No one blogged about Jamshid Muhtorov before he was arrested -- he had been written about by human rights groups and independent news sites back in 2005 and 2006 and then forgotten for six long years. During that time he fled to Kyrgyzstan, then obtained refugee status and immigrated to the United States and went to work as a truck driver to support his wife and two children.
When the FBI made their arrest of him at O'Hare Airport on his way to Turkey, it wasn't because of anybody's blog, or news site or emigre squabbles. It was because he was caught making contact and preparing to support a group deemed terrorist by the US State Department, the Islamic Jihad Union.
That set Joshua Foust and Registan commenters and like-minded bloggers to claiming that Muhtorov had been arrested on charges of "Interneting while Muslim," like "Driving while black," i.e. for mere reasons of prejudice. They flogged this idea for awhile, but other than noting that Muhtorov had been reported as a victim of harassment in Uzbekistan and that they had concerns about the overbroad notions of "material support" Human Rights Watch didn't have anything more to say, and neither did any other human rights organization. (I actually think the Denver Post's claim that HRW "worked with him" inside the country is misleading -- researchers who may have known in Uzbekistan at that time were in Tashkent, and probably only recorded the attack on him and didn't "work with him"; the new officials at HRW quoted in the piece weren't at HRW in 2005 and didn't work in Uzbekistan).
One or two conservative blogs have agitated against Muslims immigrating to the US on the basis of this case, claiming that it increases the chances of terrorists slipping in, and have indulged in some hateful comments, but it's nothing like the firestorm of a commentary around other terrorist suspects -- this one is pretty much being ignored.
So now Foust and company are switching to a different claim -- that "the Internet is trying an innocent Muslim" for reasons of prejudice. My blog and I are to blame for condemning an innocent man, and the emigre press is scurilously reprinting hearsay -- so this line of attack goes.
Foust snarked on Twitter that I should have read the article in the Denver Post more carefully before flapping my jaw and proceeded to trash me as a "liar, lunatic, and fabulist" (!). He claims that the Denver Post was agitated into changing a headline by some angry anonymous commenters who seemed to imply the Post was misreporting the story in ways prejudicial to this defendant.
But in fact I did due diligence and came away with the same sense I had to begin with:
o There's nothing to show that the Post changed their headline under pressure from commenters; breaking news stories have headline changes all the time as the reporters update from the scene;
o There's no substantive difference between reporting that the prosecutor said Muhtorov knew he was supporting the IJU or that he knew he was supporting the IJU that fought NATO in Afghanistan -- it's still "material support" to a terrorist group.
o What's the issue here, anyway? The DP didn't put in the word "alleges"? Or they didn't make it clear that it's the prosecutor claiming Muhtorov admitted he knew what he was supporting, and not Muhtorov himself?
o So what's Foust's actual position then? The prosecutor is lying? We can't believe the prosecutor? The DP reports what officials say. Far from the "stenography" that Glenn Greenwald might find this to be, it's about reporting the news from the scene -- and that's fine. (BTW, always one to bring a gun to a knife fight, Foust is whistling to Greenwald on Twitter to get involved in this story of "trial by blog" -- and perhaps it won't be long before we see a 3000 or 4000-word post from Greenwald insensed at not the bumbling jihadist wannabee, like the first few news stories were, but the bumbling FBI.)
o As neither the lawyer or the family are talking, there isn't more to report other than to try to find neighbours or friends who might say something -- the evidence and the source for the prosecution are being kept secret. You may not like that and find that part of the abusiveness of the war on terror, but it actually looks justified here, and there isn't any reason to posit that this is an entire trump-up.
o And we know Muhtorov already declared that he was not guilty of planning a terrorist act (although he doesn't specifically say he's not guilty of supporting a terrorist group).
The anonymous commenters -- including some from Registan showing up at the DP -- and Foust -- have tried to milk these supposed failings of DP reporting to try to "come up with something," as they have with the "on trial by the Internet" meme -- because the "Intering while Muslim" didn't really fly.
And that's because new information keeps coming that does not make the defendant look good.
Whether it's the jihad videos of 9/11 on Muhtorov's cell phones now being brought forward by the prosecution, to another article raising questions in Ferghananews.com, unfortunately for the defense, Muhtorov doesn't look attractive. Of course, when Foust worries about "trial by the Internet," he doesn't mean *he* doesn't get to pronounce his beliefs about a prosecution and a defendant -- he just means other people he doesn't agree with don't!
Fergananews.com ran a piece on February 24 -- I missed it and in fact was tipped off by Danil Kislov, editor, who commented on Registan, "Read about which sort of human rights activist Mukhtorov was http://enews.fergananews.com/article.php?id=2744 and which kind of friends he had".
