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April 30, 2009

Al-Marri Pleads Guilty to Supporting Terrorism, But This is Another Failure for Lawfare

The shameful Al-Marri case is nearly played out; he pleaded guilty to a single charge of providing material support for terrorism. Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri was arrested in December 2001 on suspicion of being a sleeper agent. He was then held as an enemy combatant starting in 2003.

He is the poster-child for the failures of the criminal justice system to cope with the War on Terrorism.

In 2002, Al-Marri was charged in Illinois with making false statements to the FBI and to financial institutions, identity fraud, and credit card fraud. Those charges were dropped when President Bush designated him an enemy combatant in 2003. He was moved to the Naval Brig in Charleston.

He then challenged his detention in court. The Fourth Circuit was happy to oblige and ordered that he be released or transfered back to civilian control and charged with a crime. The en banc court realized that was pure, unfiltered insanity--death pact style--and decided to take another crack at it. The result was perhaps the most fractured, incoherent, and embarrassing decision ever issued by a circuit court of appeals. Here's what I wrote at the time. A taste:

An en banc panel of the Fourth Circuit announced its decision in a Guantanamo detainee case, Al-Marri v. Pucciarelli (PDF) today and it is a mindnumbing 216 pages long. The decision itself is per curiam which means the court came to a conclusion without assigning a specific judge to present it. Why? There are nine judges and seven different opinions, including two different 5-4 decisions and four additional decisions "concurring in part and dissenting in part." This is what the War on Terror looks like in the federal courts. It is an unholy mess.

This was the result of the Supreme Court's abandonment in Boumediene v. Bush of over 200 years of constitutional law. Terrifyingly, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Al-Marri's case this term. Before that could happen, the Justice Department (first under Bush and then under Obama) decided that maybe civilian control would be a better idea after all.

On February 27, 2009, he was indicted for providing material support to al-Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al-Qaeda. He was transferred out of the Naval Brig and back to Illinois, where the whole thing started seven years ago. He initially pleaded not guilty and the case was set for trial.

Today, he pleaded guilty to the material support charge. The other charge was dismissed. The details are chilling:

Papers filed in connection with Al-Marri’s guilty plea paint an unusually detailed portrait of his dealings with Al Qaeda and, in particular, with one of the group’s leaders, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, known as KSM. Al-Marri admitted to attending terrorist training camps run by Al Qaida and that he traveled to the United States at the direction of KSM, who told him to enter the U.S. no later than September 10, 2001, one day before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The plea agreement says Al-Marri, using the code name “Abdo,” was to keep in touch with Mohammed, whose code name was “Muk,” by sending e-mails to him at a hotmail account, HOR70@hotmail.com. Details of the arrangements and the codes were found at an Al Qaeda safehouse in Pakistan, the plea deal says.

Court papers also say Mohammed arranged for Al-Marri to meet in Dubai with a financier of the September 11 attacks, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who gave Al-Marri $10,000 to fund his travels to the U.S. Al-Marri entered the U.S. on September 10, 2001 and enrolled at Bradley University in Illinois. After the 9/11 attacks, he made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to contact KSM and al-Hawsawi by phone and e-mail, the documents say.

The plea agreement also says that Al-Marri conducted research on the effect of cyanide gas and on waterways, dams and tunnels where a terrorist attack could have been mounted.

Under the plea deal, the government agreed not to seek to detain al-Marri again, either through criminal charges or military detention, based on his involvement with al- Qaida prior to his arrest in December 2001. Court papers say he has agreed to be deported to Saudi Arabia or Qatar when his sentence is complete—or possibly sooner.

He faces a possible sentence of 15 years, but may receive credit for time served.

AG Holder is crowing that this is a victory for justice and the War on Terror:

“Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a written statement. “But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which the nation was founded and the rule of law.”

Holder is a deluded fool. The American government walks away from this case with its tail between its legs. It was thwarted at every turn by our own legal system. Read back over the details of what Al-Marri was up to and tell me with a straight face that justice was served. The criminal justice system failed us.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:13 PM

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