When I was addressing a United Nations crime conference on the subject of terrorism in Milan in 1985, I suggested that terrorists who kill people or who make plans to kill people should be executed. As far as I know, only one terrorist in a Westernized nation has been executed and that was the home-grown terrorist who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. From what I have observed since 1985 some terrorists who are tried in the United States are generally sentenced to life in prison with no apparent hope of ever getting parole as an alternative to them being executed.
In this piece, I am going to tell you about Ahmed Ressam who has been referred to as the Millennium Bomber because he planned to commit his acts of terrorism at the turn of the century (2000)
Ahmed Ressam was born on May 9th 1967 in a city of 27,000 called Bou Ismail in Algeria. He was the eldest of seven children and graduated from high school in 1988. With that kind of education, this man was not an uneducated terrorist like many of them are. In fact he is extremely articulate. He for the most part only speaks French and some English.
He left Algeria on September 5, 1992 due to the civil war that was ravaging that country and he entered France on a forged Moroccan passport in the name of ‘Nassar Ressam’. He was arrested on immigration violations in Corsica, a territorial island of France, in November 1993 but France didn’t want him so they deported him back to Morocco on November 8, 1993, and banned him from returning to France for three years. Morocco determined that he was not in fact Moroccan, however, and returned him back to France. Faced with a March 1994 deportation hearing, he instead flew to Montreal, Canada. Since Montreal is primarily a French speaking city, I can understand his choice of Canadian cities to live in.
Ressam entered Canada on February 20, 1994, using a fake, illegally altered French passport in the name of ‘Anjer Tahar Medjadi’. When immigration officials at the Montréal-Mirabel International Airport arrested him and confronted him about the altered passport, he divulged his real name and applied for refugee status. In his effort to obtain political asylum, he told the Canadian authorities a false story about having been subjected to Algerian abuse and torture. He was released pending a hearing. His application for refugee status was denied on June 6, 1995, and his appeal was also denied, so on May 4, 1998, a warrant was issued for his arrest by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. However, at the time the warrant was issued, he was in Afghanistan, attending a terrorist training camp. When he returned to Canada, he evaded deportation thereafter by using a Canadian passport he had obtained in March 1998 by submitting a baptismal certificate and using a stolen blank certificate, filling it in with the fake name, ‘Benni Antoine Noris.’
While in Canada, he supported himself by theft (stealing tourists' suitcases at hotels, pick pocketing, and shoplifting), and through welfare benefits of $500 per month. He was arrested four times, but never jailed. By 1999, he had a Canadian criminal history for theft under $5,000, an outstanding Canada-wide immigration arrest warrant, and a British Columbia-wide arrest warrant for theft under $5,000.
Meanwhile Ressam became friends with Raouf Hannachi, an al-Qaeda member who served as the muezzin at Montreal's Assuna Mosque, which attracted almost 1,500 mostly Algerian worshipers to Friday prayers. Hannachi returned from Afghanistan towards the end of the summer of 1997, where he had trained for jihad at Khalden Camp. He told Ressam about his experience there and with the jihad, and subsequently encouraged him to go to Afghanistan to train there as well. He then arranged a trip to the camp for him and his roommate Mustapha Labsi.
Because Ressam was interested in joining the jihad in Algeria, on March 17, 1998, he traveled from Montreal, Canada to Karachi, Pakistan using his fraudulent Benni Noris passport. When he arrived in Pakistan, he contacted al-Qaeda leader called Abu Zubeida in Peshawar, Pakistan, who was in charge of the Afghan terrorist training camps funded and organized by the late Bin Laden. Abu Zubeida approved him, and arranged for him to be transported over the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan the following month.
