Nice Country We Got Here

I know this has been covered elsewhere, but I wanted to highlight some passages from this story in the New York Times about the Bangladeshi girl who was just deported. She was initially detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorism, but then deported for her parents' visa violation.

She got flagged for stuff she said on some Internet chat rooms. A former FBI agent has raised questions about the efficacy of using FBI resources to chase down a bunch of idle Internet chatter:

Mike German, who left the bureau a year ago after a long career chasing homegrown terror suspects, said that the agency's new emphasis on collecting intelligence rather than criminal evidence has opened the door to more investigations that go "in the wrong direction."

"If all these chat rooms are being monitored, and we're running down all these people because of what they're saying in chat rooms, then these are resources we're not using on real threats," said Mr. German, who has publicly complained that F.B.I. management problems impeded terror investigations after 9/11.

The stress on intelligence increases the agency's demands for secrecy, to protect its sources. And secrecy, he said, leads to abuses of power.

"Perhaps the government has some incredibly incriminating piece of information and saved us from a terrible act of violence; it would make everybody feel better to know it," he said. "Conversely, if they did something wrong, the public needs to know that."

Well, the government can't be said to have done anything (legally) wrong in this case. They are always within their rights to deport people who have overstayed their visas, and there's no point complaining about that.

But why instigate terrorist investigations on teenagers who have shown no disposition to violence? The government's own psychologist in the case "concluded she [Tashnuba] was neither homicidal nor suicidal." What the DHS is doing is, on their own admission, preemptive crime-fighting. "Preemptive" sounds good, but it's unconstitutional (unless you have visa problems).

A little more:

Instead, after two weeks of frantic inquiries by her parents, The New York Times learned that Tashnuba was one of two girls being held, officially on their parents' immigration violations, but actually for questioning by F.B.I.'s Joint Terrorism Task Force. According to a government document provided to The Times by a federal official, the F.B.I. asserted that the girls presented "an imminent threat to the security of the United States based upon evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers." The document cited no evidence. And in background interviews, federal officials were quick to play down the case as soon as reporters called, characterizing the investigation as a pre-emptive move against potential candidates for recruitment, not the disruption of a plot.

By then agents had seized Tashnuba's diary, schoolwork and phone book -- and the computer she had repeatedly tuned to sermons broadcast daily by Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammed. From her account of the agents' questions, and comments by a government official who reviewed a report about the F.B.I.'s grounds for suspicion, it appears that Tashnuba's interest in the speeches became the lens that colored everything else about her life.

Veering between "nice and awful," she said, up to three agents at a time pressed her about possible terrorist ties among her friends, and what they saw as suspicious tendencies in her schoolwork, like class notes about suicide. She said they even criticized the austere d├ęcor of the bedroom she shared with her 10-year-old sister.

"The F.B.I. tried to say I didn't have a life -- like, I wasn't the typical teenager," Tashnuba said bitterly, fingering her long Muslim dress. "They thought I was anti-American because I didn't want to compromise, but in my high-school ethics class we had Communists, Democrats, Republicans, Gothics -- all types. In all our classes, we were told, 'You speak up, you give your opinion, and you defend it.'"

She's wrong, and her high school ethics teacher was wrong: if you're a Muslim teenager, you don't have freedom of speech in the United States. You don't have your own opinion, and if you do, you don't defend it.

One consolation: at least they didn't torture her.