On Sept. 11, the nation remembers that fateful day in 2001 when the earth shook, the buildings fell and the innocent were slain. On that day, we vowed as a nation to bring to justice, or bring justice to, those who committed the acts of terrorism. We did.
Leaders of the radical Islamic organization al Qaeda were either captured or killed. Osama bin Laden was taken out by a team of special operations forces while hiding in Pakistan. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, has been captured and is being held in Guantanamo.
With the influx of additional terrorists captured, there arose a debate regarding whether terrorists should be tried in the courts or by a military tribunal. The controversy was never settled one way or the other.
Mohammed is awaiting a military trial along with several other co-conspirators. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” was given his Miranda rights, and charges against him were filed in federal court. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison in February. Numerous lesser-knowns were tried in the U.S. courts and sentenced to long terms of incarceration with special administrative measures imposed on their conditions of confinement.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Once detained, jihadists do not surrender; they just take a different path.
Case in point: John Walker Lindh, “the American Taliban,” captured in November 2001 in Afghanistan fighting alongside al Qaeda and Taliban members against U.S. military forces. Among the charges filed against him were conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens and providing material support to terrorist organizations. He entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney general’s office and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
This year, Lindh joined several other Islamic terrorists in filing suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons for violation of his rights. He claims that he and other terrorists have the right to get together five times a day to “pray” in accordance with their religious beliefs. These would be the same beliefs that led 19 hijackers to kill almost 3,000 innocent Americans in one day.
He contends that allowing them to meet frequently for religious purposes does not pose a security threat. Hopefully, the prison administrators will remind the judge of the case of convicted Islamic terrorist El Sayyid Nosair. While an inmate at the Attica Correctional Facility in 1992, Nosair met regularly in the prison mosque with other Muslim inmates for religious purposes. It was there where he persuaded two of them to help him make phone calls to the “Blind Sheik,” Omar Adbel-Rahman, and several others as they conspired to bomb the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993. The subsequent investigation revealed that Nosair used prison phones, visits and religious privileges to commit a terrorist act while incarcerated.
Lindh is not the first, nor will he be the last, to use the courts to challenge his prison time. The al Qaeda terrorist responsible for the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania in 1998 also has asked a judge to loosen his prison conditions. Khalfan Khamis Mohamed was convicted along with Mahmoud Salim in the attack in Dar es Salaam that killed 11 and wounded 85.
If that were not enough, while both were being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, Mohamed and Salim brutally assaulted guard Louis Pepe by stabbing him in the eye with a jailhouse shank, then pouring a searing-hot liquid into the wound. The resulting injury caused a permanent disability to Mr. Pepe.
In filing his lawsuit, Mohamed claims he is rehabilitated and no longer a security threat to the prison or correctional staff. He wants to be able to mingle with the general population, receive visits from friends and family and call whomever he wants on the phone. After all, he has rights, doesn’t he?
What have we, as a free society, learned from this regarding effectively dealing with terrorism?
If you incarcerate a terrorist, you grant him access to the courts. If you grant a terrorist access to the courts, you give him rights, and a terrorist will use those rights to continue to advance the jihadist goal. The war does not end for them when they are captured.
These terrorists who have been in prison are starting to become “jail wise” in using the legal system to advance their cause. They also find a sympathetic ear and support from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Commission.
In touting their “rights,” they make a mockery of justice and insult the memories of the fallen.
Hopefully, the judges who hear these cases will heed the counsel of prison security administrators and not be swayed by the crocodile tears of the incarcerated terrorists.
Patrick Dunleavy is former deputy inspector general for the New York State Department of Corrections and author of “The Fertile Soil of Jihad” (Potomac Books, 2011).