Using the alias ‘Nabil’, he attended three camps for Islamic terrorists between March 1998 and February 1999. At Khalden Camp, which generally hosted 50–100 trainees at any time, he trained in light weapons, handguns, small machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs), explosives (including TNT, C4 plastic explosives, and black plastic explosives), poisons (including cyanide), poison gas, sabotage, target selection, urban warfare, tactics (including assassinations), and security. Trainees were from Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Turkey, Sweden, Germany, and France. During the five to six months he was there, he met Zacarias Moussaoui. (a French citizen who was convicted of conspiring to kill citizens of the US as part of the September 11 attacks. As a result of his conviction, he is serving a life sentence without parole at the Federal ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, USA. A single juror saved Moussaoui from getting the death penalty as the decision of a jury must be unanimous.) Ressam then trained how to manufacture advanced explosives and make electronic circuits for six weeks at the Derunta training camp, outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Now he was a fully trained terrorist.
A six-person terrorist cell that included Ressam was created, and instructed to participate in a meeting being held in Canada, and then later attacking a U.S. airport or consulate before the end of 1999. The cell was directed by Abu Jaffar in Pakistan and Abu Doha in Europe.
He returned to Montreal, Canada, in February 1999 under the name ‘Benni Noris’, bringing $12,000 in cash he had obtained in Afghanistan to fund the attack, as well as chemical substances known as hexamine (used as an explosive booster in the manufacture of explosives) and glycol, and a notebook with explosives concoction instructions.
In the summer of 1999, he was informed by Abu Doha that the other members of his cell had been unable to make it to Canada due to immigration problems, so he chose to continue with his terrorist act without them and the act he was going to commit would be against an airport.
He decided that he would bomb the Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX) the third-busiest airport in the world at that time, which he was familiar with because he had landed there in the past and had some idea of its layout. He also felt that exploding a bomb in the airport would serve his purpose, as it would be a politically and economically sensitive target. He planned to execute his plan in a passenger waiting area, using one or two suitcases filled with explosives.
In September 1999 he purchased electronic equipment and components in order to build detonators, and made four timing devices. He also recruited Abdelmajid Dahoumane, an old friend of his, to help him. In November, with Dahoumane's assistance he bought urea and aluminum sulfate from various sources and mixed it together with nitric and sulphuric acid he stole from fertilizer manufacturers to create a TNT-like explosive substance.
On November 17, 1999, Ressam and Dahoumane traveled from Montreal to Vancouver, British Columbia, where in a small rented motel cottage on the southern outskirts of the city, they prepared the explosives for LAX.
Dahoumane after seeing Ressam off at the ferry in Victoria he then returned to Algeria, a country where he was likely to be tortured because he belonged to the Algerian insurgents known as the Armed Islamic Group. He made the trip from Barcelona to Algiers where he was picked up by the Algerian authorities on March 27, 2001. They have refused to extradite him to Canada or the United States. He was released in March 2006 but then put back in jail. I don’t know what his current status is with the Algerians.
In December, he called Abu Jaffar in Afghanistan to ask whether Osama Bin Laden wanted to take credit for the attack, but did not get an answer. He also called Abu Doha in London and told him that he wanted to return to Algeria after the attack. Doha assured him that he would receive money and documents once he arrived in London.
Ressam arranged for an English-speaking man called Abderrahim Meskini to wait for him in Seattle. Meskini would assist him once he crossed the border by helping him rent a car and act as a translator for him and drive him where he wanted to go. Meskini would also give him a cell phone and money withdrawn with a stolen bank debit card.
Meskini returned to New York after Ressam was arrested. Meskini was indicted later in February 2009 by a U.S. federal grand jury in Manhattan for violations of the federal law against providing support to terrorists.
Ressam rented a dark green 1999 Chrysler 300M luxury sedan, and on the evening of December 13, Ressam and Dahoumane hid the explosives and all the related components in the wheel well in the car's trunk. On December 14, they left Vancouver, traveling to Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia by ferry. Believing that he would draw less scrutiny alone, Ressam sent Dahoumane back to Vancouver.
Ressam then attempted to cross the border by taking the M/V Coho car ferry from Victoria, British Columbia, to Port Angeles, Washington. He successfully passed through U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service checks in Victoria, and boarded the last ferry of the day for the 90-minute crossing to the U.S.
