As Israeli tanks moved into West Bank cities in the deadliest fighting in decades, this episode of NOW with Bill Moyers questioned whether the Middle East was spinning out of control. James Bennet, the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, provided a firsthand account. He said, “A lot of people on both sides here believe now that one or the other of these governments has to fall before there will be a real truce, possibly both of them.” The second segment looked at a man — a husband and father — kept behind bars out of suspicion following September 11. Moyers ends the show with an essay on the arrest of Anser Mehmood, a Pakistani green card holder who was imprisoned in America after 9/11 because “he looked the part.”
WATCH THE ESSAY
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.
Israelis and Palestinians were close to an all-out war this week.
Palestinians have changed tactics to inflict casualties using rifles and mortars.
Israel has sent tanks and helicopter gunships to Palestinian neighborhoods in one of the biggest assaults in decades.
The American envoy, General Anthony Zinni, is now in Israel to see if he can broker a truce.
James Bennet is the Jerusalem bureau chief for THE NEW YORK TIMES.
All week he has been reporting on the escalating violence.
He’s with us now from Jerusalem.
Welcome, James Bennet.
JAMES BENNET: Thank you.
MOYERS: Where are you standing right now?
BENNET: I’m standing on a rooftop at the southern edge of Jerusalem. That’s Jerusalem you see behind me.
MOYERS: Can you describe the fighting you’ve covered in Ramallah this week?
BENNET: Israel sent dozens of tanks and armored vehicles into Ramallah before dawn early this week and began moving through the city encircling a refugee camp there called Al Amari.
It’s essentially a repetition of operations that Israel has been conducting throughout the West Bank over the last two weeks in an effort, it says, to try to round up militants that hide in these refugee camps.
The Israelis have discovered that as soon as they come in, the militants move out of the refugee camps and melt into the cities, so they’re taking the whole city this time, with the exception of Yasser Arafat’s own compound, which they’ve stayed away from.
MOYERS: Ariel Sharon seems to be following a similar military strategy to the one he used 20 years ago in Lebanon.
Is that accurate?
BENNET: A lot of Israelis and Palestinians are now drawing parallels to what’s happening here now to what happened in Lebanon.
The Israelis see Yasser Arafat as the guilty party to what he’s trying to recreate, the chaos that existed in Lebanon 20 years ago.
From the Palestinian perspective, Ariel Sharon has essentially led everybody, including the Bush administration, with a series of baby steps into the West Bank and Gaza in the same way he led Israel into Lebanon 20 years ago.
That operation was initially conceived as a very limited operation to clear away the northern border, and within a couple of weeks Israel was occupying Beirut much the way they occupied Ramallah this week.
MOYERS: If this becomes a fight to the finish, who wins?
BENNET: Nobody, is the easy answer to that question.
The more complicated answer is that arguably the hard right and Israel, in a sense, would win, because the Israelis have overwhelming force of arms.
And while the Israeli population would continue to suffer forever, no doubt, from the kinds of terrorist attacks that they fear daily here now, Israel would be able to retain control of the West Bank and Gaza, which some hard-right Israelis regard as their biblical birthright.
MOYERS: But the Israelis, as you say, have such superior firepower.
Have you met any Palestinians who believe they can ultimately win?
BENNET: They think they can outlast them, that their capacity to withstand pain is greater than the Israelis’.
There’s also obviously the risk of a regional conflict here if the Israelis really chose to exercise their full force of arms and if they really threatened Yasser Arafat himself.
There’s a number of potentially dramatically destabilizing acts that could bring in the forces from the surrounding Arab nations, and that would obviously quickly change the picture.
MOYERS: Clearly Sharon has it within his means to kill Arafat if he wanted to.
Is that why he’s not doing it?
That, and because the Americans won’t let him, I think.
I mean, Ariel Sharon said in an interview here a couple of months ago, in fact, that he wished that Israel had killed Arafat in 1982 when it had the opportunity in Beriut.
Yasser Arafat thinks that Sharon, in fact, tried to kill him several times there with air strikes.
And I actually asked Arafat about this a couple of weeks ago in Ramallah, before the invasion there, and his response was just it seemed to him that Ariel Sharon was still living back in 1982.
MOYERS: Where do you think Arafat is living?
BENNET: Well, I’m told by diplomats who spend time with Arafat, and see him under more freewheeling conditions than I do, that he actually is often reliving that experience himself in talking about how he beat Sharon back in 1982, escaped the siege then, with the obvious implication that he thinks he’ll do the same thing this time.
MOYERS: Given that personal animosity and that history between these two men, is there any possibility of their resolving or reaching some kind of truce?
