Skip to comments.Judge Tosses Out Perjury Indictment Against College Student Who Knew 2 Alleged 9/11 Hijackers
Posted on 04/30/2002 12:39:14 PM PDT by areafiftyone
The governments jailing of terrorism witnesses for a grand jury probe of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is unconstitutional, a federal judge concluded Tuesday in dismissing a perjury case against a Jordanian college student.
In a ruling that, if upheld, would have far reaching implications on the governments approach to investigating terrorism, Judge Shira Scheindlin attacked the reasoning of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
She criticized Ashcrofts reported statement that aggressive detention of lawbreakers and material witnesses is vital to preventing, disrupting or delaying new attacks.
Scheindlin wrote that Relying on the material witness statute to detain people who are presumed innocent under our Constitution in order to prevent potential crimes is an illegitimate use of the statute.
The judge made the finding as she threw out perjury charges against Osama Awadallah, 21, a Grossmont College student in El Cajon, Calif. who was accused of lying about his associations with two Sept. 11 hijackers.
The decision drew a swift response from U.S. Attorney James B. Comey, who said, We believe the courts opinions are wrong on the fact and the law and we are reviewing our appellate options.
Scheindlin explained her findings in a lengthy ruling that began by telling how the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights because the Constitution failed to provide them protection from the government.
The judge said its authors believed people should forever be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects from intrusion and seizure by officers acting under the unbridled authority of a general warrant.
Congress in 1984 carefully carved out an exception with a material witness statute that lets a witness be detained until his testimony can be secured by deposition in the pretrial phase of a court case, she said.
She said the exception could not be clearer in being limited only to material witnesses in the pretrial phase of a criminal proceeding rather than during a grand jury probe.
Detaining Awadallah solely for the purposes of a grand jury investigation was therefore unlawful, Scheindlin wrote. Such an interpretation poses the threat of making detention the norm and liberty the exception.
She said trying to apply the exception to a grand jury proceeding was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Scheindlin said the broad reading of the material witness statute had already led to serious abuses.
She cited the case of Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian-born student arrested Dec. 17 as a material witness after a handheld pilot radio was found in his Sept. 11 hotel room overlooking the trade center. The charges were dropped when it was later found that the radio belonged to someone else and a hotel security guard had lied.
Scheindlin said a magistrate judge in San Diego not only ignored pertinent portions of the statute but added language to keep Awadallah imprisoned after FBI agents confronted him outside his San Diego home on Sept. 20 and detained him a day later as a high security prisoner.
Awadallah was effectively seized, she wrote. Having committed no crime indeed, without any claim that there was probable cause to believe he had violated any law Awadallah bore the full weight of a prison system designed to punish convicted criminals as well as incapacitate individuals arrested or indicted for criminal conduct.
The judge also threw out evidence in the Awadallah case including videotapes and a picture of Osama bin Laden.
Wonderful, said Jesse Berman, a lawyer for Awadallah. He did everything he could to be cooperative and they treated him terribly. Im just happy that hes been vindicated.
The judge cited several factors showing that Awadallahs consent to go with FBI agents to their office and later submit to a lie detector test was the product of duress or coercion.
She said the agents repeatedly made a show of force by telling him he could not drive his own car, refused to let him inside his apartment, ordered him to keep a door open as he urinated and engaged in a flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment by repeatedly frisking him.
Moreover, she said, one agent even threatened to tear up the apartment during a search.
Scheindlins ruling followed a February hearing in which federal agents and Awadallah testified about the circumstances of his arrest.
Awadallah was charged with perjury for allegedly lying about his knowledge of one of the alleged hijackers blamed for the suicide attack on the Pentagon.
In grand jury appearances, Awadallah admitted meeting alleged hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi 30 to 40 times but denied knowing associate Khalid al-Mihdhar. Confronted with an exam booklet in which he had written the name Khalid, he later admitted he knew both of them.
If convicted, Awadallah could have faced up to 10 years in prison.
And no one get me wrong here. Any person who is not an American citizen who is even suspected of having terrorist ties should be deported immediately.
That is " Clinton appointed federal judge Shira Scheindlin" to you ...
Yes this country is now seeing the seeds sown by X42. After all you can't expect a man to tell the truth about.....when he has to protect the ........ of others.
Did I spell something wrong? ;)
I don't give a damn if he lied about his connection. If they suspected it(but had no proof which they obviously did not), then they should have deported him, which would have been legal. Abusing the Material Witness statute was not the answer.
I'm asking how come this guy lied.
The judge that threw out the indictment explains why he could not legally be detained under the "material witness" law. Please note that the law is called the "material witness" law and one does not just become a "material witness" because the government detains you (illegally) under this law.
I'm asking how come this guy lied.
I suspect we all know why he lied. Deport the anti-american who shouldn't have been here in the first place.
Surely this is a stretch. The "authors" (founding fathers) could not have believed that the "people" should be forever secure. Maybe the authors beleived "citizens" should be secure, but certainly not potential terrorists, terrorists or mass murderers. There is a perverse and malevalent lack of common sense in this era of weapons of mass destruction this judge exemplifies, that, unless corrected, will result in mass casulties.
Like it or not, Ozzie and Harriet are gone and America's enemies have access to powerful, miniature weapons. We have to deal with that, and non-citizens should be well treated guests but should not have unfettered, anonymous access to our infrastructure.
We can maintain our moral high ground as the country that grants all kinds of rights to illegal aliens but there will eventually be a price to pay.
If Asscroft wants to charge any of these foreign terrorist associates or sympethizers as "terrorists", then I have no problem, providing there is proof. Just don't manipulate the law to your liking.
Bottom line, they will not deport these KNOWN TERRORISTS for a reason. What is it? They knew these people were associates of terrorists long before 9/11. Every American needs to ask the hard question, "Why, oh why, would our government let known terrorists and associates into this country in the first place". No other questions are needed.
How do you think this decision will affect other detainees being held under similar circumstances?
I think, in retrospect, they did the right thing. The suspension of liberties under martial law would have sent a shockwave through the world. The criticism is really mild IMHO.