After the ferry docked in Port Angeles at 6 pm, Ressam saw to it that his car was the last one to leave the ferry. Although there had not been any intelligence reports suggesting terrorist threats, U.S. Customs inspector Diana Dean decided to have a secondary Customs search of Ressam's car saying later that Ressam was acting ‘hinky’ (nervous), and for this reason, she asked him to get out of the car. I should add that his biggest mistake was waiting until his car was the last one to leave the ferry. Had he gone out sooner, the inspector may have felt rushed to get everyone on their way and not be so observant with reference to Ressam’s nervousness.
At first, Ressam was not cooperative. That was his second mistake. Dean then requested that Ressam fill out a Customs Declaration form, which he did listing himself as a Canadian citizen named Benni Noris. He also had a passport, Quebec driver’s license, and credit cards all in the Noris name, as well as another Quebec driver license with the same date of birth, but in the name ‘Mario Roig’ which incidentally was a fake. That was his third mistake. These last two mistakes went beyond being hinky. Now Dean was really suspicious and rightly so.
Another Customs inspector was called to help with the search and while searching the vehicle, he unscrewed the covering over the spare tire in his trunk found hidden in the spare tire well:
10 green small plastic garbage bags with 118 pounds (54 kg) of a fine white powder (which tests later identified as urea, used to manufacture explosives and fertilizer),
2 lozenge bottles filled with primary explosives hexamethylene triperoxide diamine and cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine,
2 plastic bags with 14 pounds (6.4 kg) of a crystalline powder (later shown to be aluminium sulfate, used primarily as a desiccant, to keep things dry),
two 22-ounce olive jars with 2.6 pounds (1.2 kg) of golden-brown liquid (later identified as secondary explosive ethylene glycol dinitrate, an extremely explosive and volatile nitroglycerin equivalent that is twice as powerful as TNT), and
4 operational timing devices designed to detonate primary explosives, consisting of small black boxes containing circuit boards connected to Casio watches and 9-volt battery connectors. When the watch alarm would ring, an electrical charge would pass from the battery to a small light bulb which had had its glass covering removed, exposing the filament; the bulb would heat, ignite, and detonate the other bomb ingredients in a chain reaction.
That is not the kind of stuff you want to bring into the United States unless of course, you have no real plans to enjoy your freedom thereafter.
As one of the Customs inspectors began to escort him from the car, Ressam broke free and fled. A number of Inspectors chased him for five to six blocks, and after he unsuccessfully tried to force his way into a car stopped at a light at an intersection, the inspectors tackled him in the street and took him into custody.
He was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol on charges of misrepresentation on entry and failure to be inspected. Then he was booked into the Clallam County Jail in Clallam County, Washington, (State) and investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Customs officials searching him and the car also found the phone numbers of Abu Doha and Meskini. His fingerprints were analyzed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who determined that he was actually ‘Ahmed Ressam’, — his real name he was born with rather than ‘Benni Antoine Noris’.
An explosives expert concluded that the materials in his car could have produced a blast forty times greater than that of a devastating car bomb. It was ultimately determined that he had intended to detonate the explosives at the Los Angeles International Airport.
If he had not been captured and instead he had arrived at LAX and placed in the suitcases thousands of nails, the devastation would have been horrific and hundreds of people would have been killed and an equal amount wounded.
Ressam was indicted by a superseding indictment on January 20, 2000, for nine counts of criminal activity in connection with his attempt to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999 of which four of the charges were related to the explosives. He was convicted but not immediately sentenced.
When a convicted felon is sent to prison, there is very little incentive for him to cooperate with the authorities but if he hasn’t been sentenced, they can offer him a deal if he cooperates with them. This would then sweeten his attitude about cooperating.
