U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Faces Neglect

August 24, 2007

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Bilal Mahmud U.S. Veteran Faces Neglect…

Bilal Mahmud

Detroit Mi 1435

                                                                       Bilal Mahmud Bio

         

Muslim American Civil Right Hearing Congress 2004…Congressman Joh…

Bilal Mahmud American Civil Rights Testimony

           The World Of Islam…Bilal Mahmud  

Post 9/11 Hearing with Congressman John Conyers October
2004.  Washington, D.C. …Bilal Mahmud …”Life Magazine”

September 26, 2009

Bilal Mahmud is an African American (his great, great grandfather born in America in 1810 as a mulatto) who accepted the religion of Islam during the early 70’s, as a result of having traveled around the world , and coming to know that many of the slaves that were bought to America were Muslim who had their religion taken from them and forced into Christianity.   For the full story click on the above link   “The World of Islam, Bilal Mahmud”

PS:  “Islamophobia: A Threat to American Values” by John L. Esposito, Prof. at Georgetown University, August 10, 2010.

اللهم إني أسألك خشيتك في الغيب والشهادة،

   بلال  محمود   : اجىرك

September 12, 2009

Aluta  Continue”

                                                                     بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم  
 Ramadan 1430 A.H.

                        “Aluta Continua”

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By Wali Muhammad  9/12/2009
The culmination of a lengthy legal battle to overcome an unwarranted label of “terrorist” drew to a conclusion ironically enough, just a week before the anniversary of this nation’s largest catastrophic security breach and terrorist attack, (9-11). The Department of Homeland Security and the Gerogia Department of Transportation decided to reinstate the Hazardous Materials endorsement on Viet Nam Vet Bilal Mahmud’s Commercial Drivers License (CDL). 

 

This re-instatement followed lengthy legal battle that took the issue all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.  In a battle fought with patience, perseverance and undeniable faith in God, Bilal Mahmud challenged the federal government in a manner reminiscent of David and Goliath. 

 

Mahmud, who counted the days from revocation to reinstatement; said, “It was five years, one month and three days since I was deemed officially “a threat to national security – a codeword for terrorist.” This classification by an anonymous, unnamed official is described by Mahmud as “the careless, reckless action of one incompetent, irresponsible individual in authority.”

 

An action that subsequently caused the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to demand that Mahmud relinquish his CDL, bearing a hazardous materials endorsement, which he held for more than twenty years without a single ticked or blemish on his record. 

 

Being forced to relinquish his hazardous materials endorsement cost him his ability to earn a living at the standard to which he was accustomed.   Throughout the course of this five year ordeal, neither the TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, nor the Department of Transportation provided any clear reason for revoking his endorsement.

 

Stigmatized without reason or explanation, Mahmud began a long, arduous, and costly struggle to achieve some level of parity in this matter.  Mahmud is an African American Vietnam veteran who has never had a violation, has never been convicted of a crime, is considered a pillar of his community and had worked for the same company for twenty years.

 

The course of litigation went through all phases of the American justice system, finally arriving at the Supreme Court docket, only to have that court refuse to review his appeal.   Along the way there was an arbitration hearing where he was assured that things were cleared up and his license could be reinstated.  Having tried all else, Mahmud made application for the hazmat certification in January of this year. 

 

He sat for and passed the exam in May.  However his application stalled at the background check which normally takes about ten days.  When the period stretched from 20 to 30 days with no response and continued on to 45 days, he was assigned a special case worker.  Mahmud began a routine of calling each week to see if there was a change in his status.  He was repeated told that he was still under investigation.

 

Mahmud said he continued to ask why he was being targeted, he had submitted all documentation required of him.  “Is it my name; is it my race; is it my religion; is it my ethnicity?  To each question he was told no yet there was no reason for his continued denial.  His inquiries raised sufficient concern for the case worker to involve her supervisor.  The supervisor agreed that his case appeared to marginalize him in his profession for no reason.  She said it made no sense to her and she would get back to him by the end of the week with an answer.

