Terrorism Prosecution Implodes: The Detroit 'Sleeper Cell'
By Barry Tarlow 04/09/06 "NACDL"
-- -- In the three years after September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration had
almost no convictions on terrorism charges to show for its effort. The rounding
up of about 5,000 people for preventive detention produced no such convictions.
David Cole, The D.C. Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, L.A. Times, Sept. 19,
2004, at M5. By September 2004, about 500 people were deported, but each
deportation order required a finding that the individual was not connected to
terrorism. Id. Although the administration touted a record of 100 convictions in
terrorism cases, almost all of those were for minor offenses, not terrorism
charges. Id. For example, Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye, who was arrested amid much
fanfare on false allegations that his baggage had explosive residue, was only
indicted on charges of Social Security fraud. He later pled guilty to lying
about his income and using false identification to obtain health insurance
benefits. Even the charges that purported to assert a link to terrorism, like
the indictment leading to the guilty pleas of the Buffalo Six, charged not
actual terrorism, but providing material support for terrorists.
administration’s most significant terrorism convictions involved the hapless
“shoe bomber,” captured by an astute flight attendant, and the jury’s guilty
verdict as to the three men accused of being part of the so-called Detroit
“Sleeper Cell.” Id. As a court recently found, however, even that was three out
of four too many.
The Detroit “Sleeper Cell” Case, United States v.
Koubriti (U.S. Dist. Ct. E.D. Mich. Case No. 01-CR-80778), is a disturbing
chapter in the larger War on Terror. Three of the four defendants in the case
were arrested within a week of the September 11 hijackings. When the file came
across the desk of administration officials who were hungry for a win in the
newly minted War on Terror, they seized upon it. This had been the first trial
on charges of terrorism after September 11 and the only one to yield a jury
conviction. After a long investigation and a trial in 2003, a jury ultimately
returned two convictions on terrorism-related charges, one conviction of
document fraud, and one acquittal.
Despite that result, it would soon
come to light the case had a seamier side. Too eager to put notches in its belt,
the prosecution committed grave misconduct. It simply ignored and suppressed
statements by key government witnesses who did not reach the conclusions the
lead prosecutor wanted. It buried the opinions of experts who suggested that
critical documents or jottings were not likely terrorist diagrams and that the
defendants, while at most being common fraudsters, were not terrorists. After
the verdict and a court-ordered review of the prosecution, the Department of
Justice (DOJ) found itself compelled to admit a pattern of misconduct and to
recommend that the court grant the defendants’ motions for post-trial relief.
Although the court ultimately granted post-trial relief, a number of
questions remain unanswered. Who is responsible for the misconduct that
permeated the Detroit case? Is the case just the work of an overzealous
prosecutor and a few agents, as the DOJ contends, or is there more to it? In
these troubled times, can those accused of terrorism receive a fair trial in
which they are prosecuted by lawyers attempting “to do justice” and in which
their fate is objectively determined by an impartial jury?
case appears to be part of a pattern of situations in which zealous policies
originating at the highest levels of the Executive Branch go awry, with
mid-level officials left holding the bag. “[T]op officials at the Justice
Department were involved in almost every step of the [Detroit] prosecution . . .
.” Danny Hakim & Eric Lichtblau, After Convictions, the Undoing of a U.S.
Terror Prosecution, N.Y. Times, Oct. 7, 2004, at A1. In addition to the numerous
mid-level officials connected to the case, Barry Sabin, Chief of the
counterterrorism section for the DOJ’s Criminal Division since January 2003, was
intimately involved in the drafting of the final version of the indictment
When You’re Right, You’re Right: Seeing The World Through Blue-Blooded
Some people are still under the illusion that people who are not
guilty, such as the men in the Detroit “Sleeper Cell” Case, will not be charged,
much less convicted of crimes. But the charging and conviction of innocent men
in the Detroit case is not entirely surprising. The case is symptomatic of what
happens when the executive or prosecutorial power is combined with a zealous
belief in the righteousness of one’s cause and the infallibility of one’s
judgment. Wilfully blind commitment to ends over means inevitably leads to a
bending or breaking of the rules.
For example, Oregon lawyer Brandon
Mayfield who had converted to the Muslim faith was arrested on charges of
involvement in the train bombings in Madrid, Spain. There was no proof, however,
that Mayfield had ever been to Spain anytime after 9/11. One major problem was
that a supervising FBI expert, who first conducted the fingerprint analysis for
the DOJ, rushed to judgment in analyzing a hazy copy of a fingerprint obtained
from a bag of explosives in Spain. He was confident he had the right man.
Although “a reliable match would normally entail at least 12 to 13 matching
characteristics,” the expert viewed the cloudy print and made his judgment based
on only seven similarities. See Rukmini Callimachi, Panel Clears Lawyer of Role
in Bombings, L.A. Daily J., Nov. 17, 2004, at 4. The expert was a senior person
in the department. Given his status, the other concurring analysts did not dare
to question him, although they should have had reason to pause and revisit this
conclusion. Id. In fact, “[p]olice in Spain had expressed doubts early on about
[the] U.S. investigators’ claims . . . .” Tomas Alex Tizon & Sebastian
Rotella, U.S. Frees Oregon Lawyer Held in Madrid Bombings: Spanish Police Say a
Fingerprint that Seemed to Link Him to the Case Belongs to an Algerian, L.A.
Times, May 21, 2004, at A21.
Fortunately, weeks later, U.S. District
Judge Robert Jones dismissed the charges, and the FBI formally apologized to
Mayfield and his family. See Sarah Kershaw & Eric Lichtblau, Bomb Case
Against Lawyer Is Rejected: Dismissal Comes After F.B.I. Faults Poor Fingerprint
Images, N.Y. Times, May 25, 2004, at A16. But the case stands as an example that
innocent people, even respected citizens, can be put through the wringer based
on the, wrong-headed prejudgments of zealous prosecutors and agents. That,
unfortunately, is just what happened in the Detroit case.
Making It Up
As You Go: Creating A Case In Your Own Image
Few recent cases provide
such a stark example of how prosecutorial misconduct perverts the search for
justice as the Detroit “Sleeper Cell” Case, United States v. Koubriti (U.S.
Dist. Ct. E.D. Mich. Case No. 01-CR-80778). This was the first post 9/11
terrorism prosecution in the country, and it involved not only prosecutorial
misconduct, but also the abuse of the Executive Power in the War on Terror.
Undoubtedly, the stakes were high and the spotlight was on. Yet in such
circumstances, theoretically one is supposed to feel the pressure to get things
right, to dot every “i” and to cross every “t.” History of course has
demonstrated that in troubled times, that is not what happens. Despite help from
the DOJ, the CIA, military consultants and numerous FBI agents, the prosecution
here, including the lead prosecutor, AUSA Richard G. Convertino, with the
assistance or tacit approval of his supervisors, resorted to a grave pattern of
misconduct to win the terrorism convictions of these innocent men.
hindsight, perhaps Convertino’s handling of the case comes as little surprise.
He has a reputation in Detroit for being a zealous gunslinger. He has been
described as “a prosecutor cut in the Ashcroft mold: religious and righteous,
patriotic but polarizing,” as well as “abrasive” and “antagon[istic].” Richard
Serrano & Greg Miller, Terrorism Case Shows U.S. Flaws in Strategy, L.A.
Times, Oct. 12, 2004, at A16.
Sources close to the case say the
characterizations are accurate. Convertino was known to push the envelope. He
has the sort of rough-up-the-bad-guy mentality and style that endears him to law
enforcement officers and rankles others who hesitate to prejudge guilt before
the evidence is in. In fairness, when he testified before the Senate Finance
Committee, he presented himself as a committed but reasonable prosecutor
fulfilling the oath he had sworn to uphold. His approach, however, has not
escaped the attention of the federal courts. In 1995, for example, the Sixth
Circuit Court of Appeals discussed his posing of “concededly improper
questions.” United States v. Wiedyk, 71 F.3d 602, 607 (6th Cir. 1995).
It is a mistake, however, to think that Convertino was alone in
wrongfully prosecuting the case. Veteran defense attorney and NACDL member
William W. Swor, one of the lawyers in the Detroit case, said, “This was not a
rogue prosecutor. This was a rogue prosecution. It took more than one person to
create this fraud.”
Indeed, the wrongful convictions were a year and a
half in the making, and the case was surrounded by error from the start. On
September 17, 2001, less than a week after the attacks in New York and
Washington, agents of the Detroit Joint Terrorism Task Force descended upon a
Detroit apartment at 2653 Norman Street. The search team was composed of “FBI
Special Agents Mike Thomas, Paul Heyard and Mary Ann Manescu; INS Agents Joe
Gillette and Mark Pilat, State Department Special Agent Edward Seitz and FBI
language specialist Nazih ‘George’ Moaikel.” United States v. Koubriti (Koubriti
Suppression), 199 F. Supp. 2d 656, 659 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
looking for Nabil Al-Marabh, “No. 27” out of about 200 people on the FBI’s
terrorist “watch list” whom agents wanted to question. Ronald J. Hansen, Craig
Garrett & David Shepardson, FBI Arrests 3 Men at Detroit Home, Detroit News,
Sept. 19, 2001. Al-Marabh reportedly had some connection with Osama bin-Laden
that prosecutors now admit was never supported by evidence. However, Al-Marabh
had already moved on. He had applied to the state for a driver’s license listing
an address in Three Oaks, Michigan, more than 200 miles away from Detroit on the
Indiana border toward Chicago. In fact, he was arrested in Chicago just days
after the raid. David Shepardson, Charlie Cain & Craig Garrett, Detroit
Fugitive Arrested Near Chicago, FBI Says, Detroit News, Sept. 20, 2001.
None of that gave the agents any pause on September 17 or thereafter.
