Saturday, April 09, 2005

MARY AT PACIFIC VIEWS has a chilling account of the Patriot Act's abuses in action. Two 16-year-old girls, one from a Bangladeshi family and the other Guinean, were arrested by the FBI because, according to the government, they are "an imminent threat to the security of the United States based on evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers."

Here is the sequence of events that led to these arrests:

  1. When she was 14, the Bangladeshi girl developed a strong interest in Islam. She wanted to switch from her public high school to a private Islamic school and last fall decided she wanted to marry a Muslim man she had met only a short time before and whom her parents did not know at all. In other words, she was a mixed-up teenage girl trying to figure herself out and acting impulsively in ways that teenagers have been doing for thousands of years. If this girl had come from an Italian or Irish or Jewish family, or a family whose ancestors lived in this country since the Mayflower, and she developed a sudden interest in being a born-again Christian, the FBI would never have heard about her and she would be at home with her family right now.
  2. A short time after the girl told her parents she wanted to marry, she did not come home one night and her parents were afraid she had run off with the young man. Her father went to the police for help.
  3. In early March, FBI agents came to the girl's house, although they lied about their identity, telling the girl's mother that they worked at a youth center that helped families in conflict, and that they had come at the request of the local police the father had approached for assistance.
  4. One of the FBI agents, a woman, went up to the girl's room to talk to her. After that, she left; 20 days later immigration officials came to the house and arrested the girl for wanting to be a suicide bomber.
  5. The second girl, also 16, was arrested at Federal Plaza in Manhattan, where the first girl was brought after she was arrested. Why was the second girl arrested? Because she noticed that the first girl was wearing a veil, and taking her to be Muslim, greeted her in Arabic. Obviously, if one teenage girl greets another because they seem to be of the same religion, that must mean they know each other and are conspiring to be suicide bombers. So the Guinean girl was arrested, too.

Both girls were taken to a detention center in Pennsylvania and are being held there in complete secrecy. The Patriot Act allows them to be held indefinitely. The government has not filed charges against them and has refused them access to a court-appointed attorney. The government's position is that the girls are guilty until they prove themselves innocent -- although the government also steadfastly refuses to let the girls see the evidence (if indeed there is any at all) against them.

And one has to ask, also: Until they prove themselves innocent of what? The government has not even said that these girls were planning an act of terrorism, much less that they committed one, or were about to commit one. I'll say this as plainly as I can: These two teenage girls were arrested and imprisoned -- quite possibly for years or even decades -- because the FBI says they wanted to be suicide bombers. They were arrested for what the government says are their thoughts, not for anything they have done. And the government's reason for believing that they wanted to be suicide bombers is apparently because, in the first girl's case, she became interested in Islam; and in the second girl's case, because she noticed the first girl was wearing a Muslim veil and said hello to her.

This is what the United States has become. A country where high school girls can be torn away from the arms of their mothers and fathers, and disappeared into gulags that exist on our own soil and all over the globe. The New York Times article gives the last word to the woman who nurtured the "would-be suicide bomber" in her womb for nine months, and I will do the same.

The mother recalled how her daughter had played with her 4-month-old brother and helped care for her other siblings, 14 and 11. Her daughter, she said, told her during a brief detention visit that F.B.I. interrogators had warned that unless she confessed to terrorist ties, her two youngest siblings, who are American citizens, would be placed in foster care and her parents sent back to Bangladesh without them.

"I don't want to live here anymore," the mother said. "I always thought that this country is better for my children, but now ..." She broke off and began sobbing. "She's just 16," she cried. "I just want my daughter. Please, can you help me?"

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