America is supposed to be a country that doesn't have political prisoners. But Nakoula Basseley Nakoula looks increasingly like one, a small time Los Angeles crook made a scape goat to cover up the Obama Administration's failure in Libya and the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The claim that Nakoula's puerile video against Islam led to a violent "demonstration" in Benghazi was immediately obvious at the time to Gregory Hicks, career diplomat and Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, as a fabrication. He has just testified to Congress, "I was stunned. My jaw dropped."
But Nakoula, Coptic from Egypt, was hounded by U.S. government authorities and the media. In no time he was arrested and given a hearing--not directly because he made the supposedly inflammatory video--but for breaking parole on a previous case involving banking fraud. His parole terms had provided, among other things, that he not use an alias (which he did in the video) or undertake any public activities without approval of his parole office.
Nakoula obviously did break the terms of his parole. But does anyone believe that that is why he wound up in jail for a year and declared "a danger to the community"? If he had made a film, say, besmirching the name of the Mormon Church, do you think he would have been rounded up and given such a long term? That makes about as much sense as the idea that his video provoked the killings in Libya.
Criticizing Islam or any religion may be unseemly and ill-advised. But religions get criticized every day in free countries, don't they? In this country such criticism also is protected speech. That's because bridging objectionable speech threatens the free speech of all.
One was left last fall with the feeling that a convicted criminal was getting the book thrown at him not because of his "parole violations", but because he had stirred up a political hornet's nest.
Now we have hearings on Benghazi that underscore again the truth that the Administration and the media tried to obscure: the attack in Benghazi was the product of terrorism, not of a "demonstration" against some amateurish video. That suggests in turn that local authorities went overboard in punishing Nakoula, much as the anti-Red mood in the early 50s led local courts to excesses back then.
Accordingly, it is simply wrong to leave Nakoula in jail. It is hard on him, undoubtedly, but it is also hard on the First Amendment. The very essence of totalitarianism is a legal system where everyone can be found guilty of something or other once a government decides to go after them.
I can't get too upset personally about Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The problem is not that he is some kind of martyr, or that he might not break the law again, but that his punishment last fall did not fit the crime. I'm concerned because the other victim of that judicial over-reaction was the First Amendment. In a sense, that right is one of the collateral victims of Benghazi.
I wrote about this last fall, and so did others, of course, but nothing has been done to free Nakoula. There's no excuse for keeping him in jail any longer.