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Posted: 5/12/2002 12:02:43 PM EDT
Los Angeles Times: A Student's Essay Led Him to Jail [url]http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-000033643may12.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dcalifornia[/url] A Student's Essay Led Him to Jail Attacks: After Sept. 11, it became evidence, putting his teacher in a tough spot. By H.G. REZA TIMES STAFF WRITER May 12 2002 LA MESA, Calif. -- It was just an end-of-summer essay, a traditional assignment teacher Mimi Pollack uses to break the ice with a new group of students learning English at Grossmont Community College. But what Pollack read in one of her students' blue books last fall helped put him behind bars for three months. And it turned the liberal instructor into an uneasy accomplice in the nation's terrorist dragnet. Only recently has the teacher felt that her world has returned to equilibrium. The young man she reported to the FBI eight months earlier is back in class. And her efforts had helped set him free. Osama Awadallah, 22, said he has forgiven the teacher he calls "Mimi" and the two have resumed their friendship. Just one thing, Awadallah cajoles her with a smile: Please, don't turn any more school work over to the FBI. It began Sept. 13, when Pollack assigned her English grammar class to write about what they had done and whom they had met since moving to San Diego. The assignment came just two days after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast. "I ask the same question--same assignment--in that class every semester," said Pollack, an English as a second language instructor. The essays, written in blue exam books, were turned in after class. Pollack took the papers to her La Mesa home, dropped them on a chair in the living room and got around to grading them more than a week later. Pollack, 48, remembers wading through the stack of compositions before she grabbed Awadallah's. The Jordanian immigrant has been in three of Pollack's classes, and they had become friends, she a Jew and he a devout Muslim. Just a few paragraphs into the neatly written essay, a single line stopped Pollack. Awadallah had written: "One [sic] of the quietest people I have ever met is Nawaf and Khalid." Nawaf and Khalid. Pollack knew those names. The identities of 19 people suspected in the Sept. 11 attacks had been widely reported; Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almidhar were two of the names on the list. They had lived for a time in San Diego and nearby Lemon Grove. Now they were blamed for helping crash American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. -- continued --
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 12:03:56 PM EDT
"I read it again: 'One of the quietest people I have ever met is Nawaf and Khalid.' I was stunned," Pollack recalled, in her first interview about her relationship with Awadallah. "Then I almost had a heart attack. I'm sitting here reading this thinking, 'Why's he doing this? Why's he writing about Nawaf and Khalid?'" Holding Awadallah's essay in her hands, Pollack's thoughts swirled. Certainly, this student had never tried to temper, or hide, his fundamentalist religious views. "He was very Muslim and in your face about it," Pollack said. "At this point, nobody knew what was really going on. I began to wonder, and worry." Pollack took the composition to the college vice president and asked his advice. He told her to keep it. Agents were already swarming the campus after they had found "Osama" scribbled on paper--along with a phone number for Awadallah--in Alhazmi's 1988 Toyota Corolla. If they wanted the essay, they would ask for it, the vice president said. Within hours, Pollack was contacted by the FBI's San Diego office. She told an agent about the composition, then drove to San Diego to drop it off. "It was a matter of national security," she explained. "That's why I gave it to them." Teacher Herself Had Diverse Background Pollack was certainly not one to flinch at those different from herself. Born in Chicago, she spent 23 years of her youth in Mexico City. She speaks fluent Spanish and also lived for a time in Asia. She wondered: Had she done the right thing? Had she betrayed her profession? A student of Tibetan Buddhism, she looked to the teachings of the Dalai Lama for answers. She decided that the path she had chosen was the right one. Still, the "million questions" the FBI agents asked her were not easy. She told them that Awadallah was a "very fundamentalist Muslim," but also "a good kid and not capable of violence.... [I said] he had a good heart." Authorities had learned that Awadallah had worked briefly with Alhazmi, the suspected hijacker, at a Texaco station in La Mesa. Alhazmi's roommate was a fellow Saudi and suspected hijacker, Almidhar. Pollack remained ambivalent about her student's predicament. On the one hand, she recalled the brash student with clear misgivings about the United States; the young man who played videotapes between classes of atrocities allegedly committed against Muslims. But Awadallah was also the one who showed up in class Sept. 11, badly shaken. "He came up to me after class and said what happened was not the way of Islam," Pollack said. Awadallah was arrested on Sept. 20, one of three San Diego men detained as material witnesses to the terrorist attacks. He was taken to New York for questioning by federal authorities. -- continued --
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 12:04:43 PM EDT
