Three days before Youssef Megahed’s immigration trial, his father, mother, sister and two brothers are being granted US citizenship. We speak to Youssef’s father, Samir Megahed; his immigration lawyer, Charles Kuck; and Gary Meringer, a juror in the criminal trial against Megahed who is speaking out in his support. After Megahed’s re-arrest, Meringer and three other jurors issued a statement saying, "It strikes us as fundamentally wrong that the government has put Mr. Megahed back in jail for suspicion of the same activities that he was acquitted of in the criminal case." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on the case, we’re going to be joined by Youssef’s father, Samir Megahed. But first, we’re going right to his lawyer, the lawyer who will be standing before the immigration judge, his immigration attorney Charles Kuck, the past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, joining us from Atlanta.
And we did call offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement repeatedly yesterday to invite them on the program, but they didn’t respond to our calls.
Charles Kuck, how can this be? I mean, it seemed that the difficulty for Youssef was to be tried in federal court. He was tried by a jury of his peers, and he was acquitted. He goes home. He’s with his dad at Wal-Mart three days later, and he’s picked up by immigration authorities. And now he’s being tried on — for the same, similar charges as he was already acquitted of? Isn’t this double jeopardy?
CHARLES KUCK: Unfortunately, it’s not double jeopardy, because Congress has structured the immigration laws as civil laws, and double jeopardy, as we come to use it in terminology in the United States, only applies to criminal laws. You can’t be tried twice for the same criminal offense. But unfortunately, immigration has taken these facts and parlayed them into a purported violation of US immigration law.
AMY GOODMAN: But —-
CHARLES KUCK: You also have to keep in mind that immigration was interested in Youssef from the very beginning of his case and was involved in the initial part of the investigation. All the way through, it’s been separate and apart. And the federal judge even warned immigration at the federal trial that if Youssef was in fact acquitted, they better not arrest him in the courtroom.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the issue of separation of powers? I mean, the judiciary is separate from the executive, and they made their decision. Going now into immigration court, being tried by one person that is part of the executive, how does that work? Isn’t that nullification of the jury?
CHARLES KUCK: Well, sure. It’s absolutely jury nullification. It’s saying, “I don’t care what you did, jury. I don’t care what you did, justice system. We have our own system of justice here.”
Keep in mind what the government has to prove here. The government has to prove that the Attorney General of the Department of Justice has reason to believe that Youssef has or will engage in terrorist activity. ANd who is judging Youssef, but an employee of the Department of Justice, the immigration judge. It’s a ridiculous process. And it’s really outrageous that they have taken this process and used it as a form of vengeance against Youssef Megahed in this case, a kid who not only was found not guilty, but who is innocent of these charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think the government is doing this?
CHARLES KUCK: I think there’s two reasons. One is because they can and because they don’t like losing in federal court. The idea that the government gets a second bite of the apple is not new and not limited to Youssef’s case. Just last year, the government did the same thing in Miami to a Haitian national who was acquitted and ultimately brought before the same judge with the same prosecutor, using the same theory of the case.
AMY GOODMAN: For one moment, explain that case, because you represented, well, the Liberty -— the seventh of the Liberty Seven, who became then the Liberty Six.
CHARLES KUCK: That’s right, Lyglenson Lemorin. Mr. Lemorin was acquitted by a Miami jury of charges that he engaged in terrorist activity, was arrested immediately by the immigration service and then charged on identical grounds that the government is now charging Youssef. That trial took more than two-and-a-half weeks in immigration court. And the same immigration judge found that Lemorin, despite the fact that he had been acquitted by a jury, was still guilty of the charges immigration was charging him with and ordered him removed from the United States. That case is currently on appeal right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Can we call this living in the ice age?
