The Corner

‘Bring my lawyer! — That’s what’s so beautiful about America.’

This excerpt from my book, Willful Blindness, seems fitting this morning:

Back at the safehouse [in Queens] again that evening, the jihadists talked about future operations they hoped to carry out if the present plot [to bomb the UN complex and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels] went well. In addition to the George Washington Bridge and the [the FBI’s Manhattan headquarters], Siddig Ali, Amir Abdelgani, and Tarig Elhassan discussed scouting a U.S. military base on Staten Island—which Siddig apparently sensed might be a more promising target than the Manhattan armory he had surveilled back in the spring.

The plotters then engaged in a breathtaking conversation, castigating the United States with the exception of the one thing they really liked about our nation:  the criminal justice system. 

The discussion was forced by Elhassan, who had lingering doubts about Puerto Rican jihadist Victor Alvarez’s commitment—especially whether he had the courage to withstand the pressure of interrogation if he were arrested. Gazing deeply into Alvarez’s eyes, Siddig sternly explained that the bombs would soon be ready, and that perhaps Alvarez should flee to Puerto Rico once the stolen cars [for transporting bombs] had been obtained. Siddig reasoned that Alvarez, unlike the others, was an American citizen:  “You understand, brother, for me, for him, no problem. No problem. For you? It’s your country. You understand?” 

Joined by Elhassan, he warned Alvarez that there would be immense public outcry following the bombings, prompting police to use “every tactic,” including torture, to break suspects, and to press aggressively for cooperation. “They’ll get you, your mother, your sister, family.  They will tell you, ‘We’re gonna put them in jail.’ They will say, ‘You know what? You did it. We know you did it. But, if you tell us who else, we’ll let you go. Sign the paper.’” 

Alvarez would have only two choices. “Number one you talk,” begging to be released and handing up “Muslims, terrorists.” The “second choice” was the “hard” but rewarding path of praying for the strength—“Oh Allah, make me strong. Let them cut me to pieces!” It was the path of defiantly chanting, “There’s no God but Allah.” To anneal him in fortitude, Siddig promised that if Alvarez were in jail, he would not be abandoned.  After all, Alvarez need only look around him, that very day in that very safehouse, to see that the World Trade Center bombers had not been abandoned:

What happens? The trial is gonna come. They gonna find you guilty. You’re already guilty. “You pig”—for being Muslim. But your brothers outside work for you. Now, we will, insha Allah [God willing], free Mahmud [Abouhalima], Nidal [Ayyad], all of them, insha Allah, insha Allah!


Choosing America as an enemy was not, however, without its advantages.  Amir Abdelgani advised his confederates that, if arrested, “Nobody talk until seeing his lawyer.”

“You understand,” Siddig echoed.  “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.”