The mistrial last week in the case of the “Liberty City Seven” highlights the foolishness of some of the government’s tactics in trying to track down domestic terrorists. The defendants were a group of ne’er-do-wells in a poor neighborhood of Miami who talked foolishly, were infiltrated by the FBI and then were charged with being terrorists. By focusing on such bigmouth stumblebums, the government may be missing genuine threats — or perhaps it is inflating threats to justify enormous spending on counterterrorism.
The Liberty City Seven were mostly Haitian immigrants who met to discuss religion and practice martial arts in a rundown warehouse and called themselves an affiliate of the Moorish Science Temple. They had no money, no weapons, no training and no connections. One day the leader told a grocer they wanted to wage “jihad” against the United States.
The grocer was an ex-con FBI informant, and soon the FBI had placed an undercover Arab in the group who claimed to be a representative of al-Qaida. He downplayed their ridiculous notion of trying to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and told them al-Qaida wanted them to blow up FBI offices. He promised weapons, $50,000 and training, and had them take an “oath” to al-Qaida that he invented, all documented on surveillance tape.
When the group started to break up in 2006 because nothing was happening, the FBI swooped in and arrested them all and charged them with plotting terrorism.
It might have been a good idea to let these misfits know the government was on to them and they better not try anything. But the feds wanted a trial and a conviction to let Americans know the government was vigilant.
Then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales described the case as “a new brand of terrorism” that “may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaida.”
In December a federal jury acquitted one defendant and deadlocked on the others, leading to a mistrial. The government decided to try them again. Another mistrial. On Wednesday the feds decided to go for a third trial. They should let this ragtag group go and focus on real threats.