BENNET: A lot of people on both sides here believe now that one or the other of these governments has to fall before there will be a real truce, possibly both of them.
There are optimists who believe that Ariel Sharon is preparing a kind of Nixon-to-China bold effort for peace.
There’s some who say that Arafat is capable, again, of changing his stripes, becoming the partner for peace that Israel declared him to be ten years ago at the beginning of the Oslo process.
But that process is now just about collapsed.
MOYERS: But does either side seem to you to have a strategy for what comes next?
BENNET: Again, the strategy seems to be, on both sides, just to stick it out.
A lot of this is now driven, you know, by the domestic politics on both sides, and Sharon is under tremendous pressure from his right.
The left here in Israel is showing some signs of life, but has basically been moribund since the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000.
On the other side, the extremists in the Palestinian population have the upper hand.
They argue that Israel is simply not willing to end its occupation, that the only thing the Israelis understand is force, that that was the lesson of the Israeli experience in Lebanon since they withdrew unilaterally in May 2000, after taking a punishing war of attrition for many years there.
MOYERS: In the meantime, what is life like every day now for the people in Ramallah, for the people in Jerusalem where you are standing at this very moment?
What is ordinary life like?
BENNET: It’s pretty terrible right now.
Each population really feels terrorized by the other.
In Ramallah this week, people were trapped inside their homes, there’s effective curfew in the city, people were scared to move about on the streets for fear of constant crossfire.
Water mains have been cut, electricity was out in some areas of the city.
We’re talking about a serious modern city, and it’s been left shattered by this operation this week.
In Jerusalem we had yet another suicide bombing on Saturday night at a very popular cafe here.
People are scared to go to the restaurants. The hotels are empty. People are sizing each up… each other… each other — excuse me — up on the street, wondering about the person who’s carrying a bag towards them, whether they mean them harm or not.
MOYERS: Last question.
General Zinni is now in Israel, President Bush’s representative, but every time the Americans make a diplomatic initiative like sending General Zinni there, there seems to be an escalation in violence.
Why is that?
BENNET: Because in some ways the peace process is the captive of extremists who don’t want it to continue.
Hamas swore that during this visit by Zinni, as during previous visits, they would do their utmost to carry out devastating attacks here.
They don’t want to see the peace process take hold.
On the other hand, Palestinians say that one reason that Sharon wants these massive invasions shortly before Zinni got here, including the attack in Ramallah, was that he was seeking to provoke exactly that kind of response from Hamas while Zinni was here.
MOYERS: Thank you, James Bennet.
And stay safe.
The realities of everyday life in Israel, and the images in the hearts of its people, are the subject of our next interview.
David Grossman lives in Jerusalem where he has seen violence become a daily companion in the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.
In novels and non-fiction, he writes his compassionate accounts of how people carry on in the midst of chaos.
YELLOW WIND, his most famous book, was praised for illuminating “the news and the reality that produces it.”
Mr. Grossman was in New York this week to talk about his new novel, BE MY KNIFE, and I asked him to stop by to reflect on what’s happening back home.
Thank you for joining us.
GROSSMAN: Thank you.
MOYERS: I read BE MY KNIFE this week. And I was taken by your language.
You take me into a different world, a world I have not been in before.
But as I read it, I was perplexed. Are words futile when bombs and guns and hatred are saying so much?
GROSSMAN: They must do, and there must be a way for us to shield ourselves and to continue our lives.
You see, I think that part of the tragedy that we experience there is that all our energy, imagination, inner life, all are being confiscated by the situation.
Everything is being turned towards the boundaries of our identity, towards the contact points between us and our partners, neighbors, or enemies.
And I’m afraid that we are going to wind up like that armored suit without the person inside, and I insist on giving this person inside what he deserves.
And this is the most precious things, you know, the things that make life life.
MOYERS: What happens in these circumstances to the habits of life, to love, to raising children, to just sitting outside and watching people pass by?
GROSSMAN: The main thing is that the soul shrinks in fear.
There is a strong need to minimize the surface of the soul that comes in contact with reality, because reality is so brutal.
And of course, there is a tendency to dichotomize everything, because of the extremity of the situation.
MOYERS: Black and white, good and evil.
GROSSMAN: Yeah, there are no nuances.
And even more so, there is a feeling that there is… Well, let’s say that the future is very dubious.
We have, as Jewish people in Israel, we have an enormous past and a very strong and vital presence. But there is not a real inherent sense of having a future.
You know, when I read here on the papers that America is planning its wheat harvest for the year 2025, it sounds perfectly natural and normal.
