Witless for the Prosecution

Bungling the war on terror: Two extremely high-profile terror war cases have been marred in the past week by unusual errors. Some documents have been shredded relating to the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian, the former professor who is accused of running a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell in Florida. It was an accident, says the clerk’s office for the Middle District of Florida, but it could severely damage the prosecution’s case.

The documents in question, according to a Miami Herald report, were “three warrants and an affidavit that allowed investigators to search the home and offices of Sami al-Arian in 1995.” On these depend “thousands of pieces of evidence gathered during the 1995 searches of al-Arian’s home and offices — coupled with bank records and intelligence wiretaps that were declassified last year.” Thus virtually the entire case against Al-Arian hangs on this material.

The defense is taking full advantage. One of Al-Arian’s lawyers, Linda Moreno, said: “We simply don’t know whether the search and seizures were constitutional, but we have a right to know and we’re going to find out.” Another lawyer, Richard Strafer, explained the strategy: “The goal is to find the first illegal [warrant] and the dominoes start falling because everything becomes tainted.”

While all this was going on, the New York Times reported that “the criminal proceedings against Capt. James J. Yee, the former Muslim chaplain at Guant??¡namo Bay, Cuba, fell into confusion on Tuesday and stalled as the military prosecutors asked for extra time to determine whether documents that were found in Captain Yee’s luggage when he was leaving the base were, in fact, classified.” The Times noted that Yee’s hearing was set back to January 19 so that prosecutors would have time to find out if the documents were indeed classified.

They have to find out whether or not the documents were classified? It is astounding that at this point there would be any question about that, since that was why Yee was arrested in the first place.

This kind of bungling is not only appalling; it’s dangerous. Al-Arian, despite years of investigations and mountains of evidence, could walk on a technicality – without the implications of that evidence ever being fully examined. He may not go back to his alleged bad habits after this experience, but still: while it’s good to show the scrupulousness of our justice system, it would also send a signal that we may not have the nerve for this kind of prosecution. As for Yee, if he wasn’t mishandling classified material, he never should have been bothered in the first place. There are other cases involving misuse of classified documents at Guantanamo, and this case is diverting time and manpower from them.

Of course, both these case still bear a great deal of watching. But this kind of elementary bungling strains credulity to the extent that it raises inevitable questions about the commitment of officials to prosecute terrorism cases. The easiest way to silence these questions would be to put an end to the amateurish and unprofessional conduct.

Texas terror talks canceled: “Osama is a man who fought in the path of God for a long time. May God aid him and bring victory to him and by him.” According to the Saudi Information Agency (SIA), these are the words of the Saudi Sheikh Abdallah Ibn Jebreen, who had been planning to speak at an Islamic conference at Houston this Christmas until adverse publicity forced him to cancel. Conference organizers deny the accuracy of this translation by the SIA. They condemn Osama bin Laden, terrorism, and suicide bombing. However, another Saudi imam had also been slated to speak at the conference: Sheikh Muhammad Saalih Al-Munajjid, who has preached that Muslims must “educate the children to Jihad and to hatred of the Jews, the Christians, and the infidels.” He also canceled.

Why were they invited in the first place if these are indeed, as Muslim advocacy groups would have us believe, the views of only a tiny minority of discredited extremist Muslims? A purported anti-terror statement on the conference website quotes Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, making an entirely pragmatic argument that actually does little to blunt the force of extremist Islam: “The Prophet . . . told us to combat evil. But there is a general rule to look at both advantages and disadvantages. And if fighting an evil leads to a greater one, then that fight is forbidden.” In other words, wait to attack until you’re sure you can win.