Not satisfied with their lack of success in locating Al-Marabh, they cornered
the occupants of his former apartment, defendants Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan
and Farouk Ali-Haimoud), questioned them and searched the residence, deciding
midway through the fishing expedition to obtain a warrant.
officers stumbled upon a tired, hapless bunch who appeared to meet no one’s
definition of sophisticated and dangerous terrorists. Hannan and Ali-Haimoud
were sleeping, and Koubriti answered the door in his boxer shorts. Agents saw in
these exhausted, quiet, and admittedly cooperative men the workings of a
fearsome terrorist cell. What could possibly lead to this conclusion? Like many
persons new to a country, Koubriti and Hannan worked some odd jobs while they
searched to find suitable, steady employment. At one point, for example, they
had been off-site dishwashers at a catering company servicing planes at the
airport. Koubriti Suppression, supra, 199 F. Supp. 2d at 659–62. Although the
job did not actually take them to the airfield or the airplanes, they received
airport-related employee badges, which the investigating agents considered to be
The raiding agents were also influenced by the national
origins and the apparent religion of the men. They, as well as prosecutors and
others connected with the case, looked at Koubriti, Hannan and Ali-Haimoud and
saw visions of Islamic fundamentalism among persons of Middle Eastern descent.
Their misperceptions led them far from the truth. Koubriti’s sister described
him as a person who rarely attended a mosque and who “did not go to class [in
college], but instead hung out in a coffee shop with friends, smoked hashish and
drank.” Ann Mullen, Deliberations Begin: Fate of Four Alleged Terrorists in the
Hands of a Jury, Metro Times Detroit, May 21, 2003. A former roommate of two
defendants told the FBI that “the men never talked about religion, were lazy,
and often drank and smoked.” Robert E. Pierre, Terrorism Case Thrown Into
Turmoil: Factors Judge Is Considering Include Evidence Withheld From Defense,
Washington Post, Dec. 31, 2003, at A5.
While the agents perceived aliens
who were up to no good, the accused were lawful permanent residents of the
United States. Koubriti and Hannan each came to the United States during the
previous year by winning an immigration lottery in Morocco, where they never had
been acquainted. Ali-Haimoud immigrated lawfully with his mother.
Regardless of the facts, the agents searched for evidence to confirm
their preconceived notions and found what they described to be false identity
documents, as well as a day planner, a tourist videotape, audio tapes of
speeches delivered in Arabic and the old work badges from the dishwashing jobs.
Koubriti Suppression, supra, 199 F. Supp. 2d at 659–62. Inside the day planner
were some wild scrawlings. According to the agents’ characterization in the
affidavit supporting the search, these were sketches of an airport and flight
patterns, with references to locations in Turkey. Amid the furor still palpable
from the attacks in New York and Washington, the agents arrested Koubriti,
Hannan and Ali-Haimoud. Ronald J. Hansen, Craig Garrett & David Shepardson,
FBI Arrests 3 Men at Detroit Home, Detroit News, Sept. 19, 2001.
next day, the prosecution filed a complaint charging the men with possession of
false documents, and the case was assigned to United States District Judge
Gerald E. Rosen. AUSA Convertino assumed control of the prosecution team.
Despite the thinness of the evidence, news reports went out and the case took on
an elevated profile. Discussing the same scrawlings that CIA agents would later
find to be uncompelling as evidence, one unidentified government official said
ominously, “[t]he references to the American military base in Turkey are
chilling.” Id. (emphasis added). With keen foresight Imad Hammad of the
America-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee remarked, “In the past we’ve had many
cases where law enforcement rushed to judgment in actions that were found
baseless. . . . I don’t think it will benefit any of us to spread fear.” Id.
Given the high profile of a case based on finding men who did not even
have any noteworthy fraudulent documents, let alone terrorist plans or
propaganda, perhaps it is unsurprising that the prosecution team continued to
build its case upon foundations that were questionable at best. Interestingly,
the government is now pursuing not these document fraud charges, but rather some
unrelated charges against Koubriti and Hannan for faking auto accident injuries
to obtain insurance money. See 2 Ex-Terrorism Suspects Face Fraud Charges, N.Y.
Times, Dec. 16, 2004, at A31.
During the “Sleeper Cell” investigation,
federal agents found themselves an informer Youssef Hmimssa, and in May 2002
they offered him a deal, raising all the dangers of informer testimony. See Best
Testimony Money Can Buy: Ethical Rules and Witness Payments: RICO Report, The
Champion (April 1995). Hmimssa was a fraudster who had immigrated to Chicago
from Romania. Before entering the United States, he had traveled widely
throughout Romania making contacts and getting into trouble in Bucharest and
other places. He was accused of engaging in illegal money changing and other
offenses in areas dominated by Romanian crime syndicates. Hmimssa also traveled
to Morocco on a false passport. When he entered the United States using phoney
documents, he claimed to have nothing of value. Within six months, he had his
own apartment full of new furniture in northern Chicago with indications that he
might be running with the Romanian crime syndicate there. One witness
interviewed by the FBI had “information that Hmimssa was working for a Romanian
gang . . . .” (Defs.’ Mot. for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or New
Trial, at 24.) By the time AUSA Convertino caught up with him, Hmimssa was
facing federal charges of document fraud, credit card theft and credit card
counterfeiting in three different districts. Despite all this, the prosecution
was more than willing to deal in an effort to win the desired convictions, no
matter how bad Hmimssa might turn out to be.
Although Hmimssa had only
stayed with the defendants for about two weeks, he was willing to say they were
terrorists and that during those two short weeks they tried to recruit him into
terrorist activities. See Ann Mullen, Deliberations Begin: Fate of Four Alleged
Terrorists in the Hands of a Jury, Metro Times Detroit, May 21, 2003. “In
exchange for his cooperation and testimony at trial [the AUSA] stipulated in a
Rule 11 Agreement to a sentencing range of 37 to 46 months and further agreed
to, and has, in fact, requested a more than 50% downward departure from that
range for ‘substantial assistance.’ ” United States v. Koubriti (Koubriti Brady
Materials), 297 F. Supp. 2d 955, 959 (E.D. Mich. 2004).
important, Hmimssa’s cases were consolidated so that he could avoid consecutive
sentencing, and the reported losses from his frauds were disingenuously capped
at $70,000.00, rather than the many multiples of that amount, which he actually
stole. At one point, Hmimssa might also have been offered an S-visa in exchange
for his testimony, allowing him to avoid deportation.
testimony would become critical to the investigation and the trial. Not only did
he provide five days of “evidence” in a seven-week trial, id., but also he was
responsible for more than one round of amendments to the indictment to add
terrorism-related charges and a fourth defendant, Abdel Elmardoudi.
Throughout the case, the actual charges against the defendants continued
to shift. One version of the indictment included a charge of providing material
support to terrorists, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339A, but it remains unclear
to this day just what evidence the prosecution honestly could cite to support
that charge. The statute prohibits, in part, any person from providing anyone
with “currency . . . , lodging, training, safehouses, false documentation or
identification, . . . weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel, . . .
and other physical assets, except medicine or religious materials” intending
that they be used for certain enumerated offenses, like the destruction of
national defense premises, the malicious destruction by explosives of the
property of the United States and the destruction of certain aircraft. 18 U.S.C.
§ 2339A(a),(b). However, the evidence supporting the charge was thin or
In the final version of the indictment, filed just weeks
before trial, Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, Farouk Ali-Haimoud and Abdel
Elmardoudi faced charges of conspiring to provide material support or resources
to terrorists in violation 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 2339A (Count I); engaging in
fraud and misuse of visa, permits and other documents (Count 3) and conspiracy
to do the same (Count 2), in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1546(a) and 2 and 371,
respectively; and fraud and related activity in connection with identification
documents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(6) and 2 (Count 4).
exactly was the conspiracy to provide material support? That, too, was never
exactly clear. In the Third (and final) Superceding Indictment, the prosecution
alleged that the men intended to provide assistance to the Armed Islamic Group
(GIA) in Algeria. A few weeks later during trial, and without any reasonable
basis to support this earlier theory, the prosecution changed course and
emphasized a theory that the men intended to falsify immigration documents to
smuggle “brothers,” or Muslims sympathetic to radical causes, into the United
States to purchase weapons in support of terrorism. The theory stood or fell
almost entirely upon the testimony of Hmimssa.
Getting Burned In The
If the prosecution’s theory of the case was an amorphous one
essentially asserting that the men were terrorists and so must be guilty of
something, the defense team adopted the theory that the entire case was a
fabrication made up of national fear, smoke, mirrors and lies.
Hmimssa, Koubriti, Hannan, Ali-Haimoud and Elmardoudi had no assets. Koubriti,
Hannan and Ali-Haimoud had been sleeping on the floor “with no furniture to
speak of and their clothing kept in duffel bags, suitcases and garbage bags.”
Koubriti Gag Order, 305 F. Supp. 2d at 727. When the weight of the federal
government descended upon them, they relied on the one constitutional right that
would eventually save them, their right to counsel. The court appointed the
Federal Defender’s Office to represent Koubriti, and other counsel were
appointed to represent Hannan, Ali-Haimoud and Elmardoudi.
for the accused, especially given the difficulty of defending this type of case,
all the lawyers served “in the highest and best tradition of appointed counsel
and the legal profession, and the American justice system,” United States v.
Koubriti (Koubriti Dismissal), 336 F. Supp. 2d 676, 680 (E.D. Mich. 2004). Rick
Helfrick and Leroy Soles of the Federal Defender’s Office are seasoned trial
lawyers, skilled in complex motion practice who have excellent reputations for
their work and dedication to their clients. Hannan was represented by Attorney
James C. Thomas, a longtime NACDL member and a former treasurer of the American
Board of Criminal Lawyers with about thirty years of experience in defense of
sophisticated criminal matters, and his dedicated co-counsel, NACDL member Joe
Niskar. Bill Swor and Margaret Raben, who represented Elmardoudi, are both
longtime NACDL members and members of the board of directors of Criminal Defense
Attorneys of Michigan with outstanding reputations and decades of criminal
defense experience. Finally, Robert M. Morgan, another NACDL member who was
appointed to represent Ali-Haimoud, is a former AUSA and strike force attorney
who has argued before the United States Supreme Court in Michigan v. Harvey, 494
U.S. 344 (1990) (holding that a statement taken in violation of the Sixth
Amendment right to counsel can be used for impeachment purposes), and who has
been described by his peers as a “criminal defense attorney par
These seasoned lawyers concluded almost from the beginning,
that something was truly wrong with this prosecution. From the onset of charges
against Hannan, for example, Jim Thomas made persistent discovery requests for
numerous critical documents. AUSA Convertino repeatedly claimed that all the
relevant discovery had been turned over, and as happens all too often, the court
took him at his word. Unbeknownst to Judge Rosen, however, Convertino continued
to conceal a mountain of material.
