Sentencing for the would-be millennium bomber has been handed down, and it isn’t enough for a man whose hopes and intentions were to kill thousands.
Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian man who sought to explode a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve 1999, was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in prison.
Some considered that date the eve of the millennium.
Ressam, 38, became a key U.S. government informant on the Al Qaeda network in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but he later ended his cooperation.
He was arrested by U.S. authorities in December 1999 as he tried to pass through U.S. Customs at Port Angeles, Wash., in a car with bomb-making materials.
In April 2001, he was convicted of trying to plant a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport, but his sentencing was delayed as Ressam agreed to aid the Justice Department.
Ressam recounted a saga that took him from Algeria, to Montreal, through Europe to an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, then back to Montreal to prepare the Los Angeles bombing attempt.
He offered full or partial identities of more than 120 people he met as he embraced a jihad against the West.
But Ressam has refused to help the Justice Department move forward with prosecutions of two men suspected of being Al Qaeda operatives.
Ressam will be eligible for parole in fourteen years. I hope he doesn’t live to see it.
Left out of this version of the sentencing story was a little political play by the judge.
The sentence itself was fairly straightforward: An Algerian man received 22 years for plotting to bomb the Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium. It was what the judge said in imposing the term that raised eyebrows.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said the successful prosecution of Ahmed Ressam should serve not only as a warning to terrorists, but as a statement to the Bush administration about its terrorism-fighting tactics.
“We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant or deny the defendant the right to counsel,” he said. “The message to the world from today’s sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart.”
He added that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have made Americans realize they are vulnerable to terrorism and that some believe “this threat renders our Constitution obsolete … If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.”
First, there was absolutely no reason for this little bit of ankle-biting by Coughenour other than a personal need to inject his own political view. Second, while the judge is right that our court system could be used to handle the likes of the scum we currently are holding at Gitmo, that does not mean that they must be used or that military tribunals should not be used. Third and quite key in this matter, there is a major difference between Ressam and the Gitmo detainees — Ressam was snagged within our borders in the process of committing criminal, though admittedly terrorist, acts and the Gitmo folks were captured in a foreign combat theater acting not as part of a uniformed enemy force. These detainees are not even eligible to be guaranteed the protections of the Geneva conventions, much less the American legal system. That they have been subjected to military tribunals is not a threat to the Constitution of the United States of America. The same cannot be necessarily said of judges who wander from only tangentially related rulings to offer criticisms of executive-branch policies.