Published February 22, 2010
It is an outrage that Najibullah Zazi and his family gets a break, thanks to the fact that he's in the federal judicial system instead of in a military tribunal, where he belongs. Zazi was planning to blow up thousands of people in NYC last year. He had the plans, the training, and the materials he needed. Luckily, he got picked up before he could follow through on the devastation he wanted to inflict on New York City and the United States.
Zazi should have been interrogated immediately as an enemy combatant, by those trained to do so, in Gitmo. He then should have been handled in a military tribunal. Instead he was immediately sent to the federal judicial system and accorded all the rights given any U.S. citizen. As a result the government had to barter with him to get him to give us any information, giving his mother and father a break, and potentially him as well. As reported today on FoxNews.com, "[o]ne of the people familiar with the Zazi case told the Associated Press that Zazi decided to offer the information after being warned that his mother could face criminal immigration charges." As for Zazi's father, FoxNews.com also reported today that "[a]fter initially demanding that he be jailed in Brooklyn without bail, prosecutors agreed to a deal on Feb. 17 releasing him on $50,000 bond and allowing him to return to his home in suburban Denver. By contrast, bond for a Queens imam charged with lying to the FBI about phone contact with Zazi when Zazi was in New York was set at $1.5 million. A friend of Zazi's, New York cab driver Zarein Ahemdzay, was jailed without bail on a similar lying charge."
Zazi himself will be entitled to credit for having "cooperated" with the government. As a result of his cooperation the judge will not be bound by the mandatory mininum sentences set forth in the sentencing guidelines. Since his cooperation is supposed to be considered in sentencing, it is likely he will receive a reduced sentence. In addition, he pled to lesser charges than might have been the case, as part of the plea agreement with the government.
Beyond the fact that we have to give cold-blooded terrorists a break to get any information out of them, what we do get out of Zazi might well have be stale. The government wasted precious time working out a deal for him in order to get his "cooperation." This is not the way a country under attack should be handling enemy combatants who are caught on the new battlefield, in this case the streets of New York City.
We will never know whether Zazi had further information that he did not reveal. If he had been subject to interrogation in Gitmo by U.S. personnel trained to question enemy combatants in an effort to get out information to be used at a time of war, perhaps more information would have come out. Instead the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office handled this case just as they would a typical criminal case, such as a drug case, talking with the defendant, working out a deal with him and making concessions with him and his family in order to get whatever information the defendant he was willing to give.
When is this administration going to smarten up? We need to be strong and sensible in the handling of these terrorists. They are at war with us, whether the White House likes it or not, and they should not be handled with kid gloves like Zazi and his family have been. The lives of Americans are at stake, and we cannot afford to take the laid back approach as the government has taken here. There are more terrorists out there, planniing to attack the U.S., and we need to push hard to nab them before they can do more damage to all of us.
Annemarie McAvoy is a former federal prosecutor. She currently is a consultant and teaches Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing at Fordham Law School in New York City.