For example, Thomas persistently
asked for the medical records of a dead insane man, Ali Ahmed, who for a
significant period of time possessed the day planner containing the so-called
terrorist casing sketches. The defense surmised that the so-called “sketches” of
military targets in the planner were simply the jottings of a delusional loon
who died before Koubriti and Hannan ever moved to Michigan, and the lawyers
sought evidence confirming this fact. Before his death, Ahmed was involuntarily
committed and had a thick psychological file. For months, no one supposedly
could locate the records. Astonishingly, midway through the trial, the defense
learned that the hospital had turned the records over to the prosecution
pursuant to a grand jury subpoena. When caught red-handed, AUSA Convertino
presented the documents to the court for disclosure to the defense. Jim Thomas
noticed that one document was still missing; namely, the document involuntarily
committing the man as insane and as having delusions of being a general in the
military. With dogged persistence, Thomas ultimately forced the prosecution to
produce the exculpatory document.
As another example, during the
discovery process several defense lawyers repeatedly asked for material relating
to the impeachment of Hmimssa. When AUSAs Convertino and Corbett were not
forthcoming, the defense team wrote letters to the United States Attorneys’
Offices in Chicago and Iowa identifying the information counsel had received so
far and asking whether more exculpatory materials existed. Fortunately, these
prosecutors met their constitutional obligations to provide helpful information.
Only through this kind of persistence, which the prosecution called a “cheap
shot,” would the defense ultimately obtain the information undermining the cases
against their clients.
By constantly seeking these types of exculpatory
materials, Thomas and the other lawyers continued to put the issue of the
Detroit prosecution team’s evasiveness and misconduct before the court, even as
the AUSAs continued to deny that they had anything responsive to the requests.
Indeed, the long and troublesome process led Robert Morgan, Ali-Haimoud’s
lawyer, to comment that one of the key lessons to be learned from this case is
that defense lawyers must “never stop asking – literally. Ask as many people as
you can and as often as you can to get the information your clients need.”
When the trial, which might be described as a security pageant, finally
began in March 2003, the case was showing few signs of improvement. The war in
Iraq started during jury selection. Despite counsels’ motions, Judge Rosen
approved strict security measures that were bound to prejudice the jurors. To
begin with, the jury was anonymous. Further, the jurors met at a secret
location, rode directly into a separate entrance of the courthouse in two vans
with dark-tinted windows, received armed federal escorts during their movements
throughout the building, and passed not only through ordinary court security but
also through a second metal detector at the courtroom door. Once inside the
courtroom, more than ten court security officers, rather than the usual one or
two, waited to guard the room. These measures reinforced the atmosphere of
terror the prosecution was trying to create and no doubt eroded whatever
presumption of innocence the jury might initially have been willing to
entertain. See Linda Deutsch, Blake Jurors Are Confused on Presumption of
Innocence, L.A. Daily News, Nov. 17, 2004.
objections throughout trial were also of little immediate avail. As in most
criminal cases, the objections were often met with the all too familiar, “That
will be denied, counsel.” Over defendants’ objections, the court admitted into
evidence more than 100 hours of audio recordings from cassette tapes seized at
the apartment during the initial mistaken raid. These recordings contained at
most fifteen brief passages in which, depending upon one’s translation and
interpretation of the materials, one might hear something disapproving of
Western ideals. There was no evidence that any of the accused had actually
listened to the tapes, and complete translations of the tapes were never
provided to the defense. In fact, the prosecution’s expert translator apparently
obtained on the Internet his so-called expertise in Islam and Salafism, the
teachings of a radical sect identified in the Third Superceding Indictment and
central to the prosecution’s theory.
There is also some indication that
the expert was a member of the Phalengist party, a right-wing Lebanese Christian
sectarian party founded by Pierre Gemayel to quell emerging Muslim interests.
The other translators presented different problems. The rebuttal expert
continued to translate the tapes even after the court’s cutoff date had passed.
AUSA Convertino also paid a man named Marwan Farhat, a violent criminal involved
with Hezbollah associates who was awaiting cocaine charges, to summarize each of
the tapes. At trial, the tapes turned into a huge and fruitless distraction,
helping to obscure the weakness of the prosecution’s case.
faulty tapes, the case essentially relied upon three key witnesses: the
untrustworthy Hmimssa and two experts, Paul George and Mary Peterson. FBI
Supervisory Special Agent Paul George ostensibly had come from a career in
intelligence, and his background was shrouded in secrecy. Before entering the
service, he claimed he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in college and reportedly
graduated summa cum laude from a law school. Following a pre-trial foundational
hearing during which the defense team was only permitted to elicit limited facts
relating to his background, the court determined he had the relevant expertise.
The problem with all this nondisclosure was that George was the key
expert witness for the prosecution who “explained most clearly . . . [t]he
government’s theory of the case” (Government’s Consolidated Resp. Concurring in
Defs.’ Mots., at 11), and he provided critical testimony at trial about
terrorist tradecraft and the activities of clandestine cells. The bits of
evidence gleaned from his hearing testimony and from a summary written by AUSA
Convertino disclosed just before the foundational hearing suggested that Agent
George assumed other identities. Without access to his background, however, the
defense was unable to conduct any meaningful background investigation and was
obstructed from conducting an effective cross-examination at the hearing and,
more important, from challenging his credibility before the jury. See Defendants
Prevail in Challenges to Soft Expert Testimony: RICO Report, The Champion (May
As to the basis of Agent George’s testimony, the court had
permitted him to testify on the condition that the prosecution would present lay
factual witnesses to provide the foundation, who would then be subject to
cross-examination. But that’s not what really happened at trial. Given a lack of
foundation as to why he relied on the assertions of Hmimssa, a known fraudster,
Agent George resorted to evasive muttering and doubletalk. When the court
questioned him at trial about why investigators ruled Hmimssa out as a terrorism
suspect, George said that investigators could corroborate enough of Hmimssa’s
assertions to make him credible. He then added:
“[AGENT GEORGE]: It was
a continued corroboration. And as you’re aware, there were other – other
testimony that we could not bring in.
"MR. THOMAS: Wait a minute.
“MR. SWOR: Oh, my God.
“MR. MORGAN: Whoa.
“THE COURT: I
order the jury to disregard that. I tell the jury to disregard that.
“MR. NISKAR: Did we say objection?
“THE COURT: I think I got the
(Defs.’ Mot. for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or New
Trial, Exh. K, Draft Tr. 04/29/2003 at 364.)
Rather than providing the
defense with the real basis of his opinion and opening the testimony up to a
fair cross-examination, the prosecution suppressed essential evidence and
permitted the agent to allude to purported facts wholly beyond the evidence.
This allows the prosecution soft expert simply to create a scenario about the
defendants’ purported involvement in the charged conduct and the informer’s
reliability, relying on the force of credentials that cannot be challenged and
the imprimatur of the United States to fill the gaps.
Little could be
more offensive to the defendants’ constitutional right fairly to confront the
witnesses against them. Such “overview testimony” has recently surfaced in the
courts and has been widely condemned. The problem is that a so-called expert
testifies about a mix of expert opinion evidence that theoretically will be
produced at trial and his alleged experience investigating similar crimes. This
mixture produces an outwardly persuasive theory of the prosecution’s case, which
is essentially impossible to attack through cross-examination. See generally
United States v. Casas, 356 F.3d 104 (1st Cir. 2004) (discussing the dangers of
“overview testimony” and the error of its admission into evidence); United
States v. Griffin, 324 F.3d 330 (5th Cir. 2003) (same).
prosecution also offered, relied upon and failed to correct false testimony. For
example, the testimony of key witnesses Agent George and Lieutenant Colonel Mary
Peterson was so misleading and fraught with problems that when Judge Rosen later
ordered the DOJ to audit the entire prosecution, the DOJ’s post-trial
recommendation to set aside the convictions would largely be due to problems
surrounding their statements. (Government’s Consolidated Resp. Concurring in
Defs.’ Mots., at 14–41.) Each of these two purported experts provided critical
testimony as to the so-called “casing materials” upon which Agent George relied
heavily in his damning testimony.
What were the “casing materials”?
First, there was the videotape of American tourist attractions, which Agent
George thought to be sinister. The tape was a hodge-podge of miscellaneous
innocuous recordings of news, cartoons and musical footage, as well as some
vacation footage including shots of the MGM Grand Hotel and other buildings in
Las Vegas. Unfortunately for the prosecution, the Las Vegas FBI and U.S.
Attorney’s Office expressly disagreed with Convertino’s and George’s
characterization of the vacation tape as a “casing” of the landmarks.
to the purportedly inculpatory statements on the tape, it is unclear what the
speakers, a group of young Tunisians touring the country, even said. The
voiceover on the tape had a Tunisian dialect, which is difficult to translate
for those not specifically familiar with it. Before and during trial, defense
counsel repeatedly argued that this problem made some of the translations
inaccurate. As it turns out, in 2002 Detroit FBI Special Agent Michael Thomas
wrote an email recognizing the difficulty of translating the dialect, but the
email was never provided to counsel until post-trial motions were filed.
Instead, AUSA Convertino actually attacked the theory at trial. (Id., at 40.) He
disregarded the testimony of the defense translator, Naima Benkoucha, who,
unlike the prosecution’s hired guns, was a department store manager who had
never testified in court or worked as a translator before. Ann Mullen,
Deliberations Begin: Fate of Four Alleged Terrorists in the Hands of a Jury,
Metro Times Detroit, May 21, 2003.