But no sane Israeli will make plans for ten years ahead from now.
When I even say it, I feel that kind of pang in my heart as if I violated a taboo by allowing myself too much quantities of future.
So it’s really there, you know. You feel like you’re walking dead men.
MOYERS: Doesn’t fantasy, then, and language — the language that creates the fantasy in our heads — doesn’t language then become even more powerful?
GROSSMAN: Yes, it is, because in such a situation when you feel so paralyzed, so deprived of everything, the ability to create, the ability to see nuances in every situation; and even more than that, the ability to give your own private names to things that the government or the army or the situation tried to impose their names…
MOYERS: You’ll give me an example.
GROSSMAN: Well, for example, for many years what Israel had in the West Bank and Gaza was not named occupation for us in Israel. It was not, a bon ton to use this term, “occupation.”
And by starting to use this name in books, in interviews, wherever, it came more, I think, to the public knowledge what we are doing.
In the first intifada in ’97, Israel was totally caught in surprise, because Israel, the official Israel, never told itself that it occupies and oppresses another people.
And, of course, the whole world knew it is an occupation, and the Palestinians felt it in the very cell of their body that they are occupied.
Only Israel did not know and was taken by such a surprise.
MOYERS: I’ve heard Palestinians talk as if they can drive Israel not just out of the occupied territories but out to the sea, that they can once again live as if there were no Jews.
MOYERS: I’ve heard Palestinians talk like that.
GROSSMAN: I hear it all the time, and I think it’s good that we should listen to these voices and remember that Israel is living there among very tough neighbors.
Yes, we are not surrounded there by the Salvation Army, you know.
And even when we advocate peace, as I try to do, we remember the dangers that Israel faces all the time, and we continue to face even after peace is achieved with the Palestinians.
But my point of view is that we shall be much stronger if we shall start to tread the road of peace.
MOYERS: James Bennet suggested a moment ago that, however, that a rather hopeless situation because both sides are locked into a mythology of what they can do there.
And aren’t people like you increasingly marginalized for believing that Palestinians and Jews can coexist?
GROSSMAN: Yes, we are marginalized now, and I can truly understand the people who find it impossible to listen to what we try to advocate peace, because it’s so difficult to believe in ideas about future peace, to believe that there can be some mutuality between us and the Palestinians, mutual respect and trust, while reality is so concrete and so brutal and people are exploding around you.
But I think it is the task of leaders to see two steps or three steps ahead and to try to salvage us from our situation.
MOYERS: In the meantime, there is language and the language of hope.
There’s a passage in your book that really brought me up sharply when I read it the other night.
Would you read this passage?
I’ve marked it there, from BE MY KNIFE.
It is the man telling the woman in the book:
“I once thought of teaching my son a private language. Isolating him from the speaking world on purpose, lying to him from the moment of his birth, so he would believe only in the language I gave him. And it would be a compassionate language.What I mean is—I wanted to take him by the hand and name everything he saw with words that would save him from the inevitable heartaches. So that he wouldn’t be able to comprehend the existence of, for instance, war. Or that people kill. Or that this red, here, is blood. It’s a kind of used-up idea, I know, but I love to imagine him crossing through life with an innocent, trusting smile—the first truly enlightened child.”
MOYERS: An “innocent, trusting child” in the midst of all of that violence.
Can fantasy — and that is, fiction — can fantasy shield a child in Israel today from the realities?
GROSSMAN: I’m afraid not.
But it serves as a good way to exist in our reality and it can melt the congealness that we all suffer from, and it can offer some other possibilities and nuances in this reality.
Otherwise we live our life there like victims, like victims.
MOYERS: Has your own psyche been affected by the suicide bombings?
I mean, do you see strangers differently now from how you did see them?
GROSSMAN: Yes, of course.
You suspect everyone that you do not know.
You do not go to most places now.
You calculate every step.
All life changed for us there.
It’s really to live in horror.
I know from my Palestinian friends that they experience the same thing.
It is so tragic to see how both sides reflect or mirror each other’s fears and hatred.
And sometimes I think it’s so easy for us to come together.
We are that close from points of view of the concessions that have to be made.
Everything is so clear to both sides now.
Everybody knows exactly what are the borders of the concessions of himself and of the other side.
And the only question is, would the two leaders be courageous enough to redeem themselves or to uproot themselves even from their own biography as the late Yitzhak Rabin did towards the end of his life?
MOYERS: Everyone talks about while sooner or later there has to be a settlement in which there’s an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
But is… do you think Sharon and Arafat know that?
