April 19th

By Thorn Rosenthal



fter registering the horror of the event, the nation debated whether April 19th was in some ways worse than September 11th. That was even before the full story came to light.


On the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, four teams, each comprised of three Al Qaeda-trained assassins, more or less simultaneously attacked children, parents, and athletic staff attending intramural or interschool junior high or high school sporting events in affluent suburbs of Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Kansas City. The assassins were armed with AK-47 rifles and killed a total of ninety-two children and twenty-two adults. Many more were wounded, with varying degrees of severity.


April 19th struck at America’s heartland and quotidian targets. It raised the fear that no one could be safe engaging in any group activity anywhere. Moreover, unlike the September 11th hijackers, the perpetrators of April 19th survived their attacks and, apart from one who was apprehended and three who were killed in the process of apprehension, could strike again. It would not be feasible in the short term to provide heavily armed security for every gathering of people in America, and it would fundamentally degrade American freedom in the long term to make such an attempt. The April 19th date also served as an unwelcome reminder that foreign terrorists are not the only threat.


President Jason Loughman of the United States and leaders of other developed countries decried the cowardice and venality of the terrorists in attacking children and unarmed adults. This did not, however, dampen the jubilation over the attacks among the populace of many Arab countries.





April 19th was conceived and planned to the last detail by Afrah Bishara, who also was the leader for the team that attacked the intramural soccer practice at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. Ms. Bishara was an undercover field operative in the counterterrorism unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Ms. Bishara’s parents immigrated from Saudi Arabia to the United States prior to her birth, and Ms. Bishara grew up speaking both Arabic and English. After obtaining a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School, where she was a member of the Order of the Coif, she underwent intense FBI training at Quantico. Ms. Bishara was assigned to Germany, where her mission was to frequent mosques habituated by radicals and attempt to infiltrate the Al Qaeda network. Her cover story was simple—she was a young and idealistic Muslim who had grown disaffected with her parents, their lifestyle, and the culture in the United States.


Ms. Bishara was sent to a Taliban training camp in Afghanistan. When Ms. Bishara was asked to volunteer for a suicide bombing mission in Iraq, she made the pragmatic observation that this would not be the best use of her English language skills and US passport. When asked to explain, she laid out the broad plan for April 19th. Knowing a good idea when they heard it, the camp leaders passed it up the line, and Ms. Bishara was summoned to meet with Gamal Malouf, who was promoted to the number four position in Al Qaeda after Bin Laden’s death. Malouf was delighted with Ms. Bishara’s plan, praised her lavishly, and told her that she was destined for a much bigger mission if she could pull off April 19th. He assigned her twenty-five young recruits to draw upon for the attacks. These recruits were being trained at four different camps, and none was told who else even in their own camps would be sent on this mission in order to minimize the likelihood that they could identify one another if they were captured. Eleven of the twenty-five washed out for one reason or another, and three were detained attempting to enter the United States illegally, leaving twelve, including Ms. Bishara, to carry out the attacks. None of the other eleven members of the team was given any information about the nature or the timing of the mission until the day preceding the attacks, so those who were detained were not in a position to disclose anything specific about the mission upon interrogation.





Ms. Bishara was not capable of preparing a plan that was less than excellent. Every aspect was meticulously scripted, including separate escape routes for each of the twelve perpetrators. In fact, the four who did not get away probably would have escaped had they followed her instructions. The one who was apprehended neglected to change the license plate on his stolen car. The three who were killed stuck with each other after the attack instead of splitting up, and tried to escape from Kansas City on I-70, where they were intercepted by a roadblock, instead of taking local roads and lying low for several days.


Ms. Bishara, of course, never expected that her plan actually would be implemented. Two days before the attack, she e-mailed the salient details, including times, places, names, and descriptions, to her superior officer at the FBI, Manny Keiser. Exposing herself to some risk of exposure to her putative compatriots in the Winnetka massacre, the day before the attack, she called Mr. Keiser’s assistant and confirmed that her e-mail had been received. Nonetheless, there were no SWAT teams or sharpshooters in place to prevent the slaughter of innocent children and adults at any of the four locations.