In addition, there were the so-called
surveillance sketches that newspaper reports had described as “chilling.” The
Third Superceding Indictment incorporated a convoluted charge accusing the men
of conspiring to provide material support for a conspiracy to attack military
targets like the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. This
conspiracy-to-support-a-conspiracy theory allowed the prosecution to cloud the
issues and introduce evidence of questionable relevance, including the so-called
“sketches.” These chicken-scratches are so barren of content that it is
difficult for the untrained eye to see in them anything but the meanderings of a
seriously deficient artist. In this case, the honest, trained eye sees the same
As to a sketch that Colonel Peterson testified as
depicting the Incirlik an air base in Turkey, William McNair, who worked in U.S.
intelligence for more than 40 years, including work as an Information Review
Officer for the Directorate of Operations at the CIA, reviewed the sketch and
shared it with numerous CIA document analysts, paramilitary persons and people
in the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center. With all their training, they each opined
that the sketch did not seem useful and most likely was not the work of a
terrorist cell. (Government’s Consolidated Resp. Concurring in Defs.’ Mots., at
35.) More to the point, no one to whom McNair talked was willing to testify that
it was the work of a cell. This exculpatory evidence was never disclosed to the
When McNair communicated these opinions to AUSA Convertino
over a series of telephone calls, Convertino “ ‘didn’t much care what [McNair]
was saying.’ . . . Convertino was not really asking for the CIA’s opinion. . . .
It was McNair’s opinion that Convertino was shopping for an opinion consistent
with his own.” (Id., at 35.) Similarly, on the eve of a visit by AUSA Convertino
to Turkey, the sketch was presented to a high ranking official in the
Intelligence Division of the Turkish National Police. The official said the
drawing “did not look like any terrorist sketch that they had seen in the past.”
(Id. at 33.) Needless to say, this evidence was also not disclosed.
Early on in the trial, Air Force Special Agent Goodnight submitted a
critical report and addendum that called into question the key testimony of
Colonel Mary Peterson. Colonel Peterson, who was flown in five days before trial
and remained something of an unknown quantity, testified that she was previously
stationed at Incirlik Air Base and that the sketch was of that base. This was
based on four key factors, including the notion that a scribble represented a
hardened aircraft shelter (HA. Goodnight, by contrast, opined that “Although
this report provides an analysis of the day planner, other versions of the
analysis also exist. . . . [T]he speculative portions of the sketch were ‘sold’
to the AUSA too strongly as fact. . . . [I]t was apparent that [the AUSA]
believes strongly in the HAS theory and wants someone from AFOSI [i.e., Air
Force Special Investigations] to testify that the drawing is in fact a HAS. . .
. [I]t might be difficult to convince a jury that the drawing represents a HAS,
particularly since the door of the alleged HAS shows it opening from the rear
[contrary to fact].” (Id., at 29.)
Ostensibly, the HAS theory originated
with Peterson and she gave the jury the false impression that official agreement
on the theory was unanimous. Goodnight’s report, as well as other evidence,
revealed that this was not so. (Id., at 30–31, 31 n.19.) Goodnight cautioned
Convertino against relying on the theory. Indeed, rather than a military
outpost, defense attorney James Gerometta saw that the drawing looked more like
an amateur outline of the Arabian Peninsula, consistent with the defense’s
theory that the insane Ahmed had scribbled it out as part of one of his
delusions of grandeur. Not surprisingly, the defense never learned of
Goodnight’s expert opinion.
Still relying on the
conspiracy-to-support-a-conspiracy theory to connect the defendants with any
terrorist activity, the prosecution interpreted another “sketch” to depict a map
to the Queen Alia Hospital in Jordan. Although the AUSA elicited misleading
testimony suggesting a consensus among government experts as to the reference of
the “map,” undisclosed internal reports revealed that the consensus was a myth.
In fact, experts stated that they could not establish a correlation
between the scrawling and the site. Although prosecution witnesses led the jury
to believe that no photographs of the actual sites could be obtained to permit a
comparison with the sketch, this was simply a lie. At AUSA Convertino’s request,
photographs were made available to him. The photographs did not contain
so-called landmarks, like a conjured dead tree, that witnesses emphasized.
Indeed, the DOJ later concluded after trial that “[i]t is difficult, if not
impossible, to compare the day planner sketches with the photos and see a
correlation between the drawings and the hospital site . . . .” (Id., at 23.)
Although the defense repeatedly attempted to obtain photographs of the sites,
this exculpatory evidence was never made available. The prosecution team led
defense counsel and the jury to believe that it did not exist.
Similarly, the informer Hmimssa was allowed to concoct defendant
Elmardoudi’s purported involvement in a flight school visa document scam, even
though the FBI 302s of the other persons involved revealed that Elmardoudi had
nothing to do with that transaction. Hmimssa was also permitted to testify that
he learned of Elmardoudi’s surname through the identity documents of the
latter’s sister, which he supposedly viewed in the summer of 2001. Yet contrary
to Hmimssa’s tale, months after he agreed to cooperate the government filed an
amended indictment still failing to identify the surname.
also elicited misleading testimony from James Sanders, who claimed to have held
the day planner and to have gone with Koubriti and Hannan to obtain identity
documents. Sanders claimed to have met the men in an employee lunchroom when
they were co-workers. In fact, his employment in the same company actually only
overlapped with theirs by a handful of days, during which they only worked on
the same day three times and never on the same shift. This testimony also
directly contradicted notes taken by the FBI Agent who interviewed Sanders soon
after Defendants’ arrest and wrote comments like “did not get asked for ID,” and
“never knew K-H personally” and wrote that another person “is the one that
actually asked him about the ID’s not K & H.” (Defs.’ Mot.for Judgment
Notwithstanding the Verdict or New Trial, Exh. B.) None of these or other
falsehoods were brought to the attention of the defense, the court or the jury.
The case was built on liars and their lies. (Id., at 12–20.)
prosecution also prevented witnesses favorable to the defense from being
available to testify. For example, they concealed the identity of one of the
people whose 302s directly contradicted Hmimssa’s testimony, Brahim Sidi, along
with his statement that Elmardoudi was not a terrorist. Sidi had received a deal
in a separate criminal case by pleading nearly a year before the trial to one
count of a conspiracy to defraud the United States by obtaining false social
security cards and numbers. In August 2002, he was sentenced to time served. In
fact, he was deported just six weeks before the “Sleeper Cell” Case was
originally scheduled to start. There is also some suggestion that he and
witnesses like him were offered a chance to stay in the United States if they
would “remember” events in a more helpful light.
By the time Sidi
testified at trial via cell phone, the reception was poor and he could not
receive documents to refresh his recollection. Perhaps worst of all, the defense
was left to use its own sleuthing skills to unearth Sidi’s identity and
testimony without prosecutorial compliance with Brady (Id., at 25.) If the
defense had not persisted for months in trying to locate Sidi, the exculpatory
and impeaching evidence would never have come to light. The prosecution also
concealed the identities of seven secret witnesses and prevented the defense
from interviewing Sanders by rushing him out of court.
suppressed by the prosecution also contained a wealth of helpful documentary
evidence. The AUSAs failed to produce documents relating to the mental illness
of Ali Ahmed, the author of the so-called “chilling,” “terrorist” sketches and
scrawlings. Worse, because of AUSA Convertino, some potential documentary
evidence simply did not exist. He adopted a policy contrary to the advice of
other prosecutors, even including his trial partner, AUSA Keith Corbett,
prohibiting any note-taking but his own during interviews of Hmimssa; 302s just
Finally, after trial had already begun, the prosecution
turned over some travel documentation from Turkey, telling the court it had just
been received. In fact, the witness who produced the documents said he turned
them over to the prosecution team six months before trial. Not satisfied with
its effort to conceal evidence, the government buttressed the testimony of the
fraudster Hmimssa through improper vouching.
See Some Prosecutors Just
Don’t Get It: Improper Cross and Vouching: RICO Report, The Champion (Nov.
2004). AUSA Convertino engaged in a prototypically overreaching closing
argument. For example, he vouched for his witness Hmimssa, saying, “What did
[Hmimssa] get out of this? . . . Coming down with a bullet-proof vest with a
target in his head?” (Defs.’ Mot. for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or
New Trial, at 22.)
AUSA Convertino did not mention Hmimssa’s sweetheart
deal to the jury, although defense counsel reminded them of the bias. Similarly,
although the AUSA had specifically adopted the policy of not taking notes during
his interviews with Hmimssa, he reportedly told the jurors that they “should
acquit the defendants if they believed the claim that the government spent 30
hours with their star witness before taking any notes, thereby allowing him to
get his story straight.” Ann Mullen, Deliberations Begin: Fate of Four Alleged
Terrorists in the Hands of a Jury, Metro Times Detroit, May 21, 2003. Despite
the misleading, sarcastic tenor of AUSA Convertino’s argument, that’s exactly
what the jurors should have done. As Attorney Rick Helfrick countered in his
closing argument, “This case [was] based on fear, half-truths and deception.”
Down, But Not Out
In June 2003, the jury returned its
verdicts. Although Robert Morgan’s client, Ali-Haimoud, was acquitted on all
counts, the other men were not so fortunate. Hannan was convicted of conspiracy
to commit immigration document fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1546(a)
and 2. The jury found Koubriti and Elmardoudi guilty of conspiring to provide
material support to terrorists in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 2339A and of
the same type of conspiracy to commit document fraud as Hannan. While the
underlying frauds could carry penalties of up to 25 years for Koubriti and
Elmardoudi and 10 years for Hannan, the conspiracy convictions themselves
carried a maximum penalty of five years.
