Longer sentence sought for man in millennium bomb plot
BY MIKE CARTER
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE - (KRT) - In a rare move, the U.S. government has appealed the 22-year prison sentence given convicted would-be terrorist Ahmed Ressam, saying the Algerian who planned to kill travelers at the Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium deserved a longer sentence.
Federal prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge John Coughenour to sentence Ressam to 35 years in prison after Ressam had quit cooperating with the FBI and foreign governments following his 2002 conviction. Ressam and his attorneys claimed he was being asked to do too much and had suffered a mental breakdown from being held in solitary confinement.
Both the government and Ressam's attorneys had praised him for his earlier cooperation, which resulted in the conviction of one other plotter and shed light on terrorist activities in Europe and elsewhere. Now, government lawyers have said Ressam's change of heart crippled two other pending terrorism cases, including the prosecution of Abu Doha, a man identified as one of Osama bin Laden's primary contacts in London.
Ressam, 38, was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, in Port Angeles, Wash., after driving his rental car - its trunk loaded with powerful homemade explosives - off a ferry from Victoria, British Columbia. It was later learned that he had trained in bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan and was part of an Islamic terrorist cell in Montreal.
At last month's sentencing, U.S. Attorney John McKay had said the government was "pleased with this sentence" and that Coughenour had given careful consideration to the complex issues surrounding the case. With credit for time served, Ressam could be eligible for release within 14 years.
In a news release Friday, however, McKay's tune had changed.
"Ahmed Ressam plotted to kill hundreds of innocent Americans. His powerful explosives put lives at risk on the ferry Coho and in Port Angeles," he said in justifying the appeal to the 9th Circuit Court. "We believe his actions warrant a sentence above 22 years, and that the district judge erred in imposing the sentence."
Emily Langlie, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the office would have no further comment.
However, privately, a number of government officials have complained about Coughenour's statements at the sentencing hearing. The longtime federal judge used Ressam's sentencing to criticize the Bush administration's efforts to try some terrorists in secret tribunals.
The government's decision to appeal was questioned by Michael Filipovic, one of Ressam's federal public defenders. He said the defense team now may file a cross-appeal in the 9th Circuit as well.
The government, Filipovic said, had offered Ressam a 25-year deal before his trial without any promise of cooperation. "It's difficult for the government to argue that a 22-year sentence is unfair now, considering the scope of Ressam's cooperation to date," Filipovic said.