re: “British Man Sentenced to 40 Years in Al Qaeda Plot to Attack London Airport”
The New York Times, May 27, 2016
An operative for Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen who was trained in bomb-making by Anwar al-Awlaki and agreed to carry out an attack targeting Americans and Israelis at Heathrow Airport in London was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Friday [May 27, 2016) in Manhattan.
The operative, Minh Quang Pham, 33, never carried out the attack after returning home to Britain in summer 2011, and in a letter to the judge, he said he had only agreed to the plot in order to get out of Yemen and return home. Mr. Pham, who was extradited from Britain to the United States last year, pleaded guilty in January to three terrorism-related charges.
But the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said Mr. Pham had not carried out the attack because he knew he was under surveillance by the authorities after returning to Britain.
Mr. Pham traveled secretly to Yemen in 2010, swore allegiance to the terrorist group, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or A.Q.A.P., and worked on its online propaganda publication, Inspire.
Under questioning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he said that while he was in Yemen, he approached Mr. Awlaki, an American-born radical Muslim cleric who had become A.Q.A.P.’s leading English-language propagandist, and volunteered to “sacrifice himself” in a suicide attack upon returning to Britain.
He said Mr. Awlaki taught him how to mix chemicals to make an explosive device, and even showed him how to tape bolts around the bomb to act as deadly shrapnel when the device exploded. Mr. Awlaki had also said to target the airport attack on arrivals from the United States or Israel.
The judge, Alison J. Nathan of Federal District Court, said she agreed with the government’s position that Mr. Pham had intended to conduct the bombing and condemned his role in what she called a “murderous plot.”
She said Mr. Pham had been a “trusted, skilled and, for a time, dedicated participant” in A.Q.A.P, and that she believed aspects of that continued even after he returned to Britain.
The government had suggested a 50-year sentence. Anna M. Skotko, a prosecutor, told the judge that there was no evidence Mr. Pham had disavowed his allegiance to the terrorist group. …
Mr. Pham, weeping at one point, told the judge that he had made a “very serious mistake.”
“My thinking was wrong at the time,” he said, adding, “All I can say is I have reformed.”
Mr. Pham, who was born in Vietnam, lived in Britain since childhood. His lawyer, Bobbie C. Sternheim, had asked the judge to impose a 30-year sentence, the minimum.
Ms. Sternheim noted that her client had willingly spoken to the F.B.I., had owned up to his mistakes and had not engaged in violence when he returned to Britain. She added, “We should be hopeful that people who make mistakes can reform.”
Judge Nathan, before imposing the sentence, noted that Mr. Pham, in his letter, said he had renounced terrorism and extreme ideology. “I don’t know whether these statements represent Mr. Pham’s true beliefs,” the judge said. “I hope that they do.”
Please note the following letter to the editor of mine:
How can you get a 40 year sentence for something you did not do? Where is the justice in that?
Didn’t Jesus preach forgiveness for those who repent?
Should our legal system not make a distinction between committing a crime and planning one? If punishment is merited in this case, how can 40 years be called for?
It is cruel and unnecessary.
— Roger W. Smith, Maspeth, NY
letter to editor, The New York Times, May 28, 2016; not published
Harriet Tubman is a heroic figure in American history who did many brave and noble things. She became, according to a Wikipedia article, “an icon of American courage and freedom.”
In April, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a plan for Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson as the portrait on the $20 bill.
Yet, since modern day self-appointed judges have no mercy for would be terrorists, consider that Tubman helped abolitionist John Brown plan and recruit for the raid he led at Harpers Ferry.
Brown was and is a hero in the eyes of many. But, would not the raid on Harpers Ferry be considered a terrorist act by today’s standards?
From a Wikipedia article at
In April 1858, Tubman was introduced to the abolitionist John Brown, an insurgent who advocated the use of violence to destroy slavery in the United States. Although she never advocated violence against whites, she agreed with his course of direct action and supported his goals. …
This would be enough to convict Tubman, it would seem, and perhaps sentence her to 40 years if the same standards were applied to her as to Minh Quang Pham, the Vietnam born British citizen who has just been sentenced to that many years for agreeing to participate in, and participating in the planning of, a suicide bombing that he never carried out.
To continue, from Wikipedia:
… as he began recruiting supporters for an attack on slaveholders, Brown was joined by “General Tubman”, as he called her. Her knowledge of support networks and resources in the border states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware was invaluable to Brown and his planners. Although other abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison did not endorse his tactics, Brown dreamed of fighting to create a new state for freed slaves, and made preparations for military action. After he began the first battle, he believed, slaves would rise up and carry out a rebellion across the south. He asked Tubman to gather former slaves then living in present-day Southern Ontario who might be willing to join his fighting force, which she did.
On May 8, 1858, Brown held a meeting in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, where he unveiled his plan for a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia. When word of the plan was leaked to the government, Brown put the scheme on hold and began raising funds for its eventual resumption. Tubman aided him in this effort, and with more detailed plans for the assault.
Tubman was busy during this time, giving talks to abolitionist audiences and tending to her relatives. In the autumn of 1859, as Brown and his men prepared to launch the attack, Tubman could not be contacted. When the raid on Harpers Ferry took place on October 16, Tubman was not present. Some historians believe she was in New York at the time, ill with fever related to her childhood head injury. Others propose she may have been recruiting more escaped slaves in Ontario, and Kate Clifford Larson suggests she may have been in Maryland, recruiting for Brown’s raid or attempting to rescue more family members [Kate Clifford Larson, Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004]. Larson also notes that Tubman may have begun sharing Frederick Douglass’s doubts about the viability of the plan.
The raid failed; Brown was convicted of treason and hanged in December. His actions were seen by abolitionists as a symbol of proud resistance, carried out by a noble martyr. Tubman herself was effusive with praise. She later told a friend: “[H]e done more in dying, than 100 men would in living.”
Why are Tubman’s actions in this respect totally forgotten and ignored? It seems that they should matter to the self-appointed judges who want to lock up Minh Quang Pham and throw away the key.
But, then, it’s not politically to correct criticize Harriet Tubman, a modern day saint — a black woman, no less — who is about to be honored by being pictured on a twenty dollar bill.
— Roger W. Smith, June 3, 2016
A reader response:
“Roger, thanks for sending the relevant articles from the Times. After reading all of them, I am inclined to side with the New York judge who thought that Pham’s claims of reform and renunciation of terrorism were rather disingenuous. His admitted admiration for Anwar al-Awlaki, his enthusiasm for and participation in Al Qaeda’s activities in Yemen and his avowed willingness to “martyr” himself in order to kill Americans and Israelis at Heathrow are more believable than his later claims that he said all that just to get out of Yemen and return to his family, which he had previously abandoned. He was, after all, a mature and educated adult, not some adolescent or post-adolescent who went off the track briefly and then realized his mistake.
“This is an example, among many others, of why I am essentially non-religious. I consider established religion to be one of the most divisive, most antagonistic influences in human affairs and history.”
— posted by a relative of mine on Facebook, May 29, 2016
Roger W. Smith:
I appreciate the response and your thoughts.
I think young people can do very stupid things, then change and regret them.
I did some stupid, wrong things in my late teens and twenties that I would refrain from now.
Pham did engage in planning a suicide bombing, but he didn’t carry it out. In view of this, I think a 40 year sentence is way excessive.
You apparently noticed my remark about Jesus preaching forgiveness.
Hardly anyone practices true Christianity today.
I regard myself as a Christian and appreciate the religious upbringing and training I had. I respect religious people. But I am not religious and do not observe or practice religion.