Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bogus "terror" convictions are REALLY bogus

Bogus "terror" convictions are REALLY bogus
by Bob Moss

Bush's handlers remember that their agenda securing the world for corporate control, and terminating the Constitution here at home, would never have gotten off the ground had it not been for the September 11 attacks. The mileage he's gotten out of those attacks is unbelievable--prior to the Bush presidency, people would have been locked up in the loony bin had they predicted what he would do. So, when the going gets tough, Bush is sure to return to scare tactics. For example, when he came under fire for ignoring and violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, he suddenly thought it important to declassify information about a supposed terrorist plot to fly airplanes into San Francisco buildings (“Bush Details 2002 Plot to Attack L.A. Tower”, Washington Post, February 10, 2006).

Which brings us to today's topic: the use of so-called “terrorist” convictions to scare the public. The Washington Post ran a very good article last June, debunking Bush's “terrorist” conviction claims (“U.S. Campaign Produces Few Convictions on Terrorism Charges”, June 12, 2005, reproduced in the body of the email). The gist of it was that only 39, not the claimed 200, individuals “were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.” Moreover, as group, these 200 convictees were not very impressive, since “the median sentence was just 11 months”.

I wanted to both see the data myself, and carry the analysis a little bit farther. My bottom line is little changed from what I've been saying for the last four years: only two individuals have been convicted, by a judge or jury, of actually plotting a terrorist act within the United States (or on a plane bound for the United States)--Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, both household names.

I started with the Post's list of 330 suspect charged, published with the June 12, 2005 article, and found out what I could by monitoring certain websites, adding new names as I come across them. Some gaps were filled in through not-quite-exhaustive Google searches.

Green Cases

I added 64 names to the list, giving me a total of 394. Unfortunately, 128 of these had to be dropped because the my most recent information did not include a resolution of the case, or indicated that the trial was scheduled for a future date. In a few cases, I found no additional information other than the name on the Post's list. This left 266 suspects.

Taking a cue from Bush, I color-coded the charges as green, orange, or red. These colors don't so much indicate the seriousness of the crime, as how far it strays from the type of offense perceived by an ordinary person who hears the words “terror conviction”. “Green” crimes are defined as

(A) acts other than drug trafficking, 1 and

(B) (1) for which the sentence was less than one year, or were

(2) non-violent, or

(3) lacking political or ideological motivation (i.e. ordinary criminal acts)

Of the 266 suspects remaining, 202 were charged with “green” crimes, but charges were dropped in 9 cases, leaving 193 “green” convictions, or 73% of the known outcomes. The crimes these people were convicted of are scary or funny, or both. And for the most part, by “scary” I mean, it's scary to think that the President would announce it as a “terrorism” case.

The following list, in descending order by number of convictions, is far from precise. First, I often could find out no more than that the charge involved “immigration”, for instance. Second, crimes like possessing false documents or making false statements could well be immigration violations. Third, to keep my totals simple, I choose only one charge per person when there were multiple charges. Nevertheless, you get the flavor of what Bush is up to.2

false documents 45

immigration violations 41

false statements 27

credit card fraud 17

illegal money transfer 8

firearms possession/shipment 7

marriage fraud 5

alien smuggling 4

bank fraud 4

money laundering 4

false claim of citizenship 3

Iraq sanctions violation 3

tax fraud 3

theft from interstate or foreign shipment 3

wire fraud 3

mail fraud 2

orange or red, but sentence less than one year 2

passport fraud 2

stolen goods, transporting or receiving 2

counterfeit goods, trafficking in 1

child pornography 1

false documents (immigration-related) 1

not charged 1

carrying weapon on aircraft 1

Social Security fraud 1

defraud U.S. 1

electronic money fraud 1

A “terrorism” warrior would object that many of these crimes could very well be related to terrorism; for example, illegal money transfers could be sending funds directly to miscreants who plan to attack us. But even if all of these convictions are of that nature, Bush is still lying, as we shall see. My assessment of the short length of sentences supports the Post's assessment. I found sentencing information for 90 of the defendants. Some served no time at all; many only probation or home detention, which I counted as zero. The average sentence or time actually served3 for those convicted of “green” crimes was 15.1 months, including a ten-year sentence for Enaam Arnaout and 22 years for Dr. Rafil Dhafir. They pulled up the average; the median was 6 months.

Light prison sentences like that are not going to deter terrorists. To the extent that these convictees were really planning or aiding the commission of heinous crimes, their convictions are defeats, not victories, in the “war on terror”. Yet Bush consistently trumpets them as victories. Further, many of these people were deported. A lot of good that does.

