Lackawanna Case: No Choice But Guilty

As we've highlighted before, the reason the Lackawanna Six (also called the Buffalo Six) pleaded guilty to terrorism charges was because of threats from the Justice Department. Why would they plead guilty if they weren't guilty?

Defense attorneys say the answer is straightforward: The federal government implicitly threatened to toss the defendants into a secret military prison without trial, where they could languish indefinitely without access to courts or lawyers. That prospect terrified the men. They accepted prison terms of 61/2 to 9 years.

"We had to worry about the defendants being whisked out of the courtroom and declared enemy combatants if the case started going well for us," said attorney Patrick J. Brown, who defended one of the accused. "So we just ran up the white flag and folded. Most of us wish we'd never been associated with this case."

The mainstream media is now covering the issue of how terrorism cases are tilted towards the prosecution.

The Lackawanna case illustrates how the post-Sept. 11, 2001, legal landscape tilts heavily toward the prosecution, government critics contend. Future defendants in terror cases could face the same choice: Plead guilty or face the possibility of indefinite imprisonment or even the death penalty. That troubles defense attorneys and some legal scholars, not least because prosecutors never offered evidence that the Lackawanna defendants intended to commit an act of terrorism.

"The defendants believed that if they didn't plead guilty, they'd end up in a black hole forever," said Neal R. Sonnett, chairman of the American Bar Association's Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants. "There's little difference between beating someone over the head and making a threat like that."

Read the Lackawanna prosecutor's response to the assertion....although he says there was no "explicit threat, "he hardly issues a denial. It's more like an explanation why it was justified.

This is a thorough article on the Lackawanna case....and on some others. The next article in the series will focus on Jose Padilla, the American citizen who has been held in a military brig in South Carolina for over a year, with no charges and no access to his lawyer.

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