parents didn't even know where she was for two weeks! They were unable to find out without the help of media resources. And until the story came out - a full two weeks after she was abducted - she was held and questioned without representation. A minor. Think of it.

The Times story is really incredible. This is going on right under our noses.

1 comment:

redsock said...

Great post about a truly sickening and horrifying tale in "the land of the free".

This paragraph is amazing (bold by me):

*******

According to a government document provided to The Times by a federal official, the F.B.I. asserted that the girls presented "an imminent threat to the security of the United States based upon evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers." The document cited no evidence. And in background interviews, federal officials were quick to play down the case as soon as reporters called ...

*******

An imminent threat to the security of the United States based upon no evidence.

That's the Patriot [sic] Act in action.