Moreover, most of these individuals had no connection to terrorism, if any at all did. Consider Essam Almohandis, who was arrested for carrying three sparklers on a flight from Germany to Boston, and charged with carrying incendiary devices. He was acquitted, but deported nevertheless, and remains today on Bush's “terrorism” trophy shelf.4

Or consider Dr. Dhafir, sentenced to 22 years on 59 charges including Medicare fraud and tax evasion. The primary charge was evasion of the Iraq sanctions. That sounds bad, until you consider that he was not charged with anything related to terrorism, including helping Saddam Hussein. The Government did not dispute that his donations went to help needy Iraqis. However, the law prohibited sending any money to Iraq for any reason, except by registered organizations. Dhafir did not register.5

Orange and Red Cases

We're now left with 64 “orange” and “red” cases, or 24% of the known outcomes. Drug trafficking is considered “orange”; otherwise, the category includes violent, politically- or ideologically-motivated crimes with a sentence of one year or greater. Because or worst fears are of terrorist attacks at home, and because the public generally associates “terrorism” with Muslim extremists, “orange” crimes of this type are those

(a) committed outside the United States, and

(b) not directed against American facilities or citizens to further the goals of an Islamist organization.

“Red” crimes of this type are

(a) committed in the United States; or

(b) directed against American facilities or citizens to further the goals of an Islamist organization.

Next I invalidated a group of charges that indicate the degree of fear, even panic, engendered by the September 11 attacks. In a full 26 of the indictments, or 41% of the “orange” and “red” ones, the alleged overt acts did not constitute a violation of the law, in my considered opinion--or in some cases, they were patently preposterous. Judges, who ought to be a cut above the average, were just as scared as everyone else, and bought almost anything prosecutors offerd for sale.

Consider the Neutrality Acts. Dating back to the early nineteenth century, in their present form the relevant provision reads:

Whoever, within the United States, knowingly begins or sets on foot or provides or prepares a means for or furnishes the money for, or takes part in, any military or naval expedition or enterprise to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominion of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States is at peace, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.6

Note the basic requirement that the expedition take off from the United States. Back around 1800, people used to do this sort of thing, for example, outfit a ship with guns to attack, say, a French vessel. It is safe to say that no one has mounted an expedition from the United States against a nation such as India since September 11, 2001. Yet Mohammed Aatique, Hammad Abdur-Raheem, Seifullah Chapman, Masoud Ahmad Khan, and Hammad Abdur Raheem were all convicted of violating this very statute! Aatique was actually convicted of launching an expedition against India, on the grounds that he attended a training camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, which seeks to expel India from Kashmir. Lashkar-e-Taiba was not on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations at the time.

Most of these bogus indictments bring charges Title 18 of the United States Code, §2339A. This prohibits a laundry list of acts, such as killing a U. S. national abroad, bombing public places, and so on. The Bush Administration has used this provision to prosecute individuals for purportedly wanting to join Chechen or Bosnian resistance groups, or Lashka-e-Taiba. Thel flaw in such indictments is that they don't specify that the defendant intended to act as an individual, or commit acts against civilians. Why does this matter? Because under international law, U.S. case law, and our international treaty commitments, acts committed by organized military groups against military targets are not crimes, and §2339A cannot be interpreted as applying to military action.

That may sound like a technicality, inappropriate during the “war on terror”, but it's an important distinction.

First, it is unlikely that Congress intended to criminalize activities such as joining the Chechen resistance per se. At the time §2339A was passed, our legislators viewed the Chechen and Bosnian fighters as legitimate military groups resisting outside oppression.7

Second, and perhaps more important, ours is a nation of laws--or it was, in pre-Bush days. In those quaint times, Americans had the right to do that which was not against the law. But there is no constitutional right to fight on the side of foreign resistance organizations. If our policy-makers want to forbid support of Chechen or Bosnian fighters, they can. And Congress has given the President the power to do just that in §2339A's companion, aptly named §2339B. It gives the president the right to declare foreign groups as “terrorist” organizations, and prohibit donations and material support to them. But no President has proscribed the Bosnian or Chechen resistance movements. Instead, Bush's prosecutors have intimidated judges into agreeing that it's unlawful to support these groups, merely because Osama bin Laden may like them.

Orange Convictions and Plea Bargains

We're now down to 38 worse-than-green indictments. In two cases charges were dropped, leaving 36, and 9 defendants were acquitted, or their convictions were reversed, leaving 27 worse-than-green convictions, or 10% of the known outcomes. Ten of these were “orange”. Two of those were plea bargains.

