By Dan Eggen and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 12, 2006
A California native who has appeared in al-Qaeda propaganda videos has been indicted for treason, making him the first American to be charged with that crime in half a century, the Justice Department announced yesterday.
Adam Gadahn, a 28-year-old fugitive believed to be living in Pakistan, could be sentenced to death if convicted of treason, which has been alleged only about 30 times in U.S. history and has not been used since the aftermath of World War II.
Gadahn, allegedly "gave al Qaeda aid and comfort . . . with intent to betray the United States" by appearing in videos calling for attacks on U.S. targets, according to the indictment, which was handed up by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, Calif. Gadahn is also charged with providing material support to terrorists, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Gadahn was also added to the FBI's official list of "Most Wanted Terrorists," officials said.
In a Washington news conference announcing the charges, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty said that the treason charge "is not one that we bring lightly" but that "this is the right case for this charge."
"Adam Gadahn is an American citizen who made a choice -- he chose to join our enemy and to provide it with aid and comfort by acting as a propagandist for al-Qaeda," McNulty said, adding later: "Today's indictment should serve as notice that the United States will protect itself against all enemies, foreign and domestic. . . . Betrayal of our country will bring severe consequences."
McNulty said the government had no information indicating that Gadahn was directly involved in planning or carrying out terrorist attacks.
The treatment of Gadahn is notably different from the Justice Department's approach to other U.S. citizens accused of working on behalf of al-Qaeda since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, who have been charged with lesser crimes than treason or have been designated as enemy combatants outside the normal criminal justice system.
California native John Walker Lindh, for example, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for providing support to al-Qaeda and aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan. Former Chicago gang member Jose Padilla was held as an enemy combatant for years and now faces charges in Miami of participating in a North American terrorist cell and traveling to the Middle East for military training.
McNulty dismissed questions from reporters about the timing of the indictment, which comes as the Bush administration and other Republicans are seeking to focus attention on national security issues for the midterm elections. McNulty said that authorities are concerned over the growing number of videos from Gadahn and hope to use publicity to capture him. He added that the latest video finally provided enough evidence for him to be indicted. A previous indictment against Gadahn, without the treason charge, had been sealed.
One of the offenses alleged in the new indictment occurred "on or about Sept. 11, 2006," when Gadahn appeared in an al-Qaeda video montage released to mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks. He had made a far longer and more substantive appearance on Sept. 2, in a production titled "An Invitation to Islam," which made a direct appeal to American soldiers and citizens to turn against their government.
Gadahn publicly emerged as a terrorism suspect in May 2004, when FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named him in a press conference as one of seven alleged al-Qaeda agents planning imminent attacks on the United States. Relatives in Southern California's Riverside County expressed astonishment that the young man named Adam Pearlman, who had converted to Islam in 1995 and moved to Pakistan in 1998, was the same person who appeared in a terrorism video that month with his face wrapped in a kaffiyeh, and who provided English-language voice-over for Osama bin Laden.
Gadahn was born in Northern California and moved south with his parents at a young age to a wooden cabin in rural Riverside, southeast of Los Angeles, where the family operated a goat farm. According to relatives interviewed in 2004, he grew into a teenager enamored of heavy-metal music and, eventually, Islam.
In addition to his May 2004 video debut, he appeared in a video on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. This time, his face was only partially covered, and he was identified on the tape as "Azzam the American." The American people, he said, could expect "unpleasant consequences" if they continued to support their government.
The last person convicted of treason was Tomoya Kawakita, a Japanese American sentenced to death in 1952 for tormenting American prisoners of war during World War II; President Dwight D. Eisenhower commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.
The Gadahn case bears at least surface similarities to the prosecution of "Tokyo Rose," the Japanese propagandist convicted of treason in 1949. It later emerged, however, that she had secretly plotted against Japan, prompting President Gerald R. Ford to pardon her.
Staff researchers Madonna Lebling and Julie Tate contributed to this report.