The Release of Political Prisoner Yemeni Imam Al Moayad: The End of a Saga of an Innocent Victim of “War on Terror" Gone Wild

Three Appellate Judges, McLaughlin, Parker and Wesley, Exemplify Judicial Integrity
Another Bush/Ashcroft Ugly Chapter Closes

The recent release of the Yemeni Imam Al Moayad closes one of the ugliest chapters of the Presidency of George W. Bush. The frail Imam Al Moayad is now free, with his many friends, supporters, and people he helped in his long career in charity works. Upon arrival in Sana’a, he was met by a crowd of supporters that included three Yemeni government cabinet- level ministers.

Seeds of the Imam's Trial and Tribulation: A Desperate/Disturbed Man, a Religious Fundamentalist Attorney General, and an Overly Ambitious FBI Agent

The saga of Imam Al Moayad makes excellent material for a Hollywood drama. A down on his luck Yemeni “illegal immigrant “walks into an FBI office offering help in "bagging a big terrorist." An ambitious FBI agent in the post 9/11 heady times wants glory, just like his President George W Bush, and the law-despising Christian fundamentalist Attorney General Ashcroft and his successor Gonzalez- regardless of the collateral damage. A plan is hatched to set up the well- respected Yemeni Imam, the Imam of the biggest mosque in Sana’a, Al Moayad. The informer is sent to Yemen to sell the Imam on a plan to send money to Hamas. Mind you this happens in Yemen where Hamas is hugely popular and support for Hamas, material and/or sentimental, is perfectly legal in Yemen. In the US, however, in 1997 Hamas was designated as a terror group and it’s a crime to provide it with “material support.” Al Qaeda was designated in 1999. As to the support of Hamas, the Imam’s defense was that support for Hamas is legal in Yemen. As to Al Qaeda, the Imam admitted supporting al Qaeda during America’s Jihad against the Soviet Union. The Imam argued that his relationship with al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden ended with the end of the American Jihad with America’s defeat of the Soviet Union.

From Yemen to Germany to Judge Johnson's American Kangaroo Court

"The Most Significant Terrorism Case since 9/11"
5-week Legal Lynching in 2005

In the US, the informer’s statements and taped conversations with Al Moayad are used to get an indictment for Imam al Moayad for material support of Al Qaeda and Hamas. The Iman is induced to travel to Germany from where he is extradited to the United States to face charges. The politics of the case is obvious. The administration was eager to show progress in the “War on Terror.” The media reported that the Bush administration hailed the capture of the Imam as a "significant blow to al Qaeda." Attorney General Ashcroft claimed that al Moayad had "personally" handed Osama Bin laden twenty million dollars. The media described the case as "the most significant terrorism case since 9/11."

The behavior of the prosecutors and the district judge was troubling. The government wanted to win at any cost and dealt with evidentiary rules and fairness as obstacles in America's way to winning its “war on terror.” One of the government attorneys in the courtroom "celebrated" American ethnic and religious diversity and inclusion by referring to a Quranic verse as "the terrorist verse." The district judge, Sterling Johnson Jr., took leave of judicial sense and functioned as a part of the team of the prosecution. The defense team that included Robert J. Boyle and William Goodman put up a great fight but the playing field was uneven. The judge was a de facto part of the prosecution team. The district judge sentenced the good Imam to seventy- five years in prison. The Imam was mind boggled with the sentence and turned to the judge and asked: "Your Honor, what have I done? [to deserve this sentence.] But for the judge that was his Patriot day and he was making sure that the government bags the alien Imam.

The Other Irrational Exuberance: Government and Media Celebrate

The conviction of the Imam was celebrated in the media. A New York Post headline read "Brooklyn Jury Nails Bin Laden's Sheik. Imam Al Moayad was repeatedly described as Bin Laden's "spiritual advisor." Attorney general Gonzalez stated "[t]oday's convictions mark another important step in our war on terrorism." While the case was still on appeal to the Second Circuit Court, cheerleader John H. Richardson wrote a puffery jingoistic piece in Esquire of February 26, 2007, "Brian Murphy and The Bad Guys- How the FBI and One Extraordinary Agent Pursued and won a Terrorism case without Changing the Standards of American Justice." Mr. Richardson described the Al Moayad case as "the biggest and cleanest terrorism prosecution cases of our time." Reading the appellate court’s opinion it becomes abundantly clear the reality is the exact opposite.

I did not read the trial- court’s transcript but I read the appellate court’s sixty- eight page ruling. Reading the transcript makes you scratch you head and wonder what on earth was the district judge thinking. You would think that you see kangaroo- court antics from judges and prosecutors only in authoritarian regimes. It happened in Brooklyn. That travesty of justice was swept away with a unanimous 3-judge panel in October 2008.

Arabic- Media Reports on the Imam’s Release:
Appellate Court’s Courage and Analysis Shortchanged

While the district court’s proceeding is a travesty, the appellate court’s decision is American justice at its best. The appellate court’s courage in tackling the case with integrity without surrendering to jingoism and political pressure highlights the best feature of American government. There is so much to learn and admire about America, the Constitution and the American justice system from examining the appellate court’s opinion. The appellate court raised serious questions about the admissibility of the evidence in trial and determined that the fact that many highly prejudicial pieces of evidence were admitted, cumulatively, lead to an unfair trial. The appellate court held that the graphic testimony on the bus bombing in Israel, the video on the bombing, and the Bin Laden tape were all meant to inflame the jury with prejudicial effect outweighing the benefit of the evidence- especially that the defendant stipulated to the arguments the government wanted to make. The appellate court not only took the unusual step of vacating the judgment but also the rare step of sending it back, if it were to be retried, with direction that a different judge preside over the case.

These three appellate judges, McLaughlin, Parker and Wesley, should be honored for their judicial integrity in a time of crisis and enormous political pressure to deny due process to those who look like the enemy or are perceived as the enemy.

To read the opinion go to http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/opinions.htm and under search type al Moayad.

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