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U.S. Counter-Terrorist Sting Ops Overstep Proper Bounds

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 21 2014 (IPS) - In its zealous pursuit of terrorism since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals in sting operations and alienated the American Muslim community, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released Monday.

The report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Procedures”, documents cases against American Muslim defendants in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) overstepped its bounds.

“The United States government has failed to meet its international legal obligations with respect to its investigations and prosecutions of terrorism suspects, as well as its treatment of terrorism suspects in custody,” says the report.

More than 500 individuals have been prosecuted in federal courts for terrorism or related offences since 2001. Many prosecutions have respected the law, according to HRW, but an alarming number have not.

One of the most disturbing trends in US counterterrorism policy is the prevalence of discriminatory sting operations.

In a sting operation, a law enforcement informant collaborates with a suspected terrorist in the planning of an attack, sometimes providing financial support or fake weaponry, and then arrests the individual when he or she attempts to carry out the plan.

Problems arise when the government persuades or pressures a hesitant individual to act. These investigations often target individuals with intellectual and mental disabilities and the indigent, according to the report.

“In some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act,” the report says.

In the report, a former FBI agent questioned the efficacy of sting operations. “When the FBI undercover agent or informant is the only purported link to a real terrorist group, supplies the motive, designs the plot and provides all the weapons, one has to question whether they are combatting terrorism or creating it,” he said.

Almost 15 percent of federal counterterrorism convictions involved a sting operation in which the informant played an active role in the plot.

In recent years, the U.S. government has attempted to build trust with American Muslim communities, but its controversial counterterrorism measures have undercut its own efforts.

For example, the arrest of Adel Daoud in autumn 2013 raised an uproar in Chicago’s Muslim community over the use of sting operations. Daoud was only 17 when undercover FBI employees began to cultivate a fake plot with him to attack a Chicago bar through an online Islamic forum.

His eventual arrest prompted “speculation about why the FBI deployed undercover agents to ensnare the teenager, rather than contact his parents or community leaders,” the report says.

According to HRW, unscrupulous law enforcement practices in terrorism cases “have alienated the very communities the government relies on most to report possible terrorist threats and diverted resources from other, more effective ways, of responding to the threat of terrorism.”

Building on the criticisms it raises, HRW ends its report by calling on the U.S. government to restrict and regulate the use of informants and develop rights-respecting partnerships with local community groups.

 
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