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Wednesday, May 07, 2003  

Meet the Portland Seven

Part I: An introduction

I've decided that the best way to begin discussing this topic is to tell you about the time I met one of the Portland Seven. Actually, I didn't really meet him. More accurately, I was in his presence. Which sounds as if he is a celebrity or something, though I suppose now he is. I was at the hairdresser's. I was getting a shampoo and style and he was getting a haircut. The man stood out because his appearance, bearded and wearing a robe, made him particularly noticeable. But, it was his voice that really attracted my and other people's attention.

He talked almost non-stop in a clear baritone. That in itself might not have been exceptional since many people are 'nervous' talkers who don't know how to carry on a conversation. It was what he was saying that caused ears to prick up. The man was discussing the corruption of the government of the United States, Islam and the 9/11 tragedy. The conversation was cast in terms of proselytization of the barber, also African-American, to consider becoming a Muslim, but it seemed to be directed at everyone in hearing distance. Like most writers, I eavesdrop. That is the best way to get realistic sounding dialogue for one's fiction. So, I listened.

The man expressed the same discontent with the Bush administration you, I or any other liberal or progressive might, though with a lot more rhetorical embellishment. He tried to rationalize 9/11. At least that is how I heard it and I was likely more sympathetic toward him than most of the people in the room. He also dropped the name of Malcolm X a lot in his exhortations about Islam. I remember thinking that his Malcolm sounded like the early, fiery Malcolm, not the much calmer man who was assassinated by fellow religionists before he turned forty.

The man left the shop before I did -- to most people's relief I suspect. He had given the impression of being an arrogant know-it-all. I briefly discussed him with Cornell, one of the barbers. Cornell and I had been exchanging glances while the fellow was holding forth the way people do. We both thought he suffered from a lack of discretion at least.

But for subsequent developments, this recollection would be just more grist for the memory mill. But, in the case of the Portland Seven, loose lips may be the key to whether the members of the group return to prosaic routines or spend much of their lives in federal prison.

Attention focused on the case again with the charging of the seventh defendant, Maher Mofied 'Mike' Hawash last week. As blogger Rick Klau observed, Hawash had been held under the material witness statute of 1984 for weeks prior to his arraignment. He is now accused of accompanying five of the other defendants to China in October 2001 in a failed mission to gain entry to Afghanistan and fight with the Taliban.

PORTLAND - An Arab-American man pleaded innocent Monday to charges he conspired to wage war against U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2001 with the Taliban and the terrorist al-Qaida organization.

Maher "Mike" Hawash, 39, appeared briefly before U.S. District Judge Robert Jones after he was indicted last Friday by a federal grand jury.

Five of the other defendants, Jeffrey Battle, Patrice Lumumba Ford, brothers Ahmed and Muhammad Bilal and October Martinique Lewis are in custody in the Portland area. The sixth, Habis al Saoub, appears to have left the United States and not returned.

Muhammad Bilal, the youngest of the defendants and one who had moved away from the Pacific Northwest months before his arrest, is seeking a separate trial.

The major evidence against the defendants is taped or otherwise recorded conversations with an informant and identification by an American traveler who says he associated with them in China, where he says they stood out like sore thumbs. Was the talkative man always so talkative? That could be a key determining factor in whether the Portland Seven are convicted.

4:05 PM