A new report by Human Rights Watch and the Columbia Law School focuses on the dubiousness of federal terrorism sting tactics.
The 214-page study, "Illusion of Justice," is a detailed examination of twenty-seven terrorism cases -- and the questionable methods that prosecutors employed.
"For years, Human Rights Watch has documented human rights violations in the U.S. criminal justice system," Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch and a co-author of the report, tells The Progressive. "We thought it was important to look specifically at the treatment of terrorism suspects in U.S. federal courts, and also to document the impact abusive counterterrorism policies have on American Muslim communities."
The report underscores how hard it is to demonstrate that suspects have been entrapped by the feds -- and how anti-foreigner and anti-Islam prejudice makes it all the more difficult.
"U.S. law requires that to prove entrapment a defendant show both that the government induced him to commit the act in question and that he was not 'predisposed' to commit it," the report states. "This predisposition inquiry focuses attention on the defendant's background, opinions, beliefs, and reputation -- in other words, not on the crime, but on the nature of the defendant. This character inquiry makes it exceptionally difficult for a defendant to succeed in raising the entrapment defense, particularly in the terrorism context, where inflammatory stereotypes and highly charged characterizations of Islam and foreigners often prevail."
Not a single defendant in a federal terrorism case has successfully used the entrapment argument.
The report highlights several other problems with terrorism prosecutions, including use of classified or coerced evidence and harsh conditions of confinement.
The report also shows how government tactics are antagonizing American Muslims.
"The U.S. government has on the one hand claimed that American Muslim communities are essential partners, while at the same time placing them under surveillance and treating them as suspects," says Prasow. "The impact of those practices has been quite serious, alienating some communities and leading to fear and suspicion in places like mosques and community centers that should be places of refuge."
Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School have a number of proposals for the government.
Their priorities, according to Prasow, are: to rein in and subject to robust oversight the use of informants; to ensure that suspects are not charged with providing material support for terrorism based on activity that should be protected as freedom of speech; and to ensure humane prison conditions.
Former FBI agent Michael German, now working for the ACLU, explains in the report why these reforms are needed, particularly since FBI agents posing as terrorist recruiters have become more aggressive in their efforts to make arrests.
"Today's terrorism sting operations reflect a significant departure from past practice," he is quoted as saying. "When the FBI undercover agent or informant is the only purported link to a real terrorist group, supplies the motive, designs the plot and provides all the weapons, one has to question whether they are combating terrorism or creating it."