PEORIA, Ill. – A U.S. Air Force psychologist described an Al Qaeda sleeper agent as a sometimes kind, respectful man who nonetheless would attack the United States if given a chance.
The psychologist testified during the first day of a sentencing hearing for 44-year-old former Bradley University graduate student Ali al-Marri, who has admitted training in Al Qaeda camps and having contact with those involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The second and what is scheduled to be the final day of al-Marri's sentencing is Thursday in U.S. District Court in Peoria. The Qatar native faces up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in May to one count of conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.
Air Force Maj. Deborah Sirratt testified she had hours of interaction with al-Marri while she was in charge of medical care in the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. She said he believed infidels — unbelievers — should be killed, talked about his beliefs as an Al Qaeda member and thought "Americans should get out of the Middle East."
"I do feel in Mr. al-Marri's case that it's likely he might engage in hostile acts against the United States," Sirratt testified.
She said she based her judgment in part on two months spent helping assess prisoners held at the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay prison and in part on observing al-Marri. She said he often joked with her and was respectful of her and many others at the brig, but at the same time could be "very narcissistic, very confident, also very manipulative."
Defense lawyer Larry Lustberg challenged Sirratt, asking why official records she kept on her conversations with al-Marri included references to political discussions they had but never indicated his hatred of non-Muslims or comments about Al Qaeda.
"My concern when I was writing those notes was not about when he was released," she answered.
Al-Marri was arrested Sept. 10, 2001, in Peoria, where Bradley is located. President Bush declared him an enemy combatant in 2003.
After the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in December 2008 to consider al-Marri's challenge of his enemy combatant status, President Barack Obama ordered him surrendered to civilian authorities in Peoria.
Defense lawyer Andy Savage spent much of Wednesday presenting meticulously kept government logs about and videotapes of al-Marri's almost six years in the brig. Savage is arguing al-Marri's time there and poor treatment should be punishment enough.
The tapes show al-Marri blindfolded and shackled at his hands and feet during interrogations, pacing his bare cell for long periods, laying on his steel bunk and sitting against a wall or his toilet. The bearded, shackled al-Marri occasionally winced or smiled but showed little other reaction as he watched the tapes in court.
Savage noted al-Marri was denied glasses, a Qur'an, socks, reading material and a number of other items during his first year in the brig and beyond, while the two other enemy combatants held at the facility watched television, listened to MP3 players and were allowed contact with family.
Under questioning by Savage, Sanford Seymour, the top civilian employee at the brig when al-Marri was there, said much of the treatment came at the direction of the Defense Intelligence Agency. After its interrogations ended in mid-2004, brig staffers and the Navy arranged for better conditions, including eventual contact with relatives in Saudi Arabia and access to hundreds of books, he said.