Washington Post Reporter Puts Target on Prosecutor's Back
September 19, 2008
Many have chronicled the odd relationship between the Western media and the forces of radical Islam, perhaps the starkest incident being the refusal of almost the entire mainstream media to publish the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, even as a wake of destruction and series of violent threats were unleashed by religiously motivated mobs as a result.
While fear of threats and reprisals were clearly a motivating factor in that case, there are other instances where the motivation is slightly harder to divine. A recent case in point is Washington Post reporter Jerry Markon. In an article titled "Relentless Terrorism Prosecutor Faces Accusations of His Own," Markon has carelessly bought in to an Islamist propaganda campaign against one of America's finest and bravest prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg of the Eastern District of Virginia.
Markon trots out the complaints of a convicted terrorist operative and a coterie of his defense lawyers that Kromberg's actions are somehow driven by religious bias rather than a desire - and a duty - to hold criminals accountable for their actions. The result of Markon's "reporting" is to put a target on Kromberg's back and to scare off government lawyers from taking similar cases targeting criminal radical Islamists - lest reporters from major newspapers accuse them of religious bigotry and stymie future career prospects or higher government appointments.
Success breeds contempt, and Kromberg's track record, which includes not just locking up Islamic terrorists, but other major criminals like FBI spy Robert Hanssen and United Way CEO William Aramony, speaks for itself. But let's look at Markon's vacuous treatment of one of the terrorism prosecutions:
"Kromberg's highest-profile case since joining the office's new terrorism unit after Sept. 11 was what prosecutors called the 'Virginia jihad network,' 11 Muslim men convicted on such charges as preparing for holy war by, among other things, playing paintball. Justice officials hailed it as a classic post-Sept. 11 case of prevention, but civil libertarians and some Muslims said it targeted Muslim men."
Markon's fixation on the paintball aspect is nothing more than an attempt to belittle the significance of what happened. Of the 11 defendants, six pled guilty and three were found guilty of terrorist related charges. Most had, in addition to, yes, training in Northern Virginia with paintball guns, also trained at Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) camps in Pakistan for the purpose of joining the Taliban to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. LeT was designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist group in 2001 after its violent takeover of the Indian parliament.
The spiritual leader of these men, Ali al-Timimi, was convicted of "soliciting others to wage war against the United States; counseling others to engage in a conspiracy to levy war against the United States; attempting to aid the Taliban, counseling others to attempt to aid the Taliban; counseling others to violate the Neutrality Act, and counseling others to use firearms and explosives in furtherance of crimes of violence" and was sentenced to life in prison.
In grand jury testimony for a related case given by former Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) employee Randall "Ismail" Royer, himself serving a 20+ year sentence for his part in the conspiracy, Royer described the goal of his cell: to fight the United States directly in Afghanistan on behalf of the Taliban.
Five days after the 9/11 attacks, Royer and members of the cell attended a meeting with al-Timimi, to discuss al-Timimi's "view of the September 11th attacks and what the response of Muslims in the United States should be now."
Royer testified that al-Timimi instructed the group "it was a positive thing for Muslims to go and help the Taliban defend against U.S. invasion" and stated, "in pretty clear terms that, that it would be beneficial for us to go and help them – help the Taliban." Royer then testified to his own actions, "Well, what I said was that if anyone wanted to, to join mujahedin (sic) then they should get training first, and if they wanted to so they, they could obtain it from Lashkar-e-Taiba, an organization based in Kashmir with whom I had contact."
Just nothing more than a couple of guys shooting paintball guns in the Northern Virginia countryside, targeted by the U.S. government because they happened to be Muslim, right?
But Markon, not to be deterred by obvious facts, trots out yet another trope from the Al-Arian camp that they claim demonstrates bigotry:
"Kromberg sought Arian's testimony in the Islamic charities probe and refused to delay his appearance until after the Muslim holiday of Ramadan because, he said, that would aid the "Islamization" of the courts, according to an affidavit filed by one of Arian's attorneys, Jack Fernandez.
"They can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury. All they can't do is eat before sunset," Kromberg said in the 2006 conversation, according to the affidavit."
Regardless of whether this is what Kromberg said, the substance of the comment happens to be true, as many headlines attest. Here are just a few examples found in less than a matter of minutes in a single Google search: AP: U.S. general: More violence during Ramadan, Military expects increased attacks in Iraq during Muslim holy month; BBC: Algeria violence escalates during Ramadan; AP: Somali insurgents vow more attacks during Ramadan; CNN: Baghdad bomb kills scores as they shop for Ramadan, etc…
However, the perception that radical Islamists are somehow extra peaceful during the holy month of Ramadan strangely persists in certain quarters, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Wednesday's New York Times article on the deadly terrorist attack against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen which killed 16 people (including 6 terrorists) included the line:
"The attack was especially shocking to many Yemenis because it came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan."
