SEATTLE – Despite the urging of a federal judge, would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam has refused to resume cooperating with the government, his lawyers acknowledged in a court filing Monday.
That means Ressam’s sentencing will proceed as scheduled Wednesday, that he will likely receive a longer sentence than he otherwise would have and – according to the U.S. attorney’s office – that the prosecutions of two co-conspirators will be jeopardized.
“He is now at a point where he feels he can do no more,” Ressam’s lawyers wrote in a supplemental sentencing memorandum. “Mr. Ressam knows what he did was wrong and hopes the court accepts his statement that he is truly sorry.”
Ressam, 38, was arrested in Port Angeles in December 1999 as he drove off a ferry from British Columbia with a trunk full of bomb-making materials. An Algerian who had attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, he was intent on bombing Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium, prosecutors said.
After being convicted of terrorist conspiracy and explosives charges at trial in 2001, Ressam began cooperating in hopes of winning a reduced sentence. Ressam told terrorism investigators from several countries about the operation of terror camps, but quit cooperating by early 2003. His lawyers said years of solitary confinement took their toll on his mental state, but prosecutors insisted he simply didn’t feel like cooperating anymore.
Prosecutors have recommended a 35-year sentence; Ressam’s lawyers have asked for 12 1/2 years.
Ressam had been scheduled for sentencing in April. After more than two hours of arguments, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour called it off, giving Ressam three more months to resume cooperation.
Coughenour and federal prosecutors want Ressam to testify against his two co-conspirators, Samir Ait Mohamed and Abu Doha, who are awaiting extradition from Canada and Britain, respectively.
“It strikes me that a lot of the details he’s not remembering now are details that one would not forget,” Coughenour said at the time. “We need to see something happen during the next three months.”
Ressam’s lawyers, Thomas W. Hillier and Michael Filipovic, wrote in Monday’s filing that Ressam gave much thought to his decision. The filing also reflects the lawyers’ frustration with the government’s conduct in the case.
Hillier and Filipovic wrote that before trial, the government offered Ressam a 25-year sentence if he would plead guilty – no cooperation required. How, they ask, can the government ask for a 35-year sentence when Ressam did cooperate, providing investigators from many countries detailed information about the operation of terrorist training camps?
They also criticized the government for its delay in handing over statements from international terrorism investigators that called Ressam’s assistance “substantial” and “useful.” Though the government received some of the statements two or three years ago, Justice Department lawyers did not hand them over to the court until the eve of Ressam’s sentencing hearing in April.
Furthermore, they challenged the veracity of FBI Special Agent Fred Humphries’ testimony during the April hearing. Humphries at times downplayed the importance of Ressam’s cooperation and suggested authorities already knew much of what Ressam told them.
Humphries’ testimony “lacked the enthusiasm and insight provided in previous conversations and meetings with counsel, perhaps due to internal pressure,” Ressam’s lawyers said. They directed the court to a sealed document filed Monday along with their memo.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Bartlett said Monday the government planned to file its own supplemental sentencing memo in response. The government has previously said that its pretrial offer of 25 years for Ressam is moot; the fact is, he did not plead guilty.
“He’s not cooperating,” Bartlett said. “That’s the big news that everybody was waiting for.”
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