Al-Qaida Suspect Found Competent to Stand Trial

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — Despite his consistently bizarre and obscene outbursts, an accused al-Qaida operative is mentally competent enough to stand trial for attacks that killed two U.S. service members in Afghanistan in 2002, a federal judge ruled.

It remains unknown whether Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun will continue his boycott of proceedings at jury selection, slated to begin on Feb. 27.

At a three-hour hearing on Tuesday, Harun’s lawyers urged U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to find that their client’s extreme and erratic conduct stems from paranoid schizophrenia. Harun has threatened the lives of courtroom personnel, and masturbated and defecated in front of the guards in his prison.

Nobody disputes that these incidents occurred, but prosecutors say that Harun engages in this behavior intentionally, to attack the legitimacy of his prosecution.

Judge Cogan agreed with this interpretation on Friday afternoon.

“As stated, the issue is volition, and time and again, I have observed that Harun chooses when to be respectful and cooperative,” Cogan wrote in a 6-page opinion. “The last time that I saw him, on a video link from his cell for a court conference, he could not have been clearer and more deliberate in demonstrating his contempt for me, if not personally, then as a symbol of an institution he detests.”

Born in Niger, Harun allegedly participated in attacks on U.S. troops on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that left two service members dead in 2002. The indictment also charges Harun with a conspiracy to bomb U.S. diplomatic targets in Nigeria a year later.

Harun’s long road to trial road to trial has hopped across three continents, starting with six years of incarceration in a Libyan prison. Though the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s government sparked Harun’s release – he escaped on a refugee ship to Italy – an ensuing scuffle with officers aboard the vessel led to a new spell of incarceration.

Both Italian and U.S. mental health experts observed Harun’s agitation and fits of “logorrhea,” or verbal diarrhea.

Mark Mills, a psychiatrist testifying for the government, offered memorable testimony about that communication disorder, telling the court that Harun was faking mental illness to make life difficult for his captors.

At his first U.S. hearing in May 2013, Harun denied that U.S. courts had any authority over him.

“I am a warrior,” Harun had declared at the hearing, according to a government memorandum. “And the war is not over.”

Cogan rejected defense testimony from Jess Ghannam, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who contends that the government witness lacks the “cultural competence” to properly diagnose a man of Harun’s religious and ethnic background.

“It was not Dr. Ghannam’s ability to speak to [Harun] in Arabic that prompted cooperation one day and agitation the next; it is the game that [Harun] plays,” the judge ruled.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Ghannam is a longtime activist for progressive and Palestinian causes. The psychologist co-hosts the weekly radio show “Arab Talk with Jess and Jamal,” rallied with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader; and worked with numerous civil-rights groups, including Reprieve, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

For Cogan, Ghannam’s outspoken views on U.S. foreign policy left his credibility “severely compromised.”

The judge took issue in particular with a speech where Ghannam called the United States an “imperial juggernaut” that keeps Arab countries “under [its] boot and thumb.” In an article cited by the court, Ghannam also urged people to question their definition of terrorism.

“One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter,” Ghannam wrote.

The idea is hardly revolutionary. South African authorities — not to mention U.S. and British leaders — described Nelson Mandela as a terrorist during the time of apartheid, before Mandela became lionized throughout the world as a liberator of his nation.

But to Cogan, Ghannam’s sentiment made his medical opinion untrustworthy.

“Simply put, an individual who harbors the beliefs and confirmation bias that Dr. Ghannam does against the United States is incapable of objectively analyzing the psychological condition of an alleged al-Qaida terrorist being tried in the United States,” his opinion states. “His opinion cannot be divorced from his bias because his bias is so pervasive.”

Dr. Ghannam did not respond to an email request for comment.

Harun’s attorney David Stern, a partner at Rothman, Schneider, Soloway & Stern, declined to comment.