The moment when it became evident to Ms. Bishara that her team in Winnetka would not be interdicted was the most difficult of her life. She and the other two members of her team had arrived in three separate stolen vehicles at a rendezvous near the Hubbard Woods Metra North railroad station. She selected this location because it presented many possibilities for placement of members of an assault team. When no agents materialized, Ms. Bishara assumed that she and her two team members either would be stopped en route to the attack site or would be met at the site. So she and the other two got into a fourth stolen vehicle, which had been parked at the train station, using their jacket sleeves over their hands to open the doors and putting on latex gloves upon sitting down in the car. She drove as planned to New Trier High School. No one made any effort to stop them. Upon arrival, she illegally parked the car at the curb near the soccer field. They got out of the car, and she went around and opened the trunk to get out the rifles. It was at this point that she got an inkling that something was amiss. At any time prior to this, capturing the team would have been easy. The rifles were safely out of reach in the trunk, and the three otherwise were unarmed. Once she handed the rifles to the other two, however, there was a serious risk that someone could get hurt or killed. Still, she assumed that there were sharpshooters in place or that other precautions had been taken. The rifles were in guitar cases, and she handed two of them to her companions and picked up the third for herself.


The three fanned out as planned in a 150-degree arc around the athletic field. This would allow them all to shoot into the center without risking shooting each other. With each step, she waited for reports from snipers’ guns to take down her companions, but nothing happened. When all three were in place, she reluctantly nodded, which was the signal to open the guitar cases, remove the weapons, and start shooting. As she was opening her case, it began to dawn on her that there was no one there to stop them. She was in the middle of the other two and thought about shooting one of them and then trying to shoot the other before he could realize what happened and started shooting at her. But even at this point, she could not believe that her superiors at the FBI would let the attack go forward. Surely agents must have broken into the trunk of the fourth car while it was parked at the station and disabled the rifles or substituted blank ammunition. So she dropped the guitar case, shouldered her weapon, and pointed it in the general direction of the kids on the field.


Her companion to her right started shooting first. Children started screaming and falling. Blood was everywhere. Her companion to her left then joined in, targeting the kids, parents, and coaches on the sidelines. Clearly, the rifles were operational, and the ammunition was live. Everyone not hit started to scatter. What was she to do? In what seemed like an eternity, she tried to analyze the situation. It seemed apparent that for whatever warped reason, her superiors at the FBI were content to let the attack occur. If she tried to shoot her companions now, very few, if any, lives would be saved. Many innocent lives already had been lost, and the people who remained uninjured were rapidly dispersing out of range or behind barriers. Further, she could not at this point do anything to stop the three simultaneous attacks at the other locations that presumably were underway.


Thus, there was nothing she could do to spare America the horror wrought by her plan. If she were to try to shoot at her companions, she might inadvertently kill innocent people or be killed herself by one of the gunmen shooting back at her. If she were to succeed in killing both of them, this would blow her cover with Al Qaeda because there would be no way that she credibly could explain to Malouf the death of both of her companions at an undefended location. Her mission over the past two years had been to infiltrate Al Qaeda, and whatever good she could accomplish on that score would be lost. So she pulled the trigger on her rifle. She could not bring herself to shoot innocent people, so she fired bursts into the foreground or aimed at trees and other nonhuman targets. There was sufficient mayhem going on that her companions were not able to tell that none of her shots hit anyone.


After thirty seconds, no one who was still in range was left standing. The three ran back to the stolen car, piled in, and drove, slowly, back to the train station. As they approached the train station, sirens could be heard in the distance, but no one approached them. They parked the car, left the rifles on the floor of the backseat under a blanket that had been brought along for this purpose, returned to their three separate vehicles, and took off on their prescribed escape routes in three different directions.





At the trial, Ms. Bishara felt that she was going to be the sacrificial lamb. Her co-defendants were Norman Geller, the former Director of the FBI, and Jason Loughman, former President of the United States. Each of the three had been indicted on over one hundred and twenty felony counts, including ninety-two counts of murder, treason, civil rights violations, and a host of antiterrorism counts. The politically ambitious United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, George Weldon, personally was trying the case and was seeking the death penalty. Loughman had been an unpopular President for reasons unrelated to April 19th, and public sentiment was strongly against the defendants. Nonetheless, they opted for a jury trial. The judge had been appointed by President Obama, had excellent Democratic credentials, and previously worked with Weldon when they were both Assistant United States Attorneys. Loughman was a conservative Republican.


The three defendants each had separate counsel, but in a coordinated move they all decided to waive their Fifth Amendment rights and take the stand. On their respective direct examinations, each gave their self-serving version of the events, first Bishara, then Geller, and finally Loughman. Weldon’s cross-examinations were the high points of the trial.


