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Justice Dept. & Law Enforcement Should Decide on 9/11 Trial Venue– Not Politicians

By Ross Parker

The decision of where and in what forum—civilian court or military commission—to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants has sparked a political firestorm of debate.

“Conservative” politicians and pundits have managed to cast the debate in terms of rights of enemy combatants versus the legitimate security needs of the United States. In other words, which is more important, the lives of Americans or the rights of terrorists? When put that way, it is easy to tell which hand has the chocolate.

The administration has been dithering and straddling on the issue. Reports have it that the President’s advisers are recommending a shift to the predominant or even exclusive use of military commissions and that his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is discussing a deal with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

All of this partisan posturing obscures and politicizes a question which should be decided by law enforcement and Justice Department professionals according to the needs and circumstances of a particular case. Why should we eliminate as an option the criminal justice system which has so successfully resulted in hundreds of double digit prison terms for those convicted of terrorism-related violations?

Some have argued that the terrorism conviction rate in the federal district courts misses the point. However, these numbers are such an overwhelming endorsement of the use of the civilian court system.

Of the approximately eight hundred alleged terrorists charged since 9/11, over five hundred of the less than six hundred whose cases have been resolved have been convicted (almost 90%). About two hundred are still pending. Moreover, the average sentence has been about 16 years. In comparison, the 20 military cases have produced 3 convictions and two of the defendants have already been released. With such statistics, it is difficult to be overly concerned about the procedural disadvantages of the civil system.

The inevitable conclusion is that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, along with the Justice Department prosecutors have been quite effective in terrorism cases. Their experience and professionalism in the use of intelligence, apprehension of targets, and marshalling of persuasive evidence have been unmatched. Moreover, the civilian court system has proven to be efficient, to possess unquestioned credibility, and to pose few obstacles to the presentation of all relevant evidence.

Are there costs involved in a predominant civil court system option in terrorism cases? Obviously there are, including the financial burden of high security trials and the safety issues posed by the prosecutions and incarcerations of these defendants. But these are simply the price of maintaining a democracy based on the rule of law and individual liberties. And, compared to the alternative, these costs are manageable.

Rejecting the civilian court system presents some serious costs which are not so manageable. Some of these costs are intangible, such as the loss of confidence in the traditional reliance on the rule of law and the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary. Others are more practical, especially the reduced American credibility and positive relationships with our allies, which are so important to winning the war on terrorism. Extradition decisions, international law enforcement cooperation and our diplomatic efforts on human rights come to mind.

What effect does it have to treat these defendants as enemy combatants rather than accused criminals, as soldiers and warriors rather than mass murderers, to allow them to place the focus on the legitimacy of their cause rather than the nature of their crimes?

Some say that the danger of exposing secret information is too great. The fact is, however, that the risk of disclosure of classified information has simply not been a significant issue in terrorism cases. The Classified Information Procedures Act, though in need of some legislative fine tuning, has effectively enabled federal prosecutors to manage both discovery and trial evidence issues without risk of danger of exposure of sensitive information.

Two decades ago this same fear was expressed in espionage cases, but it has proven not to endanger national security or pose a barrier to effective prosecution. Similarly, the specter of wholesale disclosure of sensitive and legally irrelevant information in terrorism cases is no more than an emotional red herring which obfuscates an intelligent discussion of the real choices to be made.

The military courts have an important role to play in the war against terrorism. No one can question the legitimacy of using this forum on foreign soil or against non-U.S. citizens who are military combatants. Deciding to utilize this system, on a case by case basis, may also prove to be appropriate in other situations.

But the use of our criminal justice professionals and system in the great majority of terrorism prosecutions presents an invaluable opportunity to say to the rest of the world that a free government based on the supremacy of the rule of law will continue to vanquish despotism and anarchy. This is subject which is too important to be left to demagogic politicians hunting for a campaign issue.

Fed Judge Criticizes FBI Tactics During Sentencing in Holy Land Foundation Case

fox news photo

fox news photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A federal judge in Phoenix sharply criticized the FBI tactics Thursday as he sentenced an Arizona man to 18 months in prison for lying to agents investigating the Muslim charity the Holy Land Foundation, which raised money for the Palestinian group Hamas, which the U.S. has labeled a terrorist group, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake said he gave Akram Musa Abdallah a low sentence because the defendant caused little harm to the government.

But he criticized the FBI agents who questioned Abdallah in 2007, saying it appeared they tried to get Abdallah of Mesa, Az.,  to change his story to help build the case, the AP reported.

NY Imam Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI in Subway Plot: Will Have to Leave Country

new-york-mapBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A remorseful New York imam, as expected, pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to FBI agents in the subway bombing plot.

The Associated Press reported that a tearful Ahmad Afzali told the judge that he wanted to help authorities but lied under grilling by the FBI.