 

She called back in a couple of days to say the issue was resolved and an electronic dispatch was being sent to Georgia Department of Transportation to that effect.  The GA-DOT was still reluctant when he showed up to pick up his endorsement; but after a few phone calls he got the “green light” and he was reinstated.

 

Asked about his ability to recover from this devastating bureaucratic ordeal, Mahmud admitted that his personal and family financial condition has been drastically reduced by the five year up-hill legal battle.  His stable employment was trashed, his potential retirement package (time on the job would have been 25 years now). While he can now return to his profession, he practically has to start over. 

 

There have been no offers of restitution from the federal government for this arbitrary abuse and Mahmud reflects on the strangeness of it all.

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“When I was young and served my country, I was in Marine reconnaissance and had national security clearance. Now that I’ve served my country and I’m old, I’m considered a threat by my own government – how ironic is that.” 

 

The possibility of returning to his previous employer is not an option Mahmud says, “There was no justification for the position they took on this; they knew me.  They knew the charges were bogus; yet they turned their back on me after twenty years, without hesitation, without reservation.  I have no intention of returning to them whatsoever!”

 

Are there additional legal remedies for him to seek?  Mahmud is tight-lipped and serious. “This is by no means over.  My attorneys and I are in a fact-finding mode at the present.”  He admitted that they are exploring opportunities and a different legal approach.  “Aluta Continua” he proclaims, (the struggle continues)

 

Post 04/30/09
Now that we have pass the magical mark of the 100 days of the presidency of Barak Hussein Obama, we really have to look critically at what he has done, or has not done.  For the most part he has been one busy “brother”, he had to come right in and begin to clean up the mess of the person, who lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, before him.  I must say he has surpassed any preconceived ideas I might have had about him.  See 01/19/09 post…below

Post  4/24/09

In the wake of the post 9/11 environment in the United States of America many of its citizens are subjected to some of the most egregious treatment by officials that are paid many time by our tax dollars.  All of this is done in the name of “national security”.  Unfortunately, many of those subjected to such treatment are Muslim Americans, who happen to have name that sound foreign or different to say the least.  The level of paranoia is such that some officials are suggesting that people with different sounding name change their name to be able to assimilate into the American society.  There was a time when America was suppose to be a melting pot, that accepted everyone for who they were.  Now in order to just move about in the society you have to have an anglo christian sounding name.  Something is wrong in this picture.  Below please find a short video describing some of the unjust treatment I have had to endure as a citizen with a  funny sounding name. 
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Posted:  January 2009

The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same….

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By Bilal Mahmud

Today, January 19, 2009, as I ponder over how far America has come , or has not come.  As someone once said the more things change the more they remain the same. 

Yesterday, January 18, 2009, as  I walked the mall in Washington, D.C. near the Washington Monument, with thousands of other Americans and people from every corner of the world assembled to witness the making of American history anew.  It was an auspicious  occasion to say the least.  In so many ways it represented the end of one regime and the beginning of a whole new and refreshing era. 

We pray with the emergence of this new leadership, there will be a more just and equitable dealing with citizens and non-citizens, with regards to the “War on terror”, and the maintenance of National Security.

As many of us know all too well over the past eight years many Americans have had their basic civil rights violated with no recourse, or redress available.  In many of those incidents, those accused or suspected of some violation of the law were found to be totally innocent of all charges.  That being the case, once one has been named, or accused it is tantamount to attempting to unring a bell.  When the repetition of an individual is destroyed it becomes virtually irreparable. 

As I am inclined to rejoice a victory on one front, i.e.  the presidency of Barak Hussein Obama , there is the pessimist in me that  wonders will there be any drastic changes in how Muslim, or people with different sounding names are dealt with when it comes to National Security issues, or their being able to move about in society as all other Americans are able to do. 

Some may wonder, from what prospective am I making these evaluations.  With much sorrow, I can make them from a first hand prospective.  We have always heard that lady justice is blind, but we never had her to be a lackey of bigotry.  Normally if  someone is designated as a threat to national security, there is a due process that  is afforded them.

