Are senior Obama administration officials considering transferring to Egypt a poisonously influential Islamist cleric serving a life term in federal prison for trying to unleash a war of urban terrorism in the United States? That's the impression several officials have given over the past three months, apparently out of fear that if the cleric dies in U.S. custody, American outposts in the Middle East could be overrun by vengeful mobs.
Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called Blind Sheik, is one of the world's leading theologians of terrorism. Abdel Rahman, who has diabetes and is in his mid-70s, is confined at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons medical facility in Butner, N.C. He served as spiritual adviser to El Sayid Nosair (in connection with the 1990 assassination in Manhattan of Meir Kahane, a right-wing Israeli politician) and to the band of terrorists who carried out the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that killed six and wounded numerous others (an operation undertaken in part to free Nosair from jail).
Abdel Rahman was convicted in 1995 of participating in a seditious conspiracy that included the Kahane murder, the 1993 WTC bombing, and a plot to blow up other landmarks in New York and to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he visited the United Nations. I presided over the trial as a U.S. district judge; upon his conviction, I sentenced Abdel Rahman to life in prison.
Why life in prison? Why is this man still alive to be the subject of a release demand? Because Congress inexcusably stalled until 1994, after the crime, to enact the post-Furman/Gregg federal death penalty law.