FacebookTwitter
Hatrack River Forum Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » The Mehanna Trial

   
Author Topic: The Mehanna Trial
SenojRetep
Member
Member # 8614

 - posted      Profile for SenojRetep   Email SenojRetep         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
There's an interesting trial underway here in Boston. A local man (from Sudbury, about 15 miles from where I live) is accused of providing a vital service to al-Qaeda by translating some of its propaganda into English and posting it to a blog.

Neither side disputes the essential facts of the case: Mehanna appears to have done this on his own, without prompting or payment from the al-Qaeda organization; he hasn't personally advocated for violence, only posted the translations; the material was undeniably propaganda produced by al-Qaeda. There is some dispute over a trip Mehanna took to Yemen in 2004; prosecutors claim he was trying to locate and train at a terrorist camp while the defense claims he was going to learn 15th century Arabic for personal fulfillment.

The defense's primary argument is this is an abridgment of Mehanna's freedom of speech. The prosecutors are arguing that by translating and distributing propaganda of a terrorist group, Mehanna was providing a "vital service" to the group (which is a punishable offense under current US law).

I'm...conflicted. I'm not a big fan of the idea that people who translate material that is deemed offensive by the government, particularly political material, should be punished. But I'm not sure where the line of culpability is; if Nidal Hassan had been helped down the road of radicalization by reading one of Mehanna's blog posts, would that have implicated Mehanna in Hassan's actions? Is there a fundamental difference between a producer of pro-terror propaganda (such as Anwar al-Awlaki) and someone who translates and distributes such propaganda? Is that difference sufficiently great that one should be protected by the first amendment and the other is fair game for assassination (recognizing, of course, that al-Awlaki had been actively promoting jihad for a long time, longer than Mehanna had been translating, and had produced much more material, as well as allegedly participating on some level is several failed plots).

I don't really know where or how to draw these lines. But I am very interested to see how the justice system works through the issue. My gut feeling is that there should be exceptions to absolute freedom of political speech in war time, but that those exceptions should be carefully monitored to prevent abuse. That's a pretty flimsy opinion, I guess, but it's about where I am.

Posts: 2923 | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mucus
Member
Member # 9735

 - posted      Profile for Mucus           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Seems pretty messy.
I mean, would someone posting a Google translation of propaganda be liable? Would Google be liable for it's automatic translation of Youtube videos (actually, I can't remember if it does both auto-caption and auto-translate, but if it hasn't, it's inevitable).
How about academic scholars who might want to study the war or the organization as a subject?

Presumably, they could try to separate it out by motive, but that would seem like an easy thing to abuse.

Posts: 7593 | Registered: Sep 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Blayne Bradley
unregistered


 - posted            Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
If they cannot find a monetary link between him and AlQda then I find the case to be on shakey ground and an abridgement of freedom of speech.
IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
SenojRetep
Member
Member # 8614

 - posted      Profile for SenojRetep   Email SenojRetep         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Mucus:
Presumably, they could try to separate it out by motive, but that would seem like an easy thing to abuse.

Intent is so difficult to infer as well.

One of my work colleagues asked if Mehanna is guilty of providing a vital service, why aren't the many news agencies who routinely translate and host al-Qaeda produced propaganda? Again, the difference seems more in intent than the potential impact of the information, which strikes me as problematic from a practical perspective.

Posts: 2923 | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 124

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Is there a fundamental difference between a producer of pro-terror propaganda (such as Anwar al-Awlaki) and someone who translates and distributes such propaganda?
The idea that producing pro-terror propaganda is punishable by death infuriates me.
Posts: 37419 | Registered: May 1999  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
SenojRetep
Member
Member # 8614

 - posted      Profile for SenojRetep   Email SenojRetep         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The jury found Mehanna guilty.

The he said/she said from the article:
quote:
During the trial, which started in October, Mehanna's attorneys portrayed him as an aspiring scholar of Islam who traveled to Yemen to look for religious schools, not to get terrorist training. They said his translation and distribution of controversial publications was free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Prosecutors focused on hundreds of online chats on Mehanna's computer in which they said he and his friends talked about their desire to participate in jihad, or holy war. Several of those friends were called by prosecutors to testify against Mehanna, including one man who said he, Mehanna and a third friend tried to get terrorism training in Yemen so they could fight American soldiers in Iraq.

It seems like the most damning evidence were the chat logs and some telephone conversation transcripts in which Mehanna talked admiringly of jihad, and a desire to engage in it. It doesn't seem to me (at least from the handful of news articles I've read) like the prosecutors addressed in a significant way the issue of coordination, which was central to the accusation of providing material support. The judge told the jurors that "in order to find Mehanna guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida, they must find that he worked 'in coordination with or at the direction of' the terrorist organization. He said independent advocacy on behalf of the organization was not a violation of the law." Based on that comment, I guess the current legal dividing line between illegal propaganda and political free speech seems to be whether it occurs in a coordinated way with an enemy organization, which is perhaps easier to determine (although, still not that easy) than the intent of the person distributing it.
Posts: 2923 | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2