August 2004, I was designated a threat to national security, and was subjected to certain punitive measures without any due process.  Being innocent and having full knowledge of that I contested such ludicrous  allegation, even to the extent of testifying before U.S. Congressman John  Conyers, in October 2004.  Following an investigation it was determined that the allegation were in fact bogus.   

Once it was determined that said allegation were bogus and contributed to the violations of my civil rights, the course of litigation was perused.  Initially our case was filed in U.S. Federal Court, we were denied.  We filed an  appeal in the U.S. Appellant Court, also denied.  Not being deterred by those two denials we filed a writ in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Having been born and raised in the United States of America and having witnessed the many strides of progress made in the area of civil rights in America.  The denial by the U.S. Supreme Court just solidified the saying “The more things change the more they remain the same. “

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Bilal Mahmud ISNA 2014/1435

                                       Bilal Mahmud

   American Muslim Veteran On Docket U.S. Supreme Court
Down through the ages, men have found the justification for the ill treatment of their fellow man, in the name of “protecting their governments, or the people of the society at large.
Something is wrong when we can justify taking away one human beings basic rights, and his protection under the law, for unjust persecution.
Where ever or when ever we witness such gross injustices we must respond accordingly.  To keep silent is criminal in and of it’s self.
For the past 3 years and 11 months, I have been in pursuit of that illusive entity known as “justice”, this journey has thus far yielded the following results.
Bilal Mahmud
                (Petitioner)
                 V.
Justin P. Oberman
                 (Respondent)
Notice is Hereby Given pursuant to Rule 12.3 that a petition for writ of Certiorari in the above entitled case was filed in the Supreme Court of The United States on April 14, 2008, and placed on docket June 20, 2008.  Pursuant to Rule 15.3, the due date for a brief in opposition is Monday, July 21, 2008
To each of you, near and far, big and small, I would like to extend my most sincere thanks and gratitude.  This accomplishment would not have been possible without the help of Allah Most High and the sincere believers like each of you.  May Allah give you a good reward in this life and in the hereafter. 
I humblely request that you continue to pray for our continued success.  “The Struggle Continues”
Your Brother in Faith
Bilal Mahmud
 
______________________________________________________________________

Posted:  April 22, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

US Veteran Appeals to Supreme Court in Dispute against Department of Homeland Security

                                                    
 
  ( Atlanta GA , 4/21/08) – A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group reported today that they are supporting the appeal to the Supreme Court of a Georgia Muslim Veteran in a four year long dispute with the Department of Homeland Security who mistakenly labeled him a threat to National Security without any kind of investigation and caused his career to be destroyed.
On July 30, 2004, DHS, revoked Bilal Mahmud’s commercial hazardous driver’s license claiming that he was a threat to National Security despite the fact that Mr. Mahmud had never been involved in any criminal activity and distinguishly served his Country as a Marine in Vietnam .  Subsequently the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged their mistake and said that they had made an error in their classification of Mr. Mahmud as a threat to National Security.  On June 19, 2007, the federal court dismissed Mahmud’s lawsuit, holding that the law did not provide any remedy for damages as a result of the action taken by DHS.  Mahmud has decided to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court saying, “If allowed to stand, this ruling will affect the rights of thousands of Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities in the United States .”

CAIR Georgia is supporting Mr. Mahmud in his appeal.  Yusof Burke, President CAIR Georgia said “Any law that does not allow for just compensation due to admittedly improper actions by a Government agency must be challenged.  Mr. Mahmud served his country with distinction and is only seeking fair treatment in asking the Government to take responsibility for their mistake and adequately compensate him for the consequences of this mistake.”

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Bilal Mahmud is a natural born United States citizen, and a descendant of slaves, born in Richmond , Virginia ; he currently resides in the greater Atlanta Metropolitan area. Mr. Mahmud served in a Marine Combat Unit in Vietnam , (3rd Battalion 1st Marines) and received an honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps.

Bilal Mahmud U.S.M.C. 

