Bail denied for Fort Dix suspects

January 3, 2008 5:35:29 PM PST
Five men accused of plotting an attack on Fort Dix will not be released on bail, a judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler said that the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia has improved the men's access to materials from the government's case against them and that the detention center is not denying them their rights under the 6th Amendment to see charges against them.

Lawyers for the men had asked a judge to consider releasing them on bail or ordering the federal Bureau of Prisons to make other arrangements so they could spend more time reviewing hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings made in the investigation.

Last month, after the lawyers' motions, the detention center instituted a new policy: The men would be able to spend from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. every weekday reviewing the recordings on computers in a law library or other rooms in the detention center.

Since the policy went into effect on Dec. 10, most of the men have reviewed evidence most weekdays.

Michael Huff, a lawyer for defendant Dritan Duka, said that in some respects the request for bail worked. "The squeaky wheel gets the oil," he said. "The FDC is going to grant them greater access to the discovery."

In testimony Thursday, Darrin Howard, the legal adviser to the detention center, denied that his facility changed the procedure for the men to have access to the recordings because of their legal filings. Rather, he said, it was modified after the government said it would have hundreds more hours of recordings than previously expected.

The defense lawyers have said that most of their time meeting with their clients in the case has been consumed in dealing with the prisoners' frustration over lack of access to the discovery and other complaints about their treatment behind bars.

Prosecutors have said there are about 20 hours of recordings that they plan to use at trial. But they have provided hundreds of hours more - some of it recently declassified. The lawyers say it's important for the men to plow through that audio and video because there might be something on it that suggests they are innocent.

The five men, all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s, were charged in May with conspiring to kill soldiers on Fort Dix, an installation used primarily to train reservists for duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. No attack was carried out.

The suspects - Serdar Tatar, Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, and brothers Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka - could face life in prison if convicted.

A sixth man arrested then has since pleaded guilty to a weapons charge. Agron Abdullahu admitted provided weapons to some of the others.

Kugler said he would hold a status conference on Jan. 18 to consider, among other items, when to begin the trial. It is currently scheduled for March 24, but that is looking unlikely given the amount of evidence.