Former Uzbek human rights activist and accused would-be-terrorist Jamshid Mukhtarov had a hearing yesterday over the decision to arrest him. And it’s kind of unsettling to read:
A prosecutor told a federal judge this morning that Uzbek refugee Jamshid Muhtorov admitted he knew the Islamic Jihad Union was a combat organization that fights NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan…
The FBI found about $2,800 in cash, two shrink-wrapped iPhones, an iPad and a GPS device with him upon his arrest…
[Assistant U.S. attorney Greg] Holloway also claims to have a witness who said Muhtorov was looking for like-minded individuals who had an extreme view of Islam.
The witness told the FBI that Muhtorov’s teachers in regard to the proper practice of Islam were Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yememi-American cleric killed last year in a CIA drone strike.
But when Muhtorov’s defense lawyer, Brian Leedy tried to question FBI Special Agent Donald Hale about the identity of their witness, Holloway interrupted and said Hale could not answer because the information is classified.
So we’re still at the stage of using secret evidence and thought/speech crimes to accuse Muhtorov of committing pre-terrorism. None of this means the case is necessarily invalid; it is, however, really difficult to take the prosecutor’s word at this stage that Mukhtarov really did anything wrong even if he did violate the very poorly worded material support laws.
In a comment two weeks ago, reader Xenophon highlighted some of the questionable decisions about identifying Muhtorov as a terrorist and then arresting him:
In Section 13, the document says Muhtorov emailed Muhammad on 5 Feb 11. Well, what did he say? Why is none of the substantive content included? This was presumably their first communication, which might be expected to be significant in the establishment of a new relationship. Wouldn’t that be important to include?
In Section 14, how do we know that the message of 8 Mar 11 was “from the IJU?” The investigator says that by “our guys over there,” Muhtorov means IJU. Why does the FBI believe that that means IJU? Why are only isolated words quoted instead of complete passages that actually convey what specifically was said in context?
Section 15 is the key part of the document, as it is here that Muhtorov supposedly commits himself fatefully to Bay’ah. But what exactly did Bay’ah consist of? The only quoted words are “ready for any task, even with the risk of dying.” That’s it. Even the subject and verb are not included inside the quotation marks. Frankly, I don’t trust this document. Since this is really the part of the set of tenuous allegations that would provide the probable cause, we should see a full quotation. Who knows exactly in what context the aforementioned fragmentary quotation was actually used? If “pledging allegiance” to IJU is the centerpiece of the allegation, then WHY did the FBI not provide a full quotation? …
In Section 21 On 8 Jul 11, Muhtorov’s wife Nargiza reminds him laughingly on the phone: “Didn’t you want to go to Turkey?” Now, if the Muhtorov’s trip to Turkey was part of some terror group operation, it seems strange that his wife–who would probably understand that SOMETHING was up–could laugh about it on the phone.In Section 22-24, on 20 July, Nargiza tells Muhtorov that she and the kids will fly to Bishkek via Istanbul five days later on the 25th. Muhtorov then causes her to jump through hoops by asking whether she can’t get another ticket so he can accompany them to Istanbul. So how does the FBI interpret the fact that off the top of his head, he decides he might want to fly to Istanbul in five days, and then, when a seat is unavailable, decides not to go? This gives no indication of planning to do anything very specific or previously coordinated in Istanbul.
This lack of context continues to the grand jury indictment (pdf), which barely covers a single piece of paper and says nothing of any consequence. He is literally accused of wanting to join a terrorist organization, and that’s about it.
This is awfully thin gruel for accusing a man of terrorism. From the public data the FBI have mustered so far, it’s really weak evidence for putting a man on trial (or even arresting him). Even according to the prosecution’s own documents, Muhtorov hadn’t communicated with the “IJU facilitator” for several months at the time of his arrest; there is a huge gap in the complaint document’s timeline between 4 Sep 11 and 3 Jan 12.
I’m sure the government has scads of secret things they’ll be bringing to trial — they usually do. But so far, the way this has played out, including the prosecution’s using classified witness evidence the defense couldn’t challenge — looks really bad. People will quibble with me for saying this but it looks like a thought crime, not an actual crime.