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Thursday, October 07, 2004

Department of Injustice

The New York Times has a lengthy article on the absurdity and incompetence better known as John Ashcroft's Justice Department:
"We can charge this case with the hope that the case might get better," Barry Sabin, the department's counterterrorism chief, wrote in the memorandum, "and the certainty that it will not get much worse."

But the case did get worse. After winning highly publicized convictions of two suspects on terrorism charges in June 2003, the Justice Department took the extraordinary step five weeks ago of repudiating its own case and successfully moving to throw out the terrorism charges. In a long court filing, the government discredited its own witnesses and found fault with virtually every part of its prosecution.

The blame, the department suggested in its filing, lay mainly at the feet of the lead prosecutor in Detroit, Richard G. Convertino, whom it portrayed as a rogue lawyer. But documents and interviews with people knowledgeable about the case show that top officials at the Justice Department were involved in almost every step of the prosecution, from formulating strategy to editing the draft indictments to planning how the suspects would be incarcerated.

President Bush himself said the Detroit case was one of several critical investigations around the country that had "thwarted terrorists." But the wreckage of the case reveals that it was built on evidence that has since been undermined. A series of missteps and in-fighting weakened the case further, documents and interviews show. The first line of the government's indictment now appears to have been copied without attribution from a scholarly article on Islamic fundamentalism. Government documents that cast doubt on a critical piece of evidence - what was described as a surveillance sketch of an American air base overseas - were not turned over to the defense. And tensions between prosecutors in Detroit and Justice Department officials in Washington escalated into open hostility.
Still, though their case is in shambles and they've already held three men in custody for three years, there's no relief for the vindicated:
With the terrorism charges dropped, Mr. Hannan, Mr. Koubriti and Mr. Elmardoudi remain in custody, facing a new trial on document fraud and deportation proceedings.