Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad Hardcover – April 14, 2008
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
In this annotated retrospective, the prosecutor responsible for leading the investigation of Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and others involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing dissects the miscues between federal agencies that led to that event while laying bare the challenges facing the war on terror today. The pre-1993 comedy of errors begins with the CIA's decision to funnel arms and money to Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war and continues with inexplicable lapses of communication between the State Department and immigration officials (despite having been placed on a State Department terror watchlist, the sheikh travels freely to the United States). The most enduring oversight, however, at least from McCarthy's perspective, is the refusal among academics and political leaders to confront fundamentalist Islamic tenets, the 800-pound gorilla that is somehow always in the middle of the room when terror strikes. The jihadist philosophy that guided the Blind Sheikh is traced through generations of Islamic thinkers to the Prophet Mohammed himself. Though McCarthy's language is at times cumbersome, his firsthand account of jihad's rise and the sheikh's trial of the century is an important contribution (and in some instances, counterpoint) to existing literature on the attack that foreshadowed disaster to come. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
McCarthy, a talented writer, draws deep insights from his experience into the shortcomings of prosecuting terrorists as criminals. He ends with a thoughtful exposition of the disconnect between national security and criminal law. He is a voice of clarity, reason and experience in the dialogue now going in America on issues of law and national security.
Mr. McCarthy's book delivers the goods on two levels: First, this is a gripping and highly entertaining story of sinister plots, dogged (though often ham-handed) police work, heroic informants and complex legal maneuvers, ending - the reader is happy to discover - in guilty verdicts and life sentences. Among other things, one gets to meet the quirky, the remarkable Emad Salem, a former Egyptian army officer and terrorist-hating Muslim (yes, there are such people) who puts his life on the line to infiltrate and destroy the Blind Sheikh's murderous operation. His story alone is worth the price of the book.
On a deeper level, McCarthy confronts the oft-expressed fallacy that America can deal with terrorists by prosecuting them in courts of law, giving them every presumption of innocence, every right of evidentiary discovery, every objection and every appeal. McCarthy is very clear about this: It won't work. As he says, "Terrorism prosecutions create the conditions for failure and thus for more terrorism....International terrorism is not the type of national challenge the criminal justice system is designed to address." The largest specific problem created by terror prosecutions is that they hand valuable intelligence to our enemies on a silver platter. As McCarthy puts it, "The criminal justice system arms international terrorist organizations with a trove of intelligence, including information that identifies intelligence methods and sources, thus further improving their capacity to harm Americans." This information includes the identities of deep-cover informants like the marvelous and irreplaceable Mr. Salem.
Mr. McCarthy's lucid explanations will enable the intelligent layman to see through the bogus arguments made by extreme civil libertarians. It is a must-read for people who want a more thorough understanding of the War On Terror.
Andrew McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor and a Contributing Editor for National Review Online. He led the successful prosecution Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and his co-conspirators, which were convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His book, Willful Blindness, details this trial and reveals the high cost and ineffectuality of relying upon the legal system to combat terrorism. Mr. McCarthy went well beyond the usual due diligence of prosecutors, and in this book and the related video on the Conservative Economist web site he shares his insights into the mindset and religious inspirations of those he convicted.
Andrew McCarthy's March 2008 speech (see associated video) is what the Conservative Economist expected to hear from the prosecutor made famous through leading the government's successful 1995 case against the "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel Rahman, and his gang of jihadists responsible for the first bombing of the World Trade Center. Well conceived and delivered, McCarthy articulates the many reasons why fighting terrorism through criminal prosecution is inappropriate. His new book, Willful Blindness, makes this point in depth and adds considerable color by walking the reader chronologically through the process of prosecuting the Sheikh and his accomplices, with many stops along the way to paint vignettes of the characters involved in the plot. In the opinion of the Conservative Economist, these mini-biographies make this work a pleasure to read, and they provide insight into the terrorist mind without the need to fill a prescription for anti-depressants.
In fact, the "hero" of sorts turns out to be an informant, Emad Salem. Salem, now in witness protection, immigrated to the US after having been an officer in the Egyptian army. As the Assistant Manager of a New York hotel, Salem was originally recruited by an FBI agent for counterintelligence work monitoring Russian emissaries at the end of the cold war, then redirected to penetrate the Al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn. He delights in his spy role, becoming a "super-sleuth legend in his own mind that tapes literally everything." He recounts his being wounded while saving Anwar Sadat from assassination. But this is an exaggeration; he was out of uniform that day and merely one among the throng. He is a complex individual, drifting in and out of favor with government operatives, yet always true to the mission of exposing the heinous crimes planned against his new country by the enemies of his slain hero, Sadat. He has a heart of gold, but distrusts the U.S. intelligence agencies and fears for his life from all sides, having been part of a government system that is quite different from ours.
