A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of a Florida doctor who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for providing material support and offering treatment to wounded Al Qaeda militants.
A three-judge bench of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued its 2-to-1 decision on Feb. 4 in the case of Dr. Rafiq Sabir, who it felt had received a fair trial.
Sabir, 56, had insisted throughout that he was innocent but Circuit Judges Ralph Winter and Reena Raggi were convinced that Sabir had agreed to treat wounded Al Qaeda militants so that they could return to Iraq to fight against the Americans. The dissenting opinion came from Chief District Judge Raymond J. Dearie.
Sabir, a resident of Boca Raton, Florida, was convicted in November 2007 for conspiring to provide material support to the Al Qaeda terrorists.
The conviction was challenged on various grounds - Sabir said the law used to convict him was unconstitutionally vague and too broad, there was insufficient evidence against him and the judge made incorrect rulings.
Sabir, who is black, had also objected to the government's rejection of five black jurors.
At his sentencing, Sabir also blamed a co-defendant - jazz musician and martial arts expert Tarik Shah - for his plight. Sabir said he is an extremely gullible man and was duped into taking the oath.
Shah, a long-time friend of Sabir, was sentenced to 15 years for his part in the plot after coming to a plea agreement with the government. Shah was accused of offering to share his martial arts expertise with Al Qaeda militants.
However, Winter and Raggi dismissed Sabir's arguments as being meritless, after reviewing the relevant statutory framework.
The judges also said the prosecutors did not exhibit any racial bias during jury selection.
However, according to court documents, Sabir, a Columbia University educated doctor and licensed physician, had sworn allegiance to an FBI agent posing as an al-Qaeda recruiter in May 2005 and had offered treatment to wounded militants in Saudi Arabia, so that they could return to Iraq to fight Americans.
In recorded conversations, Sabir had sworn a bayat (oath) to the FBI agent and had said that the militants striving in the way of Allah were most deserving of his help. The doctor also gave the agent his personal and work telephone numbers.
Sabir's purpose in swearing bayat was to formalize his promise to work as a doctor under the organization's direction and control. That is most certainly evidence of a crime: the charged crime of attempting to provide material support to terrorism in the form of personnel, Winter and Raggi wrote in the 109-page decision.
However, Dearie, in his dissenting opinion, said he could not even remotely support the majority's conclusion that a defendant attempts a crime simply by agreeing to commit the crime and providing a phone number.
Sabir was not charged with mere membership in al Qaeda or for being sympathetic to some radical Islamic cause. Signing on to the al Qaeda roster of loyalists (as reprehensible as that may be) is not, and could not be, the crime at issue, since Section 2339B does not criminalize mere membership in a designated foreign terrorist organization. It instead prohibits providing 'material support' to such a group, the dissenting judge wrote.
Dearie also suggested that the FBI agent may have pressured Sabir into taking the oath. At the one meeting Sabir attended, he indeed chanted the mantra of the terrorist, led by the government agent and inspired by his co-defendant. But we are left to wonder whether his apparent enthusiasm would have, or even could have, led to action on his part, the judge wrote.
In the end, a man stands guilty, and severely punished, for an offense that he did not commit. Therefore, I respectfully dissent, Dearie concluded.
But the other two judges felt Dearie was mistaken in his view as there is no question that Sabir was providing himself to work under the direction and control of al Qaeda - the jury heard him solemnly swear to do so.
We reject Chief Judge Dearie's characterization of this conduct as merely passive, they wrote, adding, We uphold his (Sabir's) convictions for both conspiring and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.