US federal judge throws out charges against Jordanian student
- Washington Post
April 30, 2002
Judge Throws Out Perjury Charges Against Jordanian Student
By Steve Fainaru
NEW YORK, April 30--A federal judge today threw out perjury charges against
a Jordanian college student arrested 10 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, ruling that the government had illegally held him as a material
witness to obtain evidence in its investigation.
In separate rulings, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, said authorities made
several "misrepresentations and omissions" to get an arrest warrant for
Osama Awadallah, 21, and then misapplied the material witness statute to
have him testify before a grand jury.
"If the government has a probable cause to believe a person has committed a
crime, it may arrest that person," Scheindlin wrote. "But since 1789, no
Congress has granted the government the authority to imprison an innocent
person in order to guarantee that he will testify before a grand jury
conducting a criminal investigation."
It was not immediately clear what effect the ruling would have on the
government's ongoing terrorism probe. In the months since the attacks,
authorities have detained hundreds of people in connection with the
investigation, including an unknown number held as material witnesses, or
people believed to have knowledge critical to the investigation.
"We believe the court's opinions are wrong on the facts and the law and we
are reviewing our appellate options," U.S. Attorney James B. Comey said in a
At a press conference this afternoon, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft
called the judge's decision "an anomaly." He noted that numerous other
judges have authorized the detention of possible material witnesses and the
government's strategy in the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks is "fully
consistent with law and with long-standing practices."
Awadallah, a student at Grossmont College in El Cajon, Calif., was initially
questioned Sept. 20 after authorities found a note with his first name and
an old phone number in a car abandoned by the hijackers at Dulles
International Airport. The following day, according to authorities, he
failed a lie detector test when he replied "no" to questions about whether
he had advance knowledge of the attacks and participated in them.
However, Scheindlin ruled that authorities failed to notify the federal
magistrate who issued the warrant that Awadallah had been arrested three
hours earlier. Because the warrant was "improvidently" issued, Scheindlin
ruled, she suppressed the grand jury testimony in which Awadallah allegedly
committed perjury by saying that he did not recognize the first name of one
of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar.
Scheindlin criticized authorities for treating Awadallah, who was kept in
prolonged solitary confinement even before he was charged with a crime, in a
manner "more restrictive than that experienced by the general [prison]
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