Act Locally » April 4, 2003
Imprisoned by the Patriot Act
After emigrating to the United States in 1996 to study English at California State University in Long Beach, California, Hasan immersed himself in campus, civic and left-leaning political affairs. At the same time, Hasan also completed a Master’s degree in mathematics and began to teach the subject as an adjunct instructor.
Did you experience any anti-Muslim sentiment after the attacks of September 11, 2001?
Actually, I found many people were nicer to me than usual, because they thought I was going through a difficult time. I didn’t fear as much as many people from the Middle East and from Asia who limited their movements and stayed in their houses most of the time. I didn’t think I would be hurt. I felt very positive, and I thought that the law enforcement agencies were for me. I didn’t think that one day they would be used to oppress many American citizens, or American residents, or immigrants who are from foreign regions.
You were arrested and detained for two periods, for over three months combined. What happened when you were arrested the first time, in April 2002?
I was in my classroom at Cerritos College teaching mathematics. The dean entered my classroom and asked me to see him after class. When I went to the dean’s office, he seemed very uncomfortable. He was mumbling a lot—very apologetic. He said, “I don’t know how to put it for you. I am just a messenger.” He told me I was one of the best instructors he had, that I had done all the paperwork he asked and he had received no complaints whatsoever about me. Then he said, “I am very sorry, but I need you to turn over the keys right now and leave.” I asked him at least to give me a reason, but he said, “No reason was given; I am just following orders.” I told him it was a critical time for the students because they had an exam the day after next. I asked that he at least wait two days, but he said, “Sorry, I can’t.”
I turned my keys over to him, shook his hand and left. Outside the door of the dean’s office, two cops from Cerritos College were waiting for me. They escorted me to the exit of the division building, where two more cops from the Long Beach Police Department were standing. One of the Long Beach cops told me, “Put your hands behind your ass and spread your legs.” Then they handcuffed me and led me to the parking lot.
The police never read you your Miranda rights?
No, not at all. [An INS agent] told me I was under arrest. When I told her that I had a work visa valid until December 2002, she said that I was violating my work visa because I was not working. “I just came out of my classroom,” I said. The agent told me, “You were working till an hour ago, but now you are not.”
They kept me for a day in the Long Beach jail, and the next day I was transferred to the L.A. County Jail. After spending a day there, I was taken to the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster. So, one day I was teaching mathematics at Cerritos College, and the next thing I knew I was in INS custody in Lancaster.
You met other detainees at Mira Loma who had a more difficult time than you.
Yes. One such prisoner was Gary LeMaitre, an Arab-Armenian and Canadian. He is about 50 years old. He is a lawyer. He has lived in the U.S. for the last 15 years. He is married to an American woman, and he has three American daughters. He went to the INS, accompanied by his wife, to receive his green card. The employee asked him to step outside for five minutes. While waiting outside the office, four cops appeared and arrested him. When he protested, they insulted him in front of his wife. He had been at Mira Loma for almost eight months when I met him. He was there without any charge and without a court date.
What was it like there?
When I first arrived at the check-in desk, there was an Armenian gentleman sitting next to me. The handcuffs were hurting him unbearably. An officer asked me to act as a translator between him and the Armenian. He clearly didn’t know the difference between an Armenian and an Arab, and that we speak different languages.
What happened the second time you were arrested?
When the Long Beach police and the FBI came to arrest me on June 6, they questioned me especially about three paintings. One of them had tall buildings and lightning from the sky, and they asked me, “Is this New York, and does lightning mean attack from the air?” I said that this is a new interpretation I never thought of, even though I made this painting four or five years ago.
Then they went to another painting which had an island within a lake or a river, and some buildings across from the canal, and they told me, “This seems kind of like Ellis Island. But we don’t see the Statue of Liberty. Are you planning to blow up the Statue of Liberty? Is this a kind of future projection?”
There was a third painting of a power plant. They asked me, “Is it the one in San Pedro?” And I said, “Actually, it is the one down in Long Beach on Pacific Coast Highway. It was part of a project in which you go outside and choose any building and you draw it.”
I had many other paintings, nudes, modern, and so on, but they didn’t pay attention to those. Many of my friends, when I came out of jail, were joking with me. They said, “Hasan, from now on, just hang nudes and modern paintings only. So you won’t have this problem again.”
When you went to hearings and your attorneys made discovery motions—for example, to find out why you were being detained and what the basis of your charge was—the government initially would not disclose that information. Eventually you learned, through your attorney, that you’d been charged with making terrorist threats. What was the basis of those threats?
They came from my roommate. He was an immigrant also, and I was letting him live with me as a favor to a friend. About a month after my first arrest, I evicted him. He was beating his girlfriend and causing problems with the neighbors, so I changed the locks and moved his possessions out onto the sidewalk. When he found his things outside, he called the police. He told them that I had threatened his life and that I was a terrorist—a member of the Fatah group from Kuwait. He was making up stories because he was angry. I never threatened him; I gave him a place to live for seven months. And the Fatah is actually part of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Although the average American citizen may have treated you well, the authorities have not. How do you feel about that?
I fear that these authorities will not hesitate in the future to expand their campaigns to include all categories or slices of the society, regardless of color or origin. Maybe they will start with foreigners on visa from certain countries. Then maybe they will expand to the people who have green cards from certain countries. Then maybe they will move to American citizens who are originally from countries put on the blacklist after 9/11. Then later on maybe they will include any American, white or black or Latino, who has been seen hanging around with Middle Easterners, or who has just spoken to someone who is Middle Eastern or Asian. So I think the campaign will expand, will include everyone in the future. The people who feel they are safe—it will come to them.
In the long run, you protect yourself by getting involved. But if you say to yourself, “I don’t like politics, I don’t like to get involved, I want my quiet life—home to work, work to home,” you will find nobody there to stand for you when the police or authorities arrest you.
Help Support Our Fall Fundraising Drive
Here’s a sobering fact: Over the past 20 years, journalism has lost jobs at a faster rate than the coal mining industry. Far too many excellent publications have disappeared completely.
But because of supporters like you, In These Times has been able to walk a different path. We are not managed by a corporate parent company, nor are we dependent on one benevolent philanthropist. Instead, we are supported by individual donations from you and thousands of other readers like you.
This is our promise to you: We’ll keep publishing as long as you keep supporting In These Times. Please, make a tax-deductible donation today to help keep In These Times going strong.
J.D. Lloyd is a freelance writer in Venice, California.