Awadallah may have been languishing in prison, but, via his lawyer, he asked Pollack to send him his assignments. Prison officials refused to allow the schoolwork inside; they cited national security, said Randy Hamud, Awadallah's lawyer. Brought before a federal grand jury in New York, Awadallah acknowledged knowing Nawaf Alhazmi, but not Khalid Almidhar. Then a prosecutor confronted him with the essay he wrote for Pollack. With Khalid's name written in the blue book, in his own hand, Awadallah acknowledged he knew the man. Awadallah was indicted for perjury and released from federal custody in New York in December after posting $500,000 bond. His family and friends raised the bail money in cash and property, including the title of an ice cream truck, to secure the bond. He returned to San Diego. Pollack was preparing for a three-week, year-end trip to India to study under the Dalai Lama, but before leaving, she wrote an affidavit on Awadallah's behalf. "I felt that nobody was showing support for Sam," Pollack said. "I told the judge he was a good kid who was really serious about Islam. Maybe too serious, but he was always helpful to the other students, regardless of who they were." In February, Pollack wrote the court another letter on his behalf. "That gave me hope and a very good feeling," said Awadallah in a telephone interview last week, monitored by his attorney, Hamud. During an April 30 hearing for Awadallah, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin declared unconstitutional the Bush administration practice of imprisoning material witnesses like Awadallah before their grand jury appearances. Criticizing Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, Scheindlin added: "No Congress has granted the government the authority to imprison an innocent person in order to guarantee that he will testify before a grand jury conducting a criminal investigation." The judge dismissed the perjury charge against Awadallah and faulted the FBI for misrepresentations, saying it failed to note his considerable cooperation and significant ties to the San Diego community. She noted that the student had corrected his misstatement and acknowledged he knew Almidhar. At least twice in court, the judge mentioned Pollack's statements on behalf of her student. "Her support was very instrumental in his achieving credibility with the judge," said Hamud, who immediately called Pollack with the news that the case had been dropped. A short time later, Awadallah walked into her class. "He didn't know the case was dismissed," Pollack said. She explained to him that the court proceedings meant that his legal ordeal was over, at least for the time being. The government is expected to appeal the judge's ruling. Osama Awadallah dropped to his knees near the classroom doorway and gave thanks to Allah. -- continued --
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 12:06:07 PM EDT
Months earlier, the two had doubts whether their friendship could be repaired. Repairing a Friendship After Legal Ordeal When Pollack returned from India in January, a Bosnian classmate arranged a meeting between teacher and student, who were both apprehensive about seeing each other after Awadallah's incarceration. Awadallah arrived at Pollack's campus office nervous. "I was more concerned about what she thought about me," he recalled. "Did she think I was a bad person? Did she think I did something horrible?" He asked, "How could you do that?" Pollack remembers. She countered: Why did you have to write the words that put me in such a bind? According to Pollack, Awadallah's answer was simple: "Well, I was only answering the question you asked." Awadallah says now, "I have learned a lot about America and its people." And the lesson is not nearly so bitter as one might suspect. The young man plans to continue his studies, and to become a computer engineer. He talked of plans to marry, to raise a family in his new homeland and even to apply to become an American citizen. If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives. For information about reprinting this article, go to www.lats.com/rights.
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 1:02:18 PM EDT
Well, duh. Lie to a grand jury, when you know there's proof you're lying. This soft-headed college instructor somehow doesn't surprise me, though she should. No winder they've become friends again. She will probably be on the plaintiff's witness list. Does the sympathetic treatment have anything to do with the byline? Let's see, I know two terrorists. My number is found in one of their cars, along with the head terrorist's name. Then I lie about knowing one of them. Then I get caught lying. Then the one who turned me in signs an afficavit to get me out. She does this of her own free will (maybe, maybe not) Now we're friends again. America is funny country.
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 1:06:15 PM EDT
Of course, soome one else, say a young citizen, who'd written his essay on how he discovered the sport of target shooting with a .223 semiautomatic, gas-operated, magazine-fed, shoulder weapon probably was already kicked out of college.
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 2:12:58 PM EDT
Originally Posted By prk: Well, duh. Lie to a grand jury, when you know there's proof you're lying.
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So you know "Terry" because you worked with him, and admitted that -- but if you're asked, "hey, do you know 'Tim' too?" what are you gonna say? "Who the hell is he?? No, don't know who you're talking about, never heard of him. "Oh! You mean Terry's [i]friend[/i], Tim! Sorry, my bad. I'd never heard his full name before. How am I supposed to know who you meant?? What's this, you're going to keep me in jail for an indeterminate amount of time just because I spoke to the guy once?? How the hell was I supposed to know they were gonna blow up a federal building?!?!??!"
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 4:18:17 PM EDT
Originally Posted By 71-Hour_Achmed:
Originally Posted By prk: Well, duh. Lie to a grand jury, when you know there's proof you're lying.