His sentencing was delayed for four years in order to give counter-terrorism analysts a chance to fully exploit him as an intelligence source. Facing up to 130 years in prison, Ressam began cooperating with investigators after his conviction pursuant to a June 23, 2001 cooperation agreement that he entered into with the American government. Under the agreement, if after he cooperated fully with the U.S. and other governments, the U.S. government would recommend a prison sentence taking his cooperation into consideration, though the recommendation would not under any circumstances be less than 27 years. That means that he would be approximately 51 years of age when he would be released from prison.
He provided information to law enforcement officials of the U.S. and six other countries with regard to the al-Qaeda's organization, recruitment, and training activities. He also revealed that al-Qaeda sleeper cells existed within the U.S. He further testified in July 2001 against his accomplice and co-conspirator Haouari, and Ressam's testimony was also used by the Guantanamo Bay Combatant Status Review Tribunal to decide that friends of his, such as fellow Algerian Ahcene Zemiri, should continue to be held by the American authorities as unlawful combatants.
His willingness to betray his fellow terrorists is proof positive that he was not a suicide bomber. He would have taken the cowardly way of setting off the bombs by remote control.
By November 28, 2001, Ressam began to express reluctance about discussing two other matters. By early 2003, after having provided 65 hours of trial and deposition testimony and names of 150 people involved in terrorism, he stopped cooperating and began recanting his previous testimony against the other terrorists.
U.S. Attorney John McKay told the judge that Ressam should get a 35-year sentence, because he had declined to cooperate in two cases, which would now go unprosecuted. Ressam's lawyer argued that Ressam should be given a sentence of less than 20 years, to reflect the value of his original cooperation, saying, “It is a flat fact that law enforcement, the public, and public safety benefited in immeasurable ways from Ressam's decision to go to trial and later cooperate.” Ressam didn't say anything during his sentencing hearing, but did send the judge a personal note, that included an apology for planning to bomb the airport.
Ressam made the following statement before the district court in his note prior to his sentencing hearing. (I believe he had an interpreter interpret his words because his understanding of the English language was limited. He could speak French fluently.)
“I suffered severe shock after the trial and I lost my mental faculty and I did not know what I was saying. The government attorney and the investigator, know about my mental condition that I was going through, and about my mental faculty and the procedure exposed to their own interests.They interpret some of my statements to suit their interests. And the statement that was put in my mouth, which I said yes, because—due to the extreme mental exhaustion I was going through. I also am subject of pressures put upon me by the attorneys and the investigators. The evidence presented in court should be obtained from a solid source that cannot be doubted. But if the evidence and the statements are obtained from dubious sources or under pressure or a threat or from a mental incompetent source it should not be admitted. And that is the situation I was in.” unquote
What he was attempting to do was tell the court that what he said about the other terrorists while he was allegedly cooperating with the investigators during that four-year hiatus was false. I think he was doing this because he was upset that the prosecutors were asking for a 35-year sentence to be given to him and he wanted to get even with them.
He was sentenced to 22 years. He then appealed as did the government and a new trial was ordered for the purpose of dealing with the sentencing.
On July 27, 2005, at Ressam’s second trial, the government had argued that his recantation of his prior statements regarding his terrorist training and the activities of other terrorists, and his decision to cease cooperating, had forced the government to dismiss criminal charges against Abu Doha and Mohamed. The government said that as a high ranking al-Qaeda member with close ties to Osama Bin Laden, Doha was one of the most dangerous terrorists ever charged by the United States. After the dismissal of the charges against him, Doha was released from custody and immediately left the United States.
Abu Doha was arrested at London Heathrow Airport in February 2001 while attempting to travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on a forged passport. On the 3rd of July 2008, a British court released him from prison, under several security measures including a 22-hour-per-day curfew. Abu Doha would certainly appear to be the sort of terrorist for which the U.S. offshore detention system in Cuba was created. The 40-year-old Algerian militant is alleged by counter-terror officials to be a Qaeda-aligned terror kingpin and suspected of involvement in a number of plots around the world, including the ‘Millennium Bomb’ plot aimed at Los Angeles International airport in 2000. Yet, as things stand, Abu Doha was freed from prison in Britain and deported on immigration violations, after the U.S dropped its bid to extradite him over the LAX plot.