While waiting for the
transcripts to be completed, on October 15, 2003, the defense filed a 51-page
motion on seeking either an acquittal or a new trial. Citing many of the errors
recounted above, the motion set forth seven independent bases for the requested
relief, five citing the court’s errors and two highlighting serious and
prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct. As to the court’s decisions, the defense
recounted how Judge Rosen failed to diffuse the jury’s knowledge of extensive
trial security measures, to follow proper procedures in resolving translational
disputes over tape transcriptions, and to authorize the production of important
defense witnesses, as well as the court’s improper commentary and questioning of
Critically, the motion also detailed how prosecutorial
misconduct permeated the case, tainting the verdict. Point-by-point, the defense
argued that the tactics of the prosecution team violated due process, hampered
the rights to a fair trial and to confront adverse witnesses, and undermined the
presumption of innocence, which already has precious little actual traction in
the minds of many jurors. See Defs.’ Mot. for Judgment Notwithstanding the
Verdict or New Trial; Linda Deutsch, Blake Jurors Are Confused on Presumption of
Innocence, L.A. Daily News, Nov. 17, 2004.
Champions Of Justice By
What went so wrong with the trial that the DOJ was eventually
required to recommend not only that the court set aside the convictions and
grant a new trial, but also that it dismiss the terrorism-related charges? Why
did Judge Rosen feel compelled to dismiss those charges and reverse the
convictions and grant a new trial on the minor charges? Koubriti Dismissal,
supra, 336 F. Supp. 2d 676. It is reasonably clear that the DOJ did not have a
sudden change of heart, leading to a heightened sensitivity about constitutional
rights. Rather, one would expect them to admit as little as they could, which
still turned out to be so bad that the convictions had to be set
The defense motions were the beginning of a snowball. In the
months following trial, AUSA Richard Convertino was relieved of his authority,
an investigation began, and AUSA Eric Straus took over the case. Straus soon
came across a crucial letter by a locally notorious criminal, Milton “Butch”
In December 2001, Jones was in a maximum-security cell next to
Hmimssa. Jones said that his concern for national security led him to take
verbatim notes of his conversations with Hmimssa, who claimed to have lied to
the FBI and the Secret Service and told him “about terrorist things.” Koubriti
(Brady Motion), supra, 297 F. Supp. 2d at 959–60. Despite comprehensive
discovery motions and repeated Brady/Giglio disclosure requests, “[n]either the
letter nor the notes were turned over to Defendants by the Government either
prior to or during trial, [even though] the Government prosecutors had the
letter, and, on its face, the letter contains Brady and/or Giglio material.”
Id., at 958.
The letter was originally given to Convertino long before
trial by fellow AUSA Joe Allen, a man described as a “hard-core, true-believer.”
Allen was handling Jones’s case, and despite his leanings, he recognized the
importance of these statements. He took something of a career risk in disclosing
them. When Hmimssa testified without any mention of the letter, AUSA Allen grew
suspicious. As it turns out, Convertino claimed he suppressed the letter simply
because he believed it was not credible. This is a bizarre proposition that the
court later specifically rejected during a hearing, (Government’s Consolidated
Resp. Concurring in Defs.’ Mots., at 13 n.5), and that, if correct, would make
Brady a dead letter. The legal error was so obvious that the Criminal Chief of
the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s Office, Alan Gershel who is widely known for being a
straight-shooter, later called it a “no brainer.” (Id., at 44.)
narrowly upon some of the potential prosecutorial misconduct, the court held an
evidentiary hearing in December 2003 concerning the letter. There, AUSA Gershel
admitted the error of not disclosing the letter, but he and his fellow AUSAs
Convertino and Corbett gave conflicting testimony about their actions with
respect to it. Knowing that someone was lying and still reluctant to reverse the
convictions, Judge Rosen ordered the prosecution to conduct a thorough review of
their documents to determine what else might have slipped through the cracks.
See Koubriti Dismissal, supra, 336 F. Supp. 2d at 678. That way, the court could
receive more information as to who might be lying and could also reserve
judgment as to whether the misconduct was, according to the Brady standards,
material to the outcome of the trial.
Following Convertino’s filing of a
Whistleblower lawsuit in February 2004, the DOJ handed leadership of the review
over to Craig Morford, the No. 2 lawyer in the United States Attorney’s Office
in Cleveland, Ohio who has a sterling reputation and a solid track record of
high-profile prosecutions. In the ultimate response submitted by Morford, the
DOJ remained silent in the face of most of the defense’s accusations. But
following a painstaking, nine-month review of the record, on August 31, 2004,
the DOJ issued its fifty-nine page response to the defendants’ motion for
acquittal, in which it detailed how the case, built upon the testimony of Agent
George and the informer Hmimssa, simply could not stand. Agent “George based
[his] conclusions [about the accuseds’ actions] on (1) his opinion that the
drawings and videotape seized from the defendants constituted operational
terrorist ‘casing material’; (2) the testimony of Hmimssa; and (3) the
defendants’ acquisition of fraudulent identity documents and their involvement
in other fraudulent activities . . . .” (Government’s Consolidated Resp.
Concurring in Defs.’ Mots., at 11.) Each of these legs of the stool was infected
with error. (Id., at 13.)
As to Hmimssa, the DOJ admitted that it had
erred in failing to disclose the Jones letter, as well as evidence of documents
and testimony containing Hmimssa’s caustic comments generally deriding the
United States. This combined with AUSA Convertino’s anti-note-taking policy and
Hmimssa’s portrayal of himself throughout trial “as secular, loyal to the United
States and, at least since his arrest, entirely forthcoming,” was enough for the
DOJ to concur in counsels’ motion for a dismissal of the terrorism-related
charges. (Id., at 43.)
As to the purported corroborating evidence, AUSA
Morford wrote that in a critical FBI memorandum memorializing Hannan’s
post-arrest statements, a key inculpatory paragraph was added at Convertino’s
request. The 302’s author could not recall a statement in which Hannan
supposedly admitted to knowing that certain false documents were in the
apartment, and there was no record of it in the interview notes. (Id., at
51–52.) The post-trial investigation also revealed that Convertino paid a
violent criminal, Farhat for his summaries of the audio tapes. Of course, Farhat
“received an unusually large sentence reduction recommendation by AUSA
Convertino” in exchange for his assistance. (Id., at 50.)
The bulk of
the DOJ’s admissions came in connection with the mythical “casing materials,”
which supposedly showed that the accused were “casing” possible targets for
terrorism, and upon which Special Agent George and Lieutenant Colonel Peterson
had so heavily relied. Citing all the problems set out above, the DOJ admitted
that the prosecution had fallen far short of constitutional and ethical
standards in its failure to disclose exculpatory materials like the internal
government documents showing that George’s and Peterson’s opinions did not
reflect a universal consensus among the government’s own available experts.
Seeing all these errors in a case that was built on lies, the DOJ reached the
inescapable conclusion that the wrongful convictions must be overturned and a
new trial granted on what few charges of document fraud might be tenable. It
submitted its response saying as much on August 31, 2004, just days before it
was due to complete an additional discovery response estimated at approximately
Persistence Pays Off
Just three days later on
September 2, 2004, Judge Rosen, a George H.W. Bush appointee, entered a historic
order in the case. He dismissed the terrorism charges under 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and
2339A and granted a new trial for Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan and Farouk
Ali-Haimoud on minor charges of document fraud. See Koubriti Dismissal, supra,
336 F. Supp. 2d 676. Judge Rosen eloquently wrote:
“For those of us who
work in our Nation’s courts and whose responsibility is the administration of
justice — including not only judges — but prosecutors and defense lawyers,
perhaps our greatest challenge will be to ensure that th[e] new [terrorist]
threat is confronted in a way that preserves our most fundamental and cherished
civil liberties. Certainly, the legal front of the war on terrorism is a battle
that must be fought and won in the courts, but it must be won in accordance with
the rule of law. Those of us in the justice system, including those prosecuting
terror suspects, must be ever vigilant to insure that neither the heinousness of
the terrorists’ mission nor the intense public emotion, fear and revulsion that
their grizzly work produces, diminishes in the least the core protections
provided criminal defendants by our Constitution. To permit anything less — to
allow our constitutional standards to be tailored to the moment — would be to
give the terrorists an important victory in their campaign to bring us down
because they will have caused us to become something less than we are — a nation
of laws based upon constitutional foundations developed over more than two
centuries of jurisprudential evolution.” Id., at 680.
notions like the rule of law usually do not appear in an opinion in an
unexaggerated way that makes concrete sense. If it happens, it is worth a second
look. When a judge such as Judge Rosen, a smart, ambitious, hard-working and
fairly conservative Republican loyalist who is certainly not considered a civil
libertarian, writes such an opinion, it is of particular interest. After all, in
the same opinion, Judge Rosen remarked, “jury verdicts should be disturbed only
upon a court’s firmest conviction and belief — formed after the most searching
and comprehensive review of all of the evidence and issues — that a miscarriage
of justice has occurred and a defendant’s fundamental constitutional rights
violated.” Id. at 679. People who know Judge Rosen recognize that when he said
that, he meant it.
If the DOJ had to be compelled by such extraordinary
evidence of misconduct to recommend dismissal of the terrorism-related charges,
the same might be said of Judge Rosen in granting the motion. Upon reading the
eloquent passages of his opinion, it is easy to view the judge as sympathetic to
the defense. But the defense rarely won a significant point before him along the
way. The real champions of liberty here are the defense lawyers who fought at
every step, even after the trial was apparently lost, to unearth the truth
hidden under a mountain of misleading statements and the suppressed evidence.
In his opinion, Judge Rosen did not independently review many of the
claims of Koubriti, Hannan and Elmardoudi. He relied instead upon the DOJ’s
limited, albeit devastating, admissions. Judge Rosen probably would have reached
the same result even if the DOJ had written its response differently, and the
DOJ probably surmised this. But it is worth noting that Judge Rosen (and,
understandably, the DOJ) declined to explore the misconduct and to clarify the
precedent on any matter, such as whether the court, not the prosecutor, has the
authority to decide whether statements impeaching key prosecution witnesses are
Brady material or are “credible.” Instead, the judge simply said that the DOJ’s
admitted errors cumulatively infected the trial beyond repair. And if the DOJ
had not been as forthcoming or had been faced with a slightly more defensible
legal position, it is unclear whether the opinion would have been written the
Perhaps Judge Rosen was simply recognizing that no meaningful
fight over the proper outcome remained and he was taking the opportunity, rarely
provided in the heat of litigation, to reflect succinctly upon fundamental
principles. He went one step further, however, in discussing the importance of
preserving constitutional rights in times of national fear and tragedy. On the
other hand, even in this serious case where the specific contours of due process
were ready for articulation, he refrained from finding that each or any of these
errors alone could support a reversal. Koubriti Dismissal, supra, 336 F. Supp.
