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Charged with supporting al-Qaeda in September 2002, all of the “Lackawanna Six” originally pled not guilty (see September 13, 2002). But by May 19, 2003, all of them change their minds and plead guilty. They accept prison terms of 6 and a half to 9 years. The Washington Post reports that the fear of being declared “enemy combatants” led “the Lackawanna Six” to engage in plea bargain talks. The six men all plead guilty of providing support to a terrorist organization and received prison sentences of six-and-a-half to nine 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,” says Patrick J. Brown, attorney for one of the six. “So we just ran up the white flag and folded.” (Powell 7/29/2003) “Basically, what was related to us,” says James Harrington, attorney for another, “was that if the case was not resolved by a plea, the government was going to consider any options that it had. They didn’t say they were going to do it [declare them ‘enemy combatants’], they just were going to consider it.” (Meek 12/3/2003) This is corroborated by the US federal attorney responsible for the prosecution of the six, Michael Battle. He says his office never explicitly threatened invoking the enemy combatant status, because he did not have to. Everybody knew this threat was in the air. “I don’t mean to sound cavalier,” he says, “but the war on terror has tilted the whole [legal] landscape. We are trying to use the full arsenal of our powers. I’m not saying the ends justify the means,” he adds. “But you have to remember that we’re protecting the rights of those who are being targeted by terror as well as the rights of the accused.” (Powell 7/29/2003) Neal R. Sonnett, speaking as the chairman of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants, says: “The defendants believed that if they didn’t plead guilty, they’d end up in a black hole forever. There’s little difference between beating someone over the head and making a threat like that.” (Powell 7/29/2003) “Nothing illustrates the US government’s new power over suspects… better than the case of the Lackawanna Six,” Guardian journalist James Meek observes. (Meek 12/3/2003)
Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, sends a memo to Kyle Sampson, counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft, informing him that 16 US Attorneys’ offices are below standards—“underperforming”—in implementing Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a Justice Department initiative to reduce gun violence and prosecute offenders who use guns in the commission of crimes. One of the US Attorneys cited is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002). The memo notes that Lam’s office returned “only 17 firearms indictments” in 2003, and that her office’s PSN indictments and defendants “per criminal work years for FY 2003 is the lowest in the nation.” Subsequent Justice Department analyses of PSN performance continue to identify Lam’s district as needing improvement in firearms prosecutions. (US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
Assistant Attorney General William Moschella writes to Michael Battle, the director of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for US Attorneys, and others. In his letter, Moschella recommends that “we support eliminating the court’s role” in appointing interim US Attorneys, “and believe the AG [attorney general] should have that authority alone.” Essentially, Moschella is recommending that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 14, 2005) be the only person with the authority to appoint interim US Attorneys. Language will be inserted into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization (see July 2005 - March 2006 and March 9, 2006) giving Gonzales this power. Moschella also includes Senate Judiciary Committee official Brett Tolman, who will later become the US Attorney for Utah, in the email exchange, along with Justice Department aide Monica Goodling and Battle’s aide Natalie Voris. (US Department of Justice 3/23/2007 ; Thomas 2011) It is unclear if Moschella knows that the language inserted in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization was first drafted almost six months before his communication with Battle (see July 2005 - March 2006).
David Iglesias, the US Attorney for New Mexico (see October 18, 2001), does well in his second Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department (see 2002). The report of the evaluation states: “The United States Attorney… was respected by the judiciary, agencies, and staff. The First Assistant United States Attorney… appropriately oversaw the day-to-day work of the senior management team, effectively addressed all management issues, and directed resources to accomplish the department’s and the United States Attorney’s priorities.” The EARS report contains no criticisms or concerns about Iglesias’s leadership. Of the office (the USAO), the report finds: “The USAO had established an active and effective Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council. The USAO had a nationally recognized and highly effective firearms violence initiative and an active and effective program to address drug trafficking crimes in the district. The USAO was effectively prosecuting immigration and border crimes within the constraints of the available resources.” The only major criticism of the office is an apparent “lack of coordination within the civil division and between the civil and criminal divisions” in some areas. (US House of Representatives, Committee of the Judiciary 4/13/2007 ; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 6/15/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008) In January 2006, Iglesias will receive a laudatory letter from Michael Battle, the head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, praising the “legal management of your office” and his “exemplary leadership in the department’s priority programs.” (US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary 5/21/2007)
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