The mainstream press has suddenly woken up to the Obama administration’s trashing of the First Amendment after one of their own – the Associated Press – became the administration’s latest target. But the mainstream press and self-styled civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union disgracefully chose to ignore the canary in the coal mine. He is the hapless and forgotten video producer Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egyptian-born Christian and U.S. citizen whose First Amendment rights have been sacrificed at the altar of the Obama administration’s accommodations to the Muslim world.
Youssef has been rotting in jail in California on trumped up charges since September 27, 2012. Youssef’s real offense was to produce the anti-Islam video the Obama administration falsely blamed for the attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. The truth is that Islamist jihadists took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in a pre-mediated terrorist attack. The Obama administration knew the real cause of the violence well before it chose to make Youssef and his crude video the scapegoat.
Youssef was on probation after being convicted on federal financial fraud charges in Los Angeles in 2010 and serving approximately a year of his twenty-one month sentence in prison. One of the conditions of his probation was that he was barred from using “any online service at any location” without the prior approval of his probation officer. While on probation he produced the anti-Islam video. He used aliases and brought in actors who were allegedly not aware of the real purpose behind the roles they had been asked to play. No doubt he had violated the terms of his probation, which could be used to justify revocation of the probation and his return to prison. However, the public display of Youssef being hauled in, his being held in solitary confinement according to his lawyer, his shackling in court and the threat of a new prison sentence in excess of the sentence for which he was originally convicted all point to one thing: The Obama administration’s goal all along was to punish Youssef for blasphemy against Islam – a crime under Sharia law – and to make sure that the Muslim world was fully aware of the punishment. Youssef’s probation violations served merely as a pretext.
Indeed, spontaneous mob violence in response to the video became central to the false narrative that the Obama administration concocted. It was trying to cover up its own failure to secure the Benghazi consulate adequately against the potential danger of an Islamist terrorist attack about which the CIA had previously warned. The video provided an alternative justification for what triggered the violence. The Obama administration’s public display of resolve to catch and prosecute the video producer was meant for the Muslim world’s consumption.
E-mails recently released show how the State Department pressured the CIA to remove any specific reference to al Qaeda and to remove the adjective “Islamic” before the word “extremists” from the infamous talking points that were supposed to inform the American people about the Benghazi attack. State Department and White House officials wanted to retain the talking points’ assessment that “the demonstrations” (replacing the word “attacks”) were believed to have been “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct attack against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.” However, they insisted on omitting the unambiguous CIA statement in its earlier drafts of the talking points that “we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.”
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland got involved in the back-and-forth on the talking points. In one email dated September 14, 2012, she expressed her frustration that the CIA had not gone far enough to satisfy her own “issues or those of my building leadership.”
Who did Nuland have in mind when she referred to her “building leadership”? We do not know for sure if it was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself. However, what we do know is that Clinton was busy pushing the video narrative at the very same time as these e-mail exchanges were taking place. Indeed, on September 14, 2012 – the same day as Nuland’s e-mail citing the unresolved issues of her “building leadership” – Hillary Clinton hammered away at the video. At a memorial service at Andrews Air Force attended by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and family members of the fallen heroes, Clinton vowed to the father of Navy Seal Tyrone Woods, who was killed in the attack, that the Obama administration would “arrest and prosecute” the producer of the video. In her remarks at the service, she denounced the “awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with” as the cause of the violence.
Clinton was not alone in pushing the false video narrative. President Obama told the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2012 that a “crude and disgusting video” was responsible for sparking “outrage throughout the Muslim world.” Obama delivered this distortion of the truth on the world stage two weeks after the Benghazi attack, by which time there was no doubt the Benghazi attack was a pre-mediated Islamist terrorist assault that had nothing to do with Youssef’s video.
Obama declared to the General Assembly: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Just two days after Obama’s UN speech – and barely two weeks after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vow to the Benghazi victims’ families to “arrest and prosecute” the video producer – Youssef was arrested and held without bail. The charge was that Youssef had violated the terms of his probation linked to his prior conviction for the non-violent crime of bank fraud.
The Obama administration would settle for nothing else than significant jail time for Youssef. It wanted to send him away for at least two years, more than the term of his original sentence and far in excess of a sentencing guideline range for a probation violation of four to 10 months. Moreover, Youssef had already served approximately a year of his original 21 month sentence for which he does not appear to have been given full credit in determining his sentence for violation of the terms of his probation.
The Obama administration brought in the Criminal Division chief for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, Robert Dugdale, to personally handle Youssef’s case. Dugdale usually handles such high profile cases as a Mexican Mafia trial, not violations of probation for non-violent crimes. Indeed, according to his office’s website, the Criminal Division led by Dugdale consists of approximately 190 Assistant United States Attorneys and 70 support staff. There were plenty of lower level attorneys to deal with Youssef’s case if it were truly a typical instance of a probation violation or a garden variety fraud case.
Dugdale’s Criminal Division website states: “As a result of the events of September 11, 2001, DOJ [Department of Justice], of which the USAO [United States Attorney's Office] is a part, has refocused its efforts to prevent terrorist crimes before they occur and to bring those who participate in the planning and execution of such crimes to justice. This is the first priority of both DOJ and the USAO.”
Yet while the jihadist terrorists who committed the murders in Benghazi remain at large, the Obama administration decided to use the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division chief to make Youssef the scapegoat, in order to prove to the Muslim world that it would spare no effort to punish “those who slander the prophet of Islam.”
Rather than risk a longer sentence than what he was originally put away for, Youssef took a deal for a one-year term.
On November 7th – the day after President Obama was re-elected – U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder, a Bill Clinton nominee, sentenced Youssef to one year in prison where he remains today. Youssef was brought into court in shackles to hear his sentence. Only one pool reporter – from the Associated Press, which ironically now finds itself a target of the Obama administration’s anti-First Amendment fervor – was allowed in court.
Youssef’s attorney delivered this prescient statement of Youssef’s to the media on the courthouse steps: “The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology.”
We can stipulate that Mark Basseley Youssef produced an “awful Internet video” as Hillary Clinton put it. And we can also stipulate that he committed probation violations, used aliases and misled his actors. However, when the only person in prison in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack is someone who produced a controversial film in the exercise of his First Amendment rights and not the jihadist murderers, something is very wrong in America under the Obama administration.
As Michael W. McConnell, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit who now directs the Stanford Constitutional Law Center stated, “It sends exactly the wrong message abroad, because when people are becoming violent to try to pressure the U.S. to violate someone’s constitutional rights, we ought to be going out of our way to make it clear that we will not accede to that kind of pressure.”
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