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Inside the ‘war on terror’

2:57 pm - June 9th 2008

by Jess McCabe    

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This American Life is a class act at any time, but this recent episode is a must-listen. It is an investigative report into what happened to Richard G. Convertino, the Justice Department lawyer who prosecuted the ‘Detroit Sleeper Cell’ case.

Arrested only days after 9/11, the four men tried in the case were meant to have been planning an attack – two of the men were found guilty by a grand jury, only to have the Justice Department voluntarily asked the judge to throw out the case.

It was supposed to be the first terrorist attack planned from American soil. It was quite unusual behaviour for the department to not only throw out its own case, but then go after its own prosecutor.

The podcast considers whether the decision was taken as part of a vendetta against Richard G Convertino, the prosecutor, who repeatedly ruffled feathers, breaching protocol and failing to get along with his colleagues. But the Justice Department’s attempt to bring criminal charges against Covertino failed and he then he sued them.

All of this is fascinating, but more so are the couple of glimpses of the information at contest in the trial – for example, one piece of evidence was a home video shot at Disneyland. In the podcast, it becomes clear that there’s a section of this video filming a duck pond – the prosecutors argued that some singing translated to an anti-US screed – the defence said it was a song about ducks. (The podcast producers don’t get their own independent translation, sadly enough!)

The case rested heavily on some sketches in a day planner – which could be a map of a US air base in Turkey, or not.

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About the author
Jess is editor of the online magazine The F-Word.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,United States

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Reader comments

Unless I’m missing something (and I might be as I haven’t listened), but a Grand Jury doesn’t find anyone guilty of anything, it merely issues indictments. I can’t remember the burden of proof, but it is something along the lines of having an arguable case, nowhere near the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that an actual criminal conviction requires.

Uhh, hold on. I didn’t think grand juries could find defendants guilty. They can only indict them: call them for trial before an ordinary jury.

Bloody hell, this is really fascinating. Why did the justice dept throw out its own terrorist case, and then try and indict its own prosecutor.

The programme blames, possibly, office politics. Mind boggling.

Nick and Jono – I’m not sure, I am just using the language I (remember) from the podcast. I could be wrong – however, they were found guilty and then the conviction was overturned. Perhaps the grand jury bit was earlier on – there was something about leaks during that process.

*subscribes to This American Life in iTunes.*

This American Life is awesome, thank you Jess.

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