Max Sawicky e-mailed me asking me to post about alleged FBI malfeasance. Here's the post he pointed me to:


The following is something that has not hit the media at all, other than a story in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record that simply repeated FBI propaganda about this awful case. Harrisonburg, Virginia happens to have one of the largest enclaves of Iraqi Kurdish population in the US. They all came in the late 1990s to flee from Saddam Hussein's regime after working for pro-US NGOs and having their lives threatened. They applauded at the fall of Saddam.

However, four of them have been arrested for transferring funds to their families and charitable organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan without a license, a felony offense under the Patriot Act and the act to keep Cubans from sending money to their relatives in Cuba. One has been convicted in a trial in which most of the evidence was not allowed and in which the FBI suggested that the defendant was a terrorist. These people were cowed into not talking to the media, and now they are all in deep trouble. Their homes have been raided, their money seized, even things like medical insurance cards (with one wife pregnant), applications for citizenship are off, they are facing deportation, and so on. They were assigned a Croatian translator for the court. There is a serious string of outrages associated with this with no coverage by any serious media. The FBI agent in charge even told them, "I know you are not the bad guys, but too much paperwork has gone forward on this."

If you are interested in helping these people out, the following are contacts....

InstaPundit likewise links to this, noting "MAX SAWICKY says that the FBI is oppressing the Kurds in Virginia. Sounds like this could use some more scrutiny." [UPDATE: I should note that the post is from the MaxSpeak site, but was written by Max Sawicky's coblogger Barkley Rosser.]

It's certainly quite possible that the FBI is misbehaving. But the question is whether this is in fact so; and the post gives me very little to go on here. It gives a few facts, and no links to original sources or press accounts. It does give lots of opinion — but the opinion is expressed in such an overwrought way, starting with the "Gestapo," that it makes me wonder how much other embellishment there may be in the factual discussion (or how many important facts are omitted).

Sometimes you decide that your enemies are Nazi-like because you know they've done some very bad things. But sometimes your judgment that your enemies have done some very bad things is colored by your assumption that your enemies are Nazi-like. And often there's a complicated positive feedback loop: You see them doing something that looks bad, you get outraged, and your initial outrage clouds your further judgment about the other facts you learn.

Now if I knew the poster well personally, and knew him to be trustworthy — or had lots of experience of his trustworthiness from his past posts — I might trust his judgment even without much factual details. If I knew that he was almost always calm and understated, then his calling someone the "Gestapo" would actually be an important signal that there really was something very bad likely happening.

But if someone doesn't have such preexisting credibility with me, then his using rhetoric about the "Gestapo" only makes his factual characterizations less credible in my eyes rather than more. And I would expect the same would be true of many other readers, including many who read this site and who might follow its links to other sites.

So the best way to make a case — a case which may well be very justified and important, if it is indeed factually sound — that someone is misbehaving is to give (1) lots of factual details (what exactly is the law involved? does it really ban the mailing of any money to anyone in Iraq? what evidence wasn't allowed and why? what was the FBI's basis for suggesting that the defendant was a terrorist?), (2) as many supporting documents as possible, (3) as many links to presumptively neutral sources as possible, while (4) avoiding even slight rhetorical exaggerations that might cast doubt on the precision of the other material. Maybe I'm mistaken on this; but it seems to me to be much more effective for the author's cause, and much more valuable for readers' enlightenment.