And if they are, are they just fighting a war they know is taking lives unnecessarily because they’re going to have to do something the same way, any way, one day?
GROSSMAN: I’m afraid you’re right.
I’m afraid that these two gentlemen are totally incapable now of, as I said, to uproot themselves from their own personal history, from the myths that they consist of for their respective peoples.
Therefore, we need someone from the outside.
You know, there is a proverb in the Hebrew, “The prisoner cannot set himself free from prison.”
And we need someone from the outside to bring us out of this prison, because we are prisoners of our history, of our trauma, of our psychology.
MOYERS: Is that why you write fiction when the real world is blowing up all around you?
GROSSMAN: I’m writing fiction because this is the only way I have to understand myself and to understand other people.
There is a line in this story, Miriam, the woman, writes the man.
She tells him that she wants to believe that once, you know, generations before the two of them were born. There was a possibility for him, for the man, to choose to be born — her, not him — say if there was a kind of imaginary crossroad. And she says, “I want you to be you. What’s the point if you will not be you? But I also want you to hesitate a moment before choosing to be only you, and that all your life you will carry in the back of your mind this remorse for not choosing to be me.”
And I think when one writes, one can get to this point of slight remorse.
You know, it’s very rare in the process of writing, but for a moment you understand what does it mean to be another human being.
And it’s such a sweet reward that I cannot find it any other place.
MOYERS: I’m so glad that there are romantics around.
Still… you are a romantic. I mean, you see the possibilities in the human experience beyond the realities that crowd in every day.
GROSSMAN: Yes, I’m not naive. You know, I’m not naive. I see all the difficulties. I see all the threats. I see all the corruption that the situation creates in our soul, in the soul of our adversaries. I see it. It is there. You cannot escape it.
But at the same time, I believe that there is a lot to do yourself.
I mean, one… and the people have a lot of room to maneuver in the most arbitrary situations that we are not doomed to be a victim of every situation.
And you know, for me, the whole idea of having the state of Israel, one that we shall never be victims again, we shall never… we, the Jews, we shall never be depending on the goodwill or the bad will of others.
And it is so tragic for me that now when we are such a superpower, again we are victims of our fears, when we can enable a more generous and more courageous solution.
MOYERS: You served in the army.
GROSSMAN: Yes, of course.
MOYERS: Your son served in the army.
GROSSMAN: Serves now, yeah.
MOYERS: Is in the army now?
MOYERS: What do you think of those reservists who signed that petition and refused to serve because they felt they were serving in an unjust effort?
MOYERS: What do you think about that?
GROSSMAN: Well, this is a very complicated dilemma for every Israeli, because it touches the question of the democracy in Israel and the borders of this democracy.
And I’m… quite often I’m being asked by soldiers, by others, “should we serve, should we take part in that?”
And this is one question that I think everyone must make his or her choice about, because it’s such a deep dilemma.
It’s a horrible moral situation and it’s such a situation everyone must unfortunately be there and try to be as moral and as just as he or she can be.
MOYERS: Don’t you think the Palestinians at this very moment are saying that to each other and their young people, “you must fight now”?
“We’ve got to be engaged.
You’ve got to go and do your duty, too.”
GROSSMAN: I think that this is the tragedy, that we are sending — we and the Palestinians — are sending our children to be killed.
But you know, excusing ourselves now from the battlefield, it’s not… this is not the way to solve the problem.
MOYERS: But how do you disentangle two men like Sharon and Arafat who are wrapped in their biographies, as you’ve said, and victims of their own history, and perpetrators of that history repeating itself?
GROSSMAN: Again, I think it’s the role of the United States, for example, to put a heavy pressure on both sides and to force them into resumption of negotiation; you know, that through all our history in the Middle East there was no one political agreement between Israel and Arab countries that has been achieved without the strong help and pressure of the United States.
So if Mr. Bush advocates so devotedly the two ideas — the ideas of fighting terrorism and the idea of helping democracy all over the world — I think by intervening in our conflict he will help both targets.
MOYERS: Last question: the cover of BE MY KNIFE.
MOYERS: The woman — does she have a future?
Is she real, and does she have a future?
GROSSMAN: She is real.
Actually when my Italian publisher, Montadori, they looked for a picture on the cover that would remind, resemble Miriam, they looked for a face of the ’40s or ’50s, and they found in an old family archive a picture of this anonymous young woman.
Now, when the book was published in Italy, they hang big posters in the book stores.
And the woman at the age of 84 entered the room and she said, “Here I am.”
And her name is Molly Falk, and you know, I’ll tell you something.
I always thought had she been American — forgive me — she probably would have sued the publisher.