While the Times, the "many" unquoted Yemenis and Jack Fernandez might be astonished to hear of a terrorist attack happening during Ramadan, most people even casually aware with the news are not.
The point is completely irrelevant because whether during Ramadan or not, Al-Arian has refused to testify despite a series of orders compelling his testimony. And it's not the first time someone with clear ties to terrorists has tried to stymie federal investigators by claiming he somehow shouldn't have to answer grand jury questions.
Sabri Benkahla, acquitted in the Virginia Jihad case, was subpoenaed to tell the grand jury what he knew about the training camps he attended. He claimed Kromberg was trying to exact new punishment after Benkahla was found not guilty. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals laughed that argument out of court:
"[I]t is worth observing that the investigations in which Benkahla was interviewed and the questions he was asked show no sign of having been manufactured for the sake of a second prosecution. Given the character of the first court's acquittal, the government had every right to think Benkahla had attended a jihadist training camp somewhere.
It was legitimate to ask Benkahla, even post-acquittal, about his jihadist training in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and it was legitimate to prosecute him when he spoke falsely about it."
That's exactly where Al-Arian finds himself today. One of the many important points not mentioned in Markon's article - and this is similarly absent in all attempts at defending Al-Arian - is his violent and jihadist nature, something that has nothing to do with the vast majority of Muslims.
In 1990, Al-Arian met behind closed doors with a group of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) officials and supporters:
"Truly, until now the Islamic movement's position toward America has been a weak one, the least to say is that it has been weak; it is not straightforward and does not express the magnitude of the American administration's continuing enmity toward Islam, and the Islamic activity. This cannot be accomplished without setting the example, without true armed Jihad against the enemy in Israel; also with the creation of a true Jihad, possibly non-violent, to change the circumstances in the Arabic and Islamic countries through the fronts." (emphasis added)
So a "true armed Jihad" against Israel and a possibly a non-violent Jihad against Arabic and Muslim countries? At least he's open to the possibility of non-violence in some part of the world.
And that's not the only example of Al-Arian supporting religious violence. In February of 1995, after President Clinton signed an order designating the PIJ as a terrorist group as a result of a horrific terrorist attack the organization had just pulled off, Al-Arian penned a fundraising letter to a wealthy Kuwaiti:
"The latest operation, carried out by the two mujahideen who were martyred for the sake of God, is the best guide and witness to what the believing few can do in the face of Arab and Islamic collapse at the heels of the Zionist enemy and in keeping the flame of faith, steadfastness, and defiance glowing.
I call upon you to try to extend true support of the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue."
Of course Markon mentions none of this. Clearly Al-Arian is nothing more than a "vocal supporter of Palestinian rights" who has been "persecuted for his beliefs" – and now hounded by a "relentless" prosecutor - or so his defenders routinely and repeatedly state, often to an uncritical media, of which Jerry Markon and the Washington Post are only the latest example.
Strangely enough, Al-Arian's ultimate downfall came, in part, from lying to a member of the media, Jim Harper of the St. Petersburg Times. But reporters continue to give him cover.
And remember, this latest battle is about getting a convicted (and avowed!) terrorist supporter to testify in a grand jury investigating the terror ties of a Muslim Brotherhood-linked think tank in Northern Virginia.
If the Department of Justice is not going to compel truthful testimony in a terrorism case, where should it draw the line? Should accomplices and witnesses simply bide their time and wait for the government's patience to wear out and political pressure to build? That has been Al-Arian's end game, and he is keenly aware that he's got plenty of help in certain quarters.
After a series of charges leveled at Kromberg's alleged bias, Markon reports that "[t]hrough a spokesman, Kromberg declined to comment." Of course, in his official capacity, Kromberg cannot respond. However, his reasoning in these cases is in the public record, if only reporters took the time to look. In a government filing from August of this year challenging Al-Arian's specious charges of religious bias, prosecutors wrote:
"As a result of their shared espousal of violence to further their vision of Islam, Al-Timimi and Al-Arian are representative of one type of Muslim, but there are many types of Muslims in America and around the world. Many Muslims - - indeed, many types of Muslims - - reject the pernicious ideology espoused by Al-Timimi and Al-Arian, and reject their claims to be representative of Muslims generally. Muslims and people of all religions (as well as people of no religion) who reject the use of violence to further their vision of their faith (or lack thereof) deserve to be supported rather than overlooked or ignored simply because individuals whose ideology they reject claim to represent them. Neither Al-Timimi nor Al-Arian represents Muslims generally, and their claims to the contrary should not be accepted merely because they are loudly made.