2d 676. Where, as here, the lies are plain and unavoidable, the error is clearly
visible. What is easy to forget in a less obvious case, however, is how stricter
adherence to the process gives everyone a better opportunity at getting as close
as possible to a just outcome, regardless of whether the falsehoods can be
In the push and pull of zealous advocacy, it is easy for some
prosecutors to forget that winning isn’t everything. The procedures and
standards that have been developed over the past two centuries and that have
survived the Rehnquist Court give us the best current possible opportunity to
reach a just outcome. In difficult cases some zealous prosecutors continue to
commit blatant violations of due process, which have already been held to be
reversible error. See Some Prosecutors Just Don’t Get It: Improper Cross and
Vouching: RICO Report, The Champion (Nov. 2004). Yet it is well known that
misconduct is the source of the majority of the wrongful convictions of actually
innocent people. See Innocent Imprisoned Committee Update: The Truth May Set You
Free, The Champion (Jan./Feb. 1995), at 30; see generally William C. Thomson
& Michelle Nethercott, Forensics: The Challenge of Forensics Evidence, The
Champion (Sept./Oct. 2004), at 50 n.1 (discussing the role of pro-prosecution
scientific misconduct in obtaining wrongful convictions); Limitations on the
Prosecution’s Ability to Make Inconsistent Arguments in Successive Cases: RICO
Report, The Champion (Dec. 1997), at 40 (citing, e.g., Miller v. Pate, 386 U.S.
1 (1967); United States v. Andrews, 824 F. Supp. 1273 (N.D. Ill. 1993); Tyson v.
Indiana, 1993 Ind. Ct. App. LEXIS 926 (Aug. 6, 1993); United States v. Tashjian,
No. CR-88-124(-PAR (C.D. Cal. 1988); Wang v. Reno, 837 F. Supp. 1506 (N.D.
Cal. 1993)). Prosecutorial corner-cutting ultimately amounts to a reckless
disregard for the proper outcome.
Who is to blame for
this travesty? The front-line troops, analysts and prosecutors clearly must take
responsibility for their roles in the process. But what responsibility rests at
the doors of higher-ups?
In the Detroit case, AUSA Convertino undoubtedly
must shoulder much responsibility. At the same time, high-ranking members of the
DOJ were involved in every facet of the case. In fact, Attorney General John
Ashcroft and his senior staff were looking for, and speaking publicly about,
connections between this case and the September 11 attacks before AUSA
Convertino was willing to say he had any evidence connecting Koubriti, Hannan
and Ali-Haimoud to the events (and before Elmardoudi was even a defendant). See
Danny Hakim & Eric Lichtblau, After Convictions, the Undoing of a U.S.
Terror Prosecution, N.Y. Times, Oct. 7, 2004, at A26.
General Ashcroft even had to be publicly reprimanded by Judge Rosen for making
baseless statements about such fabricated connections to the press, violating a
gag order. See id.; Koubriti Gag Order, 305 F. Supp. 2d 723.
questions remain as to who all was directly or indirectly responsible and who
pressured or influenced Convertino to act in the way he did, even if he already
had a zealous and intense predisposition. Unfortunately, the question will
largely go unanswered. Veteran AUSA Keith Corbett “bristled at Washington’s
Prosecutors ordered to disclose records given to Moussaoui's defense team.
The judge overseeing the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui yesterday ordered prosecutors to provide hundreds of thousands of government documents generated as evidence in the case to lawyers representing families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
US District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema issued the order in connection with a civil lawsuit filed by the families against the aviation industry, alleging that it failed to prevent the attacks. The civil case is pending in New York, and Moussaoui is on trial in a separate criminal proceeding in Alexandria.
But attorneys for the victims came to Brinkema's Alexandria courtroom yesterday because, they said, she had the authority to order the disclosure of documents that have been turned over to Moussaoui's defense team. The plaintiffs' attorneys said they believed the documents, which they have been unable to obtain from the government, will help them show in the civil case that the airline industry knew about the risks of airline hijackings before Sept. 11 but failed to act.
In granting the request, Brinkema criticized the government for what she said was excessive secrecy in the Moussaoui case and other matters. "I've always been troubled by the degree to which our government keeps things secret from the American people," she said.
The judge ordered the government to give the civil lawyers all the unclassified materials provided to Moussaoui's defense, but the document production would not start until after Moussaoui's trial. Moussaoui is the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A federal jury in Alexandria is considering whether he should be executed. Testimony resumes Monday.
It is unclear what is in the documents or how many there are, although prosecutors indicated at the hearing yesterday that they gave Moussaoui's attorneys hundreds of thousands of FBI reports alone. Prosecutors opposed the document request as overly broad and unrelated to the criminal case against Moussaoui.
But the plaintiffs' attorneys hailed Brinkema's order as a victory for the nearly 3,000 people who died Sept. 11. "We're just asking to see what Moussaoui's guys saw," one of the lawyers, Ron Motley, said after the hearing. "That's fair."
Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines, said he could not comment on pending litigation. Spokesmen for United Airlines did not return calls. The airlines are among the parties being sued in the New York civil case, which was filed in 2002.
There are at least a dozen credible sources reporting on the strong occult 'signatures' stamped all over major world events recently, implying that events of global import are planned using certain patterns. Oft quoted examples are:
The '777' patterns found in the London bombings on July 7th, 2005;
The '11' patterns found all over the 9/11 attack; and,
The Madrid Train Bombings 911 days after 9/11 on March 11, 2004.
If we combine the two important dates of June 5th and June 6th, together with recent world events, we obtain the following extremely significant occult triplications:
222 days from the Muslim riots in Paris;
333 days from the London Train Bombings;
444 days from the second anniversary of the Iraq Invasion;
555 days from November 28, 2004 (the 333rd day of the year, with 33 remaining);
666 in the date pattern and in the pattern until the end of the Mayan calendar;
777 days from the foiled Sears Tower Attack.
An important question to ask is "Why do perpetrators choose to stamp their occult signatures all over major world events, in a similar manner to that of serial killers?"
For 2 reasons:
They want to hide the truth from the masses, while communicating their success (in orchestrating a planned crisis) to the elite. Public radio broadcasts were used to transmit secret messages to resistance members in World War 2. Exactly the same method works now, albeit slightly more hi-tech.
Our Global Leadership believes that a planned crisis may fail unless it is carried out 'by the numbers'. The most venerated occult numbers are: 6, 11, 13, and multiples thereof, especially 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77 and 26, 39, etc. A triplication of numbers is considered even more sacred to the occultist: 111, 222, 333, etc. The most familiar triplication is 666, said to be 'the number of The Beast, mentioned in the Bible. This number is often disguised as an 18, which is a 6+6+6 or 3x6. (See 666 and 888 for an explanation of the significance of these numbers in the Bible).
The evidence FOR such signatures on major world events is overwhelming, and far too lengthy to cover in this short article (see "explanatory report" link above for more proof than you could ever need). Nevertheless, there is a natural reluctance to accepting what is blatantly obvious.
The reason for the reluctance is Public Education. From an early age we are taught the Accidental View of History – in other words, events happen just because they do. On the other side of the coin is the Conspiratorial View of History , which argues, incredibly convincingly, that major world events are planned according to a specific timeline, and for very specific reasons.
[Although not the scope of this article, do a web search for 'Hegelian Dialectics', which explains how an existing force (the thesis) generates a counterforce (the antithesis). Conflict between the two forces results in the forming of a synthesis, or desired outcome. ]
With an understanding of how our Global Leadership use these signatures to secretly communicate their dastardly deeds, it is sometimes possible to predict the likelihood of a major world event before it occurs. Using careful analysis of recent history, here are 6 significant facts about June 6, 2006 (apart from the obvious 06/06/06 in the date itself).
June 6, 2006 is the 62nd anniversary of D-Day. The Normandy invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord, remains the largest seaborne invasion in history involving almost three million troops crossing the English Channel from England to Normandy in then German-occupied France. Conspiratorial History buffs will know that WW2 was planned in order to bring International Communism to the fore. What better way to commemorate the anniversary of a major WW2 event than a human sacrifice using a planned disaster 62 years later to the day? June 6th is also exactly 40 years since June 6, 1966 (6/6/66) - 40 years being associated in the Bible with a period of testing. Has the Earth been tested for the past 40 years? Hmmm.
LeftBehind.com is releasing their latest book, The RaptureJune 6, 2006. The Rapture is a Biblical concept where in the twinkling of an eye millions are expected to disappear without a trace. What better way to gain further publicity by launching a book with this theme on the day of a planned disaster? on
The movie The Beast is due for release on June 6, 2006. Quote from website: "The theory that Jesus Christ never existed, while largely unknown to most lay Christians, is gaining credibility among scholars. Historians do not consider the Gospels to be historically accurate accounts. The authors of the Gospels, writing 40 to 90 years after the supposed life of Christ, never intended for their works to be read as biographies. There are no credible non-Christian references to Christ during the period in which he is said to have lived." Again, what better way to gain further publicity by launching a movie with this theme on the day of a planned disaster? Another movie due for release on the day is the horror, The Omen 666, originally released exactly thirty years earlier on on June 6, 1976.
June 6, 2006 is exactly 222 days after the mainly Muslim riots in France started on October 27th 2005. The riots were sparked by the electrocution of two youths who were chased by police.
