Maintain a Web Site, Go to Jail

|

A computer science graduate student is on trial in Idaho for helping Islamic organizations with their Web sites. Federal prosecutors say Sami Omar al-Hussayen, a Saudi who was working toward a Ph.D. at the University of Idaho, violated the USA PATRIOT Act by providing "expert guidance or assistance" to terrorist groups. Some of the Web sites he worked on included praise of suicide bombings in Chechnya and Israel, views that Hussayen says he rejects (but which he presumably would have a right to espouse under the First Amendment in any case). If you buy the government's argument, Georgetown University law professor David Cole told The New York Times, "Somebody who fixes a fax machine that is owned by a group that may advocate terrorism could be liable."

NEXT: Trouble for Farm Subsidies

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Check this out.

    Gosh, that’s no more than what editorial cartoonists do… I suppose they’ll be getting visits from the Secret Service soon, too.

  2. He is going to trial, not jail. We don’t know anything but what the media knows. I will suspend my judgement until I know the facts- because we all know that when anyone is charged with a crime and they claim innocence they are telling the truth!

    The problem is I can only pre-judge the case using information given by the media, which I don’t trust.

    In truth, I have about as much trust of the media as I do the government.

    Ron

  3. He is going to trial, not jail. We don’t know anything but what the media knows. I will suspend my judgement until I know the facts- because we all know that when anyone is charged with a crime and they claim innocence they are telling the truth!

    The problem is I can only pre-judge the case using information given by the media, which I don’t trust.

    In truth, I have about as much trust of the media as I do the government.

    Ron

  4. “A Human”–
    Your link is not working, but from your commentary, can I assume you tried to link to the story of the high-school kid who got a visit from the Secret Service for his drawings of Bush as the Devil, and Bush-in-effigy with his head on a pike?

    Hmmph. Sounds like my lack of drawing skills is all that’s keeping my butt out of prison. Well, that and the fact that I’m about as white as they come without being albino.

  5. I’m a student in Moscow, Idaho, and I was here when the whole thing started. From what I’ve heard in local media, the visa fraud charge is what’s going to get him. The other charge has been analyzed to death, so I’ll leave it.

    Moscow, ID (where Univ. of Idaho is located)is probably one of the more lefty-friendly places in Idaho.

    In that they don’t lynch lefties here like they do in other counties, yes.

  6. From the description of the websites, that they simply had kind words for terrorists in other countries, one wonders what Hussayen is being charged for. However, as a thought experiment, let’s assume that the websites that he worked on were ones that advocated bombings, shooting and other assorted mayhem in this country, and were used in planning such acts. How much work would you have to perform for such a conspiracy to be considered a member of it and culpable for its crimes?

  7. I liked the bumper sticker on an old pickup truck I saw in some small timer town in Idaho that said, “Welcome to Idaho. Now go home.”

    The Gubmint might have a tough time here.

  8. Since Sami Omar al-Hussayen is now a terrorist, aiding him is also terrorism.

    In other news, Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum arrested for providing media coverage and other miscellaneous aid to terrorist sympathizer.

  9. “[In a ruling that bolstered Mr. Hussayen’s case on Monday, Judge Edward J. Lodge of Federal District Court in Idaho would not let prosecutors show the jury a Web page that encourages suicide bombings. The judge said the government must prove that Mr. Hussayen created the page or endorsed its contents.]”

    It seems that the government hasn’t been able to prove that al-Hussayen created these pages other than by his own admission to creating the web site. Sami’s legal fees are being paid for by the Saudi Government. Luckily the judge denied the ACLU from joining the legal defense. How would that look having the Saudi Government funding the ACLU?

    Anyone know if the ACLU is representing firearms manufacturers in the cases where municipal governments as in Chicago are filing lawsuits against them on behalf of victims of gun crimes? The ACLU associate Legal Director seems to make that case.

    “We very much wanted to be involved in this case because it is by far the most radical prosecution we’ve seen under the Patriot Act,” said Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the national A.C.L.U. “You shouldn’t be held liable for what somebody else said. Under this theory, you could charge the electrician who services the wrong client.”

  10. It makes sense to criminalize actions that knowingly contribute to criminal activities, and it makes sense to criminalize actions that lend comfort and aid to an enemy. But if this guy’s culpable, all these distinctions are conflated into a mish-mash of guilt by association.