On the subject of Ressam’s cooperation, the government argued before Judge Coughenour that it would not have entered into the cooperation agreement with Ressam if it had known he was going to renege on his promise to cooperate fully. It argued that any benefit he provided initially has been substantially outweighed by his reversal, and that he now attempted to use his position as a cooperating defendant to help his fellow terrorists.
Regarding the need to protect the public, the government argued that Ressam would still be relatively young upon release from prison if he were given a sentence similar to the one originally imposed by the same district court in 2005. The Court’s original sentence of 22 years in prison, if reimposed, would mean that this defendant would be released in ten years and be out of prison in 2018. He would be only 51 years of age when he would be released.
The government urged the district court to “send the defendant away for a long enough period of time so there is no chance he will ever target innocent victims again.”
After hearing from the parties, the Seattle judge before sentencing Ressam, he made the following announcement.
“The Ninth Circuit has made clear that the Sentencing Guidelines are only one factor to be considered among those factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a), in determining an appropriate sentence. I may not presume that the Guidelines range is reasonable. Nor should the Guidelines factor be given more or less weight than any other factor. Accordingly, I have also considered the other Section 3553 factors in arriving at the sentence I am imposing today. On the one hand I recognize the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offenses Mr. Ressam has committed, to provide just punishment for those offenses, and to promote respect for the law. Mr. Ressam’s crimes, if carried to their intended conclusion, would have resulted in the deaths and injuries of hundreds of innocent people and instilled fear across the country and even the world. Fortunately, Mr. Ressam’s arrest prevented such an outcome. Because of the work of an attentive Port Angeles Customs Inspector, Mr. Ressam’s crimes did not lead to loss of life or limb, nor destruction of property. Nevertheless, the seriousness and heinousness of the act of terrorism Mr. Ressam was carrying out at the time of his arrest cannot be understated.
“On the other hand, I recognize Mr. Ressam’s extensive and valuable cooperation in the fight against terrorism during the first two years after his trial. Although it ended unwisely and prematurely, Mr. Ressam’s cooperation, which was unique in its breadth and scope, weighed heavily in my initial sentencing decision and its import has not changed in my analysis today. The government’s motion filed in February 2003 requested a downward departure from the Sentencing Guidelines based on Mr. Ressam’s substantial assistance in the case of United States versus Mokhtar Haouari, a matter prosecuted in the Southern District of New York in the summer of 2001 and
resulting in the conviction of Mr. Haouari. Mr. Haouari was sentenced in 2002 to a term of 24 years’ imprisonment. Mr. Ressam’s testimony at the trial connected Mr. Haouari to the terrorist plot, of which Mr. Ressam himself was a part, to bomb
the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Day 2000. In addition to his substantial cooperation in that case Mr. Ressam also testified before a German tribunal on behalf of the German government in the trial against Mounir el Motassadeq. In December 2002, which resulted in a conviction and sentence of
“The Court recognizes that Mr. Ressam’s later decision to end his cooperation resulted in the dismissal of two pending prosecutions and the retraction
of certain of his statements against two other terrorist suspects.
"However, Mr. Ressam’s cooperation, while it lasted, provided the United States government and the governments of Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Canada extensive intelligence that proved to be invaluable in the fight against international terrorism. The defendant’s sentencing memorandum submitted before the July 2005 sentencing hearing summarizes the far reaching impact of Mr. Ressam’s cooperation on the investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities
in this country and abroad. Downplaying the cooperation that Mr. Ressam
provided the government would diminish the likelihood of future cooperation by other apprehended terrorists.
