Iraqi refugee pleads guilty to 23 counts of terror-related charges

An Iraqi refugee who turned out to have participated in the insurgencies prior to arriving in the US and took part in supporting them after his arrival created a controversy between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Obama administration.  Waad Ramadan Alwan lived in Kentucky, McConnell’s state, and his arrest by the FBI on terror-related charges uncovered his previously-unknown affiliation with al-Qaeda in Iraq.  McConnell demanded that the Department of Justice transfer him and his co-defendant Mohamad Shareef Hammadi to the military for detention at Guantanamo Bay, while the DoJ and White House insisted on trying him in federal civil court.  McConnell warned that a trial could make Kentucky a target for terrorism.

The DoJ now claims vindication after Alwan agreed to plead guilty to 23 terror-related charges:

A former Iraqi insurgent named Waad Ramadan Alwan has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. Alwan and co-conspirator Mohanad Shareef Hammadi were arrested in Bowling Green, Ky., in May 2011 for allegedly providing assistance to Al Qaeda in Iraq and attempting to send weapons overseas.

Alwan pleaded guilty to 23 charges, including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and attempting to provide material support to terrorists for showing an individual diagrams of IEDs and how they could be constructed.

Alwan will be sentenced April 3, 2012; he faces 25 years to life in prison.  Hammadi is awaiting trial and has pleaded not guilty.

There are two arguments here because there are two phases to Alwan’s life in question.  Between 2003 and 2006, Alwan allegedly conducted operations of war against the US military in Iraq, where he was arrested in 2006. For some reason — and I suspect this had to do with the Bush and Obama administration efforts to get our allies to resettle Iraqi refugees — Alwan was brought to the US in 2009 as a refugee himself.  Shortly after his arrival, the FBI began an investigation of Alwan for attempting to supply insurgents in Iraq with missiles and other weaponry, including the IEDs in which he apparently specialized during his time as an insurgent.

The US should never have allowed Alwan into the US as a refugee, clearly.  He should have been either left in Iraqi custody, which would have been preferable, or taken prisoner by the US military and transported to Gitmo.  While a legal resident of the US, however, Alwan broke criminal laws in a terrorist conspiracy which the FBI detecting, investigated, and thwarted.

Both McConnell and the DoJ are sticking to their arguments in the aftermath of the guilty plea:

“The successful investigation, arrest, interrogation and prosecution of Mr. Alwan demonstrates the effectiveness of our intelligence and law enforcement authorities in bringing terrorists to justice and preventing them from harming the American people,” said Lisa Monaco, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Asked for a comment about the guilty plea, in a statement Sen. McConnell said on Friday night, “Today’s plea of guilt by Alwan, who boasted of killing US troops in a warzone overseas, and bragged that his ‘lunch and dinner would be an American’, confirms that he was a combatant who was associated with enemy forces overseas.  The military should have had custody of him to begin with for purposes of intelligence, detention and punishment.”

I can see validity in both arguments, but the time to put Alwan in custody of the military was 2009.  Once he became a legal resident of the US through his refugee status, the DoJ and civil institutions have jurisdiction, not the military.  Either way, I don’t expect to see Alwan breathing free air again for the rest of his life, and either way, that’s a good outcome.