The English-language article tells us that according to Tolib Yakubov, the emigre Uzbek activist who left Uzbekistan some years ago, Muhtorov is friends with a high-ranking policeman:
Back in 2007, a famous human right defender Talib Yakubov wrote the following in his article: “Both persecuted and persecutors flee from Uzbekistan. A high ranking police officer Zoir Sharipov, formerly in charge of the counterterrorism activities in the Jizak regional department of police, responsible for torturing dozens if not hundreds of people, has successfully settled down in New York as a result of events in Andizhan. It’ a mystery how he managed to enter the United States and obtain the political asylum”.
Tolib does not enjoy a reputation for credibility -- he used to drive the US Embassy crazy when he was always getting into trouble with the authorities in Tashkent because then they'd feel they had to go to bat for him and they always felt like he was exaggerating. Mild USAID democracy providers would get exasperated with Tolib and his group because they weren't "representative of the people" or "reaching out to the masses" (one wonders, as always with USAID, how they so perfectly absorb the narrative of Uzbek officialdom about dissidents groups). Of course, groups working on torture and the death penalty and wrongful psychiatric confinement are never going to be "mass groups" and "the people" are never going to find them "their issues". That doesn't mean they're not legitimate.
From my direct experience of Tolib, I would say people's annoyance with him was more about his single-minded persistence and obsessiveness in the way that the justice-seeker gets in a country like Uzbekistan -- and about saying what others only think. The fact is, however, no one else is back up what Tolib is saying then or now about Muhtorov allegedly cooperating with the Uzbek authorities. (And of course, at one level, the very fact that he has found himself under arrest in the US tends to work toward discounting any notion that the had the Uzbek government's cooperation.)
I've never heard of Zoir Sharipov.
Fergananews.com says, "The connection between these two persons raises many questions and may be of interest for American investigators."
Indeed. But this sends the Registanis into paroxysms of self-righteous indignation, as they feel like it's "trial by Internet" and Foust, Nathan Hamm and Alima Bissenova all imply snarkily that Fergananews.com is unjustified in its reporting. Bissenova, who virtually always takes the side of the Kazakh government in trashing people like the lawyer Natalya Sokolova, says nastily, "I wonder if they also bring information to the attention of Uzbek authorities in the same manner…or they serve only the “great masters” of the “war on terror”…
That's the sort of thing she can get away with among that politically-correct bunch -- implying that an independent emigre news site is somehow in the service of the US counter-terrorist agencies -- but we know it's never in reverse -- the slightest critique of any of these freaks for their pro-regime positions sends them into furious denunciations of the critic as a "liar, lunatic, and fabulist".
But there's something else that could be at stake here, and it actually dovetails PERFECTLY with what Foust, other Registanis, EurasiaNet authors such as Joshua Kucera and others ALWAYS say about the Uzbekistan situation: "the authorities do it to themselves". They themselves plant bombs and even blow them up, or plant evidence and concoct terrorist plots so they have an excuse to crack down on devout Muslims.
So are we seeing one of these "do it to yourself" scenarios play out internationally now, in the US? With the US as either a willing accomplice or a foil?
One could ask why, indeed, the head of Jizzak counter-terrorism was allowed to emigrate, but maybe he had enemies (terrorists?) or simply other officials or who knows -- he could quite well face a well-founded fear of persecution, a legal concept that doesn't require you to be a sterling character in every respect.
So there are various possibilities:
o Zoir Sharipov is the one who dropped the dime on Muhtorov, maybe he's even the FBI's secret witness - perhaps he was even allowed to emigrate so he could go on playing that role.
o Both Muhtorov and Sharipov are in cahoots, trying to pull off a caper that seems like a US emigre-turned-terrorist story to discredit the entire immigrant community -- and along the way, do some spying on how well the FBI fights Uzbek terrorism. That is, this is precisely that kind of fake terrorist case scripted by the SNB that Registan and EurasiaNet always tell us about.
Fergananews.com's agenda here doesn't strike me as nefarious; it seems to come from a place very familiar to me in the emigre world -- a sense of indignation that Western officials are so naive about the KGB and its successors; a sense of wanting to help Western governments fight their oppressive governments better; a sense that if they know something relevant, they should be heard. Most Uzbek intellectuals beileve that the Uzbek government is faking the terrorist threat and exploiting it for their own agenda. They'll likely right, in some but not all cases. Is this one of them?
