The Great American Family

by Weam Namou

In 2010, a family approached me to write a story about their daughter, Dawn Hanna, who was locked up in a federal prison for breaking the Iraqi embargo. She and her brother were accused of conspiring with Emad, a man of Iraqi origin with U.K. citizenship, to send telecommunication equipment to Iraq. The Hannas always maintained that they thought the equipment was going to Turkey. In the end, while Dawn’s brother was found innocent, Dawn received a 72-month sentence and $1.1 million fine, one of the harshest sentences in history for an export violation.

Emad, the so-called “co-conspirator” turned out to be a CIA operative, and the telecom project was funded by the U.S. government, to help eavesdrop on Saddam and his men. In an attempt to correct this injustice and free Dawn, Emad and another CIA operative blew their own covers. They were astonished when, in response, the court simply said that this new evidence would not have made a difference in the jury’s verdict.

The last thing I wanted to do was take on a political story. But the Dawn Hanna case continued to follow my conscience as I wondered, what happens if we can’t stop our government from breaking the laws? I was a child when my family and I fled Iraq over 30 years ago because of Iraq’s totalitarian government. We came here for America’s freedoms. As an immigrant, I saw through the Dawn Hanna case how we are losing the very things we came here for. I felt it was my responsibility to write this story, because among other things, I did not want my children to have to endure in the United States the same political climate my parents endured in Iraq. So I wrote a book and made a documentary about this case, which is currently in post-production.

The justice system prosecutes over 60,000 people a year. While courts discovered thousands of cases in which prosecutors had engaged in “outrageous” or “flagrant” misconduct, an examination of state bar records in USA Today revealed that few received any discipline, and the disciplines were petty, like being ordered to attend a one-day ethics workshop.

An article by the Huffington Post, The Untouchables: America’s Misbehaving Prosecutors and the System that Protects Them, mentions that critics have long claimed that people are up against a prosecutorial climate that value convictions over all else, one that saw a death sentence as the profession’s brass ring. The New York Times reported in 2003 that prosecutors in Louisiana often threw parties after winning death sentences. Assistant District Attorney James Williams told the Los Angeles Times in 2007, “There was no thrill for me unless there was a chance for the death penalty.”

“Over-incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities,” writes Piper Kerman, in Orange is the New Black. “We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate and does not make us safer.” Books like Uncompromised, Fair Game, The Spy who Tried to Stop a War, Blowing My Cover, Actual Innocence and The Central Park Five, remind us of the importance of honoring the fact that the power of the government comes from the people, and not the other way around.

For more information, visit http://www.TheGreatAmericanFamilyDocumentary.com

Dawn Hanna

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