Terrorist prosecutions fall apart

Ann Schneider May 12, 2006

The jury verdict that spared Zacaraias Moussaoui the death penalty is one in a string of dramatic defeats the Department of Justice has received at the hands of the people. The government has consistently exaggerated the importance of each alleged terrorist it has tried to prosecute, only to see its claims fall far short when they are subjected to the scrutiny of the judicial system. A report prepared by Syracuse University shows that after Sept. 11, federal investigators recommended the prosecution of 6,400 individuals as potential terrorists. Only 379 convictions were obtained, and of these, only 14 had any ties to al Qaeda. Among all of the “international terrorism” convictions, Syracuse found that the median sentence imposed was only 14 days. The most common convictions were for fraud, lying to the government and passport violations.

Included in the DoJ’s classification of antiterror prosecutions were 65 Middle Eastern
students who paid stand-ins to take their college entrance exams. Arrested in August, 2001 on an immigration violation while attending a Minnesota flight school, Moussaoui was in jail on Sept. 11, 2001. Moussaoui ultimately plead guilty to the allegations that he had knowledge about the impending attacks, but the trial demonstrated that many persons within the FBI were equally guilty of failing to use their knowledge to prevent or disrupt
the attacks.

Had Moussaoui not decided to plead guilty, the jury may have acquitted
him. We know this because in their detailed verdict form, three jurors wrote they did not
believe he had any significant role in the Sept. 11 plot. In the guilt phase of the trial, jurors are required to say which, if any, factors they found to mitigate or aggravate his guilt. The detail they provided seriously undermines the central contentions of the case.

On May 4, a federal judge declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked on whether
Osama Awadallah lied to a grand jury investigating his possible relationship to Sept. 11
hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar. Awadallah was the unlucky San Diego student
whom the government chose to use to test the limits of its material witness statute
three years ago. Judge Shira Scheindlin withstood intense political pressure to insist he
either be released or brought to trial. Awadallah will face a retrial.

Meanwhile, the trial of 23-year-old Shahawar Siraj continues, with the defense vigorously cross-examining the main witness against Siraj, a government informer who was paid $100,000 to infiltrate mosques in Brooklyn and Staten Island (a clear violation
of the law). The evidence elicited so far supports the entrapment defense, in that the
informer, Osama Eldawoody, incited the young man with photos of Abu Ghraib,
stoked his ego, and provided the knowledge of how to build a bomb. (Eldawoody is an
Egyptian-born nuclear engineer).

To win an acquittal, the defense must show that Siraj has no violent tendencies of his own. Because this essentially involves having to disprove a negative, the entrapment defense is rarely successful. The trial should continue for two more weeks. (Observers are welcome in courtroom 6D at 225 Cadman Plaza, every Monday through Thursday.)

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