Being Italian she says, “now all the world will know how beautiful I was.”
And she is.
MOYERS: So you imagined Miriam, they found a picture to go on the cover, and an 84-year- old woman comes in and said, “that’s me.”
GROSSMAN: “That’s me.”
MOYERS: There is a future.
GROSSMAN: There is a future.
I hope we shall not have to wait until 84, but…
MOYERS: Thank you, David Grossman.
And thank you for BE MY KNIFE, a fascinating novel and a great active imagination.
Thank you very much, David Grossman.
GROSSMAN: Thank you, Bill.
MOYERS: Now we update last week’s story about the controversial elections in Zimbabwe.
President Mugabe appears to be the winner, but supporters of his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, are already vowing to take to the streets in protest.
The election process, preceded by a campaign of intimidation, has been anything but free and fair.
At the last minute, Mugabe’s government reduced polling stations in areas opposed to the president, preventing thousands from voting against him.
Late Wednesday, President Bush announced that the United States was not recognizing the results of the election because it found “numerous, profound irregularities.”
This is pledge week on public television.
For most viewers, we are taking a moment for your public television station to ask for your support for programs like the NEWSHOUR, WASHINGTON WEEK IN REVIEW and NOW.
When we return, the story of Anser Mehmood.
Was this Pakistani truck driver the terrorist the FBI.
UZMA NAHEED: When they arrest my husband I was crying and begging them, “please let me know where is my husband, please help me” and they said “why you came here, why you came in this country?”
MOYERS: We now turn to a story that, while not making headlines, could have a dramatic impact on our lives.
In Brazil, a husband and wife team of biologists is battling to protect the vast coral reefs that help sustain the world’s food supply.
These fragile reefs are under assault from a surprising source: tourists and fishermen, and they’re beginning to disappear at an alarming rate.
One-third of all the fish we eat feed off reefs.
In fact, nearly nine million different kinds of creatures live on coral reefs, those submerged shelves of sandstone that give microbes a scaffold for building living stone.
BEATRICE FERREIRA: You see color, a lot of color.
It’s like a rain forest, because fishes are like birds in the rain forest.
They have different colors.
MAURO MAIDA: You also see an equilibrium, a very stable environment, like, very harmonic environment.
MOYERS: The husband and wife team of Beatrice Ferreira and Mauro Maida are marine biologists.
They moved to Tamandare seven years ago to study this coastal ecosystem: the reef, the rivers that feed it, and the people who use it.
MAIDA: The reef systems in Brazil, they are distributed along 3,000 kilometers along the northeast coast.
This area has been recognized as a risk area for the health of coral reefs.
MOYERS: Over the years, the coastal reef at Tamandare had been loved too much by tourists and harvested too much by fishermen.
MAIDA: We could see that this reef was in a very bad process of degradation, because we didn’t see a lot of fish.
We couldn’t see a very high coral cover, and those are factors that could indicate a bad stage ecosystem.
So it was clear to me that we should try to reverse this process.
FERREIRA: This is a country which has very delicate balance between man and environment.
The development is increasing and increasing by the year.
That’s not by chance, is it?
The reefs here are very close to the coast, so they’re very easy to get to them.
It’s very user-friendly because it’s beautiful, it’s shallow, it’s calm.
It’s clear water, good temperatures.
The corals like that, and the people like that, too.
So that’s why it’s so necessary to organize the way things are going to develop, so everyone can use it, but not destroy it.
MAIDA: Nature doesn’t work only in the short-term.
They work in the long-term, and problems in the long-term can be catastrophic, and there is no way back.
I’m worried about my kids, the future of my kids.
MOYERS: Worldwide, 70 percent of all reefs are at risk.
60 percent of all mangroves have already been destroyed.
The rest are disappearing at a rate of 5 percent a year.
FERREIRA: You may feel this sense that why should you care, you know?
But no man is an island.
No ecosystem is an island.
Everything’s interconnected, and there is a meaning for all of this.
Everything depends on everything, so you might feel the effects much later, when it’s too late.
That’s why you should care to begin with.
NARRATOR: And now a look at stories coming up on NPR radio this weekend.
LYNN NEARY: Hi, I’m Lynn Neary of NPR news.
On WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY, explore how religion can tear apart a nation.
Author Marcus Tanner discusses his book IRELAND’S HOLY WARS: THE STRUGGLE FOR A NATION’S SOUL.
Also, discover music can shape a movie dreamscape, as we review the Oscar-nominated scores for HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS.
And we’ll talk to the director of the new animated film fantasy ICE AGE.
Find your local public radio station on your web site npr.org.
