Oregon Suspects: Just Bumbling Holy Warriors?

The Los Angeles Times today covers the case of the Oregon suspects charged with providing material support to Al Qaeda--and concludes the Indictment "is more suggestive of bumbling, would-be holy warriors than of soldiers training for deadly missions."

"Money for their alleged scheme came from associates using real names and easily traceable wire transfers--with amounts typically just a few hundred dollars. They took target practice openly at a rural gravel pit, attracting the attention of a deputy sheriff."

"Authorities explain that they have adopted a deliberate strategy of preventive arrests--even if the evidence is imperfect--in the hopes of disrupting terrorist plans."

This is an approach that is of just concern to civil libertarians. Many believe that the recent wave of arrests is the product of a government determined to target Muslims for their unpopular political beliefs. Related to this topic, read the Washington Post editorial today, Defaming Islam.

"While everyone agrees that fighting terrorism must be a top priority at all levels, there is no evidence that any of these U.S. citizens was planning an attack," said Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and International Law in Los Angeles. "And one has to question the arrests of a handful of alleged sardines while the big fish are apparently swimming away."

It seems we are moving towards prosecuting beliefs and thoughts instead of actions. The criminal justice system is designed to punish crime, not to prevent it. Yes, we all want to prevent future attacks. But arresting people before they've committed an unlawful act, and in the abscence of concrete evidence they are attempting or conspiring to commit a crime is not the way to do it.

In the Portland case, there is no charge that the suspects planned to attack America--or that they knew any members of Al Qaeda. The suspects are five Americans and one naturalized citizen. The Times says it is not clear any of them ever made it into Afganistan, where the Government says their goal was to fight with Al Qaeda after September 11. Yet, as the Times points out, "that alleged desire--and the suspects' efforts to act on it--is at the core of the case against them."

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