A plea deal. For an enemy combatant and jihadist who came so close to massacring hundreds, in a case that could not be more airtight in terms of evidence and witnesses. It should not be within the realm of possibility that Abdulmutallab could ever be a free man again. And yet, somehow, it is.
What does the government expect to gain in comparison to what it is willing to give up, especially when Abdulmutallab has reportedly been cooperating all along? “Defense: Deal discussed in Detroit plane attack,” by Ed White for the Associated Press, September 9:
DETROIT – Lawyers for a Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a plane near Detroit on Christmas said Thursday that they’ve talked to prosecutors about resolving the case with a deal.
The disclosure was made in a court filing seeking a new deadline to challenge evidence against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to set off a bomb hidden in his underwear aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit last year with nearly 300 people aboard.
The deadline to file motions is Friday. Abdulmutallab is due in federal court Monday for a pretrial hearing.
In the court filing, defense lawyers said they’ve met with prosecutors on “multiple occasions, by phone and in person, to explore options for resolution of this case.” They said prosecutors are opposed to extending Friday’s motion deadline.
Abdulmutallab’s lead attorney, Miriam Siefer, declined to comment on the filing. The U.S. attorney’s office also declined to comment.
The government has said Abdulmutallab has cooperated with investigators since his arrest Dec. 25. He has been described as a young recruit to al-Qaida’s nascent terrorist branch in Yemen.
Abdulmutallab is charged with trying to use a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a sentence of life in prison. Passengers aboard the plane pounced on him and put out flames, then dragged him to the front of the jet where he was subdued.
Any plea deal, particularly one that allows Abdulmutallab to get out of prison at some point, could force the Obama administration back into a debate about whether terrorism cases should be handled at military tribunals, where the rules of evidence are more favorable to the government and defendants have fewer rights than in U.S. courts
The government’s opposition to a new deadline to challenge evidence could signal that plea bargain talks have stalled, said Alan Gershel, former head of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney’s office.
“It’s possible the government doesn’t want to drag this out,” said Gershel, who teaches at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in suburban Detroit. “This crime happened at Christmas time. We’re eight or nine months later. By opposing this, they’re saying, ‘We’re going to wrap this up or not.'”
Still, he believes U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds will grant the defense team’s request.
The defense said evidence turned over by the government is “quite voluminous,” and lawyers were able to meet with Abdulmutallab only once a week for two hours at a prison where he’s being held pending trial.
Former terrorism prosecutor Lloyd Meyer of Chicago said a plea deal is very likely in the end.
“If he went to trial it’s almost certain he’d be convicted. The government doesn’t have a smoking gun. It has smoking skivvies,” Meyer said, referring to Abdulmutallab’s underwear. “This is a slam dunk.”
But what is to be gained beyond a quicker resolution of the case?