MOYERS: in Afghanistan, the war is being fought with bombs and bullets. Here at home, the war against terrorism has no front line, and it’s hard to know just who the enemy is.
Consider the story of Pakistani truck driver Anser Mehmood. On September 11, Mehmood was scheduled to make a delivery to the heart of Washington, D.C. The delivery was cancelled, but that did little to dispel the suspicion of the FBI Mehmood was arrested and thrown into jail, where he remains today.
Investigative journalist Tia Lessin picks up the story.
TIA LESSIN (PRODUCER): Time has run out for Uzma Naheed. Under threat of deportation, she and her children have to leave the U.S. – without her husband. She doesn’t know when she’ll see him again.
He’s behind bars in a federal prison in New York City — detained nearly six months ago by the FBI after the September 11th attacks.
Forty-two year old Anser Mehmood arrived in the United States in 1989 on a tourist visa. He decided to stay, like millions of other immigrants, and build a life here. He worked as a cab driver and brought his wife and three sons over from Pakistan. The couple bought a house in Bayonne, New Jersey—just outside of New York City—and enrolled their boys in the middle school across the street. A fourth son was born. Though they were not citizens, they considered themselves Americans.
UZMA NAHEED: Before September 11th, I never feel in this country that I am immigrant. Really! Nobody discriminate here. Nobody’s treating us badly. Nobody’s and, oftenly I said to my husband this is the only reason why I was here — because I feel like I’m in the, in my country.
LESSIN: After September 11th, federal agents rounded up over a thousand men of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin living in the United States. The vast majority were charged — not with terrorist acts — but with minor immigration violations.
JOHN ASHCROFT (FROM VIDEOTAPE): The Department of Justice is waging a deliberate campaign of arrest and detention to protect American lives. We are removing suspected terrorists who violate the law from our streets to prevent further terrorist attack.
LESSIN: The FBI learned that Anser Mehmood was a truck driver, licensed to haul hazardous materials. And an agent reported that it was suspicious that on the morning of the attack on the Pentagon, Mehmood refused to drive two shipments to Washington, D.C. The FBI also found that he had two identical passports, both in his name.
Following a lead from another case, a dozen FBI agents showed up at Anser and Uzma’s home on October 3rd.
UZMA: When the FBI agents came I welcomed them, and I say, “OK you can search my house because we don’t have anything wrong, we did not do anything wrong in this country. We love this country, we respect the law.” There is no worry about it.
LESSIN: They discovered that Mehmood had overstayed his tourist visa and had no work permit. They took him into custody.
UZMA: When they arrest my husband I was crying and begging them, “please let me know where is my husband, please help me” and they said “why you came here, why you came in this country?”
LESSIN: What did you see?
DOROTHY GIAMBRONE, NEIGHBOR: I just saw the FBI going in there.
LOUIS GIAMBRONE: There was a gang of them. About twelve. They searched the house up. I don’t think they came out with anything.
DOROTHY GIAMBRONE: What we knew of him, he was like a lovable husband with his children and all.
LOUIS GIAMBRONE: They were so happy to be near the school right across the street his children attended that school.
DOROTHY GIAMBRONE: Two days before that she was walking here with her husband, and everything then all of a sudden I seen that happened I said it goes to show how in one day how your life can really turn around.
MARTIN STOLAR, ANSER MEHMOOD’S ATTORNEY: He went into INS custody and was charged with overstaying a visa —a fairly low-level and very common violation of the immigration law.
He is held without a bond on a very specious affidavit put in by an FBI agent. And put in the special housing unit otherwise known as ‘The Hole’. It’s solitary confinement he’s locked down 23 and a half hours a day. He’s fed through a slot in the door. And it’s just abominable conditions.
LESSIN: In a report issued this week, Amnesty International called the conditions under which detainees like Mehmood are being held constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international standards.
The report also expressed concern that the immigration system is being used to hold non-nationals on flimsy evidence pending broad criminal probes.
Under new rules, immigration detainees can be denied bail and held indefinitely if deemed a security risk. I showed a former FBI official the affidavit used to keep Mehmood detained.
BOB BLITZER, FORMER FBI COUNTER-TERRORISM CHIEF: We have a foreign national here out of status. He has multiple passports. He has been licensed to drive large vehicles, there’s always concerns he also has a hazardous materials license. I think all of those things drawn together would make an investigator say, ‘What have we got here?’
