by Mark Hosenball
U.S. officials are indicating that the Obama administration has little interest in exerting its diplomatic clout to try to ease the plight of five Muslim men from Northern Virginia who earlier this week were jailed by Pakistani authorities for 10 years on terror-related charges. But the head of a prominent U.S. Islamic group is suggesting that the administration was treating the Northern Virginia five under a double standard, noting that Gary Faulkner, an American arrested by Pakistani authorities while on a self-proclaimed mission to stalk and kill Osama bin Laden, was released and sent home only days after his arrest.
Three U.S. officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, say that they were unaware of any effort or interest on the part of the Obama administration to pressure the Pakistanis to work out some kind of deal to allow the five an early release from Pakistani custody, perhaps in return for some sort of promise that they would serve out their sentences in an American prison. "We respect the decision of the Pakistani judicial system," says Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department. The State Department's chief spokesman, P.J. Crowley, tells Declassified, "We closely monitored their cases and provided appropriate consular assistance to them and their families. We will continue to do that. They had legal representation and were subject to a transparent Pakistani legal process. We will continue to monitor their cases as they move through the appeal process."
The U.S. government appears to believe there is "good violence and bad violence," Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, tells Declassified, noting that the five young Northern Virginia Muslims are likely to remain in jail for a decade, while Colorado construction worker Gary Faulkner, who was arrested while trying to cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan armed with a pistol, sword and night-vision goggles, was quickly released and allowed to return to the U.S. But a senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity when addressing a politically sensitive issue, retorts, "Rambo [Faulkner] did not leave behind a jihad videotape. There is no comparability to the two cases."
U.S. officials say that from what they can tell, the Northern Virginia Five never really succeeded in their effort to volunteer as fighters with an Islamic militant group. Instead, according to officials and news reports about the case, members of two militant groups whom the Virginians met with, Jaish-i-Muhammad and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, apparently rejected their approaches, and they never really succeeded in hooking up with jihadists before they were arrested. While there are no indications that criminal charges are pending against the men in the United States, officials would not entirely rule out the possibility that such charges could be filed if the men were to be allowed to return here.
Awad disputes that the men's trial was transparent, claiming it was conducted in secret and that the defendants were tortured by their Pakistani captors. He says their local defense lawyer said evidence against them, which reportedly included a dozen e-mail messages the defendants allegedly exchanged with a notorious Pakistani militant and maps of a Pakistani nuclear plant, was fabricated by Pakistani authorities. "At least the U.S. government should investigate the torture allegations," Awad says.
The Northern Virginia Five are part of what Obama administration officials say is a disturbing and growing pattern of involvement and interest by Muslim American citizens and residents in violent jihad. Earlier this week, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani immigrant who became a U.S. citizen just over a year ago, entered a guilty plea to terrorism charges stemming from his unsuccessful May 1 attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square, defiantly telling a federal judge in Manhattan, "I want to plead guilty and I'm going to plead guilty a hundred times over, because until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan, and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims, and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking U.S., and I plead guilty to that."