Monday, March 16, 2015

The Days of “That Can’t Possibly Be” are Long Gone


Yonas Fikre is a Muslim.

So that’s strike one against him at a time in America when it’s toxic, if not downright dangerous, to be Muslim. He’s also a youth basketball coach at his mosque, the Portland (Oregon) Masjed-as-Saber mosque. It’s a large organization, serving nearly a thousand Muslims and it’s of interest to the FBI because seven of those thousand (The Portland Seven) were alleged to be linked to terrorism. So that’s strike two, coaching basketball at a ‘site of interest’ to the FBI.

Yonas alleges that the FBI first asked and then coerced him into becoming an informant for them and when he refused, strike three came whizzing past, a high fastball and barely in the strike zone. Then the tragi-comedy began, under what can only be described in the kindest of terms as very strange circumstances. The FBI lay quiet as a fox watching a chicken-coop and, when Yonas left on a business trip to Dubai, they marooned him there by placing him on the federal no-fly list once he was out of the country and unable to return home.

Shortly after that the Emirate police showed up. Yonas had been neatly and extraordinarily renditioned, a euphemism for sidestepping American law. If the FBI can’t torture, they know and use those who can. The fox had its chicken. What followed was 106 days of disappearance, daily beatings and stress positions, while questions eerily similar to those of the FBI were pounded at him.

That can’t possibly be, was my first reaction on opening today’s issue of The Guardian, which ran the story. (It’s well worth the read)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights have each taken Yonas’ case, so apparently it can possibly be. After a five-year odyssey that found Yonas asking for and being refused asylum in Sweden, the Swedish government paid for a private jet to fly him to Portland, because he still could not get off the no-fly list

I remember reading the first articles that appeared regarding the Edward Snowden revelations of what our CIA and NSA had been up to. That can’t possibly be, not in my America. 

Now Snowden’s been marooned by the long arm of America as well, his passport revoked while he too was outside the country. Snowden is charged under the Espionage Act for telling the truth. He is championed around the world, except in his own country. 

If nations, like individuals, are known by the company they keep, perhaps America should hang out in better neighborhoods.

Can all this possibly be happening in the America I have loved and called home during all or part of nine decades?