CHARLES KUCK: Yeah, this is clearly a little bit of Dante’s Inferno here. I’m not sure which inner circle of hell we’re in as part of this case, but I know we’re pretty close to the center.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and come back to this discussion. In addition to Charles Kuck, Youssef Megahed’s immigration lawyer, not to be confused with his criminal lawyer, where he was found completely innocent, we’ll be joined by one of the jurors who found him so, and we’ll also speak once again with Samir Megahed. That’s Youssef’s father. We met him when we broadcast from Tampa. And today, just before he and the rest of his family go to become American citizens, we’ll talk to him about his son’s case. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: In this Democracy Now! exclusive, where you just heard Youssef Megahed from jail, we are also joined on the telephone by one of the federal jurors in the criminal trial against Youssef. They acquitted him on April 3rd of this year. After Youssef was re-arrested three days later, four of the jurors released a statement condemning the US government’s move. They said the government is putting Youssef in double jeopardy and wrote, quote, "It strikes us as fundamentally wrong that the government has put Mr. Megahed back in jail for suspicion of the same activities that he was acquitted of in the criminal case." Gary Meringer is one the jurors who signed that statement. He was the foreman of the jury. He joins us now on the telephone from his home in Sarasota.
Gary, welcome to Democracy Now!
GARY MERINGER: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this trial, the significance of it. And where were you when you heard that Youssef Megahed had been re-arrested after you found him innocent?
GARY MERINGER: Well, the trial was the first one I’ve ever sat on. It was exhaustive. It went on for three weeks. As you said, lots of evidence and witnesses and all these kinds of things. So we thought, when it was over on a Friday afternoon, it was over. And the following Monday, I saw — I think it was an Associated Press release of the re-arrest on my computer, just looking at the news. And it literally just took the breath right out of my chest.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were your thoughts? What did you do from there?
GARY MERINGER: Well, I thought after our — we deliberated for the better part of a week and ultimately decided that there was not sufficient evidence to convict, and I thought that the man would be let go and become a citizen of this country and get on with his life. And as we said in the statement, the subsequent events just struck us as somehow wrong that the government had decided to ignore a three-week process that had tied up people’s lives, the jury and the judge and every — all the witnesses and everybody else, to find that there was no evidence. And then, because somebody in Washington, I guess, thinks that Mr. Megahed is guilty, they put him back in custody.
AMY GOODMAN: You, yourself, are a lawyer?
GARY MERINGER: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, this issue of double jeopardy, where the government says it’s not because they’re moving him from a criminal to an immigration court, from a criminal to a civil proceeding, your thoughts on this?
GARY MERINGER: Well, you know, the law is full of twists and turns, and as Charles pointed out earlier, I think it’s a technical matter. What they’re doing is, quote, "legal," because one’s a civil proceeding, one’s a criminal proceeding. But at the end of the day, I like to think this country tries to do what we all consider to be the right thing, and this just did not seem to be the right thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Charles Kuck just shared with us the actual judge’s warning, saying, if he is acquitted, he better not be picked up by immigration.
GARY MERINGER: Yeah, that was the first time I’ve heard that. That was not done in our presence, in the jury’s presence. We hadn’t heard that. And I don’t understand why he felt it necessary to issue that kind of a warning or what he was thinking.
But Judge Merryday conducted a very fair and honest trial, I thought, and at the end of the day, the government hadn’t proved its case. And that’s what upsets us so much, is we don’t — our understanding is there’s no new evidence. It’s not like they found out something else, and that made them convinced that they needed to take a second bite at the apple. But rather, as Charles said, they just didn’t like losing. But they don’t have any more of a case than they had back when we heard it.
AMY GOODMAN: Charles Kuck, where did the judge say this?
CHARLES KUCK: Court, outside the presence of the jury. There were ICE agents in the court. And he is experienced enough a federal judge to understand that when ICE agents are in court, they’re going to pick somebody up at some point. He simply didn’t want that spectacle in his courtroom that day.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Samir into this conversation, Samir Megahed, Youssef Megahed’s father. He was in our studios when we were in Tampa in April. It was a day after Youssef had been picked up once again, after the acquittal.
Now, Youssef just described it for us, but, Samir, from your perspective, the two of you had gone to Wal-Mart. And what happened?
