September 11, 2006
Reason Online

Post-9/11 Prosecutions End With a Whimper

by Brian Doherty

Many elements of post-9/11 law enforcement are supposed to be justified by a real, serious, ongoing threat of further domestic terror assaults. Without that threat, the ways 9/11 supposedly had to change law enforcement become meaningless - or sinister. So it pays, five years down the line, to recall some of the highlights of federal arrests and prosecutions of what were generally announced as domestic terror cells - organized groups in the U.S. who posed a serious, organized threat of committing terrorist acts, often in cahoots with overseas foes.

* The first big post-9/11 terror cell arrest, a mere week after the strike, was in Detroit. And it even ended up in two convictions for terror-related conspiracy. However, the case was rife with prosecutorial misconduct, was lame to begin with (despite assurances we were dealing with a "sleeper operational combat cell") and ended with the convictions overturned and the prosecutors indicted for lying to the jury in the case. The judge who overturned the two terror conspiracy convictions (out of four accused - a third got convicted on document fraud charges) said, "The prosecution materially misled the court, the jury and the defense as to the nature, character and complexion of critical evidence that provided important foundations for the prosecution's case," including identifying doodles as sketches of targeted planes and military bases. To boot, the main prosecution witness was a professional con man, and two witnesses who might have cast doubt on the government's case were deported before trial.

* One actual success, at least in terms of arrests and convictions that have not yet been overturned, was the takedown of the Lackawanna 6, a bunch of Buffalo-based Muslims. What they are guilty of is having attended an al Qaeda training camp, prior to 9/11. What they don't appear to be guilty of, by any evidence the government was able to present, was planning any terrorist act in the United States, . . .

* Then there was the Lodi terror cell - a father and son team, . . . An experienced FBI agent who was kept from testifying on their behalf called the interrogations at the heart of this case "the sorriest interrogation, the sorriest confession, I've ever seen."

* The March 2004 conviction of three Muslims in Virginia (part of an initial group of 11, many of whom pled out to lesser charges) for playing paintball in the woods - hyped by prosecutors as paramilitary training for jihad when combined with their connection with a Kashmiri separatist group that was not, at the time of their possible attendance at one of their training camps, even on the U.S. list of official terror groups (though it is now). Again, no convincing evidence of any specific plans to commit mayhem in America, as even the FBI admitted - saying the arrests were more "preemption" - a rather scary ground to criminalize playing paintball and supporting a foreign political cause. . . .


[Brian Doherty is a senior editor of Reason and author of This Is Burning Man (Little, Brown), just out in paperback. His book on the history of the American libertarian movement, Radicals for Capitalism, will be out early next year from PublicAffairs.]

"9/11 'Mastermind' or Wedding Planner?," The Wisdom Fund, March 3, 2003

Standard Schaeffer, "'Al Qaeda Itself Does Not Exist'," CounterPunch, June 21, 2003

Enver Masud, "What Really Happened to 7 World Trade Center?," The Wisdom Fund, April 17, 2006

"The 'FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11'," The Wisdom Fund, June 8, 2006

Rupert Cornwell, "Sears Tower Plot Was Not All That It Seemed," Independent, June 25, 2006

"'Airlines Terror Plot' Disrupted," BBC News, August 10, 2006

[Jose Padilla . . . believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material.--David Johnston, "At a Secret Interrogation, Dispute Flared Over Tactics," New York Times, September 10, 2006]

"Pakistan hands hundreds of suspects to U.S. for money," CBC News, September 29, 2006

Sean O'Neill, "Police 'exaggerated evidence' against British 9/11 suspect," The Times, October 9, 2006

VIDEO: "The Enemy Within," PBS Frontline, October 10, 2006

VIDEO: Keith Olbermann, "Advertising terrorism,", October 23, 2006

John Mueller, "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them," Free Press (November 14, 2006)

VIDEO: I am indebted to David Swanson, press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, who has blogged about the dubious 96 words in Mr. Bush's address this year and who has concluded that of the four counter-terror claims the president made, he went 0-for-4.--Keith Olbermann, "President claimed to stop four terror plots, but where is the evidence?,", January 30, 2007

[The dirty-bomb plot has disappeared from the allegations.--Peter Whoriskey, "Few Specifics Evident As Padilla Trial Nears," Washington Post, April 23, 2007]

"Plots allegedly foiled since 9/11," Associated Press, May 9, 2007

Dave Lindorff, "Convicting Padilla: Bad News for All Americans,", August 17, 2007

[Prosecutors, who long ago dropped the "dirty bomb" claim that made Padilla infamous, had sought life sentences for Padilla and two co-defendants, but a federal judge said authorities never even proved Padilla was a terrorist.--Curt Anderson, "17 Years for Ex-'dirty Bomb' Suspect," Associated Press, January 22, 2008]

Peter Finn, "Key Allegations Against Terror Suspect Withdrawn: Justice Department Had Tied Guantanamo Detainee to Plot to Explode 'Dirty Bomb' in U.S.," Washington Post, October 15, 2008

Robert Fisk, "No evidence that men living in Bosnia plotted attack on Sarajevo embassy," Independent, October 31, 2008

William Glaberson, "Questioning 'Dirty Bomb' Plot, Judge Orders U.S. to Yield Papers on Detainee," New York Times, October 31, 2008

"Patriots or Extremists?," CNN, November 16, 2009

[ . . . compare the posture of the American justice system to those in other countries with regard to how victims of illegal War on Terror policies have been treated.--Glenn Greenwald, "U.S. Justice v. the world,", February 18, 2011]

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