He is active in his community and chairs efforts of the al-Farooq Masjid in Atlanta with the distribution of charitable donations made to the institution for indigent members of the Atlanta community, both Muslim and non-Muslim.  Prior to loosing his commercial hazardous drivers license, Mahmud was an employee of Old Dominion for twenty (20) year. During the course of his employment, Mahmud was never disciplined or reprimanded in any manner.

For additional information, or to contribute to the Bilal Mahmud Fund for Justice, please contact: 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

https://bilalmahmud.wordpress.com/
Name:  Bilal Mahmud
P.O. Box 1241
Conley , Ga. 30288-7018
Email:  jabal1470@yahoo.com
Contact: CAIR – Georgia
Contact Person: Yusof Burke / Telephone Number: 770-220-0082
Email Address: cair@cair-northgeorgia.org
Web site address: www.cair.com

 

Posted 4/19/08



Bilal Mahmud Testifies Before The Honorable Congressman
John Conyers In Washington, D.C.
October 13, 2004,

Bilal Mahmud (above) 9/11 Hearings October 13, 2004

http://aburuyaa.wordpress.com/

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Trucker Wrongly Watch-Listed Sues U.S.

August 15, 2008
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WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) — An Atlanta truck driver who says he lost his job after being wrongly placed on a U.S. terrorist watch-list is petitioning the Supreme Court for redress.
© 2008 United Press International. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be reproduced, redistributed, or manipulated in any form

Bilal Mahmud was one of 29 truckers across the United States whose license to haul hazardous materials was withdrawn by the Transportation Security Administration in 2004, after the names of 2.7 million commercial drivers were run against U.S. terrorist watch-lists.

Mahmud appealed and his license was eventually restored by the TSA, but he says he lost his job and reputation and is still on the watch-list.

His attempt to sue the official in charge of TSA’s watch-list office, Justin Oberman, was dismissed by a federal court in Atlanta last year, which effectively ruled the reinstatement of his license was the only redress he was entitled to. His appeal was dismissed by the 11th Circuit without a hearing, after voluntary mediation failed.

“The mediation didn’t go anywhere,” Mahmud told UPI Tuesday, “so we’re filing with the Supreme Court.”

The petition is a request for the court to take up the case. The Supreme Court receives hundreds of such certiorari petitions every year and takes up only a few considered especially significant.

Oberman, now a consultant, is being represented by U.S. attorneys in the case because he is being sued for actions he undertook as a government official.

No one from the Department of Justice, which routinely declines comment on ongoing litigation, immediately responded to a query about the filing.

Mahmud says he apparently remains on the U.S. terrorist watch-list, citing a traffic stop last year when the officer told him his “license had a flag on it from Homeland Security.”

Mahmud, an African-American who converted to Islam after a three-year stint with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam, held a top-secret clearance while in the military and has no criminal or terrorist connections, his lawyers say.

Contact: CAIR – Georgia

Contact Person: Yusof Burke / Telephone Number: 770-220-0082
Email Address: cair@cair-northgeorgia.org
Web site address: www.CAIR-Net.Org or http://www.cair-northgeorgia.org

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Another US Veteran Faces Neglect and Frustration From the Highest levels of Government: Vietnam Veteran Continues Fight Against Homeland Security!

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Atlanta, Georgia – 08/08/08

Bilal Mahmud, a US Citizen and Vietnam Veteran, continues his struggle for justice and the pursuit of happiness.

On 18  July 2007 Mr. Mahmud filed suit in THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA(Atlanta Division), requesting a trail by jury, in his suit against Justin Oberman, formerly of the US Department of Homeland Security and 10 other un-named defendants.

According to civil action filed, “on July 30, 2004, Mr. Oberman, then an official of the Department of Homeland Security, revoked the endorsement on Mahmud’s commercial driver’s license that allowed him to transport so-called “hazardous” materials, primarily paint and corrosives, such as batteries. Prior to the action undertaken by the Defendants herein, Mahmud did not transport any form of explosives or material used in warfare, except for transporting a truck load of ammunition to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary two or three times in twenty years of employment.”