Bishara’s cross:


Weldon: “You admit that you planned the four coordinated, simultaneous slaughters?”


Bishara: “Yes.”


Weldon: “You were the team leader for the Winnetka assault?”


Bishara: “Yes.”


Weldon: “You drove the car to New Trier?”


Bishara: “Yes.”


Weldon: “You handed the guitar cases with the AK-47s to the other two gunmen.”


Bishara: “Yes.”


Weldon: “And they used those AK-47s to kill eighteen innocent children?”


Bishara: “That’s my understanding.”


Weldon: “You witnessed this, didn’t you?”


Bishara: “I was there, and I saw everything. I could not keep track of the number of people who were shot and could not tell which wounds were fatal.”


Weldon: “And they also killed five innocent adults.”


Bishara: “That’s my understanding.”


Weldon: “And they wounded ten other innocent children?”


Bishara: “That’s my understanding.”


Weldon: “And they wounded four other innocent adults?”


Bishara: “That’s my understanding.”


Weldon: “You could have killed the other two gunmen?”


Bishara: “Maybe.”


Weldon: “But you did not even try.”


Bishara: “Correct.”


Weldon: “After masterminding this horrible massacre, you were afraid to intercede to prevent or stop it?”


Bishara: “I was frightened for my own life, but as I testified on direct examination, that was not the reason for my failure to attempt to kill the other two. I was expecting the FBI to prevent the attack. By the time I realized that this definitely would not happen, most if not all of the harm had been done. I didn’t know why the FBI wasn’t there with a SWAT team, but in the heat of the moment, I assumed that there was a deliberate decision by my superiors to protect my mission—my status as an infiltrator of Al Qaeda. I had to make an instant decision in the midst of all of the carnage, and I was confused to say the least that there was no effort by the Bureau to prevent the attack. With 20/20 hindsight, I very much regret not taking action to stop this horrible attack. But I have reviewed the situation in my mind countless times since then, and based on the knowledge I had at the time, I still don’t know whether what I did or did not do was wrong under the circumstances.”


Weldon: “You planned the successful escape of the other two gunmen?”


Bishara: “Yes.”


Weldon: “To this day, they are at large and may commit another attack on innocent Americans?”


Bishara: “I suppose so.”


Geller’s cross:


Weldon: “Ms. Bishara warned the Bureau of the broad outlines of the impending attack over three months before it took place?”


Geller: “Yes.”


Weldon: “This information promptly was brought to your personal attention, correct?”


Geller: “Yes. I was closely monitoring the situation, and I learned of the information almost immediately after it was received.”


Weldon: “This was hard intelligence from one of your own trusted counterterrorism agents, was it not?”


Geller: “Absolutely. We had no doubt that this was solid intel.”


Weldon: “In contrast, the intelligence information you had about Al Qaeda acquiring a nuclear device was unconfirmed?”


Geller: “That was part of the problem. We had no way to verify the information. Ms. Bishara was our best hope.”


Weldon: “As of today, do you believe that Al Qaeda ever had a nuclear weapon?”


Geller: “No. I believe that if Al Qaeda had had a nuclear weapon, they would have used it, and Ms. Bishara would have been tapped by Al Qaeda to work on, if not lead, the planning for the attack.”


Weldon: “Two days before the April 19th attack, Ms. Bishara contacted the Bureau and furnished detailed information as to the who, what, where, when, and how of the plot?”


Geller: “Correct.”


Weldon: “And you personally were in the loop regarding this information?”


Geller: “I was keenly aware of all aspects of Ms. Bishara’s mission, including the information regarding the imminent April 19 attack.”


Weldon: “You had authority to send in four SWAT teams to prevent any innocent Americans from being killed or injured?”


Geller: “Absolutely.”


Weldon: “And with the information provided by Ms. Bishara, there was little doubt that, had you undertaken to do so, you could have successfully apprehended the attackers before they killed or injured a single person?”


Geller: “That was my view at the time and remains my view at present.”


Weldon: “And you also knew that if you failed to act, the attack would be successful and that dozens or hundreds of innocent American children, women, and men would be killed or grievously injured.”


Geller: “Unfortunately and tragically, yes.”


Weldon: “Yet you chose not to send in the SWAT teams and to let the attack take place in four locations?”


