by Tom Ellis
ALBANY, NY: Lynne Jackson spoke about current developments in the Pine Bush and Steve Downs about The War on Terror – Twenty Years Later, at the February 23 Save the Pine Bush virtual meeting.
After thanking SPB members for their financial contributions to assist one of SPB’s dinner chefs, Adam Baldwin, with his sudden medical bills, Lynne thanked Andy Arthur for creating an on-line “event sweeper” that quickly identifies proposed projects in the pine barrens sections of Colonie, village and town, Guilderland, and Albany. Lynne also thanked Andy for his excellent maps of the Pine Bush and said about 1/2 the Pine Bush is protected and 1/2 in private hands.
Lynne said that on January 22, SPB filed a legal brief with the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Albany asking the court to examine the narrative SPB presented to the lower court last year in opposition to the Costco, Crossgates, and the Rapp Road projects.
Lynne said a senior housing project at 24 New Karner Road has been approved but awaits funding. The housing and parking lots would cover about 12 of 50 acres with the remaining 38 added to the preserve. SPB objects to this project for many reasons including that many seniors do not drive cars and the housing would be isolated from bus routes and services, and all fifty acres should be protected.
A school bus garage has been proposed for a section of a 50-acre parcel in the Village of Colonie. A November 1 hearing drew fifty people, nearly all opposed.
The newest proposal is in the towns of Colonie and Guilderland on both sides of Curry Road which separates the municipalities. Two large solar arrays would be built. Lynne said Jerry Phibbs, now in his mid-eighties, owns the Colonie site where he tried to construct houses in 1998. The Guilderland proposal was withdrawn last summer. The Colonie solar project would be fully surrounded by fences limiting animal mobility and the parcel almost fully covered with solar panels, ruining habitat for everything that lives there now. No environmental assessment has been submitted so the SEQR process has not begun. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission favors full protection for the entire site.
Switching gears to an entirely different issue, SPB attorney Stephen Downs discussed some of his other work: protecting wrongfully-convicted Muslims in the courts.
Steve said that when the Muslim community in the capital region was attacked by the FBI, the public stood up and said “No.” He recounted how, after the September 11th attacks, a Muslim immigrant was arrested for taking a photo of a reservoir and expelled from the United States.
Steve said the FBI concocts crazy schemes targeting Muslims in the hope of finding violent terrorists. After Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain were arrested in Albany in 2004, Mr. Aref hired attorney Terry Kindlon, who worked with Kathy Manley, who works with Steve. The terrorist plot against Aref and Hossain was a complete frame-up. The Muslim Solidarity Committee (MSC) was formed in 2006 to assist the the two men and their families including ten children, and raised more than $100,000 over the next fifteen years.
MSC activities included lots of vigiling and petitioning. Aref and Hossain were eventually sentenced to fifteen years each in federal prison. During the months between his conviction and sentencing, Aref, with considerable help from MSC, wrote his autobiography, Son of Mountains. Majid As-Salam Mosque President Shamshad Ahmad, also wrote a book, “Rounded Up: Artificial Terrorists and Muslim Entrapment After 9/11.” Steve said the vast amount of high quality work MSC performed led the local news media to carefully report on the case. A podcast about this case can be found at www.terrortalk.org.
Steve said MSC members learned that the Aref-Hossain case was one of many similar cases targeting Muslims with phoney charges. Another group, Project Salam, was organized to work nationally and in 2014 published the book “Inventing Terrorists” about pre-emptive prosecutions of Muslims. He said ninety-four percent of cases were pre-emptive prosecutions.
Steve said that after a Muslim man, who amazingly won a jury trial, contacted him, the Coalition for Civil Freedoms (CCF) was established. Preemptive prosecution of Muslims, he said, is an international problem. Steve was the CCF executive director and Kathy Manley is the legal director. CCF has examined the cases of about 200 preemptively prosecuted and convicted Muslims, and provides each prisoner $100 at Ramadan each year, which helps them realize they are not forgotten.
A national conference is held once or twice a year at which the families of the preemptively prosecuted gather and network, and share resources, skills, and information. Steve said Kathy Manley has drafted a federal Government and Illegal Entrapment Act, that if enacted, will require prosecutors provide proof of terrorism intent in prosecutions and put an end to the use of secret evidence. Steve thanked Kathy Manley for her work filing motions in many of these cases.
Steve said the 20th anniversary of the War on Terror occurred last fall and another book, “The Terror Trap,” is about to be published. The goal is to end the War on Terror. He said a War on Terror film festival with twenty films drew 15,000 viewers last fall and winter. The film fest will continue with “Official Secrets” to be shown in March. A briefing for Congress is planned.
Steve said a former FBI entraper became a whistleblower in 2016 and CCF is working with him.
Yassin Aref and his wife were deported to Kurdistsan, Iraq after his release from prison, Aref is raising funds to publish his books, and he recently received a $2500 donation. One of his sons is in his third year at Harvard Law School. Mohammad Hossain and his wife, Fatima, live in “retirement.” Steve briefly described the current activities of each of the ten children, most now young adults, and is greatly impressed with their career choices and considerable success. He described them as enthusiastic, delightful, and lacking bitterness, and said local residents who assisted the two families played a huge role in their success.
Another recent development said Steve is that the informant, Shahed Hussein, who helped the FBI entrap Aref and Hossain, owned the company involved in the 2018 limousine crash that killed twenty people.
Steve said the fightback local residents embarked on in defense of Aref and Hossain and their families has been a great inspiration to many people. He concluded his remarks saying Aref has translated Son of Mountains into Kurdish and has written a poetry book.
Kathy Manley said Aref has also written a book in Kurdish about his years in prison in the United States. Lynne said that many of the entrapped Muslims are enduring what are essentially life sentences, including the Fort Dix five and the Holy Land case. Lynne said local MSC members may visit Aref in Kurdistan next year; a trip planned for two years ago was canceled by the pandemic. Lynne said Aref’s poems can be read at YasinAref.com.
Steve mentioned Ali Yaghi who was sentenced to 42 years in prison for “absolutely nothing.”