From: The War On Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights
Elaine Cassel
Lawrence Hill Books, 2004

Chapter 2 The War in the Courts

…In September 2002 six men, U.S. citizens of Yemeni descent, were arrested in Lackawanna, New York, and charged with “operating” an al Qaeda cell. Specifically they were charged with providing material support to terrorists. It was alleged, and they later admitted, that they went to an al Queda training camp in Afghanistan in the spring of2001, returning home in June. All men eventually pleaded guilty to the charge and have received sentences of six and one-half to nine years. There was never any evidence that they took up arms against Americans or that they were planning any attacks on the United States. They had been receiving weapons training in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001, where they allegedly heard an anti-American speech by Bin Laden. The community was shocked, since the young men had grown up, were schooled, and worked in the community. Their supporters decried the prosecution, noting that they were responding to the call of jihad-not against the United States but in support of the Muslim cause against the Afghan warlords…. (P. 43 & 44)

…Why did the men plead guilty to the charges, since they had done nothing wrong except lie about going to Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks? The prosecutors and the men’s attorneys agree that the government’s implied threat was that they would either be charged with “training with weapons” at a terrorist camp, for which they would receive thirty years, or worse, be named by Bush as enemy combatants, carted off to a military prison, and never be heard from again. Their attorneys were disappointed in their clients’ decision to plead, but they could not blame them for not taking a chance with their lives.

So, even though the Lackawanna Six were never tied to any terrorist acts or plans, to this day, Ashcroft, Bush, Mueller, and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice talk about shutting down the terrorist cell in Buffalo. And what the government did in the Lackawanna case became it’s modus operandi in virtually all terrorist trials: find people who appear to be suspicious; make them testify in front of a grand jury; try to find something they have done wrong; charge them with the maximum offense possible, making sure that one such charge is terrorist-related (for maximum fear value); convince the judge that the defendants are terrorists and thus have to remain in jail pending their trials (almost none of any defendants ever got out on bail, although there was never any evidence that any defendant was a danger to the community or a flight risk, the sole legal reasons for denying bail); and get one or two people to say something the government wants to hear, something to justify the prosecutions. Then, the prosecutors just had to wait for the men, sitting in jail in solitary confinement, to get scared and plead. That is precisely what happened in Buffalo. Ashcroft now had a winning strategy that would net huge political benefits. According to Washington Post New York bureau chief Michael Powell, “The Lackawanna case illustrated how the post-September 11, 2001, legal landscape tilts heavily toward the prosecution. Future defendants in terror cases could face the same choice: plead guilty or face the possibility of indefinite imprisonment or even the death penalty. That troubles defense attorneys and some legal scholars, not least because prosecutors never offered evidence that the Lackawanna defendants intended to commit an act of terrorism.” There would seem to be little difference between the threat of indefinite imprisonment and physical coercion, but the law does not see it that way.

As tough as the prosecutors are, they don’t call the shots. Ashcroft must be consulted in all trials of so-called terrorists, and no deals are made without his approval. It’s tough justice-as tough as it gets-for Muslim men. Sentencing hearings of the men began on December 3, 2003, in federal court in Buffalo. The defendants generally received sentences of seven to ten years, based on their promise to fully cooperate with the government. Ironically, the day the first defendant was sentenced, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the statute under which they were charged and pleaded was unconstitutional. Their cases were not affected by that court’s ruling but could be if the U.S. Supreme Court eventually makes a similar determination. (P. 46 & 47)