Jury Deadlock Ends Terror Trial in Miami
The Liberty City Seven join some dozen other terrorism defendants whose cases have resulted in acquittals and mistrials since Sept. 11.
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Time says that the FBI's reliance on paid informants to tease statements from suspects is a risky strategy that can yield some farcical leads.Skip to next paragraph
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At one point during the Liberty City investigation, Batiste suggested to the informant that they could blow up the Sears Tower so that it would fall into Lake Michigan and create a tsunami. "Where did you get this idea?" Batiste's attorney later asked him on the stand. His answer was believable: "Just from watching the movies."
The Miami Sun-Sentinel says that the government's failure to successfully prosecute this and other terror cases may reflect growing skepticism over the Bush administration's willingness to play up domestic security fears, as well as suspicions that the hunt for terrorists was picking up "big talkers," not hardened operatives.
"The public mood is very different now than it was three or four years ago," said Bruce Winick, a law professor at the University of Miami. "Prosecutors in the past were able very successfully to play the fear card, and I think that has dissipated."
The St. Petersburg Times reports that the Justice Department has suffered several partial or outright defeats in major terrorism cases, while others have resulted in guilty pleas only after the dropping of the most serious charges. It cites a case in Tampa involving funding provided to a Palestinian militant group.
With no guilty verdicts, the Liberty City Seven join about a dozen other terrorism defendants around the country who have been prosecuted since the Sept. 11 attacks in costly cases that resulted in acquittals and mistrials. Among those was Sami Al-Arian, who along with three other defendants was charged in Tampa with supporting terrorism. Al-Arian later pleaded guilty to helping a terrorist organization with non-violent activities and was sentenced to 57 months in prison.
Paul Perez, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida where Al-Arian was tried, is now a financial attorney in Jacksonville.
"These terrorism cases are pretty tough for the government to prove and for juries to weigh," he said. "But that's not a reason not to bring them to trial and to retry them if there's a deadlock."
In a recent report, the Miami New Times, an alternative news biweekly, says that two of the FBI informants who posed as Al Qaeda members to penetrate the group had unsavory pasts. One, Abbas al-Saidi, a Yemen national, who provided the initial tip-off to the FBI, was jailed in 2004 on battery charges after beating up his girlfriend. The other, Elie Assad, a Lebanese national, failed a polygraph test while previously working as an informant for the FBI in Chicago.