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Still Willfully Blind After All These Years
I hate to seem ungracious, especially when a reviewer has had at least a few nice things to say about me and my new book, Willful Blindness — A Memoir of the Jihad
. But I must confess to disappointment that the New York Sun
, one of the best newspapers around, decided Laurie Mylroie would be a good choice to do the review
BASIT’S NOT BASIT
Sometime in 1993 or 1994, a briefing at the Manhattan district attorney’s office was arranged for me and a few other federal prosecutors involved in the World Trade Center bombing cases. The briefer was Mylroie, then (if memory serves) a professor at Harvard, where she’d earned her doctorate in government. She was spouting a theory that the attack had been the work of Saddam Hussein and that we ignoramuses were completely missing the boat by charging Islamic terrorists, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that they had carried out the atrocity.
Mylroie’s theory was loopy. Indeed, for commentators (like Steve Hayes, Tom Joscelyn, and I) who have argued that there were, in fact, important ties between Iraq and radical Islam, Mylroie has been a thorn in the side for years — the analyst whose zany assertions are routinely used to discredit credible evidence of cooperation. Most notoriously, Mylroie has contended that Abdul Basit, the WTC bombing mastermind better known by his alias, Ramzi Yousef, is not really Abdul Basit. Instead, according to Mylroie, he is a shady Iraqi spy who was given the identity of Basit when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait and stole the identities of the “real” Basit family. In my book, I briefly discuss and dismiss Mylroie’s theory (at pp. 183-84 & 341-42, ch.14, n.3). Leaving aside various other implausibilities in her surmise, the government had several sources who knew Basit as Basit both before and after the time he spent in Kuwait.
Notwithstanding that at least 14 years have elapsed, I also well remember the Mylroie briefing because it was so shoddy. She contended our case against the jihadists was weak and ill-conceived, but her presentation actually had little to do with our proof that indicted defendants carried out terrorist acts. Rather, it focused on inferences she had drawn — some interesting, some daft, and none prosecution-worthy — that the conspirators were being guided by Iraqi intelligence. It was the work of a myopic academic who did not comprehend the difference between intrigue and evidence, between history and prosecution. On my questioning, she confessed that she had never read, and was otherwise unfamiliar with, the seditious conspiracy statute the defendants were charged with violating. I asked her how a student in one of her classes would fare if it turned out he hadn’t read the law used to indict a case he was attacking as unfounded. She mumbled something about planning to get to the statute soon.
Of course, even assuming for argument’s sake that Saddam had choreographed the whole 1993 bombing operation, the government’s charging of some people with a crime does not discount the possibility that others — including even state sponsors of terror — are also complicit. Mylroie seemed unable to grasp this simple concept. In a jury trial, you naturally train your sights on the defendants you have charged, placed under arrest, and brought into the courtroom. You get into uncharged conspirators only to the extent it is necessary for the jury to understand the case against those standing trial. That co-conspirators have not been charged — whether because they have diplomatic immunity, or are fugitives, or are outside the country and beyond government’s ability to apprehend, or are actors as to whom the government has not yet developed proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or any of a thousand other reasons — does not mean that they are innocent, much less that the people who actually have been charged are not guilty.
In any event, although it was not particularly complex, Mylroie didn’t understand the law or the evidence back then. Her review demonstrates that things haven’t improved.
THE “WEAK” CASE AGAINST THE EMIR OF JIHAD
Mylroie has long been on a mission to trash the case against Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheikh known to his acolytes as the “emir of jihad.” Perhaps this is because she remains studiously uninformed about the jihadist threat. Perhaps it owes to the incorrigible delusion under which she labors, namely, that if the Blind Sheikh is guilty that somehow must mean the state sponsors she prefers to blame are off the hook. In either event, she asserts in the Sun that “Sheik Omar is a loathsome figure, but the case against him was weak.” He was convicted, she elaborates, only because I devised a “clever strategy” to link several terrorist plots together in what she refers to as “a conspiracy ostensibly carried out by the Jihad Organization of which Sheik Omar was said to be the leader.”
Plainly, even all these years later, Mylroie still hasn’t gotten around to reading the relevant statutes. And while I’d love to take credit for being extraordinarily clever, the truth is that the case against Abdel Rahman was overwhelming...
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