Judge Davis sentences would-be terrorists

Over the last three days, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis has sentenced the nine young Somalis who pled guilty, or were tried and convicted, of trying to travel to Syria to fight with ISIS. Judge Davis started at the bottom and worked his way up. On Monday, he handed down the lightest sentences. One defendant, who pled guilty, cooperated with police and testified against other defendants, was sentenced to time already served. A second defendant who pled guilty and cooperated got 30 months, while a third who pled guilty but did not cooperate with police was sentenced to ten years.

Tuesday’s defendants all pled guilty but did not cooperate with the police. They received 10, 10 and 15 year sentences. Today’s three defendants were those who refused to plead guilty and forced the government to go through a trial. They were sentenced to terms of 30, 30 and 35 years.

Judge Davis sent a clear message to anyone who becomes enmeshed in a terrorist conspiracy: cooperate with the authorities and help to unwind the conspiracy, and you will be treated leniently. Maintain your loyalty to a terrorist group like ISIS, and you will be treated harshly.

One of the most troubling aspects of these prosecutions has been the attitude of the local Somali community. Throughout the trial of the three defendants who refused to plead guilty, large crowds consisting mostly of Somalis thronged the courthouse to show their support for the would-be terrorists. Twice, fights broke out in the courthouse corridors.

Yesterday, defendant Hanad Musse explained why he refused to cooperate with the authorities:

Musse acknowledged that he didn’t cooperate with prosecutors, saying he would have lost his community’s support.

Sadly, that appears to have been a correct calculation. Today, as the most hard-core terrorists were sentenced, foolish enablers continued to demonstrate:

Outside, a multiracial crowd of demonstrators gathered on the courthouse plaza, marching, waving homemade signs and chanting, “No hate, no fear. Somalis are welcomed here.”

“Hate,” apparently, means punishing criminals for the crimes they have committed. On more than one occasion over the last three days, Judge Davis showed the crowd in his courthouse what hate really means:

Davis twice ordered defendants to take a seat so he could show their families the same grisly propaganda videos produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that they once watched and discussed. The judge at one point asked that a young child be removed from court before a prosecutor played a scene depicting a mass beheading of prisoners.

“Oh my God,” one woman said under her breath.

And again:

As he had done Monday and Tuesday, he had prosecutors show one of the grisly ISIL recruiting videos the young defendants had watched. The 12-minute clip, one of the most notorious ISIL propaganda pieces, concludes with the burning alive of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot in early 2015.

“Understand they were watching these for hours at a time, day after day after day,” Davis said.

Hate and evil are real. They exist. But the pro-terrorist demonstrators, in their ignorance, can’t tell the difference between terrorism and justice.

A final observation: some observers characterize Judge Davis as a liberal. Perhaps so. But in my experience, Judge Davis is fair-minded and has excellent judgment. He is appropriately restrained; he doesn’t show his hand needlessly; he treats all parties courteously; he sometimes displays a sense of humor; he controls his courtroom without being heavy-handed. He is a good example of what lawyers mean when they say a judge has a good judicial temperament.

When the time comes to make a decision, however, Judge Davis doesn’t back off. He heard the evidence in the trial that resulted in the convictions of the last three defendants. Based on the sentences he handed down, he obviously was impressed by the seriousness of the threat that these apprentice terrorists posed. It is also worth noting that Judge Davis has served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that reviews applications for warrants related to national security investigations. In that capacity, he has no doubt learned much about the terrorist threats that the United States faces. That knowledge was reflected in the stiff prison terms to which he sentenced most of the nine Minnesota defendants.