The Witness Protection Program was created as a way to protect witnesses whose testimony put their lives in danger from those against whom they were testifying. It began as an attempt to keep Mafia informants alive long enough to testify at the trials of mob leaders, but when witnesses who had testified sucessfully were then killed in retribution after the trial was over, it was expanded to what we know today–changing a witness’ whole identity, often for life. The Bush Administration, however, has redesigned the program to suit an entirely different priority: secrecy not from criminals, but from the public and the lawyers of accused defendants.
Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, a former payroll manager for Osama bin Laden…would become the government’s chief witness in its first trial of Qaeda operatives.
[F]or two years, even as the authorities cloaked Mr. Fadl in the secrecy of the federal witness-protection program, keeping him in undisclosed locations and communicating with him in videoconferences through a special telephone hookup, many hours of those conversations were recorded on videotape.The taping, which the government says was done by someone in the federal marshals service and discovered in 2002 by prosecutors and the F.B.I., violated the established practice and the very mission of witness protection. Such recordings are not made because they could reveal deadly clues about the identity and location of the informer — particularly one as high risk as Mr. Fadl, who is unharmed but still hidden and may be called again to testify in terrorism trials.
The govt violated the “practice and mission” of the WPP, but not because they taped him. Mr Fadl is in no paricular danger; he could just as easily be kept in a “safe house” of the kind that was used to house Soviet defectors during their debriefing. The BA’s DoJ is keeping him safely tucked away, not from AQ operatives who don’t have anything like a strong enough presence in America to endanger Mr Fadl’s safety, but from the lawyers of the defendants his testimony has convicted or may convict.
This is an extraordinary perversion of everything the WPP stood for. Instead of being used to further justice, it’s being used to subvert it; instead of protecting witnesses so they can testify publicly in an open trial before a judge, jury, and the defendant, it’s being used to shield a witness from scutiny by the defense. There is NO legitimate reason for Mr Fadl to be in the WPP at all. There is no suggestion that his life has been threatened, no mention of attempts made on his life, no credible reports that there would be. The Ashcroft DoJ isn’t protecting him from AQ, they’re protecting him from us. They’re protecting their case from challenges to his dubious credibility. Mr Fadl claims, among other things, that–
…he held a position of confidence with Mr. bin Laden that included helping to manage his payroll, testimony has shown [his testimony, so far uncorroborated–M]. Mr. Fadl had access to the files of each of the group’s members, knew their aliases and was privy to details of Mr. bin Laden’s global financial network. He developed an intimate knowledge of Mr. bin Laden’s businesses, which prosecutors said were fronts for terrorism, and was able to describe how Al Qaeda used false passports, smuggled arms and tried to buy components for nuclear weapons.
Given what we know of bin Laden’s deliberate structuring of AQ so that no one person would know too much about what anybody else was doing, we are entitled to question Mr Fadr’s description of both his importance and his pervasive access to AQ’s plans and accounts. Especially since he appears to be testifying primarily because he’s being paid to do so.
In 1996, Mr. Fadl fled the organization after he embezzled about $110,000 from one of Mr. bin Laden’s companies, eventually walking into an American embassy in Africa and offering his services in the fight against Al Qaeda.
As officials press him for help, he presses back, asking them to fix his car, buy him a house and give him money, for himself and for his parents back in Sudan. The authorities, it becomes clear, have taken responsibility not just for a witness, but for an entire family. Indeed, testimony in the bombings trial showed that the government had spent almost $1 million on Mr. Fadl and his relatives.
So, having embezzled over $100K from AQ, he runs to the American Embassy and offers to turn informer for a cool $1 Mil$. Right.
As the details of Fadl’s deal with the govt unravel and his reliability gets shakier and shakier, the reasons why the DoJ has been playing him close to the vest get clearer and clearer: he may very well be lying, playing the govt for his own advantage, just as Ahmad Chalabi did for years–and is still doing. While some of his information may be true, it’s a pretty safe guess that the rest probably isn’t, that nuggets of fact have been exaggerated by Fadl, or even made up out of whole cloth, in the interest of worming more money out of the Feds. Hell, it worked for Ahmad; why not? Chalabi proved that an ambitious informer who is willing to tell the BA what it wants to hear, no matter how fantastic the tales he spins have to be, can do quite well for himself. Inveterate liar Chalabi and his unreliable INC are even now living on BA largesse to the tune of $340K a month, this after Ahmad stole over $300Mil from a Jordanian bank, so it’s not exactly like he’s a pauper.
The Bush Admin is using the WPP to shore up a critical witness’ debatable testimony and protect him from legal scrutiny, a violation of both the spirit and the letter of the law that created the program. Both Fadl and the practice are busted now. It should stay that way.