STOLAR: What’s suspicious? He’s a Muslim and he has a hazardous materials license. Well, of course he has a hazardous materials license — that’s his business. Most truck drivers have hazardous material licenses. He had two passports—both in his own name, both legitimate Pakistani passports. There’s something suspicious about that. The problem was that he lost the first passport, so he went and got a second one, and then he found the one he’d lost. This guy who’s law-abiding—except for the fact that he overstayed a visa. He paid his taxes. He supports his family. He’s totally unconnected with September 11th.
BLITZER: If maybe he, like many other illegals, came here to — to seek a life and — get employment and raise his family. Okay. That — that could be. But—you know — just to reemphasize, this is a technique that they use to blend in to our society. He may be clean as the driven snow. But still, why take a chance?
UZAIR MEHMOOD, 13 YEARS OLD: I feel angry because my dad has not done anything wrong. They’ve been doing this investigation for four months. They haven’t even called here yet. I bet you they’re not even doing the investigation.
UZAIR: You should go see where he lives. A cell. Do you know how small the windows are? Like this small. You can’t look outside.
HARRIS, 11 YEARS OLD: It’s been a long time, still didn’t meet my dad. Should have the right at least to meet your dad.
UZMA(READING LETTER FROM ANSER): My dearest …
LESSIN: The boys haven’t seen their father for months. They receive letters from him every day.
UZMA (READING LETTER): I am missing you a lot, which you cannot imagine. They put me in a very, very small cell where I have to wait until FBI completes its investigation. Since I am innocent, I don’t have any problem with this investigation, only when I think about you and kids, trust me, I start crying.
LESSIN: When she tried to visit her husband, Uzma was repeatedly turned away by authorities. Finally, after three months, she was allowed in.
LESSIN: No criminal charges had been filed against Mehmood, and I wanted to know why he remained behind bars several months after his arrest. But Justice Department officials refused to discuss his case or to appear in this segment. They also denied my request to interview Mehmood in jail.
ANSWERING MACHINE RECORDING: Hi Tia, Lauren Fieffer from the Department of Justice. Wanted to let you know that we are definitely not putting anybody on camera about the detainees and cannot speak at all about the specific cases involved. So sorry we can’t help you out. Thanks, bye.
LESSIN: And what about that charge that Anser Mehmood had refused to deliver a shipment to Washington on the morning of September 11th? I called the trucking company that employed Mehmood. They confirmed that he was to deliver a load to D.C. that day, but that the company cancelled it after the Pentagon was hit. And the company told me that the load was not hazardous material, but office furniture — to be delivered to an architecture firm located in this D.C. office building.
I also found out that Mehmood’s employer required all its drivers to have hazmat licenses and that Mehmood never drove hazardous cargo for the company.
BLITZER: Furniture, electronic parts, pretty standard stuff.
I think there’s a lot of smoke concerning this fella. But whether there’s any — whether there’s any fire, I mean, I don’t know. Time will tell.
STOLAR: The presumption of innocence has been completely turned on its head with respect to him. Because he’s a Muslim, because he’s from Pakistan, it is presumed that he must be involved in terrorist activities.
BLITZER: I don’t think law enforcement is going after every illegal person in this country…but they’re certainly concerned about the same kind of people that we saw on September 11th. Arresting them before they might commit a crime is — is really the prudent thing to do.
STOLAR: The equal protection clause of our Constitution has been suspended for Muslims. It is racial profiling of the worst order. And equal protection says you do not racially profile. That is not a legitimate basis to arrest people.
LESSIN: Unable to pay her mortgage in the months since her husband’s arrest, Uzma has put her house up for sale.
The bank has filed for foreclosure. She has sold her possessions to pay for food and utilities.
UZMA: I sold my sofas, my living room set and three bedroom sets and my refrigerator and my oven, even I sold my crockery too.
STOLAR: Oh, his family has been completely devastated. I mean, the only positive thing that’s come out of this is that Anser told me that—that his wife Uzma was basically a very quiet housewife before this happened. She has had to assume the role now of a very outspoken woman, almost a political activist.
LESSIN: Every Saturday, Uzma joins a demonstration for detainees in front of the prison where her husband is being held.
LESSIN: According to his attorney, the FBI recently cleared Mehmood of any connection to the September 11th attacks. Mehmood has agreed to return to Pakistan but like hundreds of other detainees, waits indefinitely behind bars for deportation. No longer in maximum security, he’s allowed 15 minute phone calls to his family.
OPERATOR: This call is from a federal prison. This call is from Anser. To accept the call, dial 5 now.
LESSIN: Mehmood had called the night before, but his sons weren’t home.
UZMA: —Hello, how are you?
ANSER MEHMOOD: —Salaamalekum
—How are you?
UZMA: How are you feeling?
ANSER: I’m fine, thanks to God.
