Ahmed Ressam of Algeria got a 22-year prison term yesterday for attempting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the millennium’s eve. A federal judge issued a broadside against secret tribunals and other war on terrorism tactics that abandon “the ideals that set our nation apart,” reports the Seattle Times. “The tragedy of Sept. 11 shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism,” said U.S. District Judge John Coughenour in a voice edged with emotion. “Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete.” He concluded that, “If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.”
On Dec. 16, 1999, Ressam was caught trying to bring in bomb-making materials from Canada. He then morphed from an Islamic militant embarked on a terrorist mission inside the U.S. to a key informant into the workings of the Al Qaeda network. Coughenour, who was appointed 24 years ago by President Ronald Reagan, said the case was the most difficult sentencing decision of his career. Coughenour said the case should demonstrate to the world that the U.S. legal system can try terrorists. Many of his comments amounted to a rebuke of President Bush’s terrorism policies. After 9/11, the Bush administration initially proposed secret military trials for some terrorists. It has sent hundreds of terror suspects captured in Afghanistan to indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay.