Legal, News and Media

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Tale of Three Innocent Medical Students

It is said by many that a Muslim man cannot get a fair trial in the United States in this post 9-11 environment. While some trials have proven that to be an incorrect statement it may be fair to say there is a presumption of guilt instead of innocence where Muslim men accused of terrorism may be concerned.

Take the case of three medical students who were released from 17 hours of captivity by FBI and Florida law enforcement to learn they were either terrorists or monsters who would make fun of our nation’s collective pain. Five years ago, in September of 2002, on the one year anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the three medical students told the public what happened but most never even considered they may be telling the truth.

What were the men accused of and by whom? What did they say really happened and what have subsequent facts proven?

Authorities said the young men were “uncooperative” with law enforcement. The three men fully cooperated with law enforcement. One simply refused to allow the search of his vehicle. Apparently exercising ones Fourth Amendment right is now considered not cooperating. The Sheriff of Collier County now says the young men were very cooperative and understanding of the entire event. No one believed them.

Law enforcement said the medical students “blew a toll booth” thus providing probable cause to detain them. Collier County and the FBI stated this in varied news reports. There was even a signed affidavit from the toll booth operator stating the same. The men maintained from the start they did not blow a toll. In fact since the first car was followed out of the toll by a police car, the second car paid twice just in case the first car did not pay. A recently released video of the toll booth shows both cars stopped and paid the toll. No one believed them.

The medical students were said to have explosive material in the car because the dog alerted to something. This was reported by the local Collier County Sheriff’s department as well as attributed to statements made by either the FBI or ATF (depending upon whom you speak with). No wires or any explosives were found in the cars. The FBI would not release three Muslim men who “may have had explosives in the car in the past” as Sheriff Hunter of Collier County keeps saying. The only “unusual” item found in either the car was medical equipment. Medical equipment in a medical student’s car…very suspicious indeed. The medical students denied there were any explosives in the car. No one believed them.

The men were accused of either seriously or jokingly plotting to blow up Miami. This was based upon the “tidbits” of conversation Mrs. Stone overheard. There were people sitting all around them but Mrs. Stone is the only witness that we have heard from. The men denied actually or jokingly plotting to bring down any building. The tidbits of information included “bring it down”… “I have connections”. This, it was made clear, referred to a bringing down a car from Kansas City to Miami. The three medical students drove down to Miami with two cars between them. It does not take a genius to determine the third one needed to obtain a vehicle to get to and from the hospital once he arrived in Miami as residents or medical students don’t always operate on the same schedule. The men explained all the “tidbits” as best as they could recall to authorities.

Authorities did not charge them men with a crime. This bodes well for our law enforcement who took time in this case to piece together the facts and conclude this was a mistake of gargantuan proportions. What happens when law enforcement do not take the time or have sufficient facts to exonerate an individual accused of terror? What would have happened to these young men if they were not U.S. citizens with the rights afforded there under? Or not medical students with the inherent credibility that provides?

Common sense would indicate three educated young Muslim men would be ill advised to make fun of 9-11 in the middle of a crowded Georgia restaurant on September 12th. Still no one believed them.

The three men were separated by law enforcement and each gave the same account of what happened in that Georgia restaurant. After 17 hours with their hands cuffed behind their backs the men were released. They were angry at being singled out for doing nothing wrong but soon allowed their faith to dictate their actions. They wished their accuser, Mrs. Stone, a speedy recovery as soon as they heard of her illness. They did not fault law enforcement even though they were handcuffed for 17 hours, even though law enforcement told the public they had explosives in their car, even though law enforcement told the public they blew the toll booth, even though law enforcement destroyed all their personal belongings. They did not get a call from Jeb Bush nor did they receive support from their home Congressional or Senate representatives as Mr. Stone had received. With all the false information in this case no one has requested an investigation of law enforcement and why false information would be reported to the public unchecked, costing thousands in mobilized resources.

The men refused to sue anyone for money. Instead they wanted to clear their names by honestly sticking to their story, the truth. I suspect now, five years later, there are many that still do not believe them. The public has a difficult job, presuming someone innocent until actually proven guilty. That may be the greatest obstacle to a Muslim man receiving a fair trial in America.

Author: Khurrum Wahid, lead attorney on the legal team for the three men.