Illustrates the Danger of Preemptive Prosecution to Civil Freedom
Washington D.C. – March 21, 2012. At a press conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday called by the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), NCPCF Executive Director attorney Stephen F. Downs provided details about how, on the pretext of an old gun violation, the FBI abruptly arrested Kalifah Al-Akili the day before he was to participate in a press conference to detail what he charges are efforts to entrap him into some kind of terrorist-type activity and for introducing into his life a dangerous individual linked to fraud and murder.
Nadhira Al-Khalili, legal counsel for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) explained such incidents have had a chilling effect on the Muslim community, making them fearful of cooperating with law enforcement officials lest they end up targets of an investigation.
Shahid Buttar, Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, noted that this case is not unique and that such tactics undermine the credibility of law enforcement agencies and keenly illustrate the need for accountability. The press conference moderator, NCPCF spokesperson Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad noted that there is an important distinction between a sting operation that seeks to trap someone who would engage in an illegal activity into showing his hand and the active recruitment of people into committing a serious criminal activity in which they have never previously engaged or have any intention of engaging.
After the press conference concluded, Executive Director Downs delivered a letter from the coalition calling on Attorney-General Eric Holder to open an investigation into the alleged abuses and letters to eight members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives calling for Congressional hearings. These letters state, in part, “These ‘fake terrorism investigations’ create ‘crimes’ where none exist and divert resources from actual threats; improperly target innocent communities and discriminate against whole communities by raising the specter of ‘terrorism’ where no such plots exist, except those created by the FBI and agents provocateur the FBI rewards; and, put the civil liberties of all in jeopardy by turning every new ‘friend’ at church, or at the mosque, into a possible informant.”
Here follows the text of the briefing distributed at the press conference:
FBI Entrapment and Preemptive Prosecution:
The Case of Khalifah Al-Akili
(Washington D.C. – March 20, 2012) The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) planned a press conference for Friday, March 16, in Washington, DC featuring Khalifah Al-Akili, a Pittsburgh man names who sought to sue the FBI for what he charges are efforts to entrap him into some kind of terrorist-type activity and for introducing into his life a dangerous individual who has been linked to fraud and murder. The press conference was not held because at 6 a.m. on the preceding day Al-Akili was arrested on weapons possession charge. As the suspiciously-timed arrest has prevented him from telling his own story, the details as he reported them to the NCPCF, and as they have been confirmed by his friends and publicly available records, are reported here.
Khalifah Al-Akili, 34, is an online merchant who converted to Islam about twenty years ago. Six years ago he started religious classes for Somali refugees in his home. He says he had received visits from open FBI agents as well as persons he suspects of being covert agents as far back as 2005. About six months ago, a man introduced himself to Al-Akili as “Shareef” in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. Subsequently, “Shareef” would insinuate himself into conversations after the dawn prayers among some of the worshippers at a local mosque and offered Al-Akili rides home and to the mosque. Al-Akili reports that, before long, he became suspicious of “Shareef” who with increasing frequency turned the conversation to fighting, and boasted that “he knew people that were ‘real’ and ‘had a lot of resources’ at [their] disposal,” all the while assuring Al-Akili that he could trust him if he shared similar views. Soon, “Shareef” tried to get Al-Akili to procure a gun for him, claiming that he needed it for personal protection. When Al-Akili, who, having served time on drug charges a decade ago cannot possess a firearm, refused, “Shareef” persisted, asking if there were anyone else he could get to obtain one for him.
Learning of Al-Akili’s desire to open a “halal” restaurant (one serving food consistent with Islamic dietary laws), “Shareef” told Al-Akili that he could help with the financing, but only if Al-Akili would do something for him—which Al-Akili understood to mean some “act of violence against others.” After this, Al-Akili tried to avoid Shareef, but he was living only two blocks away. When “Shareef” offered to introduce Al-Akili to a man he called his “brother,” Al-Akili tried to avoid the meeting, but as he was walking back to his apartment from the store one night, “Shareef” pulled his vehicle up to Al-Akili. A man got out of the passenger side, introduced himself as “Mohammed,” and said that he wanted to talk to Al-Akili over coffee. Al-Akili made excuses, but when he got home the phone began to ring; it was “Shareef” and “Mohammed” downstairs, wanting to come in. Al-Akili pretended not to be at home.