Geller: “As I testified on direct, that decision was made in consultation with the President as well as my colleagues at the Bureau.”


Weldon: “Your ‘colleagues’ at the Bureau all were subordinates of yours who reported to you, correct?”


Geller: “Yes.”


Weldon: “None of them individually or collectively had authority to overrule a decision made by you, isn’t that right?”


Geller: “Yes. Insofar as the Bureau was concerned, I was the captain of the ship. But I still took the advice and obtained the support of my senior staff before making an extremely difficult decision.”


Weldon: “And in ‘consulting’ the President, you did not inform him of the details of which you were aware of the planned April 19th attack, did you?”


Geller: “I was trying to protect the President, but I still sought and obtained his guidance at a conceptual level that it would be a prudent choice to put at risk of serious bodily injury or death a hundred or so innocent Americans to prevent a possible nuclear attack by Al Qaeda on a major U.S. city that could kill or injure millions. The President was well aware of the intelligence we had received that Iran had supplied Al Qaeda with one or two nuclear bombs several times more powerful than the ones which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.”


Weldon: “You knew when you spoke with the President, but chose not to share with him, that there was a concrete plan to kill schoolchildren, parents, and athletic staff at four specific locations where the ‘risk’ of death and injury was a near certainty if you did not intervene, right?”


Geller: “Yes. Again, I was trying to insulate the President from culpability.”


Weldon: “Now you are trying to have your cake and eat it too—you want to have the President ‘insulated,’ but you still want credit for covering your butt by having sought and obtained his direction, right?”


Geller: “The situation was very difficult.”


Weldon: “Particularly for those that were killed or injured and their loved ones, isn’t it?”


Geller: “At all times I was painfully aware of the consequences of both sides of my Hobson’s choice.”


Weldon: “Let’s discuss your so-called ‘Hobson’s choice.’ On the one hand, you had a virtual certainty that what we now know did occur would occur, right?”


Geller: “Yes. That was our belief.”


Weldon: “On the other hand, the prospect of saving millions of Americans from death or injury depended on a number of uncertain steps.”


Geller: “I am not sure that I follow your question, sir.”


Weldon: “First, the trade-off you made, the sacrifice of ninety-two lives and dozens of serious injuries for the prospect of preventing a nuclear attack, only made sense if Al Qaeda in fact had one or more nuclear weapons, right?”


Geller: “Your question assumes that we had perfect information. We didn’t. In the real world, decisions must be made on the information available, fully cognizant of the deficiencies and uncertainties inherent in that information.”


Weldon: “And you concede that your intelligence about Al Qaeda’s nuclear weapons was uncorroborated?”


Geller: “I wouldn’t exactly say that. We had a seemingly reliable CIA intelligence source based in the Mideast who gave us the specific information about the weapons, and this was corroborated in our view of Malouf’s statement to Ms. Bishara that there was a much bigger mission in store for her should she accomplish the April 19th attack successfully.”


Weldon: “Malouf didn’t say anything to Ms. Bishara about a nuclear device or any other weapon of mass destruction, did he?”


Geller: “No, not specifically.”


Weldon: “Next, in order for your gamble to work out, Ms. Bishara had to escape after the April 19th attack so that she could return to Al Qaeda and continue her covert work, right?”


Geller: “Yes.”


Weldon: “Had a local police cruiser just happened to stumble on the scene during the attack, Ms. Bishara could have been killed, right?”


Geller: “Yes. We considered that risk as well as the risk that one of the parents at the site could have been armed, and we factored that into our decision making.”


Weldon: “Or Ms. Bishara could have been captured by local law enforcement, whether at the site or thereafter. This no doubt would have immediately been reported in the media, which would have made her a useless asset to the Bureau from the standpoint of continued undercover work. Isn’t that correct?”


Geller: “Yes. That also was a risk which we discussed and took into account.”


Weldon: “Alternatively, you did not even know if Ms. Bishara would go through with the attack once she realized that the Bureau was not going to prevent it?”


Geller: “We had no way to communicate with her at the time, but we assumed that she would act as she did act. She is a very bright woman. She knew how important it was to maintain her cover and was aware that we were very focused on Malouf’s comment to her about a much bigger mission. We were confident that she would be able to figure out what to do.”


