“His planning unfolded under the scrutiny and even assistance of undercover agents, officials said. ” NY Times, November 27, 2010, in reference to Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who was recently arrested in Portland, Oregon, for “attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction”.
This horrible person was planning to blow up a bomb at the lighting of a community Christmas Tree expected to attract up to 10,000 people.
Well… was he. Did Osman Mohamud, out of the blue, suddenly decide that he wanted to kill a lot of Americans? Or was he a rather fanatical Moslem whom the FBI recruited for a terrorist act which the FBI undercover informant was “planning”.
The FBI got wind of him months ago when he apparently tried to contact radicals in Pakistan. They got wind of him. Then undercover FBI agents contacted him and offered to help him commit some kind of terrorist act. They demurely “suggested” — on the secret recordings, of course– that he do something less destructive and more symbolic, but he insisted, no, no, he wanted to see innocent people die. That should satisfy those human rights activists who keep complaining about entrapment!
So the FBI undercover agent offered to help him build a bomb. Wait a minute…. Mohamud obtained some of the materials and turned them over to the FBI undercover agent and the undercover agent returned a device to him which he told him was a bomb. The FBI supplied the bomb. Mohamud then drove to the public square at the Christmas Tree Lighting and dialed the number that was supposed to blow it all up. That’s when the FBI arrested him.
So the FBI encouraged Mohamud to commit a crime but when Mohaumd proved too inept to actually commit the crime on his own, the FBI kindly stepped in and provided him with the bomb.
So if an FBI undercover agent went up to a man in a bar– let’s go crazy and suggest a white man– and said “I could get you some top grade heroin” and the man said, wonderful, let’s go, and he was arrested and brought to trial, what would happen? Most judges would refuse to convict. The question is, would the defendant have committed a crime without the intervention of the undercover police officer? If not, it’s called “entrapment”. It’s why policewomen posing as prostitutes can’t actually bring up the idea of sex for money; the man has to bring it up or the charges won’t stick– it will look like committing a crime was the police woman’s idea. That’s why policemen can’t pose as drug dealers, going around offering drugs to people. It has to be the idea of the person committing crime.
(I feel ridiculous explaining this. I would be very happy to learn it’s not necessary– most people understand why allowing entrapment by the police is a bad idea. )
The police should not be going around trying to create crime by presenting opportunities to people to commit crimes. Among other things, this is offensive to the idea of equality under the law, for the police have no intention of going up to just anybody to see if he or she might be willing to consider committing a crime if offered the opportunity.
No, no, they only approach certain, selected, unlucky individuals. Right now, they certainly don’t seem interested in approaching, say, NRA members, or members of white supremacist militia groups, or vigilante groups, or Scientologists, any of which might have a number of members who could easily be persuaded to commit a serious crime with the right encouragement, and technical assistance. Say, burn down a house, or shoot a few illegal immigrants, or burn down a mosque.
If the police had not intervened, it is by no means certain that Mohamud would have committed any crimes on his own initiative. He might have. He might have remained a blustery, stupid young man who nevertheless never had the guts to actually go out and do something with his big talk. Like a lot of people. He might have realized he didn’t have the technical skill to build a bomb and given up the idea.
He should perhaps have been charged with being an accessory to attempted murder. The FBI agent, of course, is the conspirator.
Ah yes… and I hear the right-wingers squawking hysterically, “Oh! So you want to wait until a crime has been committed before you lock someone up!”
Well, maybe not. I think I could go along with the idea. As long as the FBI approached other militant groups– including America militia groups– as well as potential Moslem extremists. The fact is, we know that there are many, many more American Nationalist militants than there are Moslem extremists in America.
“So you think the police should have let him build a real bomb and set it off at the Christmas tree lighting?” No, but they should never have assisted him with building a bomb. They already had him under surveillance. They could have charged him with a minor offence like “uttering threats”. They should have let him fend for himself and then arrest him if he succeeded in building a bomb, once he had a real bomb in his possession, before he had a chance to use it. If I were a judge, I would ask myself again and again: would a crime have been committed if not for the intervention of the police?
Why should that be frightening? That’s how we do it with every other crime, even murder. Did you forget that there was a price to be paid for freedom and democracy? And one of them is that most of the time people commit crimes before being arrested.
And anyway, didn’t you want the government off your back?
The tabloids, in Britain, have been offering bribes to officials with FIFA to see if they would take them. Some of them did. My first question is, did they bring up the idea of a bribe or did the undercover reporter?
It absolutely matters. If the reporters were the ones who brought up the idea of bribes, they should first investigate every other FIFA Official to see how many others would accept the offer. It would not be fair to single out only the ones who happened be available to the undercover reporters.
I know– a lot of people are going to go, “well, even if it wasn’t his idea, he still agreed to it and should be locked up for at least 50 years”.
Yeah right. And why is it inevitable that some of the recordings of Mohamud’s conversations with the undercover FBI agent have been “lost”? It is inevitable. It is inevitable. It is inevitable. The police ask you to believe that they just happened to go missing. What a coincidence!
And you don’t want to look like a fool for being soft on crime, do you?
I personally would be quite satisfied if we had a justice system that would immediately drop any charges against an individual if it becomes clear that no crime would have been committed without the active participation or encouragement of the police or police agents or informants. Simple. The police already understand that principle when it comes to prostitution and illegal drugs.
Actually, I would not be satisfied with this because it is an innovation. I would be satisfied with this because it’s what 200 years of jurisprudence has settled on in order to prevent the police and justice system from abusing their powers.
Yes, there will be some crimes committed that would have been prevented under the newer interpretation of the law. But, that’s pretty well how our justice system is supposed to work. Until recently, we in the democratic west, didn’t try to lock people up for thinking about committing a crime.
The reason is that we don’t know who else might commit a crime if offered the same “encouragement” as people like Mohamed Osman Mohamud were offered.