Hearing Demanded for Accused NY-NJ Bomber

      MANHATTAN (CN) — As the political machine seizes on New York and New Jersey’s recent bomb scares, New York’s top federal prosecutor defended the handling of Ahmad Khan Rahami.
     No sooner had Rahami been named as a suspect in the pipe-bomb and pressure-cooker-bomb explosions this weekend than Sen. Lindsey Graham called for the naturalized U.S. citizen to be treated as an “enemy combatant,” the designation that the George W. Bush administration used to strip the rights of Guantanamo detainees.
     U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was tongue-in-cheek about Sen. Graham’s remarks when Courthouse News repeated them Wednesday at a press conference. “It’s not my inclination to comment on what a politician is saying in an election year,” the prosecutor began.
     “The only thing I will say is what law currently allows and dictates.”
     And what the law allows, Bharara added, “is that you handle the kind of conduct that occurred here in precisely the way that we are handling it.”
     In a sly allusion to the case of accused Sept. 11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Bharara noted that his office had been slated to prosecute certain “people” before other “people way above my pay grade” made the decision to send them “elsewhere.”
     Those people — Mohammed and four others accused of participating in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — had been set for a federal trial in Manhattan before the political winds sent them back to the U.S. military base in Cuba.
     More than a decade after Mohammed’s 2006 transfer to Guantanamo, there is still no trial in sight for the 9/11 accused.
     Meanwhile, Bharara noted that “Article III” courts — that is, the federal judiciary — have convicted many.
     “Both we and the District of New Jersey, and the Department of Justice as a whole, have a good track record of getting it done properly and holding people into account over the course of a number of years,” Bharara said.
     International terrorists convicted by his office include Ahmed Ghailani, who assisted in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. Embassies; Abu Hamza, a British radical preacher who helped Yemeni militants take foreign tourists hostage; and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a relative of Osama bin Laden who served as an al-Qaida propagandist.
     Speaking of these cases, Bharara said: “I stand by that track record, and I think that the American people should be proud of the work that the men and women of this office have conducted with the respect to prosecuting and holding accountable terrorists.”
     Rahami was arrested after a police shootout on Monday, and the Federal Defenders of New York in Lower Manhattan have been focused ever since on the Afghan immigrant’s constitutional rights.
     Shortly after prosecutors unsealed Rahami’s charges late on Tuesday evening, that group’s executive director, David Patton, fired off a letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein.
     “The Sixth Amendment requires that he be given access to counsel on the federal charges, and that he be presented without delay,” the 1-page letter states.
     Patton notes that Rahami is being treated at a hospital in Newark, New Jersey, for gunshot wounds he sustained in a shootout with police.
     “Rahami has already been held on extremely serious state charges in New Jersey for over 36 hours without the benefit of counsel,” the letter says.
     Since Rahami’s arrest on Sept. 19, however, the accused bomber has also been “held and questioned by federal law enforcement agents,” Patton wrote.
     At the Wednesday press conference, Bharara told reporters that the hearing Patton wants is unnecessary because Rahami is not yet in federal custody.
     Bharara’s office reiterated this position in its own letter to the judge after the hearing.
     “[Rahami] is not in federal custody,” the letter states. “He is in the custody of the state of New Jersey, on state charges, and is subject to a bail package issued by the New Jersey state court.”     
     Patton replied to this defense in a letter late Wednesday, calling it meaningless to quibble over the word “custody” when Rahami’s detention and questioning by federal law enforcement is ongoing.
     “Here, Mr. Rahami has been provided no counsel despite formal charges being lodged against him — in New Jersey state court over two days ago and in this court 24 hours ago,” Patton said in a 3-page letter.
     Earlier at the Wednesday conference, Bharara praised the U.S. response to Rahami’s alleged attacks as “classically American.”
     He also called Patton an “excellent lawyer who cares deeply about fair trials.”
     On his first day in office, President Barack Obama vowed to close the military prisons at Guantanamo Bay, but prospects for him fulfilling that promise look unlikely as the end of his term nears. He has made no promise to close the military commissions, and has proposed moving those tribunals to the U.S. mainland.
     Donald Trump, in addition to supporting torture and the murder of accused terrorists’ families, said he thought it was “fine” to send U.S. citizens to Guantanamo. Other Republicans like Graham back that position.
     Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, backs the mainstream Democratic view. “I supported closing Guantanamo for a long time,” she said. Clinton also shares the Democratic reluctance to break with Obama on the subject of the military commissions, waffling on a question on whether she supported the president’s plan to transfer detainees to maximum-security prisons in the United States.

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