Apparently Fergananews.com has more than just Tolib to go by, although "his friends" are of course as much hearsay as anything else. Some days Registan likes the hearsay they might find on Fergananews.com, other days they don't (i.e. Sarah Kendzior wasn't troubled at all by their first report of the "suicide student" that in fact proved to be a hoax.) Says Fergananews about Muhtorov:
His friends say that he used to have a close relationship with lieutenant colonel Zoir Sharipov, the head of the counter-terrorism department in the Jizak regional police, who overlooked Jamshid’s activities and even rendered certain services: “They had very close relationship of trust. Jamshid used to visit colonel Sharipov in his office. Once, Zoir Sharipov actually saved Jamshid from a criminal prosecution, using his connections, when Mukhtorov had been accused of illegal production of vodka at his home”. Our source continues to say that Jamshid Mukhtorov had often publicly boasted of having a close friend in the police counter-terrorism department.
If true, this could merely be one of those connections ("po blatu") that people form in these societies to survive, a stroke of good luck, or something more -- " you do for me, I do for you." It could mean Muhtorov's an agent of some kind, and account for why he was seen by the Osh refugee official going in and out of the police station there, too. Who knows? But it's ok to discuss this because not only Registan gets to decide the public significance of a public matter.
Fergananews.com claims both men may have obtained their refugee status "on fabricated grounds," but in fact from everything we know, Muhtorov had a well-founded fear of persecution -- arrests, beatings, harassment, etc. All documented by reputable international groups and the State Department. Of course, this may have been part of a carefully-crafted legend, but it may simply be what it is: a human rights activist mad at the arbitrariness of Uzbek life (the raid of his business, the charges against his sister) who tried to fight back, who became more radicalized, who got harassed, and then fled. His well-founded status need not be cancelled out by his arrest on suspicion of terrorism -- but small wonder that the prosecutor is probing the authenticity of this -- and the lawyer doesn't seem (yet, anyway) to be playing up this angle.
So what could this possibly be all about? The Uzbek authorities trying to jerk around the FBI with a big caper? The Uzbek authorities and the FBI in cahoots together to make it seems like there's this huge threat of terrorism? A completely rogue operation unrelated to central command in Tashkent?
It's all pretty strange -- but the questions that are raised by Fergananews.com aren't cancelled out by the fact that back in 2005, they simply reported that Muhtorov was detained and beaten for distributing human rights literature. The Registan commenters act as if the news business is supposed to be like tribal blogging of their sort, with fierce loyalties and the foolish consistencies of little minds. If on the basis of the original information they had, it seemed like Muhtorov was a typical human rights activist, that's how he was reported. If they got new information that changed that picture, they report that. So?
I checked out the Russian original, which was the same except for one extra paragraph at the end, which said this:
At the same time the suspicion arises that Jamshid Muhtorov and Zair Sharipov could be participants in some great game, a planned action or operation by the secret police of Uzbekistan. The editorial board of Fergana very much hopes that these circumstances will provoke interest by American authorities.
Following the article in Russian, three pseudonymous comments basically question the story, calling the authors a "tattle-tale," and urging them to come up with the real smoking gun, and to write formally to US authorities if they really have something.
Well, as Fergana speculated in their first story when they interviewed "Bakhtiyor," maybe they were talking to the same person the feds were talking to.
Regrettably, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has chickened out of this debate, even grovelling with an undeserved apology to Foust after his very mild dispute with him and Foust's unwarranted over-reaction. D. G-R has also unfollowed me on Twitter after initially being cordial. That's how awful the think-tank world is in Washington; it's about how *fearful* people are of debate (in ways they may not even admit), reluctant to get any existing and potential employer mad. My God, if G-R felt he had to "eviscerate" Foust because he claimed the IJU didn't exist when it did, why shouldn't that be sufficient?! That's what it took to get Foust to come around and admit it did exist!
But before he caved, Gartenstein-Ross had some important distinctions to make -- he called out Foust's inability to separate a list of acts from "thought crimes," and stood by the right of the authorities to make arrests for "probable cause". That's not the same as finding him guilty on this basis -- and that is an important distinction, and one I make as well.
G-R is right that Foust did back down from his "soaring claims" of "thought crimes" and as I've put it, "Interneting while Muslim" and G-R even has him apparently saying the IJU is real. But that's exactly why Foust is now turning to another really scurrilous act -- trying to accuse people blogging about Muhtorov as trying him with extreme prejudice on the Internet. That's sick. The FBI had "probable cause" to arrest him, and D-R is absolutely right: in a world where in fact terrorists have been stopped on their way to commit acts showing just the sort of red flags that Muhtorov has, it's reasonable to arrest them, and the "progressives" have not come up with a good alternative to their complaints.