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July 28, 2009

Resentencing in terror case results in life sentence

As detailed in this Washington Post article, a controversial terrorism prosecution has resulted in a life sentence following a resentencing required by a Fourth Circuit ruling that found an initial sentence of 30-years to be unreasonably lenient.  Here are the details:

A Falls Church man convicted of plotting with al-Qaeda to kill President George W. Bush was resentenced to life in prison Monday after the judge said his release would threaten "the safety of the American citizenry."

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali had been given a 30-year prison term after he was convicted in 2005 of joining an al-Qaeda conspiracy to mount a series of Sept. 11-style attacks and assassinations in the United States. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the conviction last year but sent the case back for resentencing, indicating that the sentence should be more severe.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee obliged on Monday, saying he had reevaluated the case and concluded that the danger of ever releasing Abu Ali is too great. "I cannot put the safety of the American citizenry at risk," he said, citing Abu Ali's "unwillingness to renounce the beliefs that led to his terrorist activities."...

Before the judge imposed the tougher sentence Monday, Abu Ali said he was being mistreated at the highly secure federal prison in Colorado known as the "supermax," and he blamed "a rogue Justice Department" for his conviction.  "I cannot pretend that this is justice," said Abu Ali, who said he wanted to "remind" the judge "that one day you will go before the divine tribunal. Allah, he knows the doings of every soul.  If you are comfortable with that, then you can decree whatever you want to decree."  As he left the courtroom, Abu Ali smiled and waved to a large crowd of supporters, some of whom called out in Arabic "Salaam aleikum," or "Peace be with you."...

His attorney, Joshua Dratel, said in an interview that the life term was "unfortunate" and that the original sentence was reasonable. "What they are really doing is setting a mandatory minimum term of life in prison for terrorism cases," said Dratel, who had urged Lee to resentence Abu Ali to no more than 30 years. "That's contrary to what the law is."

Prosecutors asked the judge to impose life. "This defendant planned acts of terrorism that were designed to inflict massive casualties on innocent civilians within the United States," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Campbell.

David H. Laufman, who prosecuted the case and is now a Washington defense lawyer, attributed the sentence in part to "Abu Ali's refusal to express even a scintilla of remorse for his conduct," and he said the case "underscores the ability of federal courts to resolve the most complex legal issues" in terrorism matters.  For years, U.S. officials have been debating whether to bring such cases before the criminal justice system or to military tribunals.  The 4th Circuit judges who reviewed Abu Ali's conviction indicated they thought some terrorism cases should remain in the federal courts.

July 28, 2009 at 02:07 AM | Permalink

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