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Betrayed by My Country

AimÉe Smith

Like most students in U.S. schools, I went right along with the morning practice of standing to face the flag, putting hand on heart, and reciting an oath to my country. I estimate that I have pledged roughly 2,600 times, so often that it seems impossible for me to be objective when faced with events that run counter to this oath. I was systematically indoctrinated into nationalist blindness: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Sometimes events crash into these claims like a ton of bricks. I remember one such time several years ago when I heard Kathleen Cleaver tell her story of government surveillance, framings, and outright killing of people in the Black Panther Party back in the 60s and 70s. That night I went to sleep with a big headache and awoke to a world that was very different than the one I was in just the previous morning. Cleaver was speaking about real events that I could not dismiss as “conspiracy theories” or “mad delusions.”

This past week another ton of bricks crashed down. On Nov. 6, my dear friend Amer Jubran saw the door of justice slam in his face. Maybe we should change the Pledge of Allegiance to “with liberty and justice for almost all.”

It’s a somewhat involved story, one that involves government surveillance of Amer and all of us who thought we had the right to protest U.S. and Israeli brutality in Palestine. This was Amer’s second ordeal with a politically motivated trial. The first was a phony assault charge that was dismissed after a year of court harassment. The Brookline police on June 10, 2001, were in the employ of the Israeli Consulate for the Israel Day Celebration and used a fraudulent arrest of Amer to break up a peaceful, permitted demonstration for Palestinian rights. Before dispersing the rally, mug shots of each of the protesters --including that of a baby -- were taken, with special focus on Arab and Muslim men. Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that police were given a premeditated order to arrest Amer Jubran and “clear the demo.” Why was a peaceful, permitted rally including U.S. citizens cleared by police working for a foreign consulate? Maybe it should be “with liberty and justice for some.”

On the morning of November 4, 2002, two days after another permitted, peaceful demonstration, Amer was arrested again. FBI and INS agents raided his home without presenting a warrant and detained him. They told him that if he would “please the ears” of the FBI agent he could be home in time for lunch. Otherwise, they threatened, he could rot in detention for 50 years. Amer took the principled stand of agreeing to answer questions with the benefit of counsel. Apparently not satisfied, the government detained him for 17 days, without any charges.

Finally, even though the interrogation focused on political questions, the charges that were brought had to do with immigration technicalities. He has been dragged through this process for over a year, and the government has dispatched 12 agents to interrogate former in-laws and friends. The judge and the government seem to have colluded to use the immigration court venue to pursue lines of inquiry that had nothing at all to do with the immigration charge at hand. The government would then be granted months to follow up on those irrelevant lines of questioning by dispatching agents all over the country to “interview” former colleges, friends, and associates.

Not only is this a poor use of government resources, it is illegal for the government to pry into people’s lives unless there is probable cause -- being Muslim or an Arab or having clear political views does not legally constitute probable cause.

When Amer went to court on November 6, 2003, he had the added burden of a lawyer who was cooperating with this illegal fishing expedition. Amer told the judge he wanted to dismiss his lawyer and have a continuance to seek new representation. Judge Shapiro, after previously granting months-long continuances to the prosecution on the flimsiest of pretexts, and who already acknowledged he was going to continue after Amer was to take the stand, rejected this request and told Amer he could either keep his lawyer or he could represent himself. When Amer explained that he did not have the legal knowledge to represent himself, the judge told him that he could take the stand without a lawyer and the judge himself would carry out the direct examination! This is in a country that claims to be free and just? Amer then told the judge, “If there is no justice for me here in the United States, I’ll take voluntary departure.”

What was Amer’s true crime? Speaking while Palestinian. His voice, his kind-hearted support and friendship will be deeply missed, but his message will not be silenced. The 56 year campaign of genocide that continues against the native people of Palestine will be exposed and loudly condemned. And just as apartheid South Africa fell, apartheid Israel will also fall. But whatever your level of understanding about the European colonial conquest of Palestine under Zionism, ask yourself how the U.S., a country that claims to be free and just for all, can politically target people for speaking their beliefs? How can courts in a free and just society be used as instruments of political repression -- mostly focusing on immigrants, but also targeting U.S. citizens. Remember JosÉ Padilla? A U.S. citizen continues to suffer months-long detention in a military brig with no access to civilian criminal courts or the Bill of Rights. If we stand by and let the U.S. government fraudulently target immigrants, we will be next. Wasn’t the tragic lesson of the brutal Nazi regime that our acceptance of intolerance makes every one of us vulnerable to intolerance? If an injury to one is an injury to all, then an honest Pledge of Allegiance to the United States will be: “with liberty and justice for none.”

Say it with me, 2,600 times.

Aimee Smith PhD ’02 is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.