"The Justice System and National Security"
McCarthy, once a "lifetime" government employee and former Deputy Marshal that worked with FBI agents and protected witnesses, identifies with the cops more than would typical yuppie prosecutors. This provides him with empathy for their approach, and it enables him to explain with balance the inherent conflicts between prosecutors, who want airtight cases for even the most nuanced crimes, and agents, who are judged by cases closed and wish not to waste precious time that could be devoted to catching other criminals. Outside this dimension is the CIA, which in matters relevant to terrorist prosecutions gathers information covertly outside the U.S. It does not want FBI agents present when it briefs prosecutors, for they record meetings with copious notes so they can be used in trials, which would expose sensitive foreign operatives. Yet prosecutors are trained this must be so, because having such an observer prevents them from being a witness at their own trials.
McCarthy celebrates the beauty of the American justice system's ability to strip away irrelevant philosophical excuses for terrorism (poverty, colonialism, secularism, Israel) and make clean determinations of motive and fact. But McCarthy's central tenet is that jihadist terrorism should not be a matter for courts alone. "Put succinctly, where they are the sole or principal response to terrorism, trials in the criminal justice system inevitably cause more terrorism: they leave too many militants in place and they encourage the notion that the nation may be attacked with relative impunity." He gives high marks to the entire U.S Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (and also to Mary Jo White and Janet Reno), and notes that there was a conviction rate of 100% between the bombing and destruction of the Twin Towers.
But McCarthy, seeing the big picture, concedes this stellar effort neutralized less than three dozen terrorists and resulted in fewer than ten major prosecutions. In many cases defendants are given sentences far short of what might be expected. With a capacity constraint on judicial output, the terrorists know the odds are with them. Moreover, the system is only designed to catch those who have already committed attacks. The next bad guys remain unknown. To get a warrant, prosecutors must show that actors are agents of foreign powers, with probable cause a standard that is difficult to establish, and one which trades off innocent life for the liberty of aliens. No such probable cause existed for Mohamed Atta on September 10, 2001. McCarthy asks if we rely upon the criminal justice system to subvert terrorist plots before they happen, what happens if prosecutors cut a few corners to save thousands of lives? Would not this corrode our justice system and impinge the rights of innocent U.S. citizens accused of more mundane crimes? Terrorists have an effective recruitment tool by saying it is unlikely that they will be caught, and that if they do the justice system affords ample opportunity to beat the full rap.
There is a staggering taxpayer cost; trials take years to complete and appeals even longer. The defense can (and does) request new evidence post-trial, and due to the nature of the war against terrorism forever there will almost always be additional relevant information to be gathered and considered. Because the defense has the right to see any evidence that might be used against it (in theory for trial preparation only), the entire terrorist network globally is informed of sources and successes of American intelligence agencies and the FBI. For example, the unindicted co-conspirator list in the Blind Sheikh case, which named anyone vaguely connected to the WTC bombing plot, was transmitted to Osama bin Laden almost immediately after it was disclosed to the defense. Since U.S. human intelligence capabilities have been extremely limited by Congress, our defenders of the homeland need foreign intelligence agencies to feed them information, but in turn our allies are reluctant to share it with us because our discovery rules would reveal it.
"From Egypt to Brooklyn"
The book is a memoir, and the revelations of McCarthy become the reader's as he relives the timeline through the prosecutor's eyes. McCarthy gradually gains a deep appreciation for how this case differs from the on-the-job training he received as a young prosecutor pursuing mafia racketeering and other complex criminal enterprises. Knowing the Egyptian court had acquitted Rahman of murdering a Muslim president, and that Rahman had earned his release after three years of pre-trial imprisonment by speaking before the court himself in a masterful command of Islamic Law, McCarthy thoroughly researched the Quran and the history of jihad, with emphasis on the modern era and Egypt.
In the first chapters he traces the rise of jihad in modern Egypt to Sayyid Qutb. This icon of the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for reinvigorating anti-Semitism until he was "martyred" by Nassar in 1966. He was an inspiration to Rahman, who issues enigmatic fatwas that condone shedding the blood of "a ruler who does not obey the laws of God," inspiring the assassins of Sadat and others such as Ayman Zawahiri, the emir of Islamic Jihad who merges this group into Al Qaeda. Since direct evidence linking the Blind Sheikh to the Sadat assasination is scant and he is an eloquent defender of the national faith, the Egyptian court acquits him, whereupon he becomes free to pursue the next jihad. An international hero, he moves to Peshiwar, then Afghanistan, to experience the holy battle against the Soviets firsthand. Here a star-studded cast of jihad cross-pollinates, and eventually Rahman sets up shop in the Al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn.