He had tipped off al Qaeda associate Najibullah Zazi that he was under surveillance by authorities in New York.  Zazi pleaded guilty to plotting to blow up the New York subway system.

AP said his guilty plea spares him serious jail time, but will force him to leave the country.

He also  told the judge  he was sorry for lying about his conversations with Zazi.

“In doing so, I failed to live up to my obligation to this country, my community, my family, and my religion,” he said, according to AP. “I am truly sorry.”

The plea agreement says that Afzali could get up to six months in jail and that he would have to leave the country within 90 days after serving his sentence.

To read more click here.

FBI Dir. Robert Mueller Warns About “Rapidly Expanding” Threat of Cyber Terrorism

FBI Dir. Robert Mueller/fbi stock photo

FBI Dir. Robert Mueller/fbi stock photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

FBI Director Robert Mueller warned Thursday that cyber terrorism threats are an ever growing problem “that could have the same impact as well-placed bombs.”

“In the past 10 years, al Qaeda’s online presence has become as potent as its physical presence,” Mueller said during a speech at the RSA Cyber Security Conference in San Francisco. “Extremists are not limitiing their use of the internet to recruitment or radicationlaizaiton, they are using it to incite terrorism.”

“We in the FBI, with our partners in the intelligence community, believe the cyber terrorism threat is real, and it is rapidly expanding,” he said. “Terrorists have shown a clear interest in pursuing hacking skills. And they will either train their own recruits or hire outsiders, with an eye toward combining physical attacks with cyber attacks.”

The following is a full text of his speech.

Read more »

FBI Submits Evidence in Historical 1990 Boston Art Heist for DNA Analysis

One of the Rembrandt Pieces Stolen

One of the Rembrandt Pieces Stolen

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Advances in DNA testing aren’t just being used to solve murders and rapes.

The FBI is hoping to take advantage of the new advances by submitting evidence from the great art heist 20 years ago at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston which included three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, the Boston Globe reports. It is believed to be the largest heist in world history in terms of dollars.

The FBI on the case declined to say what had been submitted for analysis, but the Globe reported that people familiar with the case “said it would probably include long strips of duct tape used to tie up the museum’s two night watchmen, whom the thieves overpowered to get access to the artwork.”

“If they left any sweat on that duct tape, a sample could be drawn, and with that sample there’s the possibility of a result,” Dr. Bruce Budowle, former senior scientist of the FBI’s Quantico lab told the Globe.

To read full story click here.

Read more »

Brooklyn Trial Illustrates Tough Balancing Act Dealing With an FBI Informant

Hal Turner/msnbc photo

Hal Turner/msnbc photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The trial in Brooklyn federal court involving right wing racist Internet radio host Hal Turner illustrates the tough balancing act the FBI has to deal with when handling an informant who is less than an ideal citizen.

Turner is accused of posting messages last summer on his blog advocating the death of U.S. Court of Appeals judges in Chicago who upheld a gun ban.

But on Wednesday he testified at his trial that the FBI talked to him in 2005 about helping solve the murder of the family of a federal judge in Chicago and suggested he “ratchet up the rhetoric”. The FBI apparently thought the killer might be a white supremacist, Turner’s target audience, according to the New York Times.

He in turn posted a photo of the Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow with the statement “worthy of death”, the Times reported.

This past summer, he posted on his blogs that  the Court of Appeals judges in the gun ban ruling were “worthy of death”. His defense is essentially  that he was doing the same thing the FBI had asked him to do in the past. One of those judges testified earlier this week that he felt threatened by the posting on the blog.

Turner’s first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked. That could happen again.

To read more click here

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

NY Imam in Subway Bomb Plot Ready to Plead Guilty

subway-photo-istockBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The terrorism cases in New York involving the subway bombing plot seem to be falling into place.

One week after a key figure Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty in the plot, Ahmad Wais Afzali, the Queens imam who was an informant, has reached an “agreement in principle” to plead guilty, Newsday reported. He is charged with four counts of lying to the FBI.

Authorities alleged that Afzali tipped off Zazi that he was under surveillance in New York.

The paper reported that his lawyer confirmed the plea agreement in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday. He is charged with four counts of lying to the FBI.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Undercover Operative in Indian Artifact Case Commits Suicide

salt lake city mapBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Ted Dan Gardiner, the undercover witness who helped the feds build a case against more than two dozen people charged with looting American Indian artifacts in the Southwest U.S. , has committed suicide, the Associated Press reported.

AP reported that the 52-year-old apparently shot himself Monday in a Salt Lake City suburb home.

The wire service reported that Gardiner had worked with the FBI and the Bureau of Land Management for more than two years.

Two of the 26 defendants committed suicide last year, AP reported.