CAIR calls VA Paintball sentencing 'draconian'
“Defendants faced selective prosecution”
WASHINGTON, D.C., June 16, 2004 - The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group today called the harsh sentencing in the Virginia "paintball Jihad" case "draconian" and said the Muslim defendants faced selective prosecution.
On June 15, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema sentenced one of three Muslim defendants to life in prison and imposed an 85-year term on another for conspiring to aid an Islamic group in conflict with India.
Judge Brinkema told those in the courtroom that the sentences, mandated under federal sentencing guidelines, were "sticking in my craw" and that there are murderers who have "served far less time." One of the defense attorneys called the sentences "the greatest miscarriage of justice I have ever been involved in."
Washington Post reported the court ruling under headline: "Strict Sentences Meted in Va. Jihad Case."
In a statement, the CAIR said:
"It is the near universal perception in the Islamic community that these men would never have been charged had they not been Muslims, and that once convicted, prosecutors would never have sought such draconian sentences.
"American Muslims reject terrorism or any other form of criminal activity, and wish to preserve the security of the United States and its citizens.
But we cannot help but compare the prosecution and sentencing in this case to that in the case of a non-Muslim Florida terrorist who had bombs ready to attack 50 Islamic institutions and got just 12 years in prison, or that of a non-Muslim Illinois terrorist sentenced to probation and anger management classes for blowing up a Muslim family's van.
"In other cases involving Muslims, we saw initial leaks and allegations against defendants turn out to be nothing more than public relations hype or wishful thinking on the part of prosecutors. Where does Army Chaplain James Yee go to get his reputation back after being accused of crimes that could have resulted in the death penalty? Where does Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield go to regain his good name? How does Sami al-Hussayen resume a normal life with his family after being falsely accused of aiding terrorists?
"Under the current administration, we are quickly approaching a state of affairs in which there is a two-tier prosecutorial system in America; one system for Muslims, and one for all other Americans. This disturbing trend should be of concern to everyone who values America's centuries-long tradition of equal justice under the law. We call on Congress to conduct hearings into the selective prosecution of Muslims since the 9/11 terror attacks."
Washington Post – June 16, 2004
Strict Sentences Meted in Va. Jihad Case
Judge Angered by Rules Mandating Life Term for 1 Man, 85 Years for Another
By Jerry Markon
A federal judge imposed a life prison sentence yesterday on one member of the alleged "Virginia jihad network" and an 85-year term on another. In an unusual criticism of her own ruling, she said she found it "appalling" but had no choice under strict sentencing guidelines.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said the 85-year sentence she handed down to defendant Seifullah Chapman, 31, was "sticking in my craw.'' Chapman and co-defendants Masoud Khan, 32, and Hammad Abdur-Raheem, 36, were convicted by Brinkema in March of conspiring to aid a Muslim group fighting India that the government has deemed a terrorist organization.
"What Mr. Chapman has been found guilty of is a serious crime, but there are murderers who have served far less time," the judge told an Alexandria courtroom packed with supporters of the three men. "I have sentenced al Qaeda members who were planning attacks on these shores to far less time.''
In sentencing Khan to life in prison and Abdur-Raheem to 97 months, Brinkema closed an unusual case in which 11 Muslim men were originally charged with taking part in paramilitary training -- including playing paintball in the Virginia countryside -- to prepare for holy war abroad. Six defendants pleaded guilty; only Chapman, Khan and Abdur-Raheem went to trial. Two others were acquitted.
Brinkema said she was bound by federal sentencing guidelines that imposed mandatory multi-year terms on Chapman and Khan for weapons counts. The government also sought, and Brinkema granted, a sentencing enhancement for the two because their crimes were found to have supported terrorist activities.
"I have to follow the law here," said Brinkema, who then urged prosecutors to request reductions in the sentences for Chapman and Khan if they agree to cooperate in the government's ongoing investigation of potential terror suspects. The reductions could be granted only at the request of prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said prosecutors would consider such a request because they want information from the three men, such as the names of others who attended terrorist camps overseas. But he also requested tough sentences, saying that Khan in particular had sought to go to Afghanistan and fight U.S. troops after Sept. 11, 2001.
The 11 defendants in the case, all but one from the Washington suburbs, were indicted last June on weapons counts and charges of training with Lashkar-i-Taiba, a group trying to drive India from the disputed region of Kashmir. The U.S. government has labeled the group a terrorist organization. Khan and another defendant also were charged with conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda and Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers.
The Justice Department has hailed the convictions as a major victory in the war on terrorism. But the defendants, their lawyers and Muslim groups have long criticized the case, saying the men were prosecuted mainly because they are Muslim.