So what happened yesterday. Why did you stay outside?
HARRIS: Why did I stay oustide, cuz there was problem.
ANSER: I don’t want to hear any problem, I want to see you home before dark. That’s it.
UMAIR: Don’t worry anymore, we’re not going to go outside after dark.
ANSER: OK you are doing a good job, you are a brave guy. You’re doing a good job.
UMAIR: We’re gonna come see you again. Inshallah God Willing
UZAIR: (Urdu): How do you use the bathroom?
ANSER: (Urdu) The toilet is in my cell where I sleep.
ANSER: (Urdu) In the place where I was for four months and two days, the toilet and shower were in the same room.
UZMA: (Urdu) There are just a few days left next week and the week after that, God willing.
UZMA: Don’t fight!
ANSER: (Urdu) I’ve told them to behave and they won’t stay out after dark anymore.
UZMA: (Urdu) If you were here they would behave. Don’t be angry with them.
ANSER: I hope that we will move from here back to Pakistan also very soon. The thing is, I always want to take care of you…
UZMA: Hello, hello…It’s over…
LESSIN: Within a month of her husband’s arrest, the Immigration and Naturalization Service initiated deportation proceedings against Uzma and her three older sons. They have overstayed their visas, like nearly four million others. The only family member legally entitled to stay is the toddler Hassan who is an American citizen because he was born here.
HARRIS: People out on the streets call us terrorists. Uh, huh, your dad’s a terrorist, uh huh, uh, huh. That doesn’t sound right.
UMAIR: I do everything they do. Go to school, wake up, wear the same clothes and stuff. I’m an American.
I want to visit there, I don’t want to stay over there for like a while. I want to come back here.
LESSIN: With the help of an Islamic charity, Uzma has purchased one-way tickets back to Karachi for her family.
BOYS: What’s class Y? It’s all the way in the back!
UZMA: My kids are used to this life. It’s not easy for them to go back. They start their education here and it’s difficult for them to start over in Pakistan. Their education, everything will be ruined. You know? It, it will take time to — get everything back.
UZMA: At first I was thinking that maybe he will deport before me so he can welcome us there. But now as the time passed, I think that — he — maybe he — they will not release him soon. I hope Inshallah he will be back soon. Within a month or two. He will be there with us, Inshallah.
LESSIN: This was the family’s last day in the country.
UZMA: We spend a very good time here…hard to say goodbye.
LESSIN: The neighborhood schools were letting out, just as the boys were leaving their home for the very last time.
UZAIR: That’s the kid that called me terrorist. He called me terrorist.
LESSIN: Uzma and children arrived safely in Pakistan.
Anser Mehmood remains in federal custody.
MOYERS: It’s easy to understand how Uzma’s husband Anser Mehmood was swept up in that dragnet six months ago. Americans were scared. Suddenly Americans were seeing terrorists everywhere, and breathed more easily when the FBI set out to round up people who looked the part.
Anser Mehmood looked the part, and his papers weren’t in order. There’s no telling how many people are here without proper papers. Six, seven, eight million according to estimates — and only 2000 immigration officers to check up on the violations. Like most of those individuals, Anser Mehmood would likely have gone undetected, except that after 9/11 he looked the part. Now, although not a terrorist, he languishes in jail because his papers weren’t in order. His family, facing deportation, went to Pakistan. Fate, we say; a bad turn of fate; bad things happen to good people even when their affairs are in order. But why do I feel so uneasy; why do I sense we lost something when the door closed on this family? Is it because my inner Kafka says something like this could happen to any of us? I always break out in a sweat when the flashing lights of a patrol car appear in the rearview mirror, even if I know I wasn’t speeding. Or is it because this sad little story of one unlucky family makes me think what my country loses if we fight the war on terrorism the wrong way.
I am old enough to remember England’s finest hour. It was 60 years ago, and England stood alone. Bombs were turning London into a forest of fires. And across the channel the Nazi horde was poised to invade. Yet in the face of tyranny and the darkness of oblivion Winston Churchill insisted that democratic processes, the rights of the individual, would not shrivel or shrink, “even,” as Ed Murrow reported, “even when held so near the fire of total war.”
Surely we must win our own war against the terrorism of theocracy. Surely though, if fighting that war means massive arrests, secret tribunals, a tolerance of torture, broad invasions of privacy, the silencing of dissent – if fighting terrorism means these things, Bin Laden, dead or alive, wins.
How seriously do you think our rights are at risk in the war against terrorism?
Go to pbs.org and tell us.
That’s it for tonight. For NOW, I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on March 26, 2015.