Weldon: “But nonetheless this would have been a nightmare scenario. If Ms. Bishara had killed her two companions in Winnetka, she would have been useless to you going forward, and you still would have had all of the deaths and injuries in Denver, Houston, and Kansas City as well as anyone who might have been injured in Winnetka before Ms. Bishara succeeded in killing or disabling her two companions.”


Geller: “Is that a question?”


Weldon: “That was a risk, right?”


Geller: “Anything is possible, but we thought it unlikely.”


Weldon: “Even if Ms. Bishara went through with the attack and managed to escape, there was no guarantee that Al Qaeda would use her for or make her privy to the planning of a possible nuclear attack, right?”


Geller: “Based on Malouf’s comment and our knowledge of Al Qaeda’s practices, we were very confident that she would be tapped for the next attack if she pulled off the April 19th plan successfully.”


Weldon: “In fact, after April 19th, when she returned to Malouf, he had no plan for her and simply told her to go devise another attack. Isn’t that so?”


Geller: “Yes, to our surprise and relief. We were surprised in light of his earlier comment about a much bigger planned attack that there was nothing in works. But we were relieved that Al Qaeda seemingly did not have a nuclear device or other weapon of mass destruction at the ready to use on Americans or our allies.”


Weldon: “Bottom line, you took a high-stakes gamble and lost, with the price being ninety-two lives and dozens of serious injuries.”


Geller: “No. We took a calculated risk, balancing the near certainty that what did occur would occur against the prospect of saving millions of lives and avoiding potential civil and economic chaos in the United States. If there were even only a ten percent chance of preventing such devastation by allowing April 19th to go forward, it made sense to do so. The real world is a dangerous place, and we cannot take for granted the well-being of the United States and its major cities. Those of us responsible for defending the country have to make hard decisions. This was one of the hardest. With 20/20 hindsight, of course I would have given the order to interdict the attack. But faced with the same circumstances and same imperfect information again, I would make the same choice.”


Loughman’s cross:


Weldon: “Mr. President, you do not dispute that Director Geller consulted you prior to April 19th?”


Loughman: “He did, and he has accurately recounted our discussion in his testimony.”


Weldon: “At the time, did you think that this was just a theoretical inquiry to satisfy his curiosity?”


Loughman: “Director Geller is a serious person, and I did not think that he merely was asking an idle question.”


Weldon: “So, you understood that there would be real-world consequences involving deaths or injuries to dozens or more Americans based on your answer to the Director?”


Loughman: “No. I assumed that there was a nascent situation out there as to which various scenarios were being explored and that the Director was taking my temperature. I trusted that he would brief me at the appropriate juncture before any actual decisions had to be made. I was completely taken by surprise when April 19th happened.”


Weldon: “Did you ask the Director if he had something concrete in mind in framing his question?”


Loughman: “No. I did not.”


Weldon: “Didn’t it occur to you that he might have been seeking to cover his rear end in getting your sign-off on a difficult situation?”


Loughman: “That’s not the way things worked in my administration. My aides, cabinet members, and other high officials in the Executive Branch knew that they were supposed to table for full and frank discussion matters of policy and especially those pertaining to national security. I am surprised and disappointed that the Director did not do so in this instance and proceeded as he did.”


Weldon: “What would you have decided had he surfaced the particulars for deliberation?”


Loughman: “I have agonized over that question a lot, and I cannot say for certain what I would have done. We would have extensively considered all aspects of this matter with the full national security team and likely reached a consensus. Certainly, the prospect of saving millions of lives and avoiding chaos in the country would have weighed heavily, and under some circumstances, as I told the Director, I could see making the hard choice to sacrifice a much smaller number of innocent lives for the greater good. I do believe, on balance, however, that under these particular facts, with all of the uncertainties here, I would have been inclined to prevent the April 19th attacks and otherwise address the possible threat of a nuclear attack. But I acknowledge that this was a very difficult case, and after hearing all of the points of view, I might have been persuaded to let the April 19th attack go forward as did the Director. While I appreciate that the Director genuinely was trying to protect me, I am firmly of the view that he should have laid out all of the facts for me.”


Weldon: “Did it occur to you at the time when you were speaking with the Director that he was trying to insulate you from responsibility for a difficult decision?”


Loughman: “I don’t recall that crossing my mind.”


Weldon: “With respect, Mr. President, does that mean it didn’t cross your mind?”


Loughman: “No. I just don’t recall one way or the other.”


Weldon: “But you do recall the discussion with the Director?”


Loughman: “Yes, I recall the substance of the discussion, and hearing the Director testify about it helped jog my memory.”


Weldon: “Did it occur to you to consult the Attorney General or White House counsel about the legality of ‘sacrificing’—to use your word—innocent Americans for the greater good?”


Loughman: “No. First of all, I did not know that we were being presented with a concrete situation. Second, it was obvious, at least in the abstract, that it would be wrong to knowingly sit back and allow the killing of even one innocent American. Third, it was obvious, at least in the abstract, that it would be at least equally wrong and perhaps much more culpable to not take every possible step to prevent the unleashing of a nuclear device on an American city. Fourth, my administration frequently made decisions where human lives hung in the balance, and I did not consult lawyers. Whether or not to attempt to prevent Mideast dictators from killing their own people, deciding on federal financial support for local police in our U.S. cities, determining permissible environmental exposure standards, and many other questions which we addressed daily impacted life and death of people.”


Weldon: “Yes, but there comes a point when policy decisions must be constrained by criminal laws, isn’t that so?”


Loughman: “Of course, the President and other members of the Executive Branch are not above the law. That’s what this trial is all about. But as President I had to make decisions that I could live with, that I thought were best for this nation. If that entailed some personal risk to me of being found guilty of a crime, then so be it. If I knew for a certainty that killing a hundred innocent Americans was the only way to prevent the deaths of millions, I would have picked up the gun and done the horrible deed myself if I had had to, whatever the legal consequences might be to myself. But in this case, I did not have such certain knowledge, nor did I make the decision to let the April 19th attack proceed.”





The jury deliberations:


No. 1: “Under the judge’s instructions, I don’t think that we have any choice but to convict Ms. Bishara of the murders. She planned the attacks, handed out the weapons, and stood by while the other two did the shooting without making any effort to stop them.”


No. 7: “I don’t care what the instructions say. If this case were so simple, they wouldn’t need a jury. We are here to make decisions, and we should do what is right. I am not necessarily saying that we shouldn’t convict her, just that we ought to discuss the pros and cons instead of following the instructions by rote.”


No. 10: “I agree. The instructions sound like they were written for a back alley murder case, not for a case with all of these competing considerations and nuances.”


No. 3: “I don’t think we should convict her. She didn’t want to kill or injure any of those people. Her mission was to infiltrate, which she did, and she tried to stop the killings by calling her superiors.”


No. 6: “I can buy that reasoning with respect to the Denver, Houston, and Kansas City shootings, but I am very troubled that she did not do anything to prevent the Winnetka killings and then let the other two guys get away. Those guys are still out there and may attack again. At a minimum, she should have killed them.”


No. 12: “The whole purpose of letting the attack proceed, which was not her decision but was Geller’s, was to preserve her cover. Killing the other two guys would have jeopardized that mission and meant that all of the deaths would have been for naught. I think she did what she had to under difficult circumstances.”


No. 4: “But the mission was a failure. There was no nuclear bomb and no other much bigger planned terrorist attack that she prevented.”


No. 3: “We know that now, but none of the defendants knew that then. Bishara was a lower level field operative following orders from the Director of the FBI and possibly the President. If there was something done wrong, it is not her fault.”


No. 5: “Following orders did not excuse the atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War II, and it should not excuse the atrocious attack planned and executed by Ms. Bishara.”


No. 12: “This is different. The Nazis killed people for the sake of exterminating them, out of prejudice. On April 19th, the innocent people were allowed to be killed, with great reluctance, in an effort to protect the rest of us. If there had been one or two nuclear bombs, who knows, one of them may have been used on Chicago, and we would all be dead.”


No. 4: “Are you saying that the ends justify the means? If laws have any meaning, you can’t just go and kill people, or knowingly let others kill people when you can prevent it, simply because you have some cockamamy theory that it might save lives in the future. There are all kinds of nuts out there who could use such an excuse to start shooting people, and some of those nuts get elected or appointed to high government positions.”


No. 3: “But Ms. Bishara didn’t make the decision here. Geller made it. We should discuss his guilt or innocence and then come back to Ms. Bishara.”


No. 5: “As far as I am concerned, Geller was a rogue out there acting all alone. He took it upon himself to make a decision, and he should bear the consequences.”


No. 12: “He wasn’t exactly acting alone. He consulted senior members of the Bureau and ran the issue by the President.”