Rahman, once the "emir" of Egypt's "Islamic Group" (a spinoff of the Muslim Brotherhood linked to numerous killings and kidnappings), morphs into the "emir of jihad" in his new job. In his view and that of much of his congregants, the United States was the "head of the snake." Abdel Rahman believed "America, through its support of Israel and secular Muslim regimes, as well as what he (somewhat amusingly) regarded as its control of the United Nations, was responsible for `the humiliation, degradation, and filth' that Muslims faced in Egypt, [and] elsewhere in the Middle East..."
A point McCarthy expounds upon in the associated video is that nowhere in the Quran and Hadith could he find contradiction to any points Rahman had made in his Egyptian testimony or in the banks of documents collected as evidence in the World Trade Center trial. He anticipated a remote possibility that Rahman might take the stand, and thought he might gain an edge before the court by portraying his violence and anti-Semitism as not truly representative of the prophet's teachings. However, he learned in the process that jihad is an essential tenet of Islam. True, most practitioners believe this is not the case, and a cherished few such as the informant Salem are so personally repulsed by terrorism and anti-Semitism that they are moved to help the U.S. excise those whom they think pose a national security threat. But McCarthy is a prosecutor and must deal in facts, not raw emotion; the evidence he uncovers proves Islam is a call to arms for terrorism and ultimately the vanquishing of western culture.
Like the judges of the Egyptian court that acquit Rahman, McCarthy, too, finds the defendant really is doing God's work. The difference is that the Muslim court is hopelessly conflicted and can't repudiate murder sanctioned by Islam; the secular Middle East states and fundamentalist Islam are forever irreconcilable. The Conservative Economist's experience with liberal thinkers is that they would equate the Egyptian contradiction above with the separation of church and state supposedly required by the U.S. Constitution (a view which holds in suspension the evidence that the First Amendment dealt with the establishment of a state religion like the Anglican Church). The American justice system, in their view, should avoid mixing law and religion, and parade their tolerance of all faiths by allowing all sorts of openings for terrorists to shield themselves from the long arm of the law. Even worse, there are some who would recognize Sharia law. But being tolerant of the intolerant sets up the same conflict that trapped the Egyptian judges, for the outcome to citizens is nearly the same: assassination and mass murder results, a few perpetrators are caught, and many like Nosair are acquitted or sentenced lightly of lesser infractions. And would jail time reform these, or be a recruiting ground for the likes of Jose Padilla (a.k.a. Abdullah al-Muhajir), who planned a dirty bomb radiological attack and after having converted to Islam in prison?
McCarthy reviews mountains of tape recordings and seized materials, which show in no uncertain terms that the jihadists were then and continue today to be enemy combatants, not garden-variety criminals. They seek to build an army within the U.S. whose express purpose is to undermine Judeo-Christian values. In the words of conspirator Tarig Elhassan, "The people must understand America has to change... They have to understand America can break down, can come down..." And in response to this, replies conspirator Victor Alvarez, "The American people, they're getting the idea, they know, that the Jewish people is the one that keep influencing them."
In contrast to criminals who operate for profit and seek permanent evasion from justice, the conspirators acted out of idealism and judiciously sought the limelight, especially to their global audience. At a minimum smiting at the head of Uncle Sam and often going unpunished or lightly punished for it is a public relations coup that translates into emboldened recruitment globally. Their priority was the recruitment and training of soldiers, who were dispatched to execute numerous plots to disrupt our economy, body politic, and courts. That their goal is to overthrow us seems far-fetched to Americans, simply because that outcome seems unattainable. Or, without immersion in the source materials available to McCarthy, naivete permits maintenance of an illusion that they were an isolated group with unique intentions.
