I think it is safe to say that the number one evil in the world today is Islamic extremism. Today we got a glimpse into that world, courtesy of Faisal Shahzad. Do you remember him? He is the home-grown terrorist who tried to blow up a Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square. He failed, fortunately, like several of his brethren over the last year or two, and therefore faded from memory.
But he is about to be sentenced for the crimes to which he has enthusiastically pled guilty. Earlier today, the federal prosecutors filed their memorandum in support of the government’s recommendation of a sentence of life imprisonment. You can read the whole thing here. The prosecutors made several excellent points. First, it is easy to ridicule a terrorist whose plan goes awry, but Shahzad’s attempt was no joke. The government carried out a reconstruction of Shahzad’s crime in which his detonators worked: “[T]he controlled detonation conducted by the JTTF demonstrated that those effects would have been devastating to the surrounding area.” Nearby vehicles would have been blown up, and dozens of pedestrians would have been killed. Shahzad planned his attack to maximize pedestrian casualties, since it is easier to kill people on foot than in cars.
Second, Shahzad is a typical terrorist in that he is intelligent, well-educated, and economically secure. Those who blindly assume that poverty is the cause of terrorism aren’t paying attention:
Far from providing an explanation for his criminal activity, Shahzad’s history and characteristics strongly militate in favor of the maximum available sentence. Prior to his decision to attempt to kill and maim scores of unsuspecting men, women and children in the heart of New York City, Shahzad had achieved a degree of academic and professional success in the United States and was living a life with his wife and two young children that was full of promise. Before seeking bomb-making training from a terrorist group in rural Pakistan in 2009, Shahzad had lived in the United States for nearly ten years and had taken advantage of an array of opportunities that this country provided. In his early years here, he was permitted to study at a university in Connecticut on a student visa and obtain a college degree. After graduating from college, a U.S. company hired him and agreed to sponsor him, thereby allowing him to remain in the United States on a working visa. And thereafter, a second U.S. company hired him and continued to sponsor him until he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 2009. He was paid competitive salaries at both jobs, which permitted him and his family to live comfortably in the suburbs of Connecticut. Notwithstanding this series of opportunities and accomplishments, and the recent births of his two children, Shahzad knowingly and deliberately chose a different path – a nihilistic path that celebrated conflict and death cloaked in the rhetoric of a distorted interpretation of Islam.
Islamic terrorism has, perhaps, several fathers, but poverty is not among them.
Third, the prosecutors closed their presentation by emphasizing the special and insidious danger that is posed by American Muslim terrorists:
Shahzad’s crimes are uniquely disturbing because they were committed by a United States citizen who received training from a foreign terrorist organization. Foreign terrorist organizations depend upon a wide array of individuals across the world to survive and to accomplish their terrorist objectives. History has demonstrated that some within the networks of terrorist organizations are United States citizens who exploit the benefits of their citizenship to identify vulnerabilities within the United States or align themselves against the United States for the operational advantage of terrorist organizations. These individuals constitute a particularly pernicious threat to the national security of the United States. Under the cover of their U.S. citizenship, these operatives, facilitators, and sympathizers can remain in the United States undetected as well as travel freely around the world on their U.S. passports, gathering information and developing expertise for the benefit of those committed to harming the United States directly and its interests abroad.
There are few threats to the national security and the way of life in this country greater than a citizen who chooses to serve as an operative for a foreign terrorist organization and attempts to wage an attack inside the United States. Shahzad exploited the freedom and the opportunities provided to him in the United States to further his and the TTP’s violent ends. He privately declared his own war on the United States, armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle, and was prepared to open fire on law enforcement agents and officers if they attempted to arrest him. As part of his war, he selected unsuspecting civilians as his targets, irrespective of their race, religion or nationality. After he lit the fuse, he so hoped that his bomb would detonate that he paused to listen for the explosion as he walked to Grand Central terminal, and if he had not been caught, he planned to detonate another bomb in New York City two weeks later. And for all of this, far from expressing remorse or contrition, Shahzad has only evinced a lasting sense of pride in his actions. Accordingly, irrespective of any mandatory sentence required by statute, only one sentence – a sentence of life imprisonment – is sufficient for this defendant.
The death penalty, apparently, is unavailable.