    I hope this is one of the parts of the Patriot Act Kerry is against! 🙂

  11. Very true. Unfortunately, big government types (and particularly their lawyers) have absolutely no regard for the consequences of the court decisions they try to push through. It’s about winning this case, and winning it right now; the fact that it will lead to absurd abuses of power later on never enters the equation, although that’s inevitably what happens when they win cases that expand that power.

    Bottom line: Government can never be trusted to wield power responsibly or to relinquish it at the appropriate time. All it takes is one powerful lobby, one pandering politician or one press hungry attorney general, and the power that the original legislator was sure would never be abused is being used in precisely the way it was never intended. If there is one clear, obvious and irrefutable lesson to be learned from the history of the United States government, that is it.

  12. The article just barely mentions the visa fraud charges against him. The government will have a hard time proving the terrorism-related items, but the visa fraud will be what they actually get him on.

    A side note that the article didn’t mention was that his wife and kids already left for Saudi Arabia, citing various reasons about harassment, etc.

    Moscow, ID (where Univ. of Idaho is located)is probably one of the more lefty-friendly places in Idaho. There were quite a few vigels led by the anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-free trade crowd around the time of al-Hussayen’s arrest and right before his trial.

  13. The article just barely touched on the visa fraud charges. The terrorism-related stuff is weak at best, but the visa fraud is pretty sound based on the local (Pullman, WA and Moscow, ID) media reports.

    Article failed to mention that his wife and kids already left for Saudi Arabia, citing harassment, etc.

    Moscow, ID (where Univ. of Idaho is) is probably one of the more lefty-friendly places in Idaho. There were vigels and protests for al-Hussayen around the time of his arrest and just before the trial. They were usually coordinated by the anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-free trade, anti-capitalism crowds from WSU and UI.

  14. At the risk of playing the race card…

    I would be very curious to find out if any caucasians at, say, an ISP, might be held responsible under the Patriot Act.

    It reminds me of a story reported in Salon a couple years ago about a naturalized US citizen from East Africa who lost his money-wiring business after being wrongly accused of helping terrorists wire money. (The gov’t later dropped all charges, but his business had already been shut down.) Meanwhile, it came out that some of the 9/11 hijackers had used Western Union, but no white guys were taken into custody.

    The presumption seems to be that a dark-skinned foreigner who’s had even casual interactions with terrorists must also be a dangerous terrorists, or at least a sympathizer. But don’t accuse a white guy who had similar interactions with terrorists, because he’s just maintaining a web page or selling a computer or whatever.

  15. Mr. Hussayen helped to maintain Internet sites with links to groups that praised suicide bombings in Chechnya and in Israel.

    But, it wouldn’t be illegal to maintain Internet sites that praised state military action against civilians, right? Also, would it be ok from the government’s point of view if the praised suicide bombings were only those that have been against Israeli and Russian military targets?

    Defense lawyers have portrayed him as a loving family man who embraces Western values…

    It’s the US government and the Patriot Act that are attacking western values here. This is tyranny!

    The state’s senior senator, the Republican Larry E. Craig, and Representative C. L. Otter, also a Republican, have sponsored bills to amend the act, which they have called a threat to civil liberties.

    We should contact these two and thank and encourage them!

    Senator Larry E. Craig (R- ID)
    http://craig.senate.gov/fp.htm?contact_email.htm

    Representative C. L. (Butch) Otter (R – 01)
    http://www.house.gov/otter/email.htm
    The government is trying to use the Patriot Act to set up a climate of intimidation and fear.

  16. Thoreau, you were right on with my thoughts. My thinking is, if al-Hussayen is convicted, what will become of the either the tech support he may have used with some software he purchased to build/maintain these websites(especially if the position is outsourced to say, India or Taiwan), the professors at U of I who may have given him technical guidance, the ISP he used, the cable/phone man who installed his connection or provided the software needed for his connection, the utility company who provided electricity, and finally, the property owner who is leasing the home/apartment al-Hussayen lives in? They all knowingly provided services to a man, who may become a convicted terrorist.

    How far can the government push the Patriot Act, if they wanted too?

  17. “How far can the government push the Patriot Act, if they wanted too?”

    They can push it pretty far, just not far enough past the DMCA which would provide the protections for the ISP against Patriot Act prosecutions.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.