An Open Letter to President Clinton

In the Name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

William Jefferson Clinton, President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
United States of America

Dear Mr. President:

May this find you and your family well. Like millions of Americans throughout the country I accompanied my nine year old daughter to see the dazzling display of patriotic ritual that plays out this time each year. At the fourth of July observance that we attended, the fireworks were accompanied by patriotic music. A song toward the end of the program could have very easily become America’s national anthem, “I’m proud to be an American.” I’m sure that you’ve heard it many times.

The lyrics are touching: I’m proud to be an American / where at least I know I’m free / and I won’t forget the men who died / and gave that right to me / and I’d proudly stand up next to them and defend her still today / cause there ain’t no doubt that I love this land / God bless the USA. Powerful lyrics; a proud tribute to the better of the two Americas. As I stood there listening to its lyrics and moving cadence, I thought to myself how tragic that such a beautiful song exposes such deeply entrenched contradictions in the nation that inspired it.

The late Senator J. William Fulbright, from your home state of Arkansas, wrote in his book entitled, The Arrogance of Power: “There are two Americas. One is the America of Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson; the other is the America of Teddy Roosevelt and the modern superpatriots. One is generous and humane, the other is narrowly egotistical; one is self-critical, the other is self-righteous; one is sensible, the other romantic; one is good humored, the other solemn; one is inquiring, the other pontificating; one is moderate, the other filled with passionate intensity; one is judicious, and the other arrogant in the use of great power.”

Something to think about, Mr. President. This past Sunday I read with interest your published response to the verdicts of 10 Iranian Jews who were convicted of spying for Israel. Your comments are worthy of note. According to the report in the Washington Post, you were “deeply disturbed by the verdicts” and by the lack of “due process” of law in the proceedings. You were further quoted as saying, “We call upon the government of Iran to remedy the failings of these procedures immediately and overturn these unjust sentences.”

I am not going to argue the merits of those convictions in Iran, Mr. President, but I would like to expound on your use of the term “unjust sentences” by providing a few examples of my own, right here in America. I would like to begin with a Native American by the name of Leonard Peltier. Mr. Peltier has been imprisoned since February 6, 1976, when he was arrested in western Canada, then extradited for trial in Fargo, North Dakota, on the basis of false testimony.

In a case that wreaks of police and prosecutorial misconduct, followed by judicial cover-up, Leonard Peltier was convicted for the deaths of two FBI agents and given two consecutive life sentences, even though the government admits to not knowing who killed the two agents in the government instigated firefight which erupted on the Pine Ridge Reservation on June 26, 1975. It appears that Peltier’s sole crime was that of being a Native American activist and a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

In the ensuing years, Mr. President, a retired Senior US Judge, Gerald Heaney – ironically of the same 8th Circuit panel that denied Peltier’s 1986 appeal – reportedly wrote to you in 1991 to state that evidence of unlawful misconduct by the FBI and other governmental agencies before, during and after the Fargo trial, persuades him that Peltier deserves executive clemency. And although your office was formally petitioned for executive clemency in 1993, there has been no decision and he remains United States [Political] Prisoner #89637-132.

Next I would like to touch on the case of an award-winning journalist on Pennsylvania’s deathrow, a man by the name of Mumia Abu-Jamal; another case that evokes the textbook definition of police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. I will not get into the merits of Abu-Jamal’s case, for this would be too painful given the limited constraints of time and space; I will instead raise one simple question. Is the request for a new trial, a fair trial, too much to ask from a man confronted with the ultimate sanction that any society can impose – the taking of his life?!

Mumia Abu Jamal has been on death row since1982, when he was convicted in a grossly unfair proceeding that masqueraded as a trial. While convicted for the death of a Philadelphia police officer, it appears that his real crime revolves around his deeply held convictions, and the constitutionally protected activities that he engaged in based upon those convictions. His case has resonated all over the world, and yet he remains Pennsylvania [Political] Prisoner #AM 8335.

And finally, there is the case of a man by the name of Dr. Anwar Haddam. Let’s talk a little about the meaning of “due process,” Mr. President. Over the past few years, and in large part due to the fundamentally un-American legislation that your Justice Department pushed through Congress in 1996, there have been a growing number of “secret evidence” cases to unfold in the US, Dr. Haddam’s case is just one of them. Most of these cases share a common thread – they are Arab and/or Muslim, law abiding, conscientious family men who are also committed to their beliefs. In my humble view, Dr. Haddam’s case is the most egregious of all. Why do I say this?

Dr. Anwar Haddam was elected to the Algerian Parliament in December 1991, in the only (relatively speaking) free and fair elections in Algeria’s troubled post-independence history. The political party to which he belonged – the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) – won the first round of parliamentary elections with an overwhelming mandate from the people of Algeria (receiving over 80 percent of the vote). Before the final round, and seeing the handwriting on the wall, the military staged a coup and canceled the election results.

Members of the FIS were rounded up and imprisoned; some were tortured and killed, and a civil war ensued which has claimed over 100,000 lives. Some members of FIS were able to get out of the country and seek political asylum abroad. Dr. Haddam was selected to head the FIS Parliamentary Delegation Abroad, with the mandate of pursuing a just resolution of the Algerian crisis.

In December 1996, after more than four years in the US peacefully and legally conducting the work of the FIS, Dr. Haddam was imprisoned as a “national security threat” based upon secret evidence, which neither he nor his attorney has been able to see. And while we as a nation can attempt to justify [sometimes] genocidal sanctions against countries like Iraq and Cuba, we couldn’t even bring ourselves to muster a strong and unequivocal condemnation of the Algerian military’s rape of democracy in the UN Security Council. And then we turn around and imprison one of its leaders without charge, with no end in sight; and he is not alone.

There are other victims of secret evidence, like the Palestinian University of South Florida professor, Dr. Mazen al-Najjar; and Iraqi Kurdish dissident, Dr. Ali Karim. On the scale of “due process,” Mr. President, what happened in Iran doesn’t even compare to what is being done to these men and their families in America.

In my conclusion, the aforementioned case studies, coupled with my own 4th of July experience, reminds me of that argument made by Sen. Fulbright. America is indeed two nations – the one that we promote to the world, and the one that we project to the world. Our nation is today celebrating 224 years of independence as a sovereign state and representative democracy. Don’t you think it’s time, Mr. President, that the two nations become one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?

With all due respect

your fellow American,

El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
The Peace And Justice Foundation
cc: Attorney General Janet Reno