Ed touched on this earlier, but I wanted to tease it out a little.
One reason to look forward to a Republican president would have been that people might start finding stuff like this outrageous again:
The California man behind an anti-Muslim film that roiled the Islamic world was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison for violating his probation stemming from a 2010 bank fraud conviction by lying about his identity.
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder immediately sentenced Mark Basseley Youssef after he admitted to four of the eight alleged violations, including obtaining a fraudulent California driver’s license. Prosecutors agreed to drop the other four allegations under an agreement with Youssef’s attorneys, which also included more probation.
All the news accounts about Mark Basseley Youssef/Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s arrest and sentencing assure us that the charges are “unrelated” or “had nothing to do with” the content of the YouTube film, “Innocence of Muslims.”
Never mind there was a national media manhunt for the man behind the movie, federal officers taking him in for questioning, a concerted effort by national officials to blame violence on the making of the video, a taxpayer-funded apology to the people of Pakistan for one of our citizens’ creative endeavors, and an alleged promise from the Secretary of State to make sure the maker of the film was “prosecuted.”
Prosecutors, who should have kept their noses and the First Amendment clean by sticking strictly with Youssef’s alleged probation violations, nonetheless brought up the film in court.
Dugdale said authorities have not been able to establish definitively who posted it online. (This was the original justification for the probation violation arrest. —Ed.) The film portrays Muhammad as a religious fraud, womanizer and pedophile.
He argued Youssef’s lies about his identity have caused harm to others, including the film’s cast and crew. Deadly violence related to the film broke out on Sept. 11 and spread to many parts of the Middle East.
“They had no idea he was a recently released felon,” Dugdale said Wednesday. “Had they known that, they might have had second thoughts” about being part of the film.
Youssef’s defense lawyer concludes:
Defense lawyer Steven Seiden told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing that the government was using its probation case to punish Youssef for making the film, thus chilling his client’s constitutional rights to freedom of expression.
“This hearing had everything to do with the movie,” he said.
I guess he’s lucky he didn’t get two years for his
probation violation offensive speech:
Federal authorities initially sought a two-year sentence for Youssef but settled on a one-year term after negotiating a deal with Youssef’s attorneys. Prosecutors said they wouldn’t pursue new charges against Yousseff – namely making false statements – and would drop the remaining four probation-violation allegations leveled against him. But Youssef was placed on four years’ probation and must be truthful about his identity and his future finances.
Seiden asked that his client be placed under home confinement, but Snyder denied that request. Youssef will spend his time behind bars at a Southern California prison.
For a federal government not interested in punishing anyone for creating a film, they sure have a lot of “authorities” dedicated to sussing out the details of its making and dissemination:
Federal authorities have said they believe Youssef is responsible for the film, but they haven’t said whether he was the person who posted it online.
Youssef’s lawyer says he wrote the script and may have served as a “cultural consultant,” but didn’t upload the video, which was the original justification for his arrest. It sounds like getting a fake California driver’s license is a violation probably worth punishing a convicted fraud for, but he was apprehended by federal authorities with probation violation as mere fig leaf. Throwing him in jail does far more harm to free speech than it does to spare society from Youssef’s potential next deception. Judges have discretion for a reason. I make no claim to legal expertise, but can’t the actors involved seek some kind of civil solution in the courts instead of criminal, if indeed they were harmed? Update: They already are.
At the time of his arrest in September, attorneys who know this type of law suspected probation officials were getting all sorts of guidance from highly placed federal officials because of the “international complexity” of the case:
“This case breaks the mold,” said Mark Werksman, a defense attorney in Los Angeles and a former federal prosecutor. “If the video hadn’t gone viral, and caused the Arabic world to blow up, who would care if this guy is using YouTube? It’s all about politics with this guy.”
Lawyers also noted at the time that suspected probation violations are generally handled by probation officers, who submit a confidential report to a judge, who can then determine what punishment if any is warranted. This case was handled…differently:
“Usually the probation officer will be most interested in preventing him from engaging in any kind of activity related to the original crime, so another factor would be what kind of permission did the probation officer give him?” she said. “Why would (the film) be of concern in a bank fraud case? That’s a whole nother wrinkle.”
“The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” Seiden said.
Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.”
Good thing. The answer could be a “parole violation.”