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Terrorism: United States v. Sabir

U.S Court of Appeals, Second Circuit


Constitutionally Vague

United States v. Sabir
Appealed from the Southern District of New York

Background: Defendant Rafiq Sabir, whose birth name is Rene Wright, is a United States citizen and licensed physician who, in May 2005, swore an oath of allegiance to al-Qaida and promised to be on call to treat wounded members of that terrorist organization in Saudi Arabia. Sabir is a New York licensed physician, trained at Columbia University, who specializes in emergency medicine.  In 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating Sabir’s longtime friend Tarik Shah for the possible transfer of money to insurgents in Afghanistan. As part of that investigation, an FBI confidential informant known as “Saeed” cultivated a relationship with Shah, in the course of which Shah was recorded speaking openly about his commitment to jihad in order to establish Sharia and about his wish to provide “deadly and dangerous” martial arts training to mujahideen.
Sabir now contends, among other arguments on appeal, that 18 U.S.C. §2339B, under which he was convicted for providing and conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization, is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, that the trial evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, that the government’s use of peremptory juror challenges exhibited racial bias in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that erroneous evidentiary rulings violated his rights to confrontation and/or a fair trial.
Convicted after a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York of conspiring to provide and actually providing or attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2339B, and sentenced to a 300-month term of incarceration, Sabir now challenges his conviction.

Ruling: The court affirms concluding that from the totality of these facts, a reasonable jury could have concluded that on May 20, 2005, Sabir crossed the line from simply professing radical beliefs or joining a radical organization to attempting a crime, specifically, Sabir’s provision of himself as personnel to work under the direction and control of al-Qaida. The court continued: “Nor is the statute’s prohibition on the provision of ‘expert assistance and advice’ to terrorist organizations unconstitutionally vague as applied to Sabir. As the district court correctly observed, the medical expertise of a licensed physician plainly constitutes ‘scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge’” under the statute.
A dissent by the chief judge observed that “the majority has at once unwisely re-written the law of attempt, raised freedom-of-association concerns and possibly treaded on double jeopardy protection” thereby “opening the door to mischievous abuse.” The dissent concluded that “regardless of Sabir’s inclination, as a matter of law, any step he took toward that end was insubstantial and any support he furnished unquestionably immaterial … In the end, a man stands guilty, and severely punished, for an offense that he did not commit.”

Edward D. Wilford for the appellant; Jennifer G. Rodgers, assistant U.S. attorney, for the appellee