Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber” who attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Eve 2009, will receive a life sentence today in Detroit, the conclusion of a trial that ended abruptly with a guilty plea.
On the second day of the trial in October, Abdulmutallab suddenly pleaded guilty to all charges. In a defiant speech, he said he was carrying a “blessed weapon” to avenge Muslims who have been killed or poorly treated around the world. He admitted he was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric and leading al-Qaida figure in Yemen who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last fall.
“The Quran obliges every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, and kill them wherever you find them … an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Abdulmutallab said.
Anthony Chambers, an attorney appointed to assist Abdulmutallab, believes the Nigerian will speak again Thursday but doesn’t know what he’ll say.
Abdulmutallab’s attorney will argue that the life sentence reflects cruel and unusual punishment, since the assailant actually did not hurt anyone but himself. The government argued that the threshold has little to do with the success of the terrorist attack.
The larger issue is that the system is working. Abdulmutallab was allowed to enter a plea, and based on that plea he will receive a sentence. This all took place in an Article III court, and nobody in the courtroom or the prison where Abdulmutallab is being held have been in any danger. Furthermore, the world did not come to an end because Abdulmutallab was allowed to speak in open court. He did not, to anyone’s knowledge, convert mass numbers of people to his cause.
The Abdulmutallab case is an example of how you don’t actually have to rip up the entire legal system in order to prosecute terrorism. We’re obviously long beyond the point where our law enforcement community could take an actual stand on this, but it’s just a reminder. We don’t really need a Guantanamo.