Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School have just released a damning report in which they accuse the US government of repeated abuses in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases.
Well, you might still be surprised by the report's most troubling allegation: that US government agents, by employing methods of investigation that border on entrapment, have actively encouraged ordinary Americans to become terrorists.
The HRW and HRI focused their investigation on 27 post-9/11 terrorism cases involving 77 defendants. They based their report on information from court documents, publicly available documents, Freedom of Information Act requests, and more than 215 interviews with people involved in terrorism cases, including defendants, lawyers, family members, academics, and government officials.
They found a pattern of encouragement, facilitation, and grooming of targets that's worrying if not illegal.
“Indeed, in some cases,” the report claims, “the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act... All the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade, with four exceptions, were actually sting operations, splots conducted with the direct involvement of law enforcement informants or agents, including plots that were proposed or led by informants.”
A former FBI agent, Michael German, explained it to HRW and the HRI this way:
Today’s terrorism sting operations reflect a significant departure from past practice. When the FBI undercover agent or informant is the only purported link to a real terrorist group, supplies the motive, designs the plot and provides all the weapons, one has to question whether they are combatting terrorism or creating it. Aggrandizing the terrorist threat with these theatrical productions only spreads public fear and divides communities, which doesn’t make anyone safer."
Take the case of Hosam Smadi. The FBI began investigating Smadi in Jan. 2009 because he'd been posting to jihadist discussion boards. FBI agents intiated contact with him online, and during these early conversations, Smadi insisted that he didn’t want to hurt innocent people and was unsure about violent jihad. The FBI placed him in the “first stage of the radicalization process known as pre-radicalization,” but rather than discourage further radicalization, the agents actively pushed him toward violence.
After months of encouragement and conversation, Smadi agreed to participate in a terrorist act. He'd plant a bomb in the parking garage below a large Dallas building. When the day arrived, he deposited the explosive, which the FBI agents had made, and then met an undercover agent in a car. There he dialed a number into his cell phone, believing that it would detonate the device. He was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and sentences to 24 years in prison.
What would have happened to Smadi if the FBI had just left him alone?
The HRW and HRI report finds lots of other reasons to be concerned about the handling of terrorism investigations and prosecutions. Check out the report and you'll find plenty of information about the use of "material support" charges, the admission of various types of inappropriate evidence, and the reliance on pre-trial solitary confinement.