I want to say a word about plea bargains in the Bush era. Recall that Bush still, as of this writing, claims the authority to lock up anyone, anywhere, for ever, without access to anyone including the courts, merely on his say-so (that is, declare them to be “enemy combatants”). Moreover, Bush claims the authority to torture any prisoner, on his say-so alone, regardless of any law to the contrary. (Don't be shocked--did you read his signing statement regarding the McCain anti-torture law??) Only now, with his popularity in a serious slump, is anyone, in Congress or the courts, thinking of seriously challenging him on these issues. Meanwhile, our once-proud nation has descended to the depths of the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and any number of tin-pot dictatorships: confessions can simply not be believed.

While few defendants have claimed publicly that they were threatened with “enemy combatant” status, I might not say it publicly either. Many have complained that their confessions were coerced, which often can be done without pulling fingernails. In the case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, Bush outsourced his interrogation, and fingernails may have been pulled. Ali was interrogated in a Saudi prison without a lawyer, which process resulted in a confession. Incredibly, the judge in his case upheld the use of the confession, and he was convicted of plotting to assassinate President Bush.

Ali's case gets worse. He was originally detained by the Saudis under mysterious circumstances. His family went to court to force the Government to obtain his release, on the grounds that he was being held at the (U.S.) Government's behest. When it looked like the family was going to win, Ali suddenly was returned home and charged with various crimes. The judge allowed the use of his confession on an incredible (in the literal sense) technicality: he was not a suspect when he was interrogated. What power fear grants to the President!8

Thus the two “orange” plea-bargains must be considered invalid rather than successes in the “war on terror”. The other eight break down as support for:

UAC (Columbian paramilitaries) 4

Hamas 2

Cabinda Liberation Front 9 1

Lashkar-e-Taiba (see above) 1

Red Convictions

Subtracting the eight “orange” convictions and two plea bargains, we are left with 17 “red” convictions. One of them, Iyman Faris, convicted of plotting various terrorist acts, including cutting the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge, was a plea bargain, leaving 16 “legitimate red” convictions. These involve support for various groups, including al-Qaeda, of course, that do target Americans. But on close examination, most of them don't amount to much.

• Muhammed Abid Afridi and Ilyas Ali, besides being convicted for drug trafficking, were convicted of material support of the Taliban because they “told undercover law enforcement officers from the United States that they intended to sell 'Stinger' anti-aircraft missiles discussed during the meeting on September 16, 2002, to members of the Taliban. . .”, according to the October 30, 2002 indictment.

• Four Elashis (Basman, Bayan, Ghassan, and Hazim) plus Ihsan Elashyi were convicted of engaging in prohibited transactions with Libya, in this case selling software. Libya is in the “red” category because of the Lockerbie bombing. However, no evidence connected the Elashis' software with any American deaths.10

• Hemant Lakhani was convicted of attempting to sell shoulder-fired missiles to under-cover agents for use in some sort of terrorist attack in the United States. I suppose he may have done it had there been a real plot, but this was a sting, and Lakhani was an unenthusiastic participant. He tried to back out when he found it difficult to get the missiles, but the agents pushed him to keep trying, finally getting the Russians to sell him a fake missile.

The agents supposedly represented the “Ogadan Liberation Front”. Ogadan is a Muslim region, presently part of Ethiopia, which has historically resisted domination by that predominantly Christian state. If the Front exists, I am not aware that it has ever entertained ideas of committing terrorist acts in the United States.11

• John Walker Lindh, captured in Afghanistan, is listed as a “legitimate” conviction despite that it resulted from a plea bargain. I felt I should give Bush this one.

• Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad was convicted of conspiring and attempting to support al-Qaeda, but was acquitted of actually supporting it, thus he barely made the cut for a “red” conviction. He was also convicted of actually supporting Hamas. His case degenerated into soap opera when the government's star witness set himself on fire outside the White House.12

• Zacarias Moussaoui is presently much in the news.

• Mohamed Suleiman al Nalfi was convicted of working for al Qaeda in the Sudan in the 1990s.13

• Uzair Paracha was convicted of helping an al Qaeda operative obtain fake documentation for entering the United States. He claimed he confessed under FBI pressure.14

• Richard Reid is the “shoe bomber”.

• Ahmed Abdel Sattar was convicted of providing material support to the Islamic Group, whose leader, Sheikh Abdel Rahman, was convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

• Lynne Stewart was Sheikh Rahman's attorney. She's the far-lefty who was told not to pass messages from him to the outside world, but nevertheless read a statement from him to a reporter in Cairo. The Government never showed that any violence resulted from her actions.15

A “red” terror conviction? By my literal definition, yes. But as a victory in the “war on terror”, it's entirely bogus. The theory that defendants will exercise control over terrorist acts by communicating with the outside world was employed against dozens or hundreds of illegal aliens immediately after the September 11 attacks. It holds no more water now than it did then, when it was an excuse to allow secret hearings. What happens when Sheikh Rahman dies? Is the Islamic group going to fold because they cease hearing from him? Lynne Stewart is guilty of foolishness, if anything.