SAMIR MEGAHED: When we went to Wal-Mart, they kidnapped my son and took him to deport him outside the United States. They want to do that because they didn’t succeed to win the case, the federal case. That is why they want to punish him, by putting him in the jail as long as they can. After that, they want to give him a criminal certificate and to deport him, deliver him to Egypt. And Egypt will handle this case as America handled this case, because they know America take everything upon my son. I bring my son here to take his degree in mechanical engineering, but the United States wants to deport him to Egypt with criminal certificate. This is a kind of punishment against an innocent person who wins a federal case in the federal court.
AMY GOODMAN: Samir Megahed is speaking to us from his home in Tampa by Democracy Now! video stream. Samir Megahed, you and your family today are getting ready, not for the trial of your son Youssef on Monday, but to go to the ceremony where you’ll become American citizens?
SAMIR MEGAHED: Yes. And I am proud to take the citizenship of this country, but I am not going to forget the case of my son, because he’s already filled his obligation with me, and he must be with us in [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: So, to be clear here, your family came from Egypt when Youssef was eleven?
SAMIR MEGAHED: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: About how many years ago did you come here?
SAMIR MEGAHED: We came here in 1998. And since that time, Youssef has been in this country and go to the university to take his degree.
AMY GOODMAN: The University of South Florida, and you became permanent residents.
SAMIR MEGAHED: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to the day that Youssef was first arrested, not after he was acquitted, but when he was picked up in Carolina, and go to the issue of racial profiling. I want to play some of the audio from when Youssef was arrested along with Ahmed Mohamed two years ago, in August of 2007, when they were driving in South Carolina. This is a recording that was made from the police dashboard camera. After the police officer stopped Youssef and Ahmed for speeding, he takes their IDs and goes back to his car to call it in and talks to his fellow officer. This is before they searched the car or had any reason to suspect wrongdoing. The officer says he thinks Youssef and Ahmed are part of the Taliban. Listen carefully.
POLICE OFFICER: The driver ain’t worth saying much of anything, except I asked him why he didn’t pull over, he said, “Because the roads are slanted.” But both of them are sitting, are holding Korans in their lap while they’re driving. One of them’s got a laptop. I thought they may thought as being Taliban. Seriously, though. [inaudible] One of them is named Ahmed Sharif Mohamed. Yeah, yeah. And the other one is Youssef Samir Megahed. I’ve got the Taliban, bro. [bleep] [inaudible] because he’s probably got a bomb strapped to him. [bleep]
AMY GOODMAN: That was the police officer saying he thinks Youssef and Ahmed have a bomb strapped to them. They go on to say that Youssef and Ahmed are, quote, "Islamic" and that they are going to practice suicide bombing. Listen carefully.
POLICE OFFICER 1: Maybe they’re going to practice a suicide bombing here.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Hey, man. Not right now. [inaudible] Islamic. Are they Islamic?
POLICE OFFICER 1: I just assume. I was just assuming.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Well, you passed freaking suicide bomber school quick. ’02, ’08, and 1986.
POLICE OFFICER 1: This one’s ’81.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Blowing up below the Berkeley County [inaudible].
POLICE OFFICER 1: [inaudible] at the base.
POLICE OFFICER 2: They’re turning the bomb on right now.
POLICE OFFICER 1: Just shut up. Alright? I don’t like stopping these [bleep] anyway. And if it is, I’m talking [bleep] about them on the damn tape. Oh, he’s on the phone with somebody.
POLICE OFFICER 2: No.
POLICE OFFICER 1: Oh, no, he ain’t.
POLICE OFFICER 2: That’s remote detonation. There isn’t anything you can do about that.
POLICE OFFICER 1: I’m going to get in my car. I’m going to search his car. And you’ve got to help me, fool.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Go ahead. I got your back, fool, back at the water tower.
AMY GOODMAN: Those are the police officers speaking after the dispatcher got back to them to say that these men have no priors. Charles Kuck, you are Youssef Megahed’s immigration lawyer. What is the significance of these tapes?