“Further, doing so would not be fair to Mr. Ressam. After his trial he told me that the fairness of his trial was not what he expected, given what he had done. The fair treatment that Mr. Ressam received in his public trial was a major influence on
his decision to break with his past and cooperate, a choice that undoubtedly saved innocent lives. In making that decision, he put his own life at risk. In addition, he has spent years in solitary confinement in a country far from his family and loved ones and will, by any measure, be sacrificing a large portion of his life to pay for his crimes. I believe that the sentence I am imposing today will serve as a deterrent while promoting respect for the American rule of law by demonstrating the fairness of our federal court system rather than merely its punitiveness. In addition, I have taken into account Mr. Ressam’s history and characteristics.
"Reading Mr. Hillier’s 2005 sentencing memorandum and the report from Dr. Grassian leads me to the conclusion that Mr. Ressam’s life history and personal characteristics support favorable sentencing consideration. His life and reasons for involvement in his crime do not support a conclusion that he is a good person, but it also deserves consideration. Mr. Hillier describes a quiet, solitary and devout man whose true character is manifest in his decision to cooperate. Through the course of the trial and immediately thereafter, Mr. Ressam wrestled with what he had done and why.
As Mr. Hillier put it, Mr. Ressam determined that violent action brought shame to the concerns he was trying to promote, and that as a result what he was doing was harmful in all respects.
“I have also taken into account the nature of Mr. Ressam’s crimes required that he be held in solitary confinement for upwards of four years, if not for the likely entirety of his sentence. This isolation is exacerbated by the fact that he does not speak English and has no opportunity for visits by friends and family abroad. These harsh conditions of confinement necessarily set Mr. Ressam’s situation apart from
that of the typical criminal sentencing. I am also persuaded that Mr. Ressam’s mental health deteriorated somewhat from the isolation of his confinement and
the repetitive, intensive questioning to which he submitted, and that these conditions contributed to the early termination of his cooperation.
"Moreover, I have considered the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct. Mr. Haouari, for example, was sentenced to 24 years for his involvement in the same plot. Abdel Meskini, also indicted based on his connection to Mr. Ressam and prosecuted in the Southern District of New York, pled guilty and received a sentence of six years.
“Finally, I have spent a good deal of time since Mr. Ressam’s previous sentencing reviewing other terrorism-related prosecutions around the country. According to a recent study of 124 defendants sentenced in terrorism trials in American federal courts since September 12, 2001 to December 31, 2007, a paper that was prepared by two former federal prosecutors, the average term of imprisonment was a little
over eight years. These cases involved different sets of facts and did not influence my decision in determining an appropriate sentence in this case.
"However, I mention a few of them here to provide a backdrop against which Mr. Ressam’s conviction and sentence may be viewed. For example, John Walker Lindh was captured during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan while he was fighting in the Taliban army. Mr. Lindh was trained by al Qaeda and fought on the front lines in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance. The notoriety of his case stemmed in part from his involvement in a violent uprising in Afghanistan in which a CIA agent was killed. He was later brought to the United States and indicted on ten charges in the Eastern District of Virginia. Ultimately, he pled guilty to supplying services to the Taliban army and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony. He received a sentence of 20 years.
In 2002, Imran Mandhai pled guilty in the Southern District of Florida to conspiring to destroy electrical power stations by means of fire and explosives in retaliation for the US government’s support of Israel and in an effort to secure the release of Muslim prisoners. After numerous sentencing appeals Mr. Mandhai received a sentence of 14 years. In 2005, after being held for three years as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla was indicted in the Southern District of Florida on federal terrorism charges. After a four-month jury trial, he was convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim, and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. The conviction resulted in a sentencing guideline’s range of 360 months to life. Mr. Padilla received a sentence of 17 years and four months. In imposing the sentence, the Court considered the fact that Mr. Padilla had been held in solitary
confinement under harsh conditions for a significant period of time and would likely be held under similar conditions in the future. Mr. Padilla’s co-conspirators, Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi, received sentences of 15 years and eight months and 12 years and eight months, respectively. I note that none of the defendants in these cases cooperated as extensively, providing as much valuable information to the fight against terrorism as Mr. Ressam did.