At the end of the day, we prosecute individuals on the basis of their actions, and not on the basis of their religion."
The violent positions of both Al-Arian and Al-Timimi were documented above. And the claim made by Al-Arian and his supporters that prosecuting him is somehow "anti-Muslim" actually tars all Muslims with Al-Arian's vile views, which is the only bigotry at play here.
Markon then dramatically tells his readers:
"The tensions surrounding Kromberg burst into public view during the Aug. 8 hearing for Arian, who is charged with refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating whether Islamic charities in Northern Virginia were financing terrorists. The prosecutor arose in the crowded courtroom, accused his critics of 'venomous, hateful, anti-Semitic attacks' and cited a rally in the District last month at which a former U.S. senator from Alaska told Arian supporters to 'find out where [Kromberg] lives.'
'Find out where his kids go to school. Find out where his office is. Picket him . . . call him a racist,' said Mike Gravel, who ran for the Democratic nomination for president this year, according to an audiotape.
But Markon, naturally, fails to chronicle the nature and the circumstances surrounding those anti-Semitic attacks. They appeared on the blog of Al-Arian defense attorney, Jonathan Turley. Here is one example:
"The government should know that when they appoint Zionist Jews that this kind of thing will happen. Or maybe that's why the appoint Zionist Jews. Bush had more of them around then even Clinton. Why not appoint KKK members to oversee programs for black youths or rapist ex-cons to staff shelters for battered women?"
As a result of this and other similar comments, the presiding judge chided Turley, who pledged to refrain from posting entries about the Al-Arian trial, something not mentioned in Markon's article. Markon's hit piece then takes a detour and he goes after Kromberg for something having nothing to do with radical Islam. Markon writes:
"[Kromberg] highlighted his approach during a 1999 speech at the Cato Institute in Washington, saying the government should seek the assets of drug dealers even if they are not charged. 'Does that mean you should just walk away and let the activity continue? . . . Not if you want to punish the defendant in some way short of prosecuting him,' he said, according to a videotape.
During the 1990s, Kromberg helped the government seize fees defense attorneys had received from drug dealers, an uncommon tactic that led to denunciations from defense lawyers nationwide."
Asset forfeitures are an accepted part of federal law enforcement, and punishing criminals short of prosecuting them is done every day, not just by the government, either. If Markon doesn't think so, he should talk to O.J. Simpson, who owes the Goldman family $33 million after being held civilly responsible for the murder of Ron Goldman, despite being acquitted, under a standard of reasonable doubt, in the criminal case.
Apparently, Markon is trying to make a false parallel between asset forfeitures and Al-Arian's continued legal woes, when there are none. One thing that may be at play here is that former Al-Arian attorney, William Moffitt, was himself a victim of Kromberg's prosecutorial skills. Markon writes, "During the 1990s, Kromberg helped the government seize fees defense attorneys had received from drug dealers, an uncommon tactic that led to denunciations from defense lawyers nationwide. William Moffitt, who lost one of those cases, called Kromberg ‘a very good prosecutor and a very smart man.'" Markon then quotes Moffitt as saying Kromberg "clearly has a bias. Some of his statements indicate that he's stepped over the line with regard to Muslims."
That's not at all clear, actually, but what is clear is that Moffitt has an axe to grind. After losing the initial case, Moffitt's firm appealed the decision, losing again. According to the 4th Circuit ruling, the law firm claimed prosecutors acted inappropriately, an assertion dismissed out of hand. Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote that the case did expose troubling conduct of a different kind:
"Moffitt, Zwerling has sought throughout this litigation to focus attention on the government's conduct …. Neither prosecutorial misconduct nor an infringement of the constitutional right to counsel, however, is at issue in this litigation. What this lawsuit has brought to light is troubling conduct of a different kind. The law firm in this case was dealing with a client who already had most of his assets seized as the result of a major drug trafficking investigation. The firm accepted an immense cash payment from the client composed largely of $100 bills and stuffed into a shoe box or a Ritz cracker box. And the firm complied with its client's request not to provide a receipt for fear, the client said, it would fall into the hands of law enforcement authorities."