Stewart's translator, Mohamed Yousry, was also convicted of aiding the Islamic Group. However, I kicked his conviction out earlier as patently preposterous. the Government never claimed he did anything other than translate what Stewart told him to translate. In Bush's “war on terror”, a translator becomes a terrorist because he relied on his employer-attorney not to give him illegal assignments.16

• Finally, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed was convicted of being part of Ali Hassan al-Moayad's conspiracy.17

So there you have it. Other than Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, Bush has little to show for his anti-terrorism efforts. But don't be surprised if he keeps trumpeting more bogus convictions as “victories” in the “war on terror”.


1 In South America, drug trafficking is often related to terrorism, but even if that were not the case, I couldn't bring myself to color it green.

2 The Washington Post listed “conspiracy” as a category, but that's really unhelpful. One could conspire to commit any number of crimes.

3 One or the other was used for each individual.

4 “Essam Almohandis: U.S. jailed Saudi again after jury's acquittal”, posted on the Muslim Civil Rights Center web page on 3/2/04.

5 “High-Profile N.Y. Suspect Goes on Trial”, Washington Post, 10/19/04; DOJ press release, 2/10/05.

6 18 U.S.C. § 960.

7 • “The Bosnian tragedy was always and remains mostly a civil war.” (Representative Solomon of New York, Congressional Record p. H12259, 10/2/96.)

• “The Bosnians. . .are the victims of aggression. . . .” (Senator DeConcini, id. p. S13413, 9/27/94.)

• Senator Dole referred to the Serbians as “aggressors” against the Bosnian Muslims, and complained that the “Bosnian war” was being redefined as a “civil war”, id. p. S15468 ff., 12/1/94.

• Senator Lieberman also labeled the Serbs as “aggressors”, and noted that the “Bosnian army” was “outgunned”. Id., p. S15457, 12/1/94.

• Representative Wolf of Virginia described the Chechens as “fierce fighters and good soldiers,” and specifically labelled both sides in that conflict as “belligerents” (id., p. H4882 ff., 5/10/96).

• In a letter to President Clinton, Representative Wolf accused Russian President Yeltsin of embarking on a “renewed and vigorous military onslaught causing more Chechens and more Russian soldiers to die. . . .” Id. He also inserted into the Congressional Record an AP news item referring to the Chechen resistance fighters as “rebels”, rather than terrorists. Id., p. H7511, 7/12/96.

• Representative Smith of New Jersey likewise accused Yeltsin of “unleashing a brutal war” in Chechnya, and explicitly drew a distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Id., p. E922, 5/23/96.

Given these remarks, it is clear that legislators saw Bosnia and Chechnya as primarily military conflicts.

8 • “Man accused of plotting to join al-Qaida and assassinate U.S. President Bush is convicted”, AP 11/22/05.

• “The Shocking Trial of American Citizen Ahmed Abu Ali”, Findlaw, 11/7/05.

• “Terror Suspect: 'Everyone Makes Mistakes'”, Washington Post, 11/205.

• “Virginia man accused in Bush assassination plot describes Saudi torture”, AP 10/19/05.

I have included Ali in the group whose indictments don't specify a crime, for a different reason than the others: given the circumstances of the case, the charges are just too unbelievable.

9 Betcha don't know what that is. Cabinda is part of Angola, but it is an enclave with no land connection to the rest of the country. It also has oil. Not surprisingly, the Liberation Front is seeking independence.

10 DOJ press release, 4/14/05.

11 • “British Arms Dealer Receives Maximum Sentence”, New Criminologist, 9/14/05

• “Missile suspect loses bid for a new trial delay”, Star Ledger, 4/19/05

• “Russian recalls al Qaeda claim at missile trial”, id., 2/18/05

• “Accused missile dealer hails bin Laden on tape”, id., 1/8/05

• “Key witness recalls start of missile sting”, id., 1/6/05

• “How 2-year sting brought down missile deal”, id., 4/4/04

12 “Yemeni Cleric Receives 75-Year Sentence”, Findlaw, 7/28/05

13 “Al-Qaida Member in Pleads Guilty in N.Y.”, Free Republic website, 2/1/03

14 “Pakistani Is Convicted of Aiding al-Qaida”, AP 11/24/05

15 “Lawyer Is Guilty of Aiding Terror”, New York Times, 2/11/05

16 “Translator's Conviction Raises Legal Concerns”, Washington Post, 1/16/06

17 “Aide to sheik says he's no terrorist, but gets 15 years”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/2/05.