Freddie Gray and Jihad: Narrative v. Fact

I’ve been fortunate to have had two professional careers, the first one in the courtroom as a trial lawyer and the second in journalism. I did not need the latter experience, though, to notice the stark difference between these two worlds.

When I prosecuted the “Blind Sheikh” (Omar Abdel Rahman) and the jihadist cell that bombed the World Trade Center and then plotted a simultaneous attack on several New York City landmarks, the organs of government that speak to the public through the media were making like irresponsible journalists. That is, they were eschewing facts and evidence, obsessively peddling a counterfactual narrative, to wit:

There is only one “true” Islam, and it is resolutely peaceful (indeed, being a “religion of peace” is apparently its only identifiable attribute). Therefore, the terrorist acts plotted and committed by a cabal of men who just happened to be Muslim had utterly nothing to do with Islam, notwithstanding the jihadists’ proclamations to the contrary.

By contrast, in the courtroom, criminal allegations cannot be proved absent convincing factual evidence -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that unanimously persuades jurors of the suspects’ guilt.

Thus, though we prosecutors were formally part of the government, it was as if we were inhabiting a cocoon insulated from the fictional government narrative. Indeed, the judge repeatedly reminded the jurors of their oath to decide the case solely based on the facts proved and the controlling law, not bias, fear or favor -- which was a 1990s way of saying “not narrative.”

The upshot of all this? No matter what “religion of peace” blather was coming out of Main Justice in Washington or the White House press apparatus, in our New York City federal courtroom a short distance from the Twin Towers, we were not only permitted but obliged as government attorneys to prove the truth:

(a) There are mainstream interpretations of Islam that endorse war against non-Muslims to establish Allah’s law (sharia);

(b) these are literalist interpretations that draw directly on Islamic scripture;

(c) the interpretations (Salafism, Wahhabism, Islamic supremacism -- collectively, what we hopefully refer to as “radical” Islam) are urged on young Muslims (mostly men) by influential sharia scholars like the Blind Sheikh, whose powerful influence owes solely and only to their mastery of the doctrine;

(d) based on those incitements, these young men are radicalized into jihadism, plotting and committing acts of terrorism.

Those were the facts. Our evidence proved them incontestably. That is the only way we were able to convict jihadists -- not only in my prosecution, but in case after terrorism case.