Skip to comments.With Arrests will come a test of terror laws
Posted on 09/20/2002 9:10:20 AM PDT by ganesha
With arrests will come a test of terror laws
As the story of the Lackawanna suspects grows, attention is being paid to the legal grounds that will determine their fate.
By JERRY ZREMSKI News Washington Bureau 9/20/2002
WASHINGTON - The law aimed at stopping another Timothy McVeigh instead ensnared six Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna - even though it appears they never did anything so immediately dangerous as filling a Ryder truck with explosives.
The men stand accused of violating the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Congress' response to McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. If convicted, each could get 15 years in prison.
That's a big "if." Prosecutors say the charges could change. For now, though, prosecutors are relying on the largely untested McVeigh-inspired law, under which the men are accused of "providing, attempting to provide and conspiring to provide material support and resources to designated terrorist organizations."
Although federal prosecutors say at least one of the six defendants has admitted he trained in an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan, that's not enough to prompt a conviction, legal experts say.
That's because there's nothing in the anti-terror law that specifically bars anyone from attending a terrorist training camp - or from supporting al-Qaida.
The law "does not prohibit being a member of one of the designated (terrorist) groups or vigorously promoting and supporting the political goals of the group," Judge Alex Kozinsky, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, wrote in a 2000 decision.
"Plaintiffs are even free to praise the groups for using terrorism as a means of achieving their ends," Kozinsky wrote. "What the law prohibits is the act of giving material support."
"What counts is real proof'
Based on what's known about the Lackawanna case, legal sources presume "material support" to be the men themselves, who allegedly served as a sleeper cell waiting to be called to take part in a terrorist act sponsored by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.
"Personnel" is indeed one of the items that qualifies as material support under the law. Others include lodging, money, weapons, training, shelter, false documentation, communications equipment and transportation.
Given that the government has revealed no evidence that the men provided any of those items to al-Qaida, legal experts figure that prosecutors must see the men as al-Qaida personnel. To convict them, though, prosecutors may need harder evidence than they've revealed.
"What counts is real proof," said Lee Albert, a law professor at the University at Buffalo. "And this is not an easy charge to prove."
Nothing has surfaced to indicate that the men actually did anything for al-Qaida, which is why some lawyers think it will be difficult to show them to be personnel.
"It's a stretch, to say the least," said David Cole, an expert in the anti-terrorism law at the Georgetown University Law Center. "The government's theory appears to be that going to a camp and receiving training somehow constitutes giving aid to the organization."
A court probably wouldn't buy such an argument, said Deek Falls, a lawyer who represented a North Carolina men convicted under the McVeigh-inspired anti-terror law.
"If they're doing it purely on the basis that they were personnel, they will have a pretty high hurdle," Falls said. "They will have to show that these men did more than just going to a camp."
Even if the government were to win a conviction based on the "personnel" provision, it may not stand for long. In 2000, a federal appeals court in California ruled that the personnel provision was unconstitutionally vague, and the Supreme Court let that ruling stand.
That appeals court ruling doesn't carry the weight of law in New York, but it could prompt the case against the Lackawanna men to be a long, drawn-out battle.
If they're convicted, Cole said, "I'm sure there would be an immediate constitutional challenge."
The case against the suspects will involve a relatively new law that, among its many provisions, bars individuals from aiding any group on a list of terrorist organizations published by the State Department - including al-Qaida.
Charges could change
The McVeigh-inspired law's provision on aiding terrorists produced its first conviction in June, when two North Carolina men were convicted of funneling cigarette smuggling profits to the Hezbollah militant group.
The Western New York case is very different because it doesn't allege the transfer of money to a terrorist group.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Littlefield Jr. stressed that the complaint was just the beginning of the case against the Lackawanna men. It could still change dramatically, both in terms of the charges - which could be elevated - and the evidence.
"The complaint is designed to allow us to take them into custody," Littlefield said. "The investigation is proceeding, and all the evidence is not necessarily in the complaint."
Given the difficulties of prosecuting the men under the McVeigh law, some legal experts wonder if the government has an ulterior motive. Perhaps prosecutors think that with the six men in jail, they can get at least one of them to talk - perhaps to implicate someone higher up in al-Qaida's infrastructure. Indeed, sources have said that the Buffalo cell's alleged ringleader, Kamal Derwish, remains the target of an international manhunt. Then again, it could also be that the government has far more evidence than it has revealed so far.
Charting new grounds
If so, then the Buffalo case could serve as a national model for how to crack some of the dozens of terror cells suspected of operating in hiding around the country.
"This is the first time that a support cell has been found, so it will be the first time the American legal system will deal with it," said Walid Phares, an expert on American-based Islamic terrorist groups at Florida Atlantic University. "In court, it will be a big battle, a leading case."
I have the same problem with this idea as applies to Islamist groups that I had with the treatment of the W. Pierce type suppremist groups. Should openly advocating the violent overthrow of the USA and the murder of some portion of its law abiding citizens be protected speech? Need we wait until these Islamists act on their beliefs?
In regard to the email, the word "meal" was interpreted to mean "attack" or something to that effect and that was revealed to an FBI by one of the six.
Little by little, their code is revealing a simple "food code". Watermelon was a code word, a cake with a stick hanging down (from the riddle) could be interpreted as the capitol building (the circular area surrounding the capitol) and the open space (The Mall)leading to it if you look at it on a topo map.
I'm now inclined to believe that BOTH planes which were headed toward DC were intended for the Capitol which is surrounded by the Senate, House, Supreme Court and Library of Congress Buildings. A second hit would intensify and feed the first. The capitol mall looks like a damn runway from one of my books.
We can certainly be grateful for the bravery of the people aboard the flight downed in Pennsylvania and the miss of the first hit which hit the Pentagon on the strongest wall of the structure.
Time will tell with these 6 men. The FBI has only shown a couple of cards.
The men are at the very least, a flight risk and the monies of their friends are good evidence of that. Do you really think we are going to take away these peoples homes if these guys flee?? I don't think so.
Update: They may not have sent money to terrorists, but thousands of dollars were sent illegally to Yemen by relatives of one of them.
Three relatives of a man accused of belonging to an al-Qaida terror cell in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna were freed on bail Wednesday, a day after being charged with operating an illegal money transferring business.
Investigators have been unable to trace any of the money to terrorist activities, said U.S. Attorney Michael Battle.
Indeed, sources have said that the Buffalo cell's alleged ringleader, Kamal Derwish, remains the target of an international manhunt.
The alleged leader of the Lackawanna cell, Yemeni-American Kamal Derwish, was believed killed in a CIA airstrike on Nov. 3 in Yemen, U.S. officials have said. [from same article, "3 Accused..."]
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