News Articles

Section: Capital Region, Times Union

Page: B1

An injustice born from era of paranoia begs to be reversed

 by Fred LeBrun

 First published: Friday, March 9, 2007

 There is nothing new to say about the injustice done to Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain. All we can do now is shake our heads in disbelief that this could happen in America.

As night follows day, the sentence in federal court answers the conviction in a trial that never should have been held in the first place. A manufactured threat to our national safety concocted by a paranoid federal justice system at a very bad time in our history. A time when we put our brains, common sense and compassion on the shelf and opted instead for blindly striking out at anything that remotely resembles our enemy.

Mohammed Hossain, 15 years in jail, because as a struggling businessman he grasped at a chance for what he presumed to be a legitimate loan from a fellow Muslim businessman. A businessman who turned out to be an unscrupulous informant.

Yassin Aref, 15 years in jail for doing nothing wrong at all. Except for having his name and Albany address show up on papers at a purported Iraq terrorist camp that may have been a refugee center at one time. All according to the vaguest and shakiest American intelligence imaginable. Name and address, and no other connection.

American intelligence in Iraq. An oxymoron to begin with. That was it, you know. That was the only reason the FBI and other Justice Department personnel created this elaborate phony missile sting in the first place was a name and an address. The FBI was determined to get Aref. Whether he did anything wrong or intended to do anything was immaterial. Hossain was trapped in the net set for Aref.

The name and address was never connected to a source, or a bad guy, or an organization, or anything else. This entire unfortunate case is the stuff of Franz Kafka, and it happened here in Albany.

There's a school of thought that says Hossain and Aref should consider themselves lucky because they could have gotten 30 years or more for this insanity, which would have been truly Kafkaesque.

Perhaps, although I don't think that today the pizza man and the imam consider themselves particularly lucky, nor do their families or the communities that support them.

That same school of thought suggests Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy should be credited with some semblance of compassion for doling out half the sentence he could have. I'm not buying it, not since McAvoy acknowledged from the bench during sentencing that Hossain seemed to be motivated by greed and not terrorist ideology.

If that's the case, then why did this charade of a trial during the fifth anniversary of 9/11 take place as it did? Why weren't charges thrown out wholesale before it even started?

What happened here is so far out of whack from what should have happened that it can't be over. There will be adjustments made, I am sure.

Look at what's happening nationally. Finally, there's a change in the landscape that created the hysteria that, in turn, resulted in this sting case.

As remote a connection as it may seem, the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, "Scooter" Libby, gives us hope. As much as anything, that was a conviction of the Bush administration's deplorable and deceptive buildup to a war that we never should have started. Part of that buildup, you and I can well recall, was pushing the terrorist button regularly to keep the public off-balance every time a critic stepped forward.

Couple that with the revelations tumbling out now from fired U.S. attorneys who didn't toe the Bush line, and we have a sense for the kinds of internal pressures the U.S. attorneys must have been under right about the time the government came up with that dingbat missile sting idea.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, along the same lines, is being more and more open about the Department of Homeland Security being a failure. Eventually that idiot stepchild of 9/11 will be dismantled as well, perhaps even before the Bush administration slinks out of office in disgrace.

Somewhere about that time, with the changing of the guard, we'll take our brains off the shelf and get our common sense and compassion back. At that time, these sentences will be re-examined and adjustments made. I am confident that will happen, just as I am confident this country will get back on an even keel in pretty short order.

 LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at

January 6, 2008

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