“At the time that the Oberman revoked Mahmud’s hazardous materials endorsement, Oberman was well aware that Mahmud had not engaged in any unlawful activity whatsoever. Oberman had no reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause, to believe that Mahmud had engaged in any crime, much less activity related to terrorism. Oberman had no reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause to believe that Mahmud was a threat to national security, or posed any danger whatsoever to transportation security. Oberman was well aware that Mahmud had never encouraged or engaged in any act of terrorism (including the financial support of terrorism), within or without the United States, and was not a threat to National Security, or transportation security.”

However, on June 19, 2007, the federal court dismissed Mahmud’s lawsuit, holding that “the law did not provide any remedy for damages as a result of Oberman’s behavior”. In other words, the court indicated that the law allows a public official to take away a person’s rights without notice, without a hearing, and because of a person’s race or ethnicity. Mahmud has decided to appeal this unjust ruling because, if allowed to stand, this ruling will affect the rights of thousands of Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities in the United States.

Just like most of you, Bilal Mahmud is a good citizen. He is a natural born United States citizen, and a descendant of slaves, born in Richmond, Virginia; he currently resides in the greater Atlanta Metropolitan area.

Mr. Mahmud served, in a Marine Combat Unit, in Vietnam, (3rd Battalion 1st Marines) and received an honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps; he does not smoke, drink alcohol, or use any type of drugs. He is loving husband of over (34 years) and a giving father to three wonderful children. He is an observant Muslim and has never been arrested, indicted, or convicted of any crime or participated or encouraged any act of sedition against the United States of America.

Mr. Mahmud has never been interviewed by any law enforcement official or any employee or official of any United States agency; including, but not limited to, the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, Bilal Mahmud is a model citizen.

He is a co-founder and serves as one of five permanent members of the Board of Trustees of the Al-Farooq Masjid of Atlanta, a religious institution (Mosque) devoted to the service of the international Muslim community of greater Atlanta and the Southeastern United States of America. Al-Farooq Masjid is a nonprofit, non-political, religious organization that enjoys a stellar reputation for integrity and service to the community.

He chairs efforts of the al-Farooq Masjid with the distribution of charitable donations made to the institution for indigent members of the Atlanta community, both Muslim and non-Muslim. This charitable work includes, without limitation, distribution of food and other essentials to the poor, elderly and infirm.

Mahmud is a model, loyal United States citizen who placed himself in harm’s way to serve his country in the United States Marine Corp, who strictly complies and has always complied with the laws of the United States, and local governments, who serves his community by assisting those in need. He is without any form or manner of racial prejudice, respecting all individuals, regardless of their ethnicity.

For twenty (20) years immediately prior to August 10, 2004, Mahmud was an employee of Old Dominion Freight Lines Inc. . During the course of his employment, Mahmud was never disciplined or reprimanded, orally or in writing, in any manner or form whatsoever. To the contrary, Mahmud was a model employee who timely, efficiently, and professionally performed his job at Old Dominion without incident or making any complaint whatsoever.

Fortunately, Bilal Mahmud seeks to take a stand on behalf of all Americans, all Veterans and all of us who are victims of an injustice that mocks the spirit and the essence of the US Constitution and belittles the moral obligations of a government created to protect the rights of the individual.

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This is not only an assault on the rights of Muslims, or on the rights of African Americans, it is a total disregard for justice and a slap in the face of those Veterans who have given their lives for the cause of Freedom.

From the mistreatment of Veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, to the homeless Veterans living on the streets of America, there has been total disregard for what is right and just. A government must be accountable for the actions taken against its citizenry.

Not only should we support Bilal Mahmud in his struggle for justice, we should elect him to Congress. As a country, we would find it almost impossible to locate 53 members (only 10 percent) of the US House and Senate, whose records of service to this country and to the needy that could match the accomplishments of Bilal Mahmud.

For additional information, or to contribute to the Bilal Mahmud Fund for Justice, please contact:

“Islamophobia: A Threat to American Values” by John L. Esposito, Prof. at Georgetown University, August 10, 2010.

