The U.S. federal government is coming under increasing scrutiny for its use of informants in terror-related cases. On Wednesday, Abdul Kadir, a former politician from Guyana, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in an alleged plot to blow up New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. In Kadir’s case and two others, attorneys have claimed that the bombing plots were largely the work of federal informants. We speak to Kadir’s attorney, Toni Messina. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The federal government is coming under increasing scrutiny for its use of informants in terror-related cases. On Wednesday, a former politician from Guyana was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a plot to blow up the John F. Kennedy International Airport here in New York City. Last week, a young Muslim convert was arrested in Baltimore after trying to bomb a military recruiting center. And in November, in Portland, a Somalia-based teenager was arrested on charges he plotted to set off a large bomb at the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. In all three cases, attorneys for the accused men have alleged the bombing plots were largely the work of federal informants.
AMY GOODMAN: On Friday night, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the FBI’s use of informants. He was speaking before a Muslim advocacy group. Attorney General Holder called the use of undercover agents a, quote, “critical and frequently used law enforcement tool that has helped identify and defuse public safety threats such as those posed by potential terrorists, drug dealers and child pornographers for decades.”
Well, joining us here in New York is attorney Toni Messina. Her client is Abdul Kadir. He was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of participating in the plot to bomb New York’s JFK Airport. Prosecutors accused him of helping with technical aspects of the plot, such as how to blow up buried fuel pipelines. Kadir was arrested in 2007 on board a flight to Iran via Venezuela.
Toni Messina, lay out the case against your client.
TONI MESSINA: First of all, my client’s even purported role was ancillary. He came — there were really two separate plots. The plot started — the people who were involved in it initially backed out, because they recognized this government informant and the main defendant, whose name is De Freitas, as not being worth working with because they were not serious. And the government informant, named Steven Francis, who’s an ex-criminal, was involved in some non-Muslim activities. To wit, he was engaged in some sexual activities with one of the co-defendants’ children. And the Muslim people who were talking with him about any alleged plot backed out. They said this man is not Muslim, and they were suspicious of him.
It was at that point that Francis, Steven Francis, this informant and former criminal, pushed De Freitas on to find someone else who might be interested in the plot. Remember, Francis was someone who was facing life in prison. He had an open —
JUAN GONZALEZ: He was convicted of drug dealing?
TONI MESSINA: He was convicted of drug trafficking, with a huge amount of drugs. And the government specifically wrote a cooperation agreement with him, in an unusual way, that actually said in the agreement, only if you bring people to prosecution can you benefit from this agreement and potentially get no jail. So he had a tremendous motivation to make sure the plot moved ahead. So when the plot first died of itself, the combination of Francis pushing De Freitas forward led them to Kadir, my client.
Incidentally, my client was a prominent man in Guyana. He was a mayor of his town, Linden, and he was a prominent parliamentarian, well respected by everyone as a religious leader and also a political leader and someone who helped his country. Remember, Guyana is a third-world country. It’s on the tip of a very small country on the tip of South America next to Brazil.
AMY GOODMAN: He was the mayor of Linden, the second-largest city?
TONI MESSINA: That’s right. And he was well known and well respected as people who helped his community and helped — largely, Muslims in Guyana are the underbelly of the country, because there’s three major religions — Hindus, Christians and Muslims. And he gave them the wherewithal to get education, to build schools, to get books. Suddenly, he’s confronted by these people in his home. He would never have been involved, never have even met these guys, had Steven Francis not approached him with this man De Freitas.
Now, the issue here is, the criminalization of thought and speech as opposed to action. Mr. Kadir did nothing. He took no steps to further this plot. But he did have conversations that were incriminatory. And I think what happened in this case — and this is the insidiousness of the government using informants — is there was — there were things that happened that would make anyone raise their eyebrows, but it wasn’t to the extent of pushing forward a terrorist plot.
Now he’s going to jail for life, a man of tremendous reputation with nine children and 25 grandchildren, whose community signed a petition to the judge, of about 300 signatures, saying, “Please let him go, this is unfair,” whose party backed him to the very end, even after he was convicted. He’ll be in solitary confinement, as he has been, for 23 hours a day, not even allowed to read the letters from his family or hold them in his hand, but forced to look at them on screen. This is a terrible way to end this man’s life. And it’s — I’m afraid that this will just disappear in the morass of cases like this, because the government’s claiming they’re right.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we are going to link at democracynow.org to the major piece that Democracy Now!’s Anjali Kamat did on the issue of entrapment in various communities here, so you can check that out. Toni Messina, thank you very much for being with us.
TONI MESSINA: You’re welcome.
AMY GOODMAN: Attorney for Abdul Kadir, just sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison.