Military jury convicts soldier of trying to help al-Qaida, recommends life prison term

Friday, September 3rd 2004, 6:26 am
By: News On 6

FORT LEWIS, Wash. (AP) _ A National Guardsman was convicted of what military officials said amounts to attempted treason for trying to aid al-Qaida, and a jury recommended he be sentenced to life in prison.

The verdict in Spc. Ryan G. Anderson's court martial, which began Monday, was announced late Thursday afternoon. The sentence recommendation came early Friday.

Anderson, a tank crewman whose 81st Armor Brigade unit is now in Iraq, was accused of trying to give terrorists information about U.S. troops' strength and tactics. The terrorists he thought he was meeting with were actually undercover federal agents, prosecutors said.

The 27-year-old Muslim convert, who did not testify during the guilt phase of his trial, took the stand Thursday evening in the penalty phase and wept, apologizing to his country and his family.

``I would rather give my life'' than do anything to discredit the military, he told the jury of nine commissioned officers from Fort Lewis. He said he felt ``really lousy'' about his actions.

His mother, Linda Tucker, struggled to breathe and talk through her tears. Extending her arms in a plea to jurors, she said, ``Honest to goodness, if you could just look under the surface of Ryan, you'd see that he's not a bad person.''

His father, Bruce Anderson, also testified on his behalf in the penalty proceeding as defense lawyers projected photos of Ryan Anderson as a child and a teen.

The jury deliberated about 4 1/2 hours Thursday before finding Anderson guilty. A two-thirds majority was needed to convict, but the vote was not announced.

Jurors deliberated another 3 1/2 hours before recommending early Friday that Anderson be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole and a dishonorable discharge. The post commander is expected to decide on a sentence in four to six months.

Life in prison would be the maximum penalty. Whatever his sentence, he will receive credit for his 203 days in jail at this Army post following his Feb. 12 arrest.

When the guilty verdict was announced, Anderson's father reached over and placed a hand on the back of his son's wife, Erin, who cried quietly. In closing arguments earlier Thursday, an Army prosecutor said Anderson was clear about his intentions in cell-phone text messages, e-mails and meetings with the undercover agents.

``It shows that ... the information he has he's willing to share it with al-Qaida,'' Maj. Melvin Jenks told jurors.

Defense attorney Maj. Joseph Morse countered that the Army had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Anderson intended to help al-Qaida. He said Anderson's grandiose ideas, actions and tendency to ramble on were all indicative of his mental disorders.

``We're not saying he doesn't know right from wrong,'' Morse said in his closing argument. Rather, ``it's like his good-idea filter is broken.''

Psychologists testifying Wednesday for the defense said Anderson suffers from bipolar disorder and Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that impairs cognitive and social functioning.

Because of those conditions, Morse said, Anderson could not form the criminal intent needed for a guilty verdict.

In his rebuttal, Jenks showed a segment of a secretly recorded videotape of Anderson's Feb. 9 meeting with the undercover agents. The clip showed Anderson telling the men he is a tank ammunitions loader and explaining how to damage the M1A1 Abrams, the Army's primary battle tank, and kill American soldiers.

``See Amir Abdul Rashid for what he is,'' Jenks urged the panel, using the name Anderson used in communications on extremist Web sites. ``A traitor. A traitor who betrayed our country, a traitor who betrayed our Army and a traitor who betrayed our fellow soldiers.''