Daphna Thier on the Newburgh Four
COMMENT: DAPHNA THIER
Manufacturing a terrorism case
The Newburgh 4 are facing life sentences after being convicted of plotting
terrorist acts. But according to Daphna Thier, the case was built on entrapment
October 20, 2010
ON OCTOBER 18, after eight days of deliberation, the jury in the case of the
so-called “Newburgh 4” convicted James Cromitie, , Onta Williams
and Laguerre Payen of plotting to bomb synagogues in New York and shoot down
military planes. Cromitie and David Williams were also convicted of conspiring
to kill officers and employees of the government. Sentencing is scheduled for
March. The four face life sentences.
As the New York Times noted , the Newburgh 4 case “may set the line for
entrapment cases in the future.”
The four African American men from , N.Y., were arrested on May 20,
2009. The defendants are all ex-offenders, although none were ever convicted of
a violent crime. With no real re-entry programs or job training, unemployment
and poverty proved a harsh reality for the men returning from prison to
Newburgh, which had a poverty rate of 28.7 percent from 2005-07, according to
the U.S. Census Bureau–and that was before the recession hit.
Shahed Hussain, a government agent who was facing incarceration and possible
deportation himself, evaded punishment by cooperating with the government in the
entrapment of several people. Hussain befriended most of the defendants only in
late April 2009, a month before their arrest. With offers of food, money,
marijuana, cars and vacations, he lured the four into collaborating on so-called
Government tapes of their conversations indicate the men thought the whole plot
was a stunt. Despite this, according to the New York Daily News , the
prosecution “rebutted defense claims of entrapment by pointing a disarmed
Stinger missile around the courtroom and reminding jurors that the men thought
it was real and were ready to use it”–a highly inflammatory stunt, to say the
During defense cross-examination, Hussain admitted he had given groceries to and
paid rent for James Cromitie. He also used various psychological tactics when
the four showed reluctance to plot the “terrorist attack,” including suggesting
that his life may be in danger.
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THE FOUR men had neither the means–they cannot even drive and one is mentally
handicapped–nor the intent to commit the crimes they are accused of before
Hussain entered their lives. But this is yet another example of how the justice
system preys on the weak and impoverished.
The government also later retreated from its initial claims that the defendants
had connections to international terrorist organizations. Even the judge in the
case, Colleen McMahon, said at a May 28, 2010, pre-trial hearing, “I have
referred to the case for a number of months in the privacy of my chambers as the
‘un-terrorism case,'” according to the Hudson Valley newspaper, the .
But although the inducing of criminal activity–entrapment–is forbidden and
normally would be grounds for acquittal, in “Muslim terrorism” cases, U.S.
courts have looked the other way since 9/11.
There were other issues with the trial that should have resulted in a mistrial.
Earlier this month, jurors discovered the transcript of a recorded call between
a defendant and his father–a document that wasn’t put into evidence–had been
placed in a juror’s evidence binder by “mistake.”
However, McMahon denied defense attorneys’ motion for a mistrial, and instead
sent one juror home and resumed the case, only to end with this horrifying
miscarriage of justice.
In a climate of right-wing attacks on Muslims, the conviction of the Newburgh 4
is not only a grave travesty of justice, but a clear example of racial profiling
and Islamophobia. It is also one in a long line of “pre-emptive” prosecutions of
hundreds of Muslims in the U.S. The U.S. claims to be fighting a “war on
terror,” yet in the case of the Newburgh 4 and others, government informants
made an effort to create “terrorists” where none existed.
According to the Times Herald Record, when the verdict was being read, Alicia
McWilliams, the aunt of defendant David Williams, shouted out: “No f—ing
justice.” I have to say, I’m with her on that.
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1.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/nyregion/16terror.html
2.  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2010/10/18/2010-10-18_four_found_guilty_of_plotting_to_bomb_bronx_synagogue_shoot_down_us_military_pla.html?
3.  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0