Ellie Bernstein’s documentary focuses on the 2004 arrest in Albany, N.Y., of two Muslims – Mohammed Hossain, a Bangladeshi-born U.S. citizen who ran a pizza shop, and Yassin Aref, a Kurdish Iraqi imam at a small mosque – during an FBI sting operation.
The men were portrayed as being willing participants in a bogus plot involving the planned assassination of the Pakistani Ambassador with a shoulder-fired missile. A jury convicted the men in 2006, although the film insists that the trial was full of problematic evidence and inappropriate conduct by both the jury and the judge.
While it appears fairly obvious that the men were more than a little intrigued by the nature of the phony plot (neither of them made any attempt to contact the authorities when the talk of missiles was raised), it is difficult not to wonder why the government spent so much time trying to tempt law-abiding people into crime rather than pursuing active miscreants. Neither man had a criminal history, nor did they have any confirmed ties to terrorist movements, and the film makes a plausible argument for entrapment and frame-up.
However, Bernstein dilutes the effectiveness of her presentation by occasionally straying into puerile denunciations of the Bush Administration (complete with unflattering cartoon parodies). Nonetheless, “Waiting for Mercy” provides a disturbing look at a highly probable miscarriage of justice.