Chamchamal, Kurdish area of northern Iraq – For Yassin M Aref, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 assaults is a tragic reminder of 15 misplaced years spent in American prisons.
Aref, 51, a Kurdish man and former mosque chief on the Masjid As-Salam in Albany, the capital of New York state, was arrested in 2007 on a conspiracy cost introduced by the FBI in a “sting operation”. He was accused of aiding “terrorism” primarily based on “secret” proof.
His case drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union and different critics of post-9/11 counterterrorism insurance policies in the United States.
Aref is a dwelling sufferer of Islamophobia and hate speech following the September 11, 2001 assaults that killed practically 3,000 folks, which have been later used as pretexts by the George W Bush administration for invading Afghanistan and Iraq.
As the world commemorates the twentieth anniversary, this 12 months is exclusive for the reason that US and coalition forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan and are scheduled to depart Iraq by the tip of this 12 months – bringing an finish to the “international conflict on terror“.
Aref was deported to the Kurdish area of northern Iraq in 2019 after his launch. Al Jazeera spoke with Aref in his tiny home in Chamchamal district in the Garmian space, west of Sulaimaniyah province, in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Aref and his spouse, Zuhur, reside collectively whereas their 4 kids, two boys and two ladies, are learning in the US.
On July 2 he revealed his reminiscences in Kurdish. The ebook is greater than 1,000 pages and consists of particulars of his arrest and his life in prison. Son of Mountains is his English model of the memoir that was revealed in the US in 2008.
“I was 34 years old when I was arrested and at 49 I left the prison. During those 15 years which I spent in jail, I lost all my goals in life including completing my PhD and building myself culturally and financially,” mentioned Aref.
Aref was employed as chief of Masjid As-Salam a 12 months after his arrival in the US. As an imam, he participated in a number of anti-war campaigns to protest the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“The FBI fabricated a sting to charge me … In court proceedings, there was no real proof against me,” mentioned Aref. “The American intelligence could not arrest me for my political views or civilian activities, rather the FBI made a sting to arrest me on conspiracy charges.”
In June 2003, the American army discovered Aref’s title, Albany handle, and telephone quantity in a pocket book written in Kurdish whereas raiding an enemy camp in Rawah, Iraq. That led the FBI to launch an investigation concentrating on him.
“The FBI initially claimed that the notebook included ‘commander’ next to my name, but I denied that and when a judge told the government to provide the notebook page, the FBI admitted that there was a mistranslation,” Aref mentioned.
“The word in question was kak – which means brother and it is used as a common term of respect in Kurdish – and it does not mean commander.”
Aref mentioned the Bush administration amplified his case for political positive factors when Deputy Attorney General James B Comey in a information convention in Washington, DC introduced his arrest saying, “We have got the big fish.”
Aref mentioned the FBI satisfied an informant who was going through an extended prison sentence and deportation for fraud to method him via his pal, Mohammed Mosharref Hossain – a US citizen initially from Bangladesh and proprietor of a pizza store in Albany.
The informant, referred to as Malik, secretly recorded his conversations with each males. He provided to mortgage $50,000 to Hossain and advised him to launder cash from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile.
A jury in US District Court in Albany discovered Aref and Hossain responsible in 2006 of cash laundering and supporting terrorism, sentencing each males to 15 years in prison.
“I didn’t know about terrorism or terrorists or shooting or bombing. I knew about how many pounds of flour I used to make pizza,” Hossain advised the decide after he was sentenced.
Aref spent practically two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement and a number of other years at a maximum-security facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, nicknamed “Little Gitmo“.
“At Terre Haute, I have been subject to psychological torture … and this is contrary to US laws. Being too far, my family and children hardly could visit me. Even the family visits were a torture for me,” Aref mentioned.
“I was not allowed to hug or kiss my kids. We had just a phone call on two sides of a thick plastic window. They used every technique to make you psychologically collapse.”
Aref mentioned he’s hopeful the “secret” proof utilized by the FBI will probably be launched in some unspecified time in the future so he can show his innocence.
“The injustices I suffered in the US washed out my views of the United States as a place for democracy and human rights,” he mentioned.
“Since 9/11, the US has been in continuous retreat in terms of promoting democracy, human rights … The US has become morally bankrupt. I became the victim of wrong policies by Bush and the Islamophobia feelings in the aftermath of September 11.”
‘Generalized fear of Muslims’
Aref’s lawyer Kathy Manley additionally mentioned there was no critical proof in opposition to him.
“Yassin was definitely a victim of post-9/11 Islamophobia … He was convicted out of generalized fear of Muslims and because the judge told the jury the FBI had good reasons for targeting him,” Manley advised Al Jazeera in an electronic mail.
“This was based on classified evidence we were not allowed to see, and later learned was false. His case was very high-profile and was used by the Bush administration in various ways … These sting cases do tend to be used for political purposes,” she mentioned.
Ben Friedman, coverage director of Washington, DC-based Defense Priorities, advised Al Jazeera through Twitter: “US Islamophobia grew in leaps and bounds after September 11. And it has stayed at a high level as a result of politicians’ efforts, especially Trump’s, to use those fears to cast Muslims as a threatening other and win support for wars, immigration restrictions and other policies.”
Remarkably, Aref mentioned he’s not indignant on the US regardless of his ordeal.
(*15*) he mentioned. “I do believe that still to some extent there is Islamophobia in the US, but no doubt compared to the time of my arrest the situation is changed and the environment is much better.”