Richmond, Va. (AP) - The life prison term given to a U.S. man who joined al-Qaida and plotted to assassinate then-President George W. Bush was unreasonably harsh when compared to sentences in comparable terrorism cases, the man's lawyer told a federal appeals court Thursday.
A government attorney countered that U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee properly concluded that Ahmed Abu Ali's case was unique and that his lack of remorse demonstrated that he would be a danger to others if ever released from prison.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides before taking Abu Ali's request for a new sentencing hearing under advisement. The court usually takes a few weeks to rule.
Abu Ali was born in
Abu Ali initially was sentenced to 30 years, but the Richmond-based appeals court rejected that as too lenient and sent the case back to Lee for resentencing. Lee imposed the maximum life term.
Alice L. Fontier, an attorney for Abu Ali, argued that Lee misinterpreted the appeals court's guidance on sentencing and went too far in giving her client a substantially harsher sentence than other terrorists.
"There are a multitude of cases that are comparable," she said.
For example, she cited the case of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, who made a plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years for joining al-Qaida so he could fight in
However, appeals court Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson
"I'm not sure how they qualify as comparable," Wilkinson said.
Justice Department attorney Stephen M. Campbell said that of the many terrorists Abu Ali's attorneys cited as comparable, only Jose Padilla was even eligible for a life term. He said Abu Ali's offenses were more serious because he plotted attacks in the
When Lee imposed the life sentence, he said he was concerned that Abu Ali could be a threat to the public if released from a federal prison in
Fontier said the judge essentially was holding Abu Ali accountable for the effects of a violation of the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.