In Detroit, a terrorism prosecutor is facing criminal charges for allegedly lying and obstructing justice. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino is accused of the offenses stemming from a case involving North Africa immigrants who were found with daybook sketches and suspicious audiotapes. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft heralded the 2003 convictions as a major breakthrough. However, the Judge Gerald E. Rosen was conflicted about the convictions and criticized Ashcroft for wrongly suggesting that the Detroit defendants had knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. It now turns out that evidence was withheld in addition to other problems and Rosen (who will be a witness) called for an investigation. Convertino’s former buddies at the Justice Department have now thrown him under the bus and insist that he was a rogue prosecutor.
These are allegations that are all too familiar for many defense attorneys and citizens. After 9-11, then Attorney General John Ashcroft created a certain body count culture; demanding greater and greater numbers of terrorism prosecutions to justify such laws as the Patriot Act. For a prior column, click here After all, we cannot be a nation inundated with terrorists unless every U.S. Attorneys Office was able to regularly nab a few for public display. The result was that laughable cases have been brought and many others were counted fraudulently as terrorism cases, like dozens of immigration cases.
Abuses can occur because the Justice Department has systemically cut out defense counsel from trials and critical hearings, making our role purely window dressing. In my own terrorism cases, I have seen the bad faith refusal to turn over basic evidence and the widespread use of ex parte, in camera submissions that lock out defense counsel – even though we have clearances.
The problem is the Detroit case is that it is not unique but few judges are willing, as was Judge Rosen, to call the Justice Department to account. If the Democrats were serious about protecting civil liberties, they would change the laws to curtail these ex parte, in camera sessions and to investigate other abuses in terrorism cases.