Manufacturing a terrorism case

October 20, 2010

The Newburgh 4 are facing life sentences after being convicted of plotting terrorist acts. But according to Daphna Thier, the case was built on entrapment and lies.

ON OCTOBER 18, after eight days of deliberation, the jury in the case of the so-called "Newburgh 4" convicted James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen of plotting to bomb synagogues in New York and shoot down military planes. Cromitie and David Williams were also convicted of conspiring to kill officers and employees of the government. Sentencing is scheduled for March. The four face life sentences.

As the New York Times noted, the Newburgh 4 case "may set the line for entrapment cases in the future."

The four African American men from Newburgh, N.Y., were arrested on May 20, 2009. The defendants are all ex-offenders, although none were ever convicted of a violent crime. With no real re-entry programs or job training, unemployment and poverty proved a harsh reality for the men returning from prison to Newburgh, which had a poverty rate of 28.7 percent from 2005-07, according to the U.S. Census Bureau--and that was before the recession hit.

Shahed Hussain, a government agent who was facing incarceration and possible deportation himself, evaded punishment by cooperating with the government in the entrapment of several people. Hussain befriended most of the defendants only in late April 2009, a month before their arrest. With offers of food, money, marijuana, cars and vacations, he lured the four into collaborating on so-called "terror plots."

James Cromitie and David Williams being escorted to their arraignment in May
James Cromitie and David Williams being escorted to their arraignment in May

Government tapes of their conversations indicate the men thought the whole plot was a stunt. Despite this, according to the New York Daily News, the prosecution "rebutted defense claims of entrapment by pointing a disarmed Stinger missile around the courtroom and reminding jurors that the men thought it was real and were ready to use it"--a highly inflammatory stunt, to say the least.

During defense cross-examination, Hussain admitted he had given groceries to and paid rent for James Cromitie. He also used various psychological tactics when the four showed reluctance to plot the "terrorist attack," including suggesting that his life may be in danger.

THE FOUR men had neither the means--they cannot even drive and one is mentally handicapped--nor the intent to commit the crimes they are accused of before Hussain entered their lives. But this is yet another example of how the justice system preys on the weak and impoverished.

The government also later retreated from its initial claims that the defendants had connections to international terrorist organizations. Even the judge in the case, Colleen McMahon, said at a May 28, 2010, pre-trial hearing, "I have referred to the case for a number of months in the privacy of my chambers as the 'un-terrorism case,'" according to the Hudson Valley newspaper, the Times Herald Record.

But although the inducing of criminal activity--entrapment--is forbidden and normally would be grounds for acquittal, in "Muslim terrorism" cases, U.S. courts have looked the other way since 9/11.

There were other issues with the trial that should have resulted in a mistrial. Earlier this month, jurors discovered the transcript of a recorded call between a defendant and his father--a document that wasn't put into evidence--had been placed in a juror's evidence binder by "mistake."

However, McMahon denied defense attorneys' motion for a mistrial, and instead sent one juror home and resumed the case, only to end with this horrifying miscarriage of justice.

In a climate of right-wing attacks on Muslims, the conviction of the Newburgh 4 is not only a grave travesty of justice, but a clear example of racial profiling and Islamophobia. It is also one in a long line of "pre-emptive" prosecutions of hundreds of Muslims in the U.S. The U.S. claims to be fighting a "war on terror," yet in the case of the Newburgh 4 and others, government informants made an effort to create "terrorists" where none existed.

According to the Times Herald Record, when the verdict was being read, Alicia McWilliams, the aunt of defendant David Williams, shouted out: "No f---ing justice." I have to say, I'm with her on that.

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