"As I emphasized earlier, Mr. Ressam’s cooperation provided authorities in this country and abroad with an unprecedented view of the inner workings of al Qaeda that almost certainly thwarted future attacks. In fact, it was the extent of Mr. Ressam’s cooperation in the conviction of one of his coconspirators that resulted in the government filing a motion, specifically requesting that Mr. Ressam be sentenced below the applicable Guideline’s range.
“Therefore, based on all the factors listed in 18 USC Section 3553, I hereby re-impose a sentence of 22 years and a period of supervised release of five years subject to the standard conditions, together with those additional conditions set forth in the pre-sentence report. I recognize that the sentence I am imposing reflects a significant downward deviation from the advisory Guideline’s range. However, I believe the factors I have examined on the record are sufficiently compelling to support the degree of the variance.” unquote
He then restored the 22-year term, citing Ressam's assistance in providing “an unprecedented view of the inner workings of Al Qaeda that almost without question prevented future attacks.”
The judge then wanted to explain his reasons for giving Ressam the same sentence he gave him earlier. Judge Coughenour’s explanation was as follows:
“Okay. Let me say a few things. First of all, it will come as no surprise to anybody that this sentencing is one that I have struggled with a great deal more than any other sentencing that I’ve had in the 24 years I’ve been on the bench. I’ve done my very best to arrive at a period of confinement that appropriately recognizes the severity of the intended offense, but also recognizes the practicalities of the parties’ positions before trial and the cooperation of Mr. Ressam, even though it did terminate prematurely. The message I would hope to convey in today’s sentencing is two-fold:
“First, that we have the resolve in this country to deal with the subject of terrorism and people who engage in it should be pre-pared to sacrifice a major portion of their life in confinement.
“Secondly, though, I would like to convey the message that our system works. We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel, or invoke any proceedings beyond those guaranteed by or contrary to the United States Constitution.
“I would suggest that the message to the world from today’s sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart. We can deal with the threats to our national security without denying the accused fundamental constitutional protections.
“Despite the fact that Mr. Ressam is not an American citizen and despite the fact that he entered this country intent upon killing American citizens, he received an effective, vigorous defense, and the opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.
“Most importantly, all of this occurred in the sunlight of a public trial. There were no secret proceedings, no indefinite detention, no denial of counsel. The tragedy of September 11th shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism. Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. This is a Constitution for which men and women have died and continue to die and which has made us a model among nations. If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.” unquote
I interpret his speech as an attempt on his part to justify the lenient sentence he gave to Ressam. The sentence of 22 years does not appropriately recognize the severity of the intended offense.
It seems to me that a terrorist who planned to kill hundreds of people being sentenced to prison and might only serving 20 years in prison is not appropriate at all. I believe that even the first U.S. Attorney was too generous when he proposed that Ressam serve 35 years even though he had already been in custody since 1999. The second time around, a prosecutor asked that Ressam be sentenced to prison for life.
In my opinion, Ressam is a menace and a danger to society and should be locked up for life without parole.
After the sentencing, the government moved to withdraw its motion, relying on language in the agreement that gave the government the right to withdraw the motion should it be determined by the government that Mr. Ressam had violated any provision of this agreement. Judge Coughenour denied the motion as being untimely. After advising Ressam of his right to appeal the sentence, the district court offered some concluding remarks:
The case took a tortuous legal turn and at one point went to the U.S. Supreme Court after Ressam's conviction on one of nine charges was overturned on appeal. The high court reinstated the conviction and ordered that Ressam be resentenced. This time the prosecutors argued for 45 years in prison during a 2008 hearing during which Ressam told the judge: “Sentence me to life in prison or anything you wish. I will have no objection to your sentence.”
Are you ready for this? Ressam then filed an appeal from his conviction on count nine of the indictment—carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.
The United States government was also not too pleased with the 22-year-sentence that Judge Coughenour gave Ressam a second time so it cross-appealed the sentence to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Part 2 of this series, I will give my readers a breakdown of what that court ruled.