Name: Bilal Mahmud

P.O. Box 1241
Conley, Ga. 30288-7018
Email:  jabal1470@yahoo.com

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Full Story:

TSA tells Vietnam vet he’s a security threat

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By Wali Muhammad
OUTRAGED: Bilal Mahmud an Army veteran feels the Homeland Security Act has gone too far. (Wali Muhammad)

Bilal Mahmud is “bewildered.” He received a letter earlier this month that put his life on hold. Mahmud, an African American Muslim and a family man what happened to due process and why he was commanded to surrender his commercial driver’s license — in effect his livelihood.

Mahmud, a former Marine who saw combat in Vietnam was recently notified that he’s “a security threat pursuant to Title 49 C.F.R. § 1572.107.” Subsequent to this notification Mahmud was forced to surrender his commercial driver’s license (CDL) without due, or any, process to the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Basically it started with me being notified by TSA in a Certified Letter. I got this letter stating that according to their findings, I posed a national security threat.” Mahmud said. “By posing a national security threat, the hazardous materials endorsement on my CDL was revoked. In that communiqué, I was instructed to immediately surrender my CDL to the state that I lived in. I had ten days to respond.”

Title 49 C.F.R. § 1572.107 “precludes individuals from holding a hazardous materials endorsement on a CDL, if the TSA determines or suspects an individual of being to a threat to national security, to transportation security, or of terrorism.”

“I’m just in a hold pattern, waiting to find out exactly what I’ve done,” Mahmud explained. “In my life, I’ve never been arrested, never been indicted, never been convicted of any crime. I make my living driving; I’ve held a commercial driving license for 27 years, and for the last 17 years I haven’t had a traffic violation. I’ve been with the same company twenty years hauling hazardous materials and nobody ever told me I posed a threat or anything.

Mahmud questions if this “is all this just because I am a Muslim? I fought for this country in Vietnam and now this same country is asking me to give up my only means of income and my only means to provide food & shelter for my family…”

“I served this country and risked my life to protect it. I did three years in the Marines – honorably discharged.” Mahmud continued, “I’ve proven I can mesh with society, I pay my taxes, I vote, I do everything a good citizen is supposed to do, and this is how I am treated? I truly don’t understand how they determine who is a threat and who is not. Does my belief in God make you a threat to the United States?”

In order to avoid further “undue harassment” Mahmud accompanied by Jabril Alexander of CAIR North Georgia reported to the DMV office to surrender his CDL on August 10 in Conyers, Ga. In addition, he responded to the initial notification and has not received any reply. “I know from a certified return receipt that TSA received my reply on August 11. That much is documented. I have repeated called the office to no avail.”

Mahmud is respected member of the Atlanta community, the descendant of former slaves – a multi-generational American — born in Richmond, VA, raised in rural Roanoke Rapid, NC, with small town family values. His father served the United States in the Korean War, and was an inspiration to Mahmud to also serve and protect his country.

During his tour of duty in Vietnam, Mahmud became attracted to Islam by reading. “I didn’t smoke, drink or use drugs so I had time to read. At that time of growing social and political awareness in America, I started to study about African history. I learned that the majority of African People brought to this country were Muslim. I also discovered that Christianity was not our religion. It was a religion that was basically forced upon us as a result of being enslaved.”

Mahmud said that when he learned of the monotheistic principles of Islam “and the fact that most of my African ancestors brought to this country were Muslim. There was a natural inclination that drove me to be like my African ancestors and if I was to truly follow their example, I had to become Muslim. That was January 1974.” His efforts to share what he learned about Islam brought him to Atlanta in 1976 where he has lived ever since.

Asked if he could think of any past associations that might make him subject of an investigation, Mahmud said although he has been blessed to travel around the world he has never knowingly associated with any groups that were anti-American. Asked about local association, he explained that he is not a member of any of he major Islamic associations like ICNA, ISNA, and so forth. He added, “I associate with members of SCLC, but I’m not a member. I’m sure living in the south, I’ve had the opportunity to associate with people who are in the Klan or the Nazi party, but I’m not a member of either of those parties either.”