June 6, 2006 is exactly 6 years before the next Venus transit across the face of the sun on June 6, 2012, which is the year recognized as the end of the Mayan calendar. Planetary alignments are also extremely significant to our Global Leaders, and Venus transits are among the rarest of planetary alignments. Only six such events have occurred since the invention of the telescope (1631, 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874 and 1882). June 6, 2006 is also 6 years, 6 months and 16 days before December 21, 2012, which is the last day of the Mayan calendar. This gives a double 666: the date itself and the triple 6’s from the elapsed time.
So, apart from the significance of the date, the occurrence of a rare planetary alignment and the release of three controversial media on the day, we also have 3 triplications: 222, 444 and 666.
But what if I told you there are further interesting patterns in the elapsed time between another key date in history and June 6, 2006?
Bear with me now as we perform a few numerical gymnastics – you will find the numbers fascinating.
The next key date in recent history to consider is April 19th, 2004, which turned out to be a non-event. It was on this date that a planned 'terrorist' attack against the Sears Tower in Chicago was averted. Had the attack occurred on this date, it would have been 911 hours after the day of the Madrid Train Bombings on March 11, 2004, which in turn was 911 days after September 11, 2001.
Had the Sears attack been successful, what better way to commemorate our Global Leaders’ evil deeds than another attack 444 and 777 days later? Almost unbelievably, the London Train Bombings on July 7, 2005 occurred 444 days after the Sears non-event. June 6, 2006 is 778 days after the foiled planned Sears attack on April 19th. (Darn, would have been neat if it was 777 days. But keep the number 778 in mind).
To take this even further, June 6, 2006 is 10 months and 30 days, or 334 days after the London bombings on 7/7/2005. (Darn, would have been neat if it was 333 days. But wait - keep the number 334 and 778 in mind).
Why are the numbers 334 and 778 significant?
Because the day before June 6th is another perfect day for the occult planners. Here's the reason:
The number of days between 9/11/01 and 6/5/6 is 1,728 days. If we add each of these digits together we get: 1+7+2+8 = 18 or 3*6 or the hidden 666.
As we have seen above, the number of days between the London bombings on 7/7/2005 and June 5, 2006 is 333 days. The number of days between the foiled Sears attack and June 5, 2006 is 777 days.
Further, June 5, 1981 is the date on which AIDS was first announced, when it was first detected in five men in Los Angeles. So June 5, 2006 will be the 25th anniversary of AIDS, which many now accept as a purely man-made disease to reduce the planet's population.
Finally, 555 days prior to June 6, 2006 is November 28, 2004. Since 2004 was a leap year, November 28 was the 333rd day of the year, with 33 days remaining until the end of the year (see Wikipedia). While I cannot find a news event of global importance on November 28, 2004, the number of triplications is interesting.
So if we combine the two important dates of June 5th and June 6th, together with recent world events, we obtain the following extremely significant occult triplications:
222 days from the Muslim riots in Paris;
333 days from the London Train Bombings;
444 days from the second anniversary of the Iraq Invasion;
555 days from November 28, 2004 (the 333rd day of the year, with 33 remaining);
666 in the date pattern and the pattern until the end of the Mayan calendar;
777 days from the foiled Sears Tower Attack.
Pretty convincing so far that June 6, 2006 would be a good day to choose if one wanted to stamp a planned crisis with an occult signature. But the next question is how does one plan a crisis that spans two days? While one option would be to create two incidents, one for each day, I believe a different approach will be taken.
Using international time differences, it just might be possible to stage an event which occurs on 6/6/6 local time, while in New York (the time zone of the 9/11 attack) it is still June 5th, which would be 1,728 days since 9/11. This approach is the same used for the Cairo bombing on July 22, 2005 GMT.
Therefore the key date is June 5th in the US, while the date is June 6th elsewhere.
Changing tacks just for a brief moment.
Considering the recent Muslim cartoon debacle, is it purely coincidence that the largest Muslim nations are approximately 12 hours ahead in time when compared to US East Coast Standard time? This is significant, because using these two locations, it would be possible to stage an event covering both the 5th and 6th of June. (At 9:00am on 6/6/6 in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, it will be 9:00pm in New York on 5/6/6.)
The Islamic nations which are approximately 12 hours ahead of New York are tabled below, together with the number of practicing Muslims:
Indonesia (189m – now you know why Bali is targeted so frequently)
For the reasons quoted above, I believe that the probability for another planned 'terrorist' attack on June 6, 2006 is extremely high. If nothing happens on this day, either
the globalists will have decided not to be so blatant with their plans due to their being exposed by this and similar sites; or,
their planned event was so grandiose that the required prerequisites could not be implemented in time. (Christians may say that Satanic plans were derailed by God).
The warning above is presented as-is: what you choose to do with the information is purely your decision.
We are in a phase of humanity's development where more and more natural disasters and loss of life will occur. While this news can be depressing, there is no reason to be concerned, depressed, anxious or disheartened IF your mindset is right for the coming years. Fortunately, there is a new book which will help address the necessary change of mindset, called Fresh Wisdom - Breakthrough to Enlightenment. Read details (opens in new window).
While Bush talked a great game when it came to exporting democracy to the Middle East, his main exports have been mayhem and ruins.
Just last week, a jury began to deliberate on the fate of Zacarias Moussaoui, who may or may not have been the missing 20th hijacker in the September 11th attacks. At the same time, newly released recordings of 911 operators responding to calls from those about to die that day in the two towers were splashed across front pages nationwide. ("All I can tell you to do is sit tight. All right? Because I got almost every fireman in the city coming…")
Over four and a half years later, September 11, 2001 won't go away. And little wonder. It remains the defining moment in our recent lives, the moment that turned us from a country into a "homeland." With Iraq in a state of ever-devolving deconstruction, the President's and Vice President's polling figures in tatters, Karl Rove (Bush's "brain") again threatened with indictment, the Republican Party in disarray, and New Orleans as well as the Mississippi coast still largely unreconstructed ruins, perhaps it's worth revisiting just what exactly was defined in that moment.
A DIY world of terrorism
The brilliance of the al-Qaeda assault that day lay in its creation of a vision of destruction out of all proportion to the organization's modest strength. At best, al-Qaeda had adherents in the thousands as well as a "headquarters" and training camps located in the backlands of one of the poorest countries on the planet.
Its leaders made the bold decision to launch an attack on the political and the financial capitals of what was then regularly termed the globe's "sole hyperpower." Although this face-off might have seemed the ultimate definition of asymmetric warfare, in terms of theatrical value -- no small thing in our world of 24/7 news and entertainment -- the struggle turned out to be eerily symmetrical. By the look of it (but only the look), the Earth's lone superpower met its match that day.
With box cutters, mace, two planes, and the use of Microsoft piloting software to speed their learning curve, a few determined fanatics, ready to kill and die, took aim at the two most iconic (if uninspired) buildings at the financial heart of the American system and managed to top the climax of any disaster film ever shot. What they created, in fact, was a Hollywood-style vision of the apocalypse, enough so that our media promptly dubbed the spot where those two towers crumbled in those vast clouds of dust and smoke, "Ground Zero," a term previously reserved for an atomic explosion.
This was -- let's be blunt -- an extraordinary accomplishment for a tiny band of men with one of the more extreme religious/political ideologies around; and, if the testimony under CIA interrogation of al-Qaeda's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is to be believed -- summaries were released at the Moussaoui sentencing hearing -- what happened seems to have stunned even him. ("According to the CIA summary, he said he 'had no idea that the damage of the first attack would be as catastrophic as it was.'")
And yet, so many years later, there have been no follow-up attacks here. This was obviously never the equivalent of breaking through military lines in war. There were no al-Qaeda troops poised to pour through that breach, ransack the rubble, and spread across New York; nor, like the Japanese at Pearl Harbor (to which the 9/11 assault was often compared), did al-Qaeda launch a simultaneous set of strikes elsewhere. Of this sort of activity the group was incapable. Such acts were far beyond its means.
By the look of it, there weren't even sleeper cells in the U.S. ready to launch devastating follow-up attacks. (Given the Bush administration's record from New Orleans to Iraq, we can take it for granted that its officials would have been incapable of stopping any such well-planned attacks.) As far as we can tell, most of the major terrorist assaults launched since then, from Bali to Baghdad, were essentially franchised operations, undertaken by groups who claimed a kinship of inspiration and ideology; and, in a number of devastating cases, including London and Madrid, by small, self-organized groups, brought to a boil by Bush's War in Iraq, who struck on their own as, in essence, al-Qaeda wannabes. What al-Qaeda has really been promoting, because it was never capable of promoting much else, is a DIY world of terrorism.
Crossing the line, apocalypse bound
Despite the limitless look of the destruction on September 11, 2001, the dangers al-Qaeda posed were of a limited nature. After all, it took the group a long time to meticulously plan each of its attacks, whether on the WTC, or the USS Cole in a harbor in Yemen, or two U.S. embassies in Africa. Years could pass between major attacks. When Osama bin Laden, according to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's CIA testimony, pushed for launching the attack on the World Trade Center in May 2001, seven months after the waterborne assault on the USS Cole, Mohammed ignored him because they simply weren't ready.
Their attacks could be devastating locally, killing startling numbers, but that would be the end of matters for months or even years to come. Other than a finely tuned sense of the power of timing, theatrics, and publicity (which indicated just how "modern" a group calling for the return of a medieval Caliphate really was), the only thing al-Qaeda could brandish was an implicit futuristic threat: That someday they, or another group like them, might get their hands on an actual apocalyptic weapon, leaking out of the arsenals or labs of one of the two former Cold War superpowers or from those of proliferating lesser powers. Then they might create an actual Ground Zero, subjecting some city somewhere, possibly here, to a genuinely apocalyptic moment.
Certain analysts had long feared just this. One was Robert Jay Lifton who, back in 1999, wrote a far-seeing if little noticed book, Destroying the World to Save It, about the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. It too had been led by a fanatically driven leader possessing a vision of the end of the world that probably was, Lifton says, "as old as death itself." But whereas past religious groups had waited in expectation or terror for the predicted end of time to arrive, Aum's guru set out to make it happen, to trigger Armageddon. He actually managed to finance and set up his own science labs, attract scientific types to his cult, and create a poor man's weapon of mass destruction, the deadly nerve gas Sarin.
