It may be tempting for some to try to turn anti-Muslim filmmaker Mark Bassely Youssef, who was blamed by the Obama administration for the attack in Benghazi, into a martyr for free speech, but the fact is he took the plea deal. If he truly believed he was innocent, or thought a one-year sentence was wildly disproportionate to his charges, he could have fought it out in court. Why pass up the free publicity of a public trial, unless you’re guilty and think a plea bargain is the best deal you’re going to get?
The California man behind an anti-Muslim film that led to violence in many parts of the Middle East was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for probation violations in an unrelated matter, then issued a provocative statement through his attorney.
The sentence was the result of a plea bargain between lawyers for Mark Bassely Youssef and federal prosecutors. Youssef admitted in open court that he had used several false names in violation of his probation order and obtained a driver’s license under a false name. He was on probation for a bank fraud case.
Shortly after Youssef left the courtroom, his lawyer, Steven Seiden, came to the front steps of the courthouse and told reporters his client wanted to send a message.
“The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” Seiden said.
Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.”
Admittedly, the sentence does sound harsh for a probation violation. But this guy was also a con artist and a federal convict who previously pulled off a major check fraud scheme. He was specifically prohibited from using aliases and the Internet without specific permission from his probation officer, which he apparently didn’t have.
So it’s not so much the sentence itself that’s problematic, but whether he was treated differently by federal prosecutors because of the film. Would he have been arrested if his movie hadn’t been blamed for the protests in Benghazi and Cairo? Would prosecutors have pursued him so vigorously, and pushed for the maximum sentence? These are grey areas, and it’s a surprise the ACLU hasn’t gotten involved. There’s no overt violation of civil liberties here, but there should be legitimate concerns about a chilling effect on free speech.
The biggest red flag was was when the father of fallen Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods said Hillary Clinton assured him at the Benghazi memorial service that the feds were going to “arrest and prosecute” the filmmaker. Nobody else has backed up or confirmed this. But if true, it would be a bombshell, and it certainly warrants further investigation.