"Vignettes of Terrorism"
One need not pour over everything as McCarthy did, for his book is packed with specifics that complete the inside view of Rahman's organization. His jihadist soldiers were not intimidated by law enforcement. When subpoenaed, they responded with provocative defiance, presenting themselves in an amassed group marching to the FBI office in solidarity. When the FBI surveiled a group of 16 soldiers spending the day firing at targets with an array of weapons including AK-47s and firearms with collapsible stocks, they boldly pounded on the van in which pictures are being snapped behind tinted windows, challenging the agents for having harassed them amid a religious "ceremony." McCarthy notes, "They maintained their innocence with defiant confidence: they were legally bearing their firearms from the mosque where they legally worshipped to the shooting range where they legally blasted away." Brazen manipulation of the justice system was taught to the Al-Farooq gang by co-conspirator Hampton-El. When a squabble between rivals that broke out in the JFK airport lead to their prosecution for assaulting a security guard with pliers, he submitted an affidavit falsely claiming he witnessed the guards accosting his brothers, even though he was nowhere near the airport that day. The cowed authorities, in deference to political correctness, gave in and dropped charges.
The book is aptly named, for McCarthy demonstrates how those we entrust with our protection look the other way when confronted with the threat of jihad. Not directly, not from corruption, not from ineptitude, but out of political correctness, fear of losing cases, being tripped up by subtly complex legal constraints, or tying up manpower on what could be wild goose chases or incredibly broad investigations. Sometimes it is plain naivete. Take the amazing story of one Ali Abdelseoud Mohamed. He began his career as a member of the Islamic Jihad organization in Egypt, infiltrated that country's army and retired from it as a major in 1984. He volunteers to help the CIA, but fails a test of his fidelity by passing on information to Hezbollah operatives known to the agency. Remarkably, he receives a visa to enter the U.S. in 1985, marries an attendant from the flight here, and then enlists in the U.S. Army. He angles a spot at Fort Bragg, site of the Special Warfare Center where Delta Force trains, and endears himself to his commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Anderson.
However, soldiers noticed "that on the long runs he would go on to maintain his peak conditioning, Mohamed would listen to recitations of the Quran on his walkman." In 1988 he leaves the base to go to Afghanistan to "kill Russians," politely informing Anderson, who frowns on the request. Some are on to him, such as one Captain Asimos who orders participants of a 1988 war game to be careful what they say in front of Mohamed.
Nevertheless, a top instructor at the base who was a scholar of Middle Eastern warfare, retired Colonel Norville de Atkine, took him under his wing to help teach a class on Arab culture and to make videos explaining Islam for the men at the base. McCarthy concludes, "With the hair-splitting so emblematic of academics (and which is still gospel in government circles), de Atkine rejected the notion that convictions rooted in literalist interpretation of Islamic scripture correlated to terrorism committed by Islamic militants. `I don't think he was anti-American,' de Atkine told the Times in a 1998 interview about Mohammed. `He was what I would call a Muslim fundamentalist, which isn't a bomb thrower'." Mohamed later infiltrates the FBI in 1993, escorts Osama bin Laden from Pakistan to the Sudan, but eventually gets arrested in connection with the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in that country.
Another remarkable tale is that of the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), an organization originally dedicated to protecting Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. Launching terrorist attacks against Russian targets in the U.S. during its first two decades (through 1988) made the JDL controversial even among Jews. Kahane became a vocal supporter of encouraging Jewish emigration to Israel, and Egyptian President Mubarak allowed migration through his country. Offended by these transgressions, inspired by Rahman, and supported by co-conspirators from the Al-Farooq mosque, Sayyid Nosair "allegedly" shot the Rabbi with a .357 magnum at close range while he was speaking to a crowd of 60 at the Marriott East Side Hotel. (However the bullet was never recovered, and Nosair was so close to Kahane that no one saw the gun when it was fired).
Despite finding 47 boxes of documents in Nosair's home describing the conspiracy against Kahane, both the NYPD and the FBI promptly declared that Nosair was a lone deranged gunman - without waiting to even translate the Arabic writings among the boxes of evidence collected, which were chock full of conspiratorial substantiation. And they chose to ignore that Nosair's 1983 Oldsmobile was moved to a no-parking zone near the hotel the morning after the murder to make the crime seem a solo effort. The accomplices, displaying ineptitude similar to the attempt to reclaim the deposit on the rented van after the Trade Center bombing, left fingerprints, notes about bomb-making compounds, and plans for another probably murderous assault, which were likewise ignored. Why? To do otherwise would "ignite a powder keg" and upset Mayor Dinkins' "gorgeous mosaic." It would be easier to secure a conviction in a simple trial with eyewitnesses, would it not? Yet the famed defense attorney, Bill Kunsler, proves his theory that jury selection wins cases, and secures Nosair's acquittal of homicide and attempted murder after packing the panel full of "third world ...non-whites, or anyone who's been pushed down by a white society." Thus, in the eyes of a terrorist, the U.S. is a much better place to operate than a secular Muslim nation. "You understand (says conspirator Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali)... Tell them "I don't know. I'm not talking to you. Bring my Lawyer.' Never talk to them. Not a word. `My lawyer'-that's it! That's what's so beautiful about America."