Again, nothing in the Post story on that. While Markon is long on conjecture, he is short on facts. His article makes no mention that, despite the efforts of Al-Arian's lawyers, he has been compelled to testify by both the 4th and 11th Circuit Courts of Appeal. Markon also ignores that it is a basic duty of American citizenship to testify before a grand jury. While Al-Arian is not a citizen, he is a long time resident and his supporters often describe him, and his "cause," as quintessentially American.
At his sentencing, the trial judge said of Al-Arian:
"You are a master manipulator. You looked your neighbors in the eyes and said you had nothing to do with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This trial exposed that as a lie. Your back-up claim is that your efforts were only to provide charities for widows and orphans. That, too, is a lie. The evidence was clear in this case that you were a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. You were on the board of directors and an officer, the secretary. Directors control the actions of an organization, even the PIJ; and you were an active leader.
And yet, still in the face of your own words, you continue to lie to your friends and supporters, claiming to abhor violence and to seek only aid for widows and orphans. Your only connection to widows and orphans is that you create them, even among the Palestinians; and you create them, not by sending your children to blow themselves out of existence. No. You exhort others to send their children."
The judge was privy to all the evidence in the trial, in which he excluded much from the jury, including a video in which Al-Arian is damning America, because the judge considered it too prejudicial. Despite those rulings, Al-Arian's supporters continue to the claim that the judge, too, is biased, and that Al-Arian is a paragon of American virtues, not too different from our founding fathers.
Al-Arian's own attorney during the closing arguments admitted his client was "affiliated with the cultural, charitable arm of the PIJ, and he lied to the media about it," and that he had high level contacts with PIJ leadership. Here is Al-Arian's attorney explaining why Al-Arian was forced to lie [see page 34] about his ties to a terrorist group:
"Ask yourself now, what would you do if you were asked, you see? Because once Sami was asked and once he admitted that he had a relationship with the PIJ, the story was never going to be about the abuse of people in Palestine; the story was going to change."
Al-Arian's involvement in PIJ is not in dispute, yet the disinformation campaign surrounding him completely ignores these facts and, instead, pushes the ridiculous line that he is merely being targeted because of his religion, which Markon mindlessly parrots.
While Markon does quote one defender of Kromberg, he cites many more of his detractors, including legal ethics "expert" Stephen Gillers, who calls Kromberg a "loose cannon" and states, "(i)f I were the Justice Department, I wouldn't want him on the front lines of these highly visible, highly contentious prosecutions."
What is that opinion based on? Certainly not courtroom exposure. Gillers' biography indicates he practiced law for nine years before joining the NYU faculty in 1978. And as a legal ethicist, he is arguing that a federal prosecutor, who consistently assembles evidence that convinces judges and juries of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and whose behavior and actions are consistently upheld upon appellate review, somehow is not someone the country wants on the front lines of difficult cases.
How does Gillers, or any Kromberg critic, reconcile the description of a "loose cannon" with such an impressive court record? If there was any semblance of truth to the smear campaign, they'd have sanctions or court orders to point to. They don't.
While Markon digs up multiple people to support Turley and his client, he fails to mention that not all Muslims are supportive of the likes of Al-Arian and Al-Timimi, when a quote from someone who happens to be Muslim but doesn't feel that Al-Arian is somehow a victim of religious persecution would be fairly easy to come by – but it just doesn't sell or bolster Al-Arian's victim status.
In a post titled, "Do the Right Thing, Right Here, Right Now," from April 2008, African-American Muslim blogger Abdur Rahman Muhammad writes:
"Our religion teaches us to be upright, honest, and most importantly, just. It also teaches us that Muslims are not angels, and can at times even be susceptible to criminality. So yes, Muslims will be found committing murder, slander, theft, fornication and adultery, drug and alcohol abuse, and - in today's world - terrorism, and did so even in the time of the Prophet."
"I was sent the public records of the Al-Arian trial and I feel it my duty to tell the Muslims that they are blindly defending someone who admitted to helping terrorists. This is why I implore all of those who are going around defending this man to read the public records."
That's pretty good advice for Markon and his editors at the Washington Post, as well. Instead, Markon has only succeeded in making this country less safe by discouraging both terrorism prosecutions and frightening off talented prosecutors from taking on high profile cases, knowing they might one day be a target of an Islamist disinformation campaign spurred on by an unwitting media.
Reader comments on this item
The Drive-By Media
Submitted by Roger Godby, Sep 20, 2008 22:33
While Markon seems to be guilty of incompetence and professional negligence, I wonder whether in fact Markon was quite aware of what his article omitted and what it's possible final results could be.