WASHINGTON – The only Iraq war insurgent to be prosecuted in U.S. court was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison, but how much time he will serve will be decided in the Netherlands.
Wesam al-Delaema is a 36-year-old Dutch citizen born in Iraq who returned to his hometown of Fallujah in October 2003 after the U.S. invasion. He videotaped himself showing off roadside bombs buried in the sand and praying to Allah that the explosives would kill American troops passing by.
Prosecutors said it was impossible to determine whether the bombs on al-Delaema's video were detonated or killed any Americans. They noted that within the next 10 days, four Americans were killed in two roadside bomb explosions in the area.
The United States agreed to send al-Delaema back to the Netherlands as part of an extradition agreement to try him in U.S. courts. Justice Department officials said in a statement after the sentence that it should serve notice that the United States will use all available tools to prosecute those who plot attacks against Americans in Iraq.
Al-Delaema agreed to the 25-year sentence as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder Americans. His attorneys said they are confident that he will serve less time in his home country because Dutch sentencing laws are not as strict as those in the United States.
The lawyers said he also agreed to the plea deal because it covers another charge he faced — aggravated assault for a December 2007 attack on a corrections officer in the District of Columbia jail. Prosecutors said he kicked a prison guard to the point of unconsciousness, causing a subdural hemorrhage. He could have been sentenced to prison in the United States for that charge, but under the plea deal it will be included in his time served in the Netherlands.
The sentencing hearing was extraordinarily long — nine hours over two days. Al-Delaema listened through a headset to hear an Arabic interpretation and spoke only briefly near the end — in halting English — to thank his legal team and wish for peace in Iraq.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said he wanted to create a record of both sides' evidence for the Dutch judge to review. He said he wished al-Delaema would serve the full 25 years but acknowledged: "I'm not the final word here."
Since the sentence already had been worked out in the plea deal, the only issue for Friedman to decide was whether al-Delaema committed a federal crime of terrorism. Al-Delaema's attorneys contended he is not a terrorist, with no affiliation to Al Qaeda or any other recognized group, but a man who was moved by the destruction of his hometown to return and support the insurgency against what he considered improper occupiers.
Friedman ruled that it was clear from al-Delaema's comments on video that he fit the legal definition for the crime of terrorism — actions calculated to influence the government through intimidation or retaliate against government conduct. Friedman quoted extensively from translations of al-Delaema's comments in Arabic on the tapes.
"Today, with God's help, and if the Americans enter, we will hit them with timed mine by way of remote," al-Delaema says on one, filmed with night vision technology late on Oct. 30, 2003.
One of al-Delaema's lawyers, Gregory Smith, argued that the terrorist definition as applied to al-Delaema also would have applied to hailed resistance troops throughout history, including U.S. forefather George Washington for his fight against the British. "In other words, fighting back can be conspiracy to murder," Smith said.
"If I just heard right," prosecutor Gregg Maisel responded indignantly, "counsel just compared his client to George Washington." He said it would be a different case if al-Delaema were a member of a recognized uniformed army.