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Terrorists' detention hearing a dog and pony show

Law makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make bail

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When Daniel Boyd and his co-defendants in the Wake-Johnston terrorism case were arraigned in Raleigh this week, there was virtually no chance they would be offered the chance to post bail and go free pending a trial, according to the federal magistrate who ordered them held in custody indefinitely.

William A. Webb, the magistrate, said from the bench yesterday that the charges against the defendants—conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and providing material support to terrorists—contain within them a "rebuttable presumption" that anyone who faces them is a potential flight risk or a danger to the community.

In other words, the way the terrorism statutes are written, it was up to the defendants to prove that they wouldn't run and weren't dangerous—the reverse of the usual presumption in court that any defendant is innocent until proven guilty and thus entitled to bail unless the prosecution makes a strong enough case against it.

Only one of the defendants, 22-year old Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, even attempted to offer evidence that he wouldn't run and wasn't dangerous. His father took the stand and offered to be responsible for him. But Webb wasn't impressed.

Webb heard testimony Tuesday and Wednesday morning about the evidence collected in the case by the FBI over a period of four years. Some of the evidence was made available to the media afterward by the U.S. Attorney's Office (see below).

The evidence included low-quality audio recordings and one video (.3GP, 168 KB) of the 39-year old Boyd, the alleged ringleader, talking and shooting off guns with two of his sons who are also charged and at least one of the other defendants. The recordings were made by a snitch ("the witness") who was working for the FBI.

It also included written summaries (PDF, 1 MB) of some wiretapped telephone conversations and photographs of the 26 guns, 27,000 rounds of ammunition—some armor-piercing, apparently—and the gas masks that the FBI says it discovered when they searched Boyd's house in Willow Springs following his arrest.

U.S. v. Boyd, Et Al. Detention Hearing, Aug. 4, 2009

If you cannot see the audio player below, download the free Flash Player.



Webb said it was possible to conclude by listening to the recordings in isolation that Boyd's talk of violent action on behalf of Muslims abroad was mere "braggadocio," since he seemed to have no particular plan in mind.

But in the context of the stockpiled weapons, Webb said, plus the FBI testimony that Boyd was attempting to raise money for overseas travel, "I think it's evidence of more." Plus, the evidence showed all the defendants had family or contacts overseas.

The Indy's Matt Saldaña reported this week that the evidence needed to prove a "material support" charge is relatively slight ("thresholds of proof are fairly low," according to Duke University Professor David Schanzer) and may not require that the prosecution tie Boyd or the others to any specific organization or battle abroad. The fact that they were talking about finding one to join up with, if proven, could be enough to get them a 15-year prison sentence—the maximum term for providing material support—if not the life sentence that could attach to the conspiracy charge.

Meanwhile, the fact that a grand jury indicted them—showing "probable cause" that the crimes charged were committed, Webb said—on charges that contain a presumption against bail suggests that the defendants will be in prison for a minimum of a year and perhaps much longer before the U.S. Attorney brings their cases to trial.

That's enough time, no doubt, for them to consider whether anything they know about their fellow defendants or anyone else might aid in the FBI's ongoing investigations.

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