Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Washington Post Strikes Again Edition)
Into the Frying Pan

Next to Our Liberties Most Dear...

The Washington Post covers the Bush administration's persecution of the Harrisonburg Kurds:

Kurdish Defendants Find Support in Town's Clasp: Four Kurdish refugees, among nearly 70 Iraqi Kurd families who settled in this town 100 miles southwest of Washington... were swept up in a federal government anti-terrorism net.... "These are men who were trying to do good things and who were good citizens and who were reaching out to needy people," said Michael Medley, an associate English professor at Harrisonburg's Eastern Mennonite University, who has helped drum up support for the defendants. "I just think local folks here, when they hear that, they get pretty upset."

Supporters, many of them strangers to the Kurds, have escorted them to churches to tell their side... collected donations... [demanded] that government officials drop the cases and "apologize for their actions."...

The government has not said that it thinks any of the four men have ties to terrorism. Still, in January, one of the Kurds, a poultry plant supervisor, was convicted in federal court of transferring money to northern Iraq without a business license, one of many cases in a crackdown after Sept. 11, 2001, on operations that authorities say can fund terrorism, drug trafficking and other crimes. Two more Harrisonburg Kurds have pleaded guilty to the same offense, and a fourth has been charged.

The four defendants, who do not deny that they transferred several hundred thousand dollars, say they were simply helping loved ones in a region ravaged by Saddam Hussein's persecution and now by war. All face up to five years in prison....

Rasheed Qambari, who was convicted in January, and his fellow defendants worked for U.S. or British-funded aid groups in Kurdistan, a region established as a haven for Iraqi opposition and the Kurdish minority after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. When Hussein's tanks rolled in five years later, the United States evacuated the four men and more than 6,000 other Kurds to Turkey and later to Guam, where they spent months undergoing security checks. In 1997, they were given tickets to freedom in the United States....

Many in Harrisonburg say the Kurds are good for the town, too: hardworking, well-educated family people who stay out of trouble.

"They are real Americans, you know?" said Mayor Larry Rogers, though he reserves judgment on the cases, adding, "we have bad seeds in all cultures."

Soon after they arrived, the refugees wanted to aid those left behind, and Qambari, Noroly, Rashid and Abdullah emerged as the mediums. They said they sent their own money and that of other Kurds to family or charities. The funds paid for utilities, medicine and food, they said. "Big families. No work," said Noroly, 40. "They need money."

But Kurdistan's banks were unequipped to handle international transfers. So Noroly and the other men said they resorted to depositing it in accounts in neighboring nations and having it carried across the border....

Before 2001, the section of the U.S. criminal code under which the men were charged applied to those who operated money-transmitting businesses and knew they were doing so illegally. Under the Patriot Act, operators no longer have to know they are transmitting money illegally.... In August 2004, agents raided several Kurdish homes in Harrisonburg. In October 2005, agents arrested the four men.

Through spokesmen, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia and the FBI, which led the investigations, declined to comment. But Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said it does not matter whether unlicensed transmitters help criminals -- they are soft targets all the same....

Even as their fellow Kurds reel from the raids and arrests, and even as they face uncertain futures, the defendants say that message has resonated.

"We were thinking before, I have a brother here and a couple of cousins in another state," Abdullah said. "But now we see we are a big family here."

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