The Denver Post has been following the saga of Uzbek refugee turned terror suspect Jamshid Muhtorov, since he settled in the U.S. in Aurora, a city next to Denver, Colorado (when I was doing my undergrad in Boulder, I would teach classes for the Princeton review in Aurora and Columbine, if you can believe it).
While the case itself remains under investigation — we have yet to see if the government is going to bring any non-circumstantial evidence forward — the coverage of said case, including the credulity given to the prosecution’s statements and publicly declared evidence in the press, is pretty surprising.
Last month, the Denver Post wrote a story about Muhtorov, which claimed in the headline that he knew he was going to go fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Post’s readers spotted the misleading title and left some angry comments, which prompted the DP to add in that the prosecution alleges Mukhtarov knew he would be fighting U.S. forces.
After writing several paragraphs detailing the prosecution’s claim that Muhtorov knew he was going to go help an organization fight U.S. forces, the DP finally gets around to noting that the prosecution won’t let Muhtorov’s defense know or discuss how the prosecution knows such a thing, because it is based on a witness whose identity is classified for national security reasons.
So Muhtorov is being held on secret evidence, including witness statements, that cannot be scrutinized or challenged because they’re secret. And rather than pointing out how interestingly Soviet this is, the DP instead ran a headline repeating what the prosecution said without challenge or skepticism.
The next day, the DP ran another story about Muhtorov, calling him too violent to release publicly — because the prosecution said so, and not, apparently, because he still isn’t charged with planning any violent attacks. But in this story the DP brings up a much more worrying charge by the prosecution, one which could have far-reaching (and damaging) implications for American-Uzbeks.
A prosecutor also asserts that Muhtorov may have misrepresented himself a human-rights activist and that he may have received refugee status on fake grounds.
There is no evidence that Muhtorov actually misrepresented himself as a human rights activist. As I presented at the time of his arrest, Muhtorov actually WAS a human rights activist in Uzbekistan, and later as a refugee in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Human Rights Watch wrote about Muhtorov’s struggle for basic rights in Uzbekistan in 2006. And the State Department certainly considered him a human rights activist in their 2005 Human Rights Report on Uzbekistan. Where are they getting this from?
Oh yeah — it was a paranoid personality disorder victim and renowned Internet troll, who is famous for conspiracy theories and paranoia, and was banned recently from the Registan.net threads for her gleeful slinging of false accusations of secret interests and regime sympathies. This renowned liar, lunatic, and fabulist has been on a tear about Muhtorov, and literally everything else anyone at this blog has ever discussed in the last few months — because I noted that Muhtorov had a history of activism, and because Sarah Kendzior (this troll’s favorite target) once mentioned knowing of him.
The prosecution’s response is that the years of documentation — including leaked State Department cables — that describe Muhtorov as a human rights activist are “questionable at best” because “some online articles” — that internet troll’s insane, novella-length rantings (which are indistinguishable from racist anti-immigrant bigots) — accused Muhtorov of faking everything.
Rather than noting that the prosecution is relying literally on crazy Internet people to build its case that Muhtorov is a terrorist, the DP just reported the allegations as if they make sense. As Sarah Kendzior noted last month, there are always rumors about activists describing each other as fakes — and accusing someone of being in the SNB, Uzbekistan’s nasty secret police service — is a great way to discredit someone.
It’s understandable that many Uzbek refugees don’t want to be associated with Muhtorov. They probably don’t have much in common. But it is ridiculous to say he wasn’t persecuted because any Uzbek even remotely associated with Ezuglik in 2005 would have been harshly persecuted. The Uzbek government doesn’t give sympathy because other human rights activists don’t like you anymore!
Repeating rumors on the Internet to defame a man on trial is shameful for the prosecution. It is unethical for a newspaper like the Denver Post. They should apologize.
The Muhtorov case itself remains in a bizarre state of publicly resting on basically criminalizing Internet use. Another man, this one from Philadelphia, has been arrested in connection to Muhtorov. His crimes, literally, are sending Muhtorov $300 a few months ago for that wedding prosecutors insist was really terrorism and posting some pro-IJU comments on a YouTube video.
That’s enough to get you arrested today.
The DP covered this latest arrest a bit better — they actually noted that the prosecution doesn’t say what the $300 was for (though they allege higher in the story that it was to “fund the Islamic Jihad Union”), and that not even the prosecution can assert that either man actually planned to engage in violence abroad or against U.S. forces.
Misunderstandings can have deep and terrifying consequences in a post-911 world. I should know, I’m working on a feature-length documentary called Barzan about an Iraqi-American from Kirkland who says his life was destroyed by one unlucky brush with an Al Qaeda contact at Northgate Mall…
My friends and family started making fun of me:
“So, is this is the second or third terror suspect that you’ve interviewed now? I can’t remember,” said one, “I’m thinking ‘no fly list’ for you Miss,” said another.
This isn’t just an example of imperfectly pursuing justice. A false charge of terrorism can permanently ruin a person’s life — and when terrorism cases are built on hearsay, internet comments, crazed lunatics posting 6,000 word anger-rants about some writers she dislikes, and secret evidence… well that gives me a lot of pause.
We don’t know if Muhtorov or the new guy, Bakhtiyor Jumaev, wanted to join the IJU or not. They both seem to have adopted clothing styles that indicate a more fundamental, conservative Muslim faith, and they’ve said things complimentary of a terror group online. But wearing clothes and leaving comments online is not a crime! And that says nothing about who they are or what they planned to do. And being dark skinned and having foreign, Muslimy names makes them instantly unsympathetic to a depressing number of American jurors.
When unsympathetic people are put on trial, it is usually up to the journalists covering the case to try to present the information fairly to the public so it doesn’t become a trial-by-unpopularity. The case against Muhtorov and Jumaev is so thin as to be practically non-existent without secret evidence; it is highly unlikely the prosecution will declassify said secret evidence for a public trial. That leaves either a trial on flimsy, circumstantial internet behavior for a pre-crime or thought-crime, or it leaves a secret, unchallengeable trial with secret evidence no one can scrutinize.
Such a bizarre, Soviet method of justice should concern people — especially journalists. But that hasn’t crept much into the Denver Post’s coverage of the case so far. Rather, they seem content to run headlines and ledes repeating the prosecution’s allegations without mentioning very much or very often just how weak it is. And Jamshid Muhtorov, who deserves a fair trial, probably won’t get one.