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So you know "Terry" because you worked with him, and admitted that -- but if you're asked, "hey, do you know 'Tim' too?" what are you gonna say? "Who the hell is he?? No, don't know who you're talking about, never heard of him. "Oh! You mean Terry's [i]friend[/i], Tim! Sorry, my bad. I'd never heard his full name before. How am I supposed to know who you meant?? What's this, you're going to keep me in jail for an indeterminate amount of time just because I spoke to the guy once?? How the hell was I supposed to know they were gonna blow up a federal building?!?!??!"
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Well, I'm gonna guess that there was some indication, beyond what was revealed in the article, that when he knew Khalid's first name well enough to write it in the bluebook two days after 9/11, he might well have had a pretty good idea who he was. Maybe even known his last name. Maybe even hung out at the apartment. And might well have had information they'd let slip about plans or other people. We don't know exactly how the question was phrased. Or how many Khalid's he knew. But it seems as if instead of saying, 'yeah, I know a Khalid', you mean Kalid X?' (and let them straighten him out if they were really interested in a different Khalid), he just denied knowing him, until confronted with contrary evidence. Or let's explore what he meant by "quietest". Did he just maybe know they were probably dead? Were they publicly identified by 9/13 as suspected terrorists? If in fact the names were not publicly associated with 9/11 and if he did mean 'quiet' as in 'dead', there would be a pretty strong implication he knew of their involvement. Going back to your scenario, if I'd worked with with Terry and met his roomate Tim, and had written about the two of them in an assignment a couple of days after OKC, I think I'd sure remember it when asked, even a year later. I'm not saying your idea of how it might have gone down is impossible, but I just think I would be less trusting than to imagine it was probable. I think we could use a better look inside that assignment book and more information that we'll not be able to see for a long time. If the government had solid information indicating he was being deceptive and that he might well know more, keeping him behind bars for months despite lawyer-rationed tidbits of cooperation is OK with me, even if somewhat scary for our liberties.
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 4:39:11 PM EDT
No, you bufoons, you misunderstand! The important thing in this story isn't terrorism — It's [i]broken relationships[/i] and [i]feelings[/i]. Oh yeah, and also a really bitchin' trip to India to see the Dalai Lama.
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 5:23:42 PM EDT
Originally Posted By prk: Well, I'm gonna guess that there was some indication, beyond what was revealed in the article, that when he knew Khalid's first name well enough to write it in the bluebook two days after 9/11, he might well have had a pretty good idea who he was. Maybe even known his last name. Maybe even hung out at the apartment.
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So, on 9/13/2001, probably in the morning or early afternoon, had the FBI even announced who the terrorists were yet? Should this guy have known that one of the gas-pump attendants he worked with was one of the terrorists?
But it seems as if instead of saying, 'yeah, I know a Khalid', you mean Kalid X?' (and let them straighten him out if they were really interested in a different Khalid), he just denied knowing him, until confronted with contrary evidence.
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Well, considering that the FBI was indefinitely jailing anyone who had any connection, no matter how slight or how circumstantial, to the attacks, I sure as hell wouldn't have. Remember the physician who was hauled into jail for ten days because he booked flights for five people with Arab-sounding names on an airliner? Oh, wait, that was him, his wife, his daughter, and his two sons. Well, fuck him, they're all Arabs, the three-year-old probably would've been slitting stewardesses' throats while Dad piloted it in.
Or let's explore what he meant by "quietest". Did he just maybe know they were probably dead?
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My shrink says you must be psychic. Or was that psycho. Something like that. Mental, if not telepathic.
Were they publicly identified by 9/13 as suspected terrorists? If in fact the names were not publicly associated with 9/11 and if he did mean 'quiet' as in 'dead', there would be a pretty strong implication he knew of their involvement.
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Ah. So you don't remember either. Well, find out and report back -- but "quiet" seems a pretty fucking huge stretch. I doubt the terrorists would be talking much about anything, much less their plans, to a non-cell-member. Which is probably why they didn't talk much to him, which is probably why he thought they were quiet. . . .
Going back to your scenario, if I'd worked with with Terry and met his roomate Tim, and had written about the two of them in an assignment a couple of days after OKC, I think I'd sure remember it when asked, even a year later.
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Really? Even though it took (IIRC) around ten days before they finally came up with their suspect?
If the government had solid information indicating he was being deceptive and that he might well know more, keeping him behind bars for months despite lawyer-rationed tidbits of cooperation is OK with me, even if somewhat scary for our liberties.
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No worries. I think people who believe in infringing upon civil liberties should be locked up indefinitely.
Link Posted: 5/12/2002 5:46:55 PM EDT
our presidents really suck. First we had Clinton for 8 years, now Bush. We need a real libertarian president. For those of you who think it's no big deal to imprison people for no reason other than a circumstancial connection tot he terrorists. Imagine what it'd be like for you and your family to be hauled into jail in the middle of the night and detained there indefinitely with no contact to the outside world just because you looked suspicious. Oh, and what's with the half a million dollar bond? Doesn't that go under excessive? How does a normal middle class family even raise that kind of money?
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