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Monday, August 09, 2004

Trial & Terror 

Details are emerging from the long-running dustup between DoJ and the team of Chicago prosecutors who brought charges in the first major terror trial after 9/11. The head of that team, assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino, filed an unprecedented lawsuit against John Ashcroft in February, alleging that Justice had sabotaged his case by suppressing state's evidence (including Al Qaeda surveillance videos of Disneyland and Vegas), illegally withholding evidence from the defense, and -- most extraordinarily -- deporting a potential defendant who was then ranked as #27 on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists:
As a result, jurors in the trial of four men accused of operating a terror cell in Detroit never heard testimony from an Osama bin Laden lieutenant or saw video footage of European operatives casing U.S. landmarks. Prosecutors believed both would have connected the defendants to al-Qaida.

The department's terrorism unit "provided no help of any kind in this prosecution," the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit wrote in one memo, claiming that superiors in Washington hindered the case and sent a lawyer who chose to play basketball rather than assist prosecutors at trial.

The Detroit case ended last summer with the convictions, hailed by the Bush administration, of three men who were accused of operating a sleeper terror cell that possessed plans for attacks around the world.

A fourth defendant was acquitted, however, and only two of the four men originally arrested were convicted of terrorism charges. Now the convictions are in jeopardy because of an internal investigation into allegations that defense lawyers were denied evidence that could have helped them.

Whatever the outcome, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and more than three dozen interviews with current and former officials detail how the differences between Washington and the field office kept important evidence from being shown to jurors.
After presenting testimony to a judge that public terrorist #27, Nabil al-Marabh, had no ties to Al Qaeda, the DoJ spiked his indictment on the grounds that it might compromise intelligence sources. He is now back home in Syria, a free man.

Interestingly, Convertino alleged in February of this year that DoJ officials had retaliated against him by intentionally divulging the name of one of his confidential terrorism informants.

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