It’s understandable that the government would not want to present its side of the case. But it just allows the New Duranty Times to print victimization speculation like this story. Perhaps some attention should be paid to the possibilities of disclosing enough to answer legitimate questions without compromising ongoing investigations. (Thanks to SusanP for the link.)
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Slumped at the edge of the bed she would have to share with four relatives that night, the 16-year-old girl from Queens looked stunned.
The sisters, their mother and a brother are back in Bangladesh.
On the hot, dusty road from the airport, she had watched rickshaws surge past women sweeping the streets, bone-thin in their bright saris. Now, in a language she barely understood, unfamiliar aunts and uncles lamented her fate: to be forced to leave the United States, her home since kindergarten, because the F.B.I. had mysteriously identified her as a potential suicide bomber.
“I feel like I’m on a different planet,” the girl, Tashnuba Hayder, said. “It just hit me. How everything happened – it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
The story of how it happened – how Tashnuba, the pious, headstrong daughter of Muslim immigrants living in a neighborhood of tidy lawns and American flags, was labeled an imminent threat to national security – is still shrouded in government secrecy. After nearly seven weeks in detention, she was released in May on the condition that she leave the country immediately. Only immigration charges were brought against her and another 16-year-old New York girl, who was detained and released. Federal officials will not discuss the matter.
But as the first terror investigation in the United States known to involve minors, the case reveals how deeply concerned the government is that a teenager might become a terrorist, and the lengths to which federal agents will go if they get even a whiff of that possibility. And it has drawn widespread attention, stoking the debate over the right balance between government vigilance and the protection of individual freedoms.
It is not known what prompted the authorities to investigate Tashnuba, who says the accusations are false. But in a series of interviews – her first – she said the government had apparently discovered her visits to an Internet chat room where she took notes on sermons by a charismatic Islamic cleric in London, a sheik who has long been accused of encouraging suicide bombings.
An F.B.I. agent, posing as a youth counselor, first confronted Tashnuba in her bedroom, going through her school papers and questioning everything from her views on jihad to her posterless walls, she said. Sent to a center for delinquents in Pennsylvania, Tashnuba said she was interrogated without a lawyer or parent present, about her beliefs and those of her friends, mainly American girls she had met at city mosques.
As suicide bombings mount overseas, with teenage girls among the perpetrators, there is no doubt that the government’s intelligence efforts are spurred by legitimate fears. The agent leading this investigation was a Muslim woman born in Britain who has voiced strong concern about radical clerics’ influence on young immigrants there. And in Tashnuba, who wore a veil and talks of an ideal Islamic state, she met unsettling opinions and teenage defiance.
But Tashnuba says that she opposes suicide bombing, that her interest in the cleric was casual, and that the government treated her like a criminal simply for exercising the freedoms of speech and religion that America had taught her.
As she tells it, F.B.I. agents tried to twist mundane details of her life to fit the profile of a terrorist recruit, and when they could not make a case, covered their tracks by getting her out of the country. In fact, the court order of “voluntary departure” that let her leave requires a finding that the person is not deportable for endangering national security.
Tashnuba said she believed she was singled out precisely because she is a noncitizen – allowing investigators to invoke immigration law, bypassing the familiar limits of criminal and juvenile proceedings.
“That gave them the green light to get me out of my family,” Tashnuba said during her long journey with her mother and siblings to this teeming city where she was born.
This account is, in large part, her version of events. Some of it is supported by documents and other interviews, but it cannot all be corroborated because a court has sealed the case record at the F.B.I.’s request and barred participants from disclosing government information. The government has declined repeated requests to present its side.