CHARLES KUCK: Well, unfortunately, in immigration court, not much, because the fact that these officers were clearly engaged in racial profiling doesn’t mean anything as regards to the admissibility of the evidence that the government is going to present. But what it points out is that, in fact, Youssef was arrested for one reason and one reason only, and that’s because he looked Muslim. And you heard from this tape the outrageous statements of these officers. I mean, it really is tragic that even in America today, that police officers engaged in racial profiling are not punished in any way and not — and, in fact, are encouraged and still encouraged and rewarded to do this type of activity. It really is tragic, frankly, absolutely tragic.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Charles Kuck, it is possible, right, that the immigration judge will acquit Youssef Megahed?
CHARLES KUCK: If the immigration judge has the courage and understands that the evidence against Youssef is simply not even circumstantial, it just doesn’t exist, yes, he will acquit — he will find them — he’ll find Youssef to be eligible to be freed from immigration custody. They don’t acquit people in immigration court. They simply find the government hasn’t carried their burden of proof and release them. I hope the judge has that type of courage to go against what his boss is trying to do.
AMY GOODMAN: And who is his boss?
CHARLES KUCK: The Attorney General of the United States, the same person who believes that Youssef has or will engage in terrorist activity.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you have any indication actually how Eric Holder feels about this or if he even knows about this case right now?
CHARLES KUCK: I am positive that Eric Holder knows this case is going on. This level of case does not go forward without direct approval of the Attorney General. I don’t know how he feels about the case, but we are considering calling him as a witness in the case. We will see what kind of evidence the government presents this next week.
AMY GOODMAN: And this trial goes forward on Monday, where?
CHARLES KUCK: Starting on Monday in the Krome detention facility outside of Miami, Florida
AMY GOODMAN: Is it public?
CHARLES KUCK: It is. Anybody can go into the audience. It’s a very small courtroom, so attendance is limited. But they are eligible to come on in.
AMY GOODMAN: Gary Meringer, your thoughts, as jury foreman right now, what juries mean in America today?
GARY MERINGER: Well, I think this case shows they mean a lot more to citizens than people that haven’t secured citizenship yet in this country. And I guess that’s just a fact of life. But I’m hoping that, as Charles said, this judge has courage and sees the same case that we did and gets to the same result and that Youssef can get on about his life.
AMY GOODMAN: Samir Megahed, you did something unusual at the end of the trial that a lot of the press commented on. When Youssef was acquitted, you went over and shook the hand of the prosecutor and the judge. Why did you do that?
SAMIR MEGAHED: I did that because the judge make unfair trial against my son, and he appears, from the beginning, that he understands that my son is innocent. From the first moment, he appears that he knows that my son has nothing upon him and he is not guilty. But the prosecutor, they made the good job, and they want to succeed in a case which has nothing under their hand. I want to shake hand and make this the final thing between us and them, and I think the end of everything for me and family. And I want to shake the hand of the person who wanted to send my son to the jail, but he didn’t succeed in the trial.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, listening to that tape again of when your son was first arrested in 2007, with the police officers talking about Taliban and suicide bombing, your response? Samir Megahed, your response to the police officers in that first arrest?
SAMIR MEGAHED: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your response?
SAMIR MEGAHED: My response is that there is a race against my son. From the discussion between the officers and my son and his friend and the other officer, it appears he is afraid from nothing. They teach him that if you saw a face from the Middle East carrying Koran and has something not for him to release them, he has suspicion. This means he is race against my son and against his friend, Mr. Ahmed.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Samir Megahed, your thoughts, as you and the rest of your family get American citizenship today, on America, where one of your sons is facing a trial once again on Monday?
SAMIR MEGAHED: We are going to take the citizenship, but we are going to support my son until the end, because he would like to fight his right to stay in this country as a resident or as a citizenship, because he filled the citizenship before they arrest him. This means he’s qualified to be a citizenship before they arrest him.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, Samir Megahed, Youssef Megahed’s father; Charles Kuck, Youssef Megahed’s immigration lawyer, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, speaking to us from Atlanta; and Gary Meringer, the jury foreman in Youssef Megahed’s criminal trial, in which Youssef was found not guilty.
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