Badat was sentenced to 12 years in British prison, but his sentence was cut in half after he became a government witness. Testifying via a live video feed from London, Badat explained what bin Laden hoped to achieve through another devastating airline attack.
“He then said that the American economy is like a chain, and he drew out a chain. He said if you break one link, you will bring down the American economy,” Badat told the court. Although Badat never met Abu Ghaith , he said only people who were known and trusted could enter a guesthouse at the al Qaeda camps.
On that point, his testimony intersected with that of Sahim Alwan, the second terror convict to testify at Abu Ghaith ’s trial. Alwan was one of the “Lackawanna Six”—a group of young Yemeni-American men from the depressed steel town outside Buffalo who attended al Qaeda camp for a few weeks in the summer of 2001.
Once feared to be a “sleeper cell,” the Lackawanna Six were under surveillance for a year but did nothing criminal before the FBI arrested them on the eve of the first anniversary of 9/11. In 2003, one after another, the men pled guilty to providing material support to a terrorist group. They received prison sentences of seven to 10 years.
Alwan served slightly less than eight years, earning time off for cooperation and good behavior. “I’m atoning for my mistakes,” Alwan said at Abu Ghaith ’s trial.
Alwan told the jury he saw “Suleiman the Kuwaiti” at an al Qaeda guesthouse on one occasion 13 years ago, in the summer of 2001, as the imam was telling recruits about bayat, the loyalty oath to bin Laden. They never spoke to one another, and Alwan said he never saw the defendant again until court.
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Like Alwan and the rest of the Lackawanna Six, Abu Ghaith is accused of providing material support to al Qaeda. As the U.S. government defines it, material support does not need to involve money or guns. Simply being present at an al Qaeda camp is enough. Since 9/11, material support has been one of the most common terrorism-related charges, levied in dozens of federal cases.
In the military justice system, neither material support nor conspiracy were recognized war crimes until 2006. By that time, every detainee except one had already arrived at Guantanamo. This drawback—along with a general preference for civilian trials—motivated the Obama administration to begin trying all new terrorism suspects in federal court, including dozens of foreign suspects captured overseas.
For years, the Bush administration assumed military proceedings would deliver rougher, swifter justice than federal trials. But this has proven to be a gross miscalculation. At Guantanamo, 154 detainees are still waiting in legal limbo. Half of them have never been charged and have actually been cleared for release. Only six detainees are involved in active military commissions (five for 9/11 and one for the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen). In fact, since 9/11, nine detainees have died at Guantanamo, while only eight have been tried there. Most of those have been deported, and two of their convictions have been overturned.