Besides not being willing to recognize the threats of the Ali Mohammeds or the Sayyid Nosairs, McCarthy shows how naivete coalesces with the highly developed process adopted by law enforcement. The outcome is regularly contortion (Nosair acted alone; Let's not prosecute the Blind Sheikh), especially from the perspective of those who wish to be protected from threats. The FBI, obviously in error about its support of lone gunman theory in the Kahane murder, assures a Congressional panel in 2002 that it really did not take this position but deferred to the NYPD. This is swallowed despite the supremacy of federal law in such cases, and FBI interviews with the press contradicting this. Similarly, FBI officials told another 2002 congressional probe "there was no indication of the magnitude of the attack (jihadists) were planning or that they intended to kill thousands of Americans." McCarthy points out the glaring irony that as lead prosecutor in an FBI case, he proved in court that by July 1992 jihadists intended to kill thousands of Americans!
The case comes to an unplanned climax when two conspirators toy with the idea of leaving the country for another jihad adventure. Here the reader learns explicitly how the hands of officers of the court are forced in a way that is out of sync with how one primarily concerned with national security would choose to act. The law against prospective bombings carries a maximum penalty of only ten years, and there is no requirement for a judge to impose any penalty. Proving an attempt requires documenting that a "substantial step" was taken towards the act, not just "mere preparation." So law enforcement must capture everyone involved in a plot essentially at the moment just before the crime is to occur. With key members of the cast changing, the FBI was forced to make arrests on short notice, well before the perfect moment for maximizing the potential proof of a substantial step. Of course, being early is far better than being just a little late, which might result in thousands dead.
Once arrests were made, McCarthy then faced another major issue: to prosecute the members of the group, normally racketeering law would be used to establish its members were part of a conspiracy. But these laws were written to with organized crime in mind, which is a profit-seeking enterprise. Since jihad is a religious goal and not a business, this body of law might not neatly apply. So McCarthy had to dust off an 1862 law for "seditious conspiracy," yet lending another element of legal uncertainty. Finally, at the moment of truth the FBI takes the position that it would be better not to prosecute the Blind Sheikh. Why? Well, four terrorists with direct involvement had been apprehended. To link Raman, who was careful to delegate responsibility, would be trickier and require rehashing broad evidence such as the army training exercises, storing firearms at the mosque, the FBI's position that Kahane's murder was the act of a lone deranged killer, and the agency's quixotic hot and cold relationship with its prime informant, Salem - all of which would discredit the FBI. Political correctness, fear of losing cases, being tripped up by subtly complex legal constraints, all these things actually do come together and make the criminal justice system and intelligence collection incompatible bedfellows.
One might debate the moral grounds for conferring the benefits of U.S. citizenship upon enemy combatants. Most civil libertarians who take this ground conveniently assume away the absurd implications on expenses and infrastructure this would impose upon conventional warfare, as if there could be some determination of exactly what variety of enemy combatant deserves legal representation. Would we have a coterie of lawyers swoop in like medics to nurse the legal needs of battlefield captures? Putting this aside, to consider whether the criminal justice system should fulfill a role in national security belies ignorance of what kind of apparatus it is. In concert with law enforcement, its primary mission is to catch and punish perpetrators after crimes have been committed. Using it for national security to protect against acts that would kill thousands of citizens would be as ineffective as wearing a perforated prophylactic to avoid pregnancy or disease. Reliance upon it exposes our national body tissue to the viral spread of sleeper cells awaiting conditions ripe for epidemics of terrorism. Moreover, to make matters worse, having an ineffective defense actually attracts predators, as if we were leaving meat out on our back porch and wondering why foxes and coyotes come near.
Andrew McCarthy, a brilliant prosecutor of complex criminal organizations, had the good fortune to be the best candidate for the job when a new type of threat to public safety emerged. We as citizens are fortunate that he was able to craft an effective prosecution, thanks to effective interaction with another hero of sorts, Emad Salem, without whom the members of the Al Farooq mosque might have continued to terrorize our nation. The Conservative Economist recommends the book and the accompanying video, for after immersing oneself in this fascinating journey, one can never look at criminally prosecuting enemy combatants hiding undercover in our midst with the same mindset that existed before the destruction of the Twin Towers.
Most recent customer reviews
The jest of the book is...Read more
I really liked the way it was written. The events were up front and relevant.