|Known for||his translation of jihadist documents resulted in a conviction of providing material support to terrorism|
Tarek Mehanna is an American pharmacist convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda, providing material support to terrorists (and conspiracy to do so), conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, conspiracy to make false statements to the FBI, and two counts of making false statements.
Involvement with Al-Qaeda and criminal prosecution
In 2004, Mehanna spent two weeks in Yemen, where prosecutors proved he tried but failed to seek out training in a militant training camp, with the aim of going to Iraq fighting with Iraqis against the US-led invasion and occupation. When he returned to the U.S., Mehanna began to translate and post online materials described by prosecutors as Al Qaeda propaganda. Mehanna has said that he supports the right of Muslims to defend themselves. His lawyers argued that his internet activities were protected under the U.S. First Amendment.
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz led the prosecution of Mehanna. In April 2012, Mehanna was sentenced in federal court in Boston on four terrorism-related charges and three others related to lying to FBI and other U.S. federal officials. Before his sentence was determined, he made a statement described by journalists as "eloquent," and "passionate," the text of which was afterwards widely circulated online.
Following Mehanna's sentencing, the ACLU released a statement saying that the suppression of unpopular ideas is contrary to American values, and that the verdict undermines the First Amendment. Specifically, it stated, "Under the government's theory of the case, ordinary people--including writers and journalists, academic researchers, translators, and even ordinary web surfers--could be prosecuted for researching or translating controversial and unpopular ideas."
Mehanna appealed his case to the First Circuit Court of Appeals — he lost. Judge Bruce Selya, writing for the 3-judge panel, found for the Government, saying that Mehanna had been "fairly tried, justly convicted, and lawfully sentenced." "We think it virtually unarguable that rational jurors could find that the defendant and his associates went abroad to enlist in a terrorist training camp," the opinion said.
Oral argument for the appeal was held on July 30, 2013 in Boston, and the opinion issued on Nov. 13 of that year. At oral argument, Mehanna's side was argued by P. Sabin Willett, and the United States was represented by Liza Collery of the Department of Justice.
On March 18, 2014, Lyle Denniston of Scotusblog profiled the case, focusing on the Supreme Court appeal. The Supreme Court has the discretion to choose whether or not to review cases from lower courts, and has no obligation to explain these decisions. The Department of Justice's response brief is currently due on April 18, 2014. After that time, the Court will decide whether to review the case.
Denniston reported that Mehanna's lawyers would argue that while Mehanna was philosophically sympathetic to the tenets of al Qaeda, his translation of the documents was spontaneous — was not done at anyone's request, and this meant the translations weren't part of al Qaeda's operations.
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- United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (June 18, 2013). "US v. Mehanna". Archived from the original on July 3, 2013. Retrieved July 3, 2013. "CASE calendared: Tuesday, 07/30/2013 AM Boston, MA Panel Courtroom."
- United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (June 19, 2013). "US v. Mehanna". Archived from the original on July 3, 2013. "DESIGNATION of attorney presenting oral argument filed by Attorney Peter Sabin Willett for Appellant Tarek Mehanna"
- Supreme Court of the United States. "No. 13-1125: Mehanna v. United States". Retrieved March 24, 2014.
- Lyle Denniston (2014-03-18). "Challenging use of advocacy as terrorism". Scotusblog. Archived from the original on 2014-03-19. "On Monday, lawyers for a U.S. citizen asked the Court to confront that very issue in a case that has achieved wide notoriety and stirred civil liberties protests. It is the case of Tarek Mehanna, of Sudbury, Mass., who was sentenced to seventeen years and six months in prison after being convicted by a Boston jury of several charges of providing “material support” to the Al Qaeda terrorist network."