Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Will Ahmed Ressam Get A Second Chance?

Maybe, which speaks volumes about treating terrorism as a criminal matter

Today, Ahmed Ressam, the Millennium Bomber, received a 22 year prison sentence. After as few as 13 years, at the age of 51, he may get another chance to try and kill thousands of Americans. During the sentencing hearing, Judge John Coughenour delivered a message:
I've done my very best to arrive at a period of confinement that appropriately recognizes the severity of the intended offense, but also recognizes the practicalities of the parties' positions before trial and the cooperation of Mr. Ressam, even though it did terminate prematurely

The message I would hope to convey in today's sentencing is twofold:

First, that we have the resolve in this country to deal with the subject of terrorism and people who engage in it should be prepared to sacrifice a major portion of their life in confinement.
Where does he get the idea that we have 'the resolve' in this country to give failed terrorists caught red handed second chances at killing? Because this isn't resolve -- it's stupidity. How big a sacrifice is spending a major portion of one's life incarcerated when one is willing -- even eager -- to die committing a terrorist act? And what's with this business about the 'severity of the intended offense' and the 'subject' of terrorism? After all, Ressam's 'cause' is the destruction of our country.

Judge Coughenour continues:
Secondly, though, I would like to convey the message that our system works. We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel, or invoke any proceedings beyond those guaranteed by or contrary to the United States Constitution.

I would suggest that the message to the world from today's sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart. We can deal with the threats to our national security without denying the accused fundamental constitutional protections.

Despite the fact that Mr. Ressam is not an American citizen and despite the fact that he entered this country intent upon killing American citizens, he received an effective, vigorous defense, and the opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.

Most importantly, all of this occurred in the sunlight of a public trial. There were no secret proceedings, no indefinite detention, no denial of counsel.
Sounds wonderful. Except:
We captured this terrorist on American soil, mostly by luck and the sharp eye of (border) security. Under most circumstances, that does mean that the civilian courts would come into play. If we had traced the terrorist using highly-sensitive intelligence capabilities, however, we would have to have exposed them in Judge Coughenour's court, making them unusable after a single prosecution.

Next, a point which Coughenour elides, the detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere were captured outside the United States, as part of our military operations. Those people not only do not qualify as civilian prisoners, they don't qualify as POWs. Even if they qualified for the latter, the Geneva Conventions do not allow us to try them in civilian courts.

It's all well and good to sit on one's high horse (or bench, in this case) and proclaim one's devotion to the Constitution. It's quite another to understand the proper application of law in wartime and the nature of the enemies arrayed against us. It comes as no surprise that Judge Coughenour displays his expertise at the first and his absolute incompetence at the second, especially given the laughably light sentence he handed to a man who planned on blowing up hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans to celebrate his religion and the new century.
It is absurd to think we can or should offer 'constitutional protections' to enemy combatants in matters of national security. After all, enemy combatants usually aren't accused of anything. Upon detection, they're simply shot, shelled, bombed, ect. Does Judge Coughenour think our soldiers should procure warrants or issue warnings before engaging the enemy?

Unsurprisingly, some, like Armando, were pleased by the outcome:
It's important that he was caught by our border guards (yay us!), and that he's locked away. But what's more important is the way his trial was handled. He is no less a terrorist than Mohamed Atta - just less successful. And he's much more of a terrorist than Jose Padilla, who has not and likely will not see an attorney because he's an 'enemy combatant'. 9/11 didn't change who or what these people are, it only seemed to change who we are, and that makes me sad.
I could see how, to a Leftist, it seems as if 9/11 changed who we are. By forcing us to get serious about self preservation, the terror attacks have roused America from a long slumber and brought our historical nature - something most Leftists had deluded themselves into thinking they had extinguished - roaring back to the fore.

Armando seems to think justice was done in this case, which makes me sad - for all of us. Does he seriously think that punishment meted out to terrorists should be commensurate with the relative success of a given plot? Or based on an individual's relative degree of proficiency? Doesn't it matter at all that their intent is to destroy our society and kill as many of us as possible in the process? Apparently not.

Hugh Hewett notes this bit of insanity:
Contrast today's sentence with the sentences for the Abu Ghraib guards. Note that Ressam could be out two years before Lyndie England.
I find it frightening that too few Americans seem to understand that we are fighting a war for our very survival. And winning a war has nothing to do with obtaining justice.


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