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Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

On several occasions on this blog, I’ve suggested that the entwined cases of Muhammad Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar might be something of a bellwether for Conrad Black’s prospects at sentencing. As of this morning, I hope for Black’s sake this isn’t the case.

Yesterday, Judge Amy St. Eve sentenced Ashqar to 11 years and three months for refusing to testify before a grand jury—a grand jury that brought the same charges of which Ashqar and Salah were eventually found not guilty at trial. (I’ve also suggested that St. Eve’s admitted use of jury interviews to help determine Salah’s relative culpability and therefore his sentence—he was handed 21 months in July—could bode ill for Black and the $100-million defence.) Ashqar’s sentence is more than twice the upper end of what is normally imposed for a similar crime. And yet, St. Eve found her justification under post-Patriot Act sentencing guidelines that link the refusal to testify with the promotion of terrorism. Among knowledgeable observers, the severity of the sentence was cause for considerable alarm. Thomas Durkin, a Chicago defence attorney who once acted for Ashqar, has faced off against the government before St. Eve in high profile government corruption cases. He wrote me this morning:

“The eleven plus year sentence for the crime the jury saw fit to convict Dr. Ashqar is unconscionably lengthy and pumps life back into the government’s discredited theory that this was a terrorist prosecution in the first instance—a theory soundly and unequivocally rejected by this jury and virtually every American jury that has considered the government’s evidence regarding these Hamas prosecutions nationwide. The crime for which Dr. Ashqar stands convicted—refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating Hamas—is, in the final analysis, far more akin to an act of civil disobedience than terrorism. Sadly, civil liberties took a large step backwards in Chicago today, again under the misguided and wrongheaded auspices of the war on terror.”

As for Black, the entire matter suggests a grim foreboding. St. Eve demonstrated yesterday her cold-blooded willingness to use newer, harsher sentencing guidelines in order to, in her words, “promote respect for the law.” Black too is subject to newer harsher guidelines and I suspect that to the same end she won’t be afraid to use them.

The legal bill so far: $107-million to defend Black and company: Source [The Globe and Mail]

Man gets 11 years for not testifying: Source [Chicago Tribune]

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