To resolve this matter, Mahmud would like to be “totally cleared of any allegations and charges that have been lodged against me because they are totally unfounded. They’ve (TSA) ruined my reputation. I am unemployed. My employer stepped away from me based on the fact that I got this letter from TSA. I think in the future I may be unemployable by the fact that this stench is attached to my name.”

“How do you fix a man’s life after you mess it up?” Mahmud wonders. “That will be something we will definitely have to discuss and come up with some amiable answer.”

http://www.atlantavoice.com/AV_Newsfront.htm

Post 9/11 Hearing with Congressman John Conyers, October 2004

  

Trucker case shows vetting redress problem

Published 3/6/2005 9:26 PM

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) — For nearly six months after his license to drive vehicles carrying hazardous materials was revoked on national-security grounds, Bilal Mahmud found himself trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare, not knowing what he was suspected of having done — or by whom.

“When the letter arrived, I thought, ‘This has got to be a mistake,’” Mahmud, an African-American who lives in Atlanta, told United Press International.

The July 30, 2004 letter from the Transportation Security Administration told him that the endorsement on his commercial driver’s license that entitled him to haul hazardous materials was being withdrawn forthwith, because they were not available to people the agency “determines or suspects … of being a threat to national security, transportation security or terrorism.”

He wrote back immediately, he said, to find out what the decision was based on. The reply: He could not be told.

“It has been determined that the materials relied upon in making the initial determination contains information that cannot be released to you,” the agency replied.

“Twenty years in a job and all of sudden it’s brought to this screeching halt,” said Mahmud, who added that the stigma made him feel like “a person with leprosy.”

“Every day we wake up and our faith is tested,” said Mahmud, who converted to Islam after a three-year stint as a Marine during the Vietnam War.

Despite declining to provide any details of what underlay their suspicions, the Transportation Security Administration — an agency of the Department of Homeland Security — did offer Mahmud the chance to try to clear his name by submitting comprehensive histories of everywhere he had lived and worked in the last five years and answering follow-up questions from officials over the telephone.

Mahmud says he is a law-abiding citizen. “Nor is there anything in his background that might be a cause for concern,” adds his lawyer, Zenobia Carter.

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In a wide-ranging interview with UPI, Mahmud — who having fought in a recon unit in Vietnam once held a top-secret security clearance — openly discussed his faith, his work at the al-Farooq mosque in Atlanta and his three pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

He said the mosque is a non-political organization funded by donations from the congregation and has no connection to terrorism.

“There’s nothing that makes sense about this situation,” he said. “It’s not right and it’s not fair.”

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Amy Von Walter told UPI she could not discuss individual cases but confirmed that in the summer of 2004 the agency had run what she called “a name-based terrorist-focus check” on the 2.7 million people licensed to haul hazardous materials in the United States.

She said 29 individuals had their licenses revoked like Mahmud but stressed there was a process for them — and for the many more who had licenses revoked because of their criminal record or because they had once been judged mentally incompetent — to appeal.

Mahmud was eventually cleared by a process he said was just as opaque as the one that labeled him, but he still frets that the stigma of the ruling might stick with him. “Something like that can make you look real suspicious,” he said.

He told UPI that questions he was asked by officials during the process of trying to get his license back led him to believe that he was under some kind of surveillance.

Officials asked about his granddaughter by name, he said, pointing out that at five years old she is neither registered to vote nor on any credit registries. “They is no way that he would he know that my granddaughter had lived with me unless they were watching,” he said.

The letter clearing him, which did not arrive until the end of December, also came too late to save his job, which was reliant on his license. Mahmud says he has found other work now and has no plans to return to truck driving.

Mahmud’s case is one of a number that have led to criticism of the Department of Homeland Security for not providing an effective means of redress for those mistakenly identified and denied Hazmat licenses or the right to work in a port or even board an airplane.

The department runs more than a dozen programs that check against terrorist watch lists the names of foreign visitors to the country, would-be workers at air and sea ports and those who wish to board or fly planes.

But as it moves ahead with plans to centralize these initiatives, officials tell UPI that even the basic principles for a mechanism those wrongly identified as terrorist threats can use to clear their names has not been agreed.

