MANHATTAN (CN) – An Afghan warlord and Taliban ally serving life in prison on heroin-trafficking charges cannot use the Fifth Amendment to challenge his convictions, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
Bashir Noorzai claimed that the trial court improperly admitted the self-incriminating statements he made to investigators before they told him he had been indicted on drug charges.
Noorzai was sentenced in April 2009 to two consecutive life terms for each of two heroin conspiracy counts.
The Afghanistan native claimed on appeal that the government tricked him into coming to the United States, luring him here supposedly to talk about a possible role for him in rebuilding Afghanistan.
Upon his arrival to the United States, Justice Department agents escorted Noorzai from the airport to a hotel where he met regularly with one agent, according to the federal appeals court’s summary. This agent read Noorzai his Miranda rights every day for 10 days while questioning him about several issues, including his knowledge of and participation in drug trafficking.
“Each day, Noorzai was read his Miranda rights, and each day he waived those rights and continued to talk to the Department of Justice agents,” according to the unsigned three-page opinion. “What Noorzai did not know is that several months before he arrived in the United States, a grand jury returned a sealed indictment charging him with violations of the federal drug laws, and an arrest warrant had been issued.”
Since he had not been informed of the outstanding indictment and warrant during the interrogation, Noorzai claimed that the waiver of his Miranda rights was involuntary under the Fifth Amendment, and his self-incriminating statements should have been excluded from evidence.
The three-judge appellate panel disagreed on May 23.
“Considering the totality of the circumstances, the statements are admissible,” the judges wrote. “Noorzai knew the agents he was speaking to worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, and he was read his Miranda rights while being transported from the airport to the hotel, and every day after that.”
Noorzai has not claimed that he did not understand those rights or that he was threatened or held captive by the agents, the judges added.
“He had his own room, agents did not sleep in the room with him, he retained his passport and other personal items, and had access to a computer with internet availability and a telephone,” according to the ruling. “There is no evidence that Noorzai was threatened in any way, and the record indicates that on several occasions Noorzai declined the agents’ request to meet.”
Before his arrest, Noorzai was on a Justice Department list of the “most powerful and dangerous narcotics traffickers in the world.” He led one of the largest and most influential tribes in Afghanistan, a position from which he directed the processing and importing of heroin into the United States. The DOJ said that “as early as 1990, Noorzai had a network of distributors in New York City who sold his heroin.”
During the mid-1990s, Noorzai used his influence to assist Mullah Mohammad Omar in securing the position of supreme leader of the Taliban, according to the Justice Department. Noorzai then supplied arms and fighters to the Islamic militants.
“In return for his financial and other support, the Taliban permitted Noorzai to continue his drug trafficking activities with impunity,” the DOJ said in a 2009 press release.
Noorzai’s attorney Alan Seidler told the Associated Press that he plans to ask for a rehearing and then appeal to the Supreme Court.