No. 4: “I don’t think it matters that he consulted his ‘yes men,’ and he admits that he wasn’t forthright with the President. You heard the President testify about what he expected from senior members of his administration.”


No. 7: “I voted for Loughman, and I thought he was a reasonably good President. But I didn’t think he was telling the truth about either wanting Geller to lay out the facts or not remembering whether or not he thought Geller was trying to insulate him from responsibility. That was a pretty damn significant conversation—how often does a President get asked about letting innocent Americans die? As far as I am concerned, Loughman made the decision to let April 19th go forward. That may or may not have been the right decision, and we can debate that, but it wasn’t Geller taking a flyer on his own.”


No. 4: “Geller admits that he made the decision to protect the President, and that to me means that he should bear the responsibility for his action in letting the attack proceed. The buck has to stop somewhere, and if Geller intentionally prevented it from going up the line, then it stops with him. That’s not to say that the President isn’t also culpable based on what Geller told him.”


No. 12: “I agree that Geller can’t have it both ways. If he is going to protect the President, then he can’t deny responsibility for his own actions on the basis that he was just following orders. And I acknowledge that reasonable people can differ on whether or not Geller made the right decision. It is not an easy question. But I think it is unfair for us to judge him in 20/20 hindsight on the basis that there was no real nuclear threat. Imagine for a moment that Geller had sent SWAT teams to prevent the attacks and three months later the terrorists detonated a nuclear bomb in or over New York City. How would we then judge a decision by him to intervene?”


No. 5: “That would have been extremely unfortunate. But it still would have been the right decision as far as I am concerned. It is not Geller’s position nor the President’s to make decisions that permit terrorists to kill innocent Americans on American soil. If we need to beef up our defenses against nuclear terrorist attacks, so be it, but that is a separate issue. We have nothing in America if we don’t have the rule of law.”


No. 12: “Those are fine sentiments, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. But I can’t agree that we should blithely conduct business as usual when there is a realistic threat that terrorists will detonate a nuclear bomb in or over one of our cities. Before we had airplane hijackings, everyone could board planes without going through security. That was a great freedom. But we had to limit our freedom in view of the realities of the modern world. As the threat level escalates, so must the defensive measures. And getting good intelligence information is both critical and difficult. It is easy to say that we should infiltrate terrorist organizations, but the actuality is bound to be messy and fraught with difficult choices. It is terrible that the world has come to this, and maybe the world will be a better place in the future, but we have to deal with the here and now. Geller and Loughman did that, and the decision they made was a reasonable one in light of the situation. They were trying hard to do the right thing, and I think that we need to respect that decision.”


No. 5: “Does that mean that it is all right for an undercover FBI agent to conduct a ‘hit’ to become a ‘made man’ in the mafia? Where do you draw the line?”


No. 12: “You raise a legitimate question, but in my judgment that is a different case. The mafia is pernicious, but the mafia does not go around committing mass murders of innocent people. In my view, you can’t justify a murder to infiltrate the mafia. The stakes just aren’t the same, and law enforcement agencies have effective tools to use to pursue the mafia without having to commit crimes in the name of justice.”


No. 11: “I have been listening to what everyone has been saying, and I think that these are all good points. But what troubles me is the presupposition that Loughman was motivated to avoid a possible nuclear attack. I read somewhere that a month after the 9/11 attacks, a CIA source code-named ‘Dragonfire’ made a report which was relayed to President George W. Bush that Al Qaeda had a ten-kiloton nuclear weapon purloined from Russia which they smuggled into New York City. Of course, it turned out to be a false alarm. This causes me to wonder whether the supposed nuclear threat to the U.S. before April 19th really was credible or if Loughman is crying ‘wolf’ in order to advance some ulterior motive. At the trial, we did not hear any evidence of the nuclear threat other than conclusory assertions made by Loughman and Geller.”


No. 12: “What possible ulterior motive could Loughman have had to let the murders go forth?”


No. 11: “Prior to April 19th, his standing in the polls was abysmal, and his domestic legislative agenda was hopelessly stalled. After April 19th, the country rallied around Loughman, his poll numbers improved greatly, and he was able to push through Congress repeal of Obama-care and overhaul of the tax code. I don’t want to be too cynical, but I am certain that Loughman was aware of the boosts that FDR got after Pearl Harbor and George W. Bush got from 9/11, and Loughman may well have anticipated similar invigoration of his presidency when he heard of the impending April 19th attack