Some within the department are pushing for a “customer-centered” approach in the shape of a 24-hour call center with a toll-free phone number. Others argue that that would be too expensive.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the system has got to work well enough that people do not feel they have to sue the government to get justice.

“We’ve got to keep people out of court if we can,” said one former official of the screening appeals. “It’s expensive, it takes forever, and it will often have to reach a conclusion based on less information than would be available to officials.”

Last year, in accordance with Homeland Security Presidential Directive 11, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge submitted a working document to the White House that outlined a strategy for terrorist screening, including “mechanisms to address data inaccuracies” in the government’s terrorist watch list.

“What the deliverable will be out of that, we don’t know yet,” said a senior administration official familiar with the document.

Cases like Mahmud’s are difficult, say officials, because the need to keep the sources of terrorism intelligence secret makes the decision-making process a “black box.”

The consolidated terrorist watch list is maintained not by the agency making the decisions — in this case the Transportation Security Administration — but by the FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center.

But the government daisy chain doesn’t end there.

“We don’t hold the derogatory information,” the center’s Deputy Director Rick Koppel told UPI recently. “All we have is the names.” To find out why an individual might have been placed on the watch list, center officials would have to reach back to the “nominating agency,” he explained.

In practice, this leaves officials from the agencies that are making decisions as part of such screening programs playing piggy-in-the-middle between outraged individuals who believe they have been misidentified or wrongly suspected and agencies that either do not have, or are concerned to protect, the intelligence upon which those decisions are based.

“The (Transportation Security Administration) very rarely puts people on those lists,” the agency’s former Deputy Administrator Steve McHale told UPI. “They were put on by other agencies. … We didn’t always have access to the data,” he added.

https://i0.wp.com/c276161.r61.cf1.rackcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/joberman.jpg

Justin Oberman, of the administration’s Office of Vetting and Credentialing, told UPI that his agency had “a very strong relationship” with those agencies.

“In certain cases,” he said of the appeals process, “if there’s reason to seek out additional material, we will go back to the originating agency.”

He said that the Transportation Security Administration had a “strong appeals process with multiple levels of review.”

In the case of the Hazmat-licenses screening program, the appeal was researched by the counsel’s office and the final determination was made by the Chief Operating Officer.

(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

Copyright © 2001-2005 United Press International

Court orders mediation in watch-list case

Published: Aug. 24, 2007 at 12:14 PM

WASHIGNTON, D.C., Aug. 24 (UPI) — A U.S. federal court ordered mediation of a truck driver’s lawsuit against a Homeland Securityofficial over his apparent inclusion on a terrorist watch list.Atlanta trucker Bilal Mahmud is suing Justin Oberman, who formerly headed the terrorist screening operations of the Transportation Security Administration. In 2004 the TSA rescinded Mahmud’s license to haul hazardous materials after his name apparently turned up on a U.S. government terrorist watch list.Mahmud’s lawyer, Steven Katz, called him “one of the finest people I’ve ever met. … He never even had a parking ticket.” Mahmud, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and Muslim convert held a top secret clearance while in the military.Although Mahmud’s license was later restored, he lost his job and, he says, his reputation. “You can’t unring a bell,” he told United Press International. “The first question you get asked when you apply for a job is, ‘Has your license ever been revoked?’ and once you answer ‘Yes,” they want to know why. … The stigma never goes away.”The U.S. District Court in Atlanta dismissed Mahmud’s case earlier this year, holding effectively that the reinstatement of his license was the only redress to which he was entitled. He has lodged a notice of appeal with the 11th Circuit, where a judge asked the parties to attempt voluntary, non-binding mediation before taking the case further.

The telephone conference with a court-appointed mediator is set for Sept. 21.
Oberman, now a consultant, is represented by U.S. government lawyers because he is being sued for actions he undertook as a government official.
“The mediation is set, and we will take part,” said Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller. He declined to comment further, citing a departmental policy against discussing pending litigation.
Shaun Waterman, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
© Copyright United Press International. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be reproduced, redistributed, or manipulated in any form.
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