Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
By Tokunbo Adedoja
Mr. Kayode Oladele, a US-based attorney appointed by the Nigerian Embassy in Washington to observe the trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who attempted to blow up an American aircraft, has provided a legal view on factors that accounted for the “severity” of the sentences slammed on him by Judge Nancy Edmunds.
Abdulmutallab had pleaded guilty to 8-count superseding indictment last October against the advice of his court-appointed lawyer.
The charges include: (Count 1) Conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, (Count 2) possession of a firearm/destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, (Count 3) attempted murder within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, (Count 4) use and carrying of a firearm/destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence, (Count 5) wilfully placing a destructive device in, upon and in proximity to a civil aircraft which was used and operated in interstate, overseas and foreign air commerce, which was likely to have endangered the safety of such aircraft, (Count 6) possession of a firearm/destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, (Count 7) attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, and (Count 8) wilful attempt to destroy and wreck a civil aircraft.
He was sentenced last Thursday to 240 months on Counts 3, 5, and 8, to run concurrent; life on Count 7, to run concurrent to Counts 3, 5, and 8; 30 years on Count 2, to run consecutive to all other counts; life on Count 1, to run consecutive to all other counts; life on Count 4, to run consecutive to all other counts; and life on Count 6, to run consecutive to all other counts. $2,505 criminal monetary penalty was also slammed on him as restitution.
In a statement made available to THISDAY, Oladele said under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, there were forty three offence levels, with level 43 being the most serious.
He said by giving Abdulmutallab the maximum punishment imposed by law, Judge Edmunds had placed him on category 43 in spite of the fact that he did not have prior criminal history.
Explaining the factors that accounted for the severity of Abdulmutallab's sentencing, Oladele said, "For instance, the judge said that the act which was undertaken by Abdulmutallab was done to achieve religious and political objectives but he was only unable to achieve the objectives due to the defective nature of the bomb; he also believes that participation in Jihad against the United States is encouraged in the Quran and called his weapon of mass destruction a blessed weapon".
The lawyer said, "Another factor is the fact that Abdulmutallab did not show any sense of remorse, instead, he sees the killing as a sacred obligation in which he feels every Muslim must participate in.
According to the judge, Abdulmuitallab poses a significant threat to the United States everywhere as he still has the enormous motivation to carry out another attack but that he does not currently have the capacity. To that extent, the judge felt that life imprisonment would be a just punishment for what he has done in addition to serving as a deterrent."
He said he was not surprised that Abdulmutallab was given multiple life sentences without parole due to the serious nature of the offences including the emotional stress and trauma the victims and their loved ones had suffered as a result of his action.
"Unfortunately, he kept a straight face throughout the trial and did nothing to show that he was sorry for his actions," Oladele said, adding, "Even when he addressed the court before the sentencing, he said nothing other than to reiterate his commitments to the Mujahedeen, Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki that reportedly trained him and commissioned him to bomb the US Airliner."
Continuing, Oladele said, "In addition, if you look at his demeanours during the sentencing, you will see a young man who has already given up and who was determined to perform what he considered to be a sacred obligation to kill, maim and destroy.
"He cannot even face the world again, so, what difference would a reduced sentence make to him anyway? From this, I think a sentence below the maximum may have given the wrong impression that terrorism may be excused in some way, particularly, if it the terrorist act does not involve human life, as for example, if their weapon of mass destruction fails due to technical malfunction as we have in Abdulmutallab’s case."
Abdulmutallab, however, filed a notice of appeal on Thursday, after the sentences were announced.
He wrote his name in the box allocated to his counsel, an indication that he may have resolve to stand for himself during his appeal or that Chambers may have ceased to be his lawyer.
Though, after Abdulmutallab had sacked his four-man defence team last year and opted to represent himself, the court mandated Chambers to stand in the gap for him.
Last December, Abdulmutallab, who accepted Chambers reluctantly, filed a motion in court requesting for a new court-appointed legal adviser accusing Chambers of lying to him, misleading him, and treating him with contempt.
His request was, however, turned down by Judge Edmunds in January.
Speaking on Saturday with THISDAY on Abdulmutallab's appeal, Oladele said: "To the best of my knowledge, Chambers is done, at least, as a stand by counsel or even as a defendant’s counsel under the Sixth Amendment.
"The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused person shall enjoy the right to have the assistance of counsel. To this effect, immediately the charges were filed against Abdulmutallab, the government provided him with legal counsel from the office of Federal Defenders.
"These lawyers, in my opinion were doing well to the point that at some stage, some of us felt that they would be able to cut a deal for the defendant until one day, they were all summarily fired by Abdulmutallab who at that point, decided to waive his Sixth Amendment right and opted to represent himself. We thought when he fired his lawyers, he was going to request for new ones but surprisingly, he elected to waive his Sixth Amendments right and the Court could not impose it on him.
Continuing, Oladele said: "However, it is the practice in the district that when a defendant facing very serious charges decides to go pro se, the court would provide him with a stand-by counsel for the limited purposes of guiding the defendants, not to provide a full legal representation for him."
Noting that as it could be seen from the pleadings and submissions in court and from the judge's attestation, Chambers gave Abdulmutallab a good and effective legal assistance throughout the entire proceedings.
Oladele said: "Now that the trial is over, judgment had been given and Abdulmutallab has been convicted, the role of Mr. Chambers as a stand-by counsel has terminated. This is so because a defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to counsel at all critical stages which include both the pre-trial and trial proceedings.
"However, the Sixth Amendment rights end at trial level particularly, after judgment or sentence. In any case, this does not suggest that Abdulmutallab does not have any further right to be represented by a legal counsel on appeal. It is just that he would have to rely on another provisions of the US constitution that afford defendants additional right to counsel beyond trial and sentencing rather than the Sixth Amendment."
He said for instance, under the First Amendment to the constitution, a defendant had constitutional right to appointed counsel, fundamentally on a first appeal as of right, including post convictions motions.