The next morning, as Al-Akili and his friend Daoud Carter were walking back from the post office, “Mohammed” appeared from “out of nowhere,” again insisting over Al-Akili’s objections that they have coffee together. “Mohammed” said that he was from Pakistan near the Afghani border and began talking about his concept of “jihad.” Changing the subject, Al-Akili asked “Mohammed,” who professed to be an importer, if he had advice as to how he could take up a former teacher’s offer to send him a large number of religious books from South Africa. “Mohammed” offered to arrange and pay for delivery of the books in his company’s name and they exchanged numbers, but “Mohammed” did not call back. Failing to find the alleged import business on the Internet, Al-Akili instead discovered that the telephone number “Mohammed” had given him belonged to an FBI informant named Shahed Hussain. Hussain had been used by the FBI in a plot to implicate an Albany pizza parlor owner and an Albany imam in an imaginary plot to kill the Pakistani ambassador in New York with a surface-to-air-missile.
Al-Akili’s concern turned to fear for himself and his family when he learned that prior to working for the FBI, Hussain had been arrested on charges of murder in Pakistan and convicted of fraud in the U.S. Hussain had been profiled in Mother Jones magazine for his role as informant in the Newburgh Four case, in which US District Judge Colleen McMahon said the FBI “created acts of terrorism out of [a defendant’s] fantasies of bravado and bigotry, and then made those fantasies come true.” Carter, who would have appeared with Al-Akili at the press conference, confirms that Internet photos of Hussain reveal him to be the man who called himself “Mohammed.”
Al-Akili had hoped legal action against the FBI for what he calls “their continuous harassment and attempts to set” him up might protect others from tactics that critics consider to be illegal entrapment. As precedent for such a case, the NCPCF points to a case in which the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California got a restraining order against FBI informant Craig Monteilh. Later the ACLU filed a lawsuit on the mosque’s behalf and the judge granted sanctions against the government for lying to the court about its activities, and Monteilh also sued the FBI. The NCPCF is calling on the FBI to stop such dangerous practices that do not enhance our national security but rather provoke greater divisions within our society, disgrace our image in the world and erode the rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.
Additional Information: Trevor Aaronson, “The Making of an FBI Superinformant,” Mother Jones (Sept.-Oct. 2011), and also Paul Harris, “Newburgh Four: poor, black, and jailed under FBI ‘entrapment’ tactics,” The Guardian (Dec. 12, 2011)
The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms is a coalition of national and local organizations, whose mission is to educate the public about the erosion of civil and political freedoms in our society. For more information, visit www.CivilFreedoms.Org. NCPCF will hold its first fundraising dinner on Sunday, April 15 in Northern Virginia featuring popular journalist and civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald. See the advertisement on page 19 for event details.
“Preemptive prosecution is convicting people of fake or contrived crimes and locking them up before they have a chance to perform a real crime [and] this is based on [Dick] Cheney’s one percent theory, that if there is a one percent chance that somebody might be a terrorist, you have to act as though its a certainty. The corollary to Cheney’s rule is that it is better for 99 innocent people to be convicted than to allow even one possible terrorist to let free. That flies in the face of all of American jurisprudence which [holds] that it is far better for a guilty person to be released than for an innocent person to be convicted.” – Attorney Steve Downs
"When the Muslim asked NCPCF representatives what Muslim community leaders should do if they suspect a new commnuity member is an informant, Shahid Buttar responded: “Your question makes clear why this is problematic from a civil society stand as well as a counter terrorism standpoint. We want Muslim communities – as a civil society matter as well as national security matter -- to have strong robust community networks [since] that is how you find out about plots. What happens when you send informants into mosques? People get scarred and they stop coming. It destroys the social network … and that’s what’s been happening the last 10 years in the Muslim community. It places congregations in untenable positions because [the mosque] is supposed to be a place where you welcome new comers, but when you introduce this very pervasive but unfortunately very well placed fear [of informants] in the community, you see a fracture in the Muslim community that is antithetical to the national security and civil society aims that the FBI holds as the core of its mission.”
“There is a distinction between spying and entrapment and my own personal suggestion to the mosque since a mosque is supposed to be a place where you go to learn about Islam is that if there is an informant there – inform them. Let them learn something they can take back to counter the stereotypes. But if its entrapment, if you hear anyone talking about illegal activity, then report them.” – Imad-ad-Deen Ahmad