Utter and complete hogwash. Our government behaves like delusional children---and we believe them!
July 30, 2010
The New York Times
Nine years ago, an Algerian man charged in the failed “millennium plot” to blow up Los Angeles International Airport took an unusual step: he pleaded guilty in Federal District Court in Manhattan and became the rare convicted Islamic terrorist to cooperate with the United States government.
Facing a possible sentence of more than 100 years in prison, the Algerian, Abdel Ghani Meskini, testified as a prosecution witness in two trials and helped to convict two other conspirators in the plot, which was to coincide with the millennium celebrations in the United States.
With the government endorsing leniency, Mr. Meskini received a short sentence, and in 2005 he was released. He moved to Georgia, got a job, paid thousands of dollars in restitution and tried to build a new life.
But Mr. Meskini, 42, was recently rearrested, accused of violating the terms of his release by committing new offenses. The authorities say that in 2007 he possessed a handgun and that last year he asked people to buy him an AK-47 assault rifle. He even sent an e-mail to one person with a photograph of the weapon he wanted, the government says.
Mr. Meskini has not been charged with new crimes; rather, federal probation officers have referred the allegations to the judge, John F. Keenan, who sentenced him in 2004. If he is found to have violated the terms of his release, he could be sentenced to additional years in prison.
The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan would not comment on Mr. Meskini’s case. On Thursday, prosecutors notified the judge that they intended to introduce evidence against him that was obtained in a search authorized by the nation’s secret foreign intelligence court.
Mr. Meskini’s lawyer, Mark S. DeMarco, said of his client: “He has lived a law-abiding life since his release.”
Mr. DeMarco added: “The government is not alleging any attempt by Ghani to get back into terrorism. I can say that without question.”
The lives of cooperating witnesses who are given a second chance can be rocky, especially for those who have not known lives outside of crime.
A notorious example is Salvatore Gravano, the Mafia underboss known as Sammy the Bull, whose testimony helped to convict John J. Gotti, the head of the Gambino crime family. Prosecutors pushed for leniency for Mr. Gravano, who had admitted a role in 19 killings, and he received a five-year sentence. But in 2000, after his release, Mr. Gravano was charged in Arizona with being part of a multimillion-dollar drug ring, and he received 20 more years in prison.
Mr. Gravano’s lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, said this week that there were no guarantees about life beyond prison for such witnesses. “That is a key to get you out of jail — not a key for you to stay out,” he said.
Before Mr. Meskini’s arrest in the millennium plot, he lived the life of a con man and thief — “a fraudster,” as one prosecutor described him in court. Once an officer in the Algerian Army, he later testified that he used false identification to cash stolen checks. In 1994, he decided to leave Algeria, and he slipped into the United States as a stowaway on a boat to Boston.
He supported himself by using fraudulent passports and Social Security cards and opening bank accounts under false names to obtain credit cards and checks.
Mr. Meskini’s conduct became such an issue when he testified as a prosecution witness that one defense lawyer predicted to the jury that he would commit new crimes when he was released from prison.
“If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself living in the same town as Meskini when he gets out of jail and steps into the warm embrace of the witness protection program,” the lawyer, Daniel J. Ollen, told the jury, “my advice to you is sell your home, watch your wallet and get out of town before it’s too late.”
The airport bombing plot was interrupted in December 1999 when another Algerian, Ahmed Ressam, was arrested as he tried to enter the United States from Canada at Port Angeles, Wash., in a car carrying bomb components. The authorities found Mr. Meskini’s phone number in his pocket.
Mr. Meskini, then living in Brooklyn, was arrested and admitted he was part of the conspiracy.
He said that he was to deliver money and other logistical assistance to Mr. Ressam. In March 2001, Mr. Meskini agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to charges including conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and bank fraud.
He testified for the government in the trials of Mr. Ressam, held in Los Angeles, and of another co-conspirator, Mokhtar Haouari, in Manhattan. Both men were convicted. A prosecutor, Robin L. Baker, defended the credibility of Mr. Meskini’s testimony, telling jurors he had no incentive to lie because that would mean losing his cooperation agreement and the chance for a reduced sentence.
Mr. Meskini’s 2004 sentencing has been sealed by the court, but other public records show that he was sentenced to a term of 72 months; and after being given credit for time served and good behavior, he was released in 2005. He was also ordered to pay about $60,000 in restitution.
In Mr. Meskini’s agreement with the government, prosecutors said that they understood his cooperation could lead to retaliation against him and his family, and that if necessary the government would take steps to ensure their safety. Mr. Meskini applied for the witness protection program, but he was denied entry, a former lawyer has said in court.
His current lawyer, Mr. DeMarco, said his client had been working as a manager of several residential buildings in Atlanta, where he maintained regular contact with a probation officer and made his restitution payments. He has paid over $31,000 so far, a probation memorandum says.
Last fall, Mr. Meskini was detained by immigration authorities, who were seeking to have him removed from the country because of the earlier conviction, the memo says. Mr. DeMarco said Mr. Meskini then began the process of seeking asylum, an effort that is pending.
The probation authorities, in claiming Mr. Meskini violated the terms of his release, said that on more than one occasion, he asked “two separate witnesses known to the F.B.I. to obtain an AK-47 for him.” The authorities also said the F.B.I., in a search of Mr. Meskini’s computer in late 2009, found evidence that he had searched the Internet for gun shops in the Atlanta area, the probation memo says.
“There appears little evidence to show that he will cease such behavior in the future,” the memo said.
At a court appearance in Manhattan in April, Judge Keenan said he was not assuming that Mr. Meskini was guilty of the violations. He acknowledged that if Mr. Meskini were deported to Algeria, “physically he might be in jeopardy.”
“That is an obvious concern to me,” Judge Keenan said. “And I think of that in connection with the whole case, and I don’t know that there’s any magic solution or any magic bullet.”