In 1995, his followers let imperfectly produced Sarin loose in the Tokyo subway system during a morning rush hour. Due to Aum's amateurishness, few people were killed; but, as Lifton wrote, the cult had nonetheless crossed a "line" that few even knew existed. It became "the first group in history to combine ultimate fanaticism with ultimate weapons in a project to destroy the world." Its acts were also a reminder that, sooner or later, weapons of mass destruction of one sort or another might indeed fall out of the control of states and into the hands of groups, cults, or even individuals who might feel none of the restraints states turn out to be under when it comes to their use.
This was an insight that lay just below the surface of our world until September 11, 2001, but that everyone evidently sensed -- otherwise that Ground Zero label would never have come so naturally to mind. Thought about with a cold eye, the single most important set of acts the Bush administration could have undertaken -- other than bringing to justice those who had launched the murderous assaults -- would have been to nail down the globe's nuclear as well as chemical and biological arsenals, and the Cold War labs that had produced them.
It's worth recalling that the largely forgotten anthrax killer or killers, who closed down Congress and killed postal workers that same September, used weaponized anthrax, evidently from the American weapons labs. In addition, genuine national security would have meant putting full-scale efforts into reversing the global proliferation of nuclear weapons -- rather than just focusing ineptly on a couple of rogue states you were eager to whack anyway. You would certainly not have broken open the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, encouraged a state like India in its militarized nuclear dreams, or launched a major expansion and "modernization" of the already staggering American nuclear arsenal.
But of course nothing like this happened. In that terrible moment when a choice might have been made between the vision of apocalypse and the reality of al-Qaeda, between a malign version of the smoke-and-mirrors Wizard of Oz and the pathetic little man behind the curtain, the Bush administration opted for the vision in a major way. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and other top officials chose to pump up al-Qaeda into a global enemy worthy of a new Cold War, a generational struggle that might comfortably be filled with smaller, regime-change-oriented, "preventive" hot wars against hopelessly outgunned enemies who -- unlike in those Cold War days -- would have no other superpower to call on for aid.
Hyper about power
That radioactive decision, not the 9/11 attacks, determined the shape of our world. Bush declared his "crusade" -- make no bones about it -- against Islam (though al Qaeda was the fringiest of "Islamic" groups) and the Middle East. It was, above all, to be a crusade to dominate the energy heartlands of the planet. In its own way, al-Qaeda was ready to accept the Bush version of itself. After all, our President had just elevated it into the major leagues of enemyhood, right up there with the big boys of history.
Via various videos, including one just before the 2004 presidential elections, al-Qaeda's leaders entered into a thoroughly bizarre "conversation" with the Bush administration, which, in press conferences, answered in kind. What a compliment! Who could reject a recruiting tool of that sort, right out of someone's Hollywood fantasies. Why not be a group of Islamic Dr. No's? (If only the Bush administration had reacted as James Bond did: "World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon. Or God.")
On their part, Bush and his cohorts were all-too-ready to dance with this minor set of apocalypts, in part because they were themselves into fantasies of world domination -- and considered themselves anything but mad. With visions of a "New Rome" -- and a one-party democracy at home -- dancing in their heads, they took that handy, terrifying image of the apocalypse in downtown New York and translated it into every sort of terror (including mushroom clouds threatening to go off over American cities and unmanned aerial vehicles spraying poisons along the East coast). In this way, they stampeded the American people and Congress into their crusade of choice.
The story of what followed you know well. Miraculously, al-Qaeda grew and the United States shrank. For one thing, it turned out that top American officials and the various neocons who worked for them or simply cheered them on from Washington's think-tanks and editorial pages, had been taken in by their own hype about American military power. They deeply believed in their pumped-up version of our hyper-strength, our ability to do anything we pleased in a world of midgets; and with the Soviet Union gone, if you just checked out military budgets and high-tech weapons programs, it might indeed look that way. Economically, however, the U.S. was far less strong than they imagined and its military power turned out to be far more impressive when held in reserve as a threat than when put to use in Iraq, where our Army would soon be stopped dead in its half-tracks.
In retrospect, the Bush administration badly misread the U.S. position in the world. Its officials, blinded by their own publicity releases on the nature of American power, were little short of self-delusional. And so, with unbearable self-confidence, the administration set out flailingly and, in just a few short years, began to create something like a landscape of ruins.
Today, we stand in those ruins, whether we know it or not, though the Ground Zero of the Bush assault was obviously not here, but in Iraq. Starting with their "shock and awe," son-et-lumière air assault on downtown Baghdad (which they promoted as if it were a hot, new TV show), they turned out to want their apocalyptic-looking scenes of destruction up on screen for the world to see no less than al-Qaeda did. It took next to no time for them to turn huge swaths of Iraq into the international equivalent of the World Trade Center. And it's a reasonable guess -- these people being painfully consistent in their predilections -- that it's only going to get worse. (As Sidney Blumenthal recently put it in another context, "Like all failed presidents, Bush is a captive in an iron cage of his own making. The greater his frustration, the tighter he grips the bars.")
Just a quick look at the situation in Iraq today reveals levels of chaos and a "steady diet of carnage" that not long ago might have seemed unimaginable. The Bush people now find themselves oscillating weekly between desperate policy non-alternatives, while a low-level, vicious, Lebanon-style civil war develops on the ground. Just last week, "Iraqi troops" with U.S. advisors were reported to have raided a Shiite mosque complex in a Baghdad neighborhood controlled by the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr's militia. A number of civilians, including an 80-year-old Imam, were killed, provoking an angry Shiite response, including calls for the sacking of Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, indicating that a new stage had been reached.
For one thing, it's now clear that there may no longer be "Iraqi troops." In this case, the attackers turned out to be a Kurdish unit with American advisors, evidently perfectly happy to slaughter Sadr's backers. What exists, what we're "standing up" (so we can "stand down," as the President regularly puts it) are Shiite units, Kurdish units, and even relatively modest units of Sunni troops. As Robert Dreyfuss recently commented, all of this signals "that the United States is now fighting virtually the entire Iraqi Arab population. Only the non-Arab Kurds seem loyal to the United States now, and the notoriously fickle Kurds, famed for shifting their allegiances on a dime, can't be counted on as permanent friends, either."
Meanwhile, the country is officially without a government. As Dreyfuss sums the situation up, "Post-Saddam Iraq has become a nightmare, a Mad Max world in which warlords rule." While American power remains enormous there, it has proved less wieldable than anyone in the Bush administration ever imagined. The leading Shiite spiritual figure, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, hasn't even bothered to open a letter from our President; previous Shiite allies have started denouncing us; Baghdad's provincial council has suspended "cooperation" with the U.S. military and the U.S. embassy.
So here's a future scenario to imagine: Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish troops all roaming urban neighborhoods, all engaging in revenge killings against the others, all with their own American advisors. It is no longer beyond the bounds of possibility that Americans could find themselves on every side of a future civil war; or, no less likely, that all sides could be attacking American troops -- or both; and so, of course, could the Iranians whom the Bush administration, in another catch-22, threatens to attack and yet desperately needs.
In the meantime, the American air war against Iraqi cities quietly ratchets up and, amid the ruins, huge permanent American bases like the 19 square-mile Al-Asad airbase in Anwar Province -- with its 17,000 troops, Burger King, Pizza Hut, car dealership Yellow and Blue bus routes, and "PX jammed with customers" -- thrive. Only recently, the administration requested from Congress hundreds of millions more dollars to construct stronger perimeter defenses, better runways with permanent lighting, more permanent dining facilities and the like at the largest of these bases.
While the basics of everyday life in urban Iraq continue to peel away and the Iraqi oil industry looks to be on its last legs, the Pentagon delivers electricity, potable water, and fuel, not to speak of iPods, televisions, Internet access, and other goodies to our massive bases, some of which, visiting reporters tell us, now resemble small American towns and to which the administration hopes to withdraw most of its troops sooner or later. At a time when Daniel Speckhard, director of the U.S. Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, is putting the country on notice that it can "no longer count on U.S. reconstruction funds," you might forgive an Iraqi for wondering how the administration that "liberated" their country could have done so much so efficiently for its soldiers and yet be so incapable of doing much of anything for the rest of the country.
The rubble of victory
At the moment, our bases exist like little untouched Edens in the eye of the storm. Undoubtedly, administration officials still imagine us camping out in the ruins in 2009 or 2019 -- after all, for a while the Pentagon actually referred to these ziggurats of modern Iraq as "enduring camps" -- while large cities like Mosul stew in their uncollected garbage and polluted sewage water, ever more rundown, ever more shot up, ever less under anyone's control. ("The Americans are now just one more of the tribes of Mosul," Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent quotes "one Arab source" as saying.)
It's true that some neocons once imagined chaos as a kind of acceptable fallback position in the Middle East, if the best of all worlds didn't work out. But this was the fantasy of people who had essentially never made it out of the Washington world of think tanks, punditry, and politics, who were desperately ready to be dazzled by the tales of Ahmed Chalabi and other exiled Iraqi Scheherazades. Anyone today who thinks that we can simply retreat to those permanent bases and protect the oil, while Iraq sinks further into chaos, while the ruins spread, should really think again.
"Imperial overreach" is too fancy a term for what the Bush administration has actually done. While its officials have talked a great game when it came to achieving "victory" in Iraq and exporting democracy to the Middle East, its main exports have turned out to be mayhem and ruins. And those it can continue to export. With every new move, yet more rubble, yet more terror, and undoubtedly yet more terrorists in Iraq and, sooner or later, in the wider region will be created. This is where the most essential choices made by the President, Vice President, and their chosen officials in the days after September 11, 2001 have taken us.
Tom Engelhardt, editor of Tomdispatch.com, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of "The End of Victory Culture."
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