Ongoing FBI Use of Entrapment in Terror Cases

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In November 2016, the FBI arrested a young Muslim named Samy Mohamed Hamzeh in an undercover sting that allegedly halted a plan to commit a mass shooting with the intention to kill dozens; however, as the details of the case developed, the accused began to look more like the victim. Although Hamzeh was arrested attempting to purchase machine guns, the defense claimed that he was goaded into it. Hamzeh had no history of violence and no connection to extremist groups. The defense claimed that undercover informants influenced Hamzeh and stated that, “All of the weapons were provided by the government, at the government’s suggestion, and for a price that was a fraction of the going rate.” Hamzeh even went to great lengths to consult Islamic spiritual leaders about the planned attack on the Masonic Center. On the advice of these spiritual leaders, Hamzeh told the informants that he was not going to participate in the planned attack.

Entrapment is a practice used by many law enforcement agencies to build their cases against potential suspects. Dan Stiller, a former executive director of Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin explains entrapment: “a person is not entrapped merely because law enforcement provides [an] opportunity to commit a crime. Entrapment occurs where law enforcement, by its conduct, induces the commission of a crime.” For the defendant the use of an entrapment defense is logical; however, it is up to the defendant to prove that he or she was induced to commit the crime. This is a very difficult point to argue and it usually ends in failure. Entrapment moves the burden of guilt to the accused. Jessie Norris, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, evaluated 580 terrorism prosecution cases and found that 317 of them involved some type of entrapment by law enforcement officials.

Since the arrest of Hamzeh, much of the corporate media reported about the story, but there were some often glaring omissions. Even when these stories mentioned the defense’s position, most, of this coverage neglected to contextualize entrapment as a tactic that law enforcement officials frequently employ in the so-called war on terror. In fact, this was confirmed by journalist Trevor Aaronson in his 2013 book The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, which noted that a majority of the FBI’s arrests in foiling so-called terror plots were based on entrapment. Without this background information, the public is unlikely to understand from the potentially underhanded tactics of law enforcement and innocent people will continue to be victims of  entrapment.

Source: Steven Potter, “Terrorist or Victim of Entrapment? Milwaukee Case Raises Troubling Issues,” The Progressive, November 1, 2017, http://progressive.org/magazine/terrorist-or-victim-of-entrapment-milwaukee-case-raises-trou/.

Student Researcher: Madison Young (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)