Brainwashing a Terrorist

The prolonged adolescence of Mohamed O. Mohamud has ended with a guilty verdict. Now he can show he’s an adult by ordering his attorneys not to file an appeal on his behalf.

It won’t be easy. Chief defense attorney Stephen Sady has already said there will be an appeal.

Is this really what Mohamud wants? Or is he being coerced by his legal team – Sady, Steven Wax and Lisa Hay. Did they prepare him for the possibility of a guilty verdict by promising an appeal? Have they told him that he or his parents can still try to sue the FBI in civil court for damages? Did Wax tell him about the $2 million he got for Brandon Mayfield?

For almost three weeks, 21-year-old Mohamud has sat silently in federal court in downtown Portland, while his legal team has made excuses for his attempt to detonate a weapon of mass destruction.

Over and over, he was called a “kid” by his attorneys. They continually reminded the jury that Mohamud was only 19 when he punched in a cell phone number, which was supposed to detonate a bomb in Pioneer Courthouse Square, where thousands of people gathered for a Christmas tree lighting two years ago.

“How do we get a conflicted kid pushing the button…?” asked assistant public defender Stephen Sady. “He’s trying to live through a difficult late adolescence.”

His attorneys found an expert who said Mohamud’s brain was still developing. It almost sounded like the poor kid was still learning to talk – and not an engineering student at Oregon State University.

In his closing argument this week, Sady told the jury that if they looked at Mohamud in the flesh and blood they would see, “This is a good kid.”

Clearly, the jurors looked and saw something else. Perhaps they saw a young man who wanted to kill them.

This is the hardest part for Portland residents sympathetic to Mohamud. He might hate their guts – even though they’re the kind of people who instantly reach out to help desperate Somali immigrants like Mohamud and his family.

It’s easier to blame the FBI for brainwashing a poor kid. Kind of like the three Mohamud supporters I met at the federal courthouse, who were hopeful of acquittal.

We had gathered in the lobby Wednesday after the case had gone to the jury. Two of them were friendly, grandmotherly women who eagerly followed the trial. One was a member of Portland Copwatch and didn’t miss a day.

“If I were on the jury, it would be hung,” she told me Wednesday. She had sized up the jury, and one juror bothered her.

“I could tell by her body language, she didn’t like Sady when he was speaking,” she said.

The second woman spotted Sady leaving the building as we chatted and called out to him, “You were good!”

The third Mohamud supporter was a beatific young woman with a long blonde braid.

“I’m here as a human,” she said.

I sat next to her in court the day before. She would smile occasionally at no one in particular. Ever-so-slightly she would nod her head up and down, as if she were keeping time to something or saying a silent blessing. She told me during a recess that she had taken so many notes the previous day that her hand cramped up and still hurt.

These three women were surely disappointed in the verdict. They, too, probably want Mohamud’s attorneys to file an appeal.

The law allows Mohamud to make his own decision not to appeal, providing he does so knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily – with no coercion or duress. By doing so, he would no longer look like the immature, vulnerable follower who cannot stand up to authority.

The defense compared Mohamud to the men in the Milgram psychological experiment at Yale University in the 1960’s. More than half of the men in the experiment obediently delivered electrical shocks to another person when ordered to do so.

The FBI entrapped Mohamud in “a social experiment from hell. It’s Milgram on steroids,” his attorney charged.

Mohamud can now show he’s nobody’s lab rat or legal pawn. He can accept the consequences of what he – and he alone – has done, even if the current authority figures in his life want him to do something else.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons

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