YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Al Qaeda sleeper agent gets 8 years, not 15 as prosecutors had sought

Ali Marri gets a lighter sentence in consideration of 'very severe' conditions under which he was kept during the almost six years he was held without charges in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina.

October 30, 2009|Associated Press

PEORIA, ILL. — A federal judge sentenced an Al Qaeda "sleeper" agent to eight years in prison Thursday -- about half the time prosecutors had requested -- because the agent received what the judge called "unacceptable" treatment in a U.S. Navy brig.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm could have sentenced Ali Marri to as much as 15 years. Prosecutors had endorsed that, presenting testimony that he remained a threat.

But Mihm handed down the lighter sentence of eight years and four months in consideration of what he called "very severe" conditions under which Marri was kept during the almost six years he was held without charges in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina.

Those conditions included sensory deprivation, lengthy interrogations, long periods of isolation and threats to harm his family.

The judge's decision could be a factor in future cases because the United States still holds more than 200 people without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If convicted, they could argue that their time in custody should be considered at sentencing.

A tearful Marri told the judge he was sorry for helping Al Qaeda and would never hurt anyone. But Mihm rejected the idea that Marri wasn't capable of violence.

"I believe based on everything that I have heard that you truly do not regret what you did and that you would do it again after you go home," Mihm said.

But in a stinging critique of government interrogation techniques, the judge also said he would reduce Marri's sentence.

"My personal belief as a judge is that that was totally unacceptable," Mihm said. "That's not who we are."

Marri, 44 and a native of Qatar, pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

Prosecutors have 10 days to appeal the sentence.

Marri admitted he trained in Al Qaeda camps and stayed in Al Qaeda safe houses in Pakistan from 1998 to 2001. He also acknowledged having regular contact with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man whom the government said was the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Los Angeles Times Articles