David Cole writes: “She has represented the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular,” and in doing so has “performed a public service.” So said US District Court Judge John Koeltl in rejecting the government’s request that he sentence Lynne Stewart to thirty years for having issued a press release from the imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in violation of an administrative agreement. Under the government’s proposal, Stewart, now 67 and recovering from breast cancer, would almost certainly have died in prison. Judge Koeltl, exercising judgment in a case where the Justice Department showed none, instead sentenced Stewart to two years and four months–still a substantial sentence, but one that would permit her to live out most of the rest of her life in freedom. He also rejected a request that he send Mohammed Yousry, a translator, away for twenty years for his “crime,” which consisted of merely doing his job; Yousry got twenty months. A third co-defendant, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, who should not have been tried with the others, because his independent crimes were so much more culpable, received a twenty-four-year sentence. Judge Koeltl did the right thing. But had the Justice Department done the right thing in the first place, neither Stewart nor Yousry would have been prosecuted. Their imprisonment–even for a day–will not make any of us one bit safer.
TRAPPED IN ALBANY
Dennis Gaffney writes: Two Muslim men in Albany, New York, were convicted recently in an FBI counterterrorism operation. Given that each could get up to twenty-one years in prison, you’d think the government had uncovered a major terrorist plot. Actually, the two were suckered into a phony sting operation. The sting began in 2003 when an FBI informant posing as a wealthy businessman offered Muhammed Hossain, the owner of a struggling pizza restaurant, a $50,000 loan. The informant later implied that he’d earned some of his wealth as an arms dealer and showed Hossain a missile launcher that he said was going to be used in a plot to kill a Pakistani diplomat, all fabricated. The FBI was really after Yassin Aref, an imam at Hossain’s mosque, because his name had turned up in a notebook found in an Iraqi terrorist camp next to the word “kak,” which the government originally translated as “commander” but later admitted might better be translated as “brother” or “mister.” After Hossain asked Aref to witness the loan transaction, both men were arrested and ultimately convicted of money laundering in support of terrorist activities. The result? FBI resources misdirected, two families destroyed and more Muslims alienated.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
According to the New York Times a consortium of major universities, using $2.4 million of Homeland Security Department money, is developing software that would enable the government to monitor negative opinions of the United States or its leaders in overseas publications. Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Times, “It is just creepy and Orwellian.” We disagree. We have no quarrel with “sentiment analysis,” as this project is called, but we do have a modest proposal. In the interests of prudent financial practice, we propose that instead of monitoring negative opinions, the government confine itself to monitoring positive commentary. We are confident that the budgetary savings will be significant.