Photo by NYCSocialist.org
The bombs the Newburgh Four were planning to detonate to blow up three synagogues were fake. The Stinger surface-to-air missile the men were plotting to use to shoot down military aircraft at a National Guard base was not capable of being fired. The weapons were like this because they came from the FBI. And, now three of the four men have each been sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for their involvement in this FBI sting operation.
The men, James Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams (no relation to David) had been convicted in October 2010. The defense continued to present a case that the men had been swept up in a scheme of FBI entrapment. They highlighted how an FBI informant had posed as an Islamic extremist to convince them to become involved in a terror plot. They accused prosecutors, according to the Associated Press, of "introducing a Stinger missile into the plot because the charge that went with it carried a minimum 25 years in prison."
US District Judge Colleen McMahon understood the men were only in her court for sentencing because the FBI "created an act of terrorism." She understood the FBI scripted the plot from "start to finish." But, afraid to upset superiors or government officials, she condemned the defendants' anti-Semitism and their willingness to "kill, maim and destroy for money."
"What you attempted to do was despicable," said Judge McMahon. She guaranteed the men would be imprisoned under harsh conditions and said, "I imagine that you will be far from here, and quite isolated...I doubt that you will receive any training or rehabilitative treatment of any sort. Your crimes were terrible. Your punishment will indeed be severe."
Let's get this straight: it is despicable that the men, who were set up by the FBI to commit an act of terrorism, actually appeared to be willing to commit an act of terrorism, but the FBI's operation is not despicable enough to disqualify the sentencing of the men to twenty five harsh years of life in prison.
Here's some brief background on the case (and you can read more about it and two other similar cases of FBI targeting and entrapment in this Center for Human Rights and Global Justice of the New York University School of Law report published in May) --
David served five years in jail for drug dealing. Early in 2009, David's younger brother, Lord McWilliams, was diagnosed with liver cancer. David had been a father figure for his younger brother and wanted a way to make money to pay for a liver transplant. He was offered an opportunity to save his brother's life in April 2009, when an acquaintance, Cromitie said he could get him $250,000, luxury cars and financing for a barbershop if he helped to carry out a terror attack. David thought about the plan and decided he might be able to get the money without carrying out an attack.
On May 13, 2009, Hussain drove Cromitie, David and Onta and fourth man, Laguerre Payen, to the Bronx to conduct surveillance on various synagogues. They went to Connecticut to see the Stinger missile that would be used. A week later, Hussain drove the men to the Bronx again to the proposed targets. The FBI had placed two cars in front of the targets and Cromitie was to put the explosives in the cars' trunks. David was dropped off and Hussain drove to the first car. Hussain turned off a recording device he had been wearing and the men were arrested.
Alicia McWilliams, David's aunt, talked with me after the sentencing. She points out the FBI picked an isolated area because they knew there were criminals there. They didn't go to Riverdale, they came to Newburgh to do their trickery.
"There's no job training, there's nothing in Newburgh," explains McWilliams. "The town is going down because of the drugs and the gangs."
The FBI is trying to divide a community. That is why they picked the synagogue, McWilliams asserts. Picking Jews as targets will bring attention especially media attention. And, it definitely will, if you are going after Muslims, she says.
Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, likely agrees. In an article for The Guardian, she calls the government-sponsored anti-Semitism revolting. She points out Judge McMahon loathed Cromitie's anti-Semitism but yet FBI informant Hussain was "caught on tape urging Cromitie to think about acting 'for the cause' by attacking a synagogue rather than merely lashing out at a few individual Jews. Hussain referred to Jews as "the root of all evil" And, Greenberg points out, Cromitie said he did not want to go that far.
This case has found headlines on the issue of entrapment. But its true significance lies in a much more disturbing fact. Who, if asked, would want a government agent to spread antisemitism as a means of inciting terrorism particularly with a defendant who was characterised by his own attorney as the "biggest mouth" in town? Who really thinks that tax dollars are well spent to support utterances of antisemitism as a means of bonding with potential criminals and turning them into attempted terrorists?
Imam Salahuddin Muhammad of Newburgh told Democracy Now! in a report produced by Anjali Kamat and Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films for Democracy Now!, "I believe that what we are seeing today with the FBI surveillance and the FBI allowing for agent provocateurs to enter into Muslim communities is the same thing that happened in the '60s with a lot of the black nationalist organizations. That's what I see happening today in the Islamic community. The FBI, they are sending these agent provocateurs into the community, and they are cultivating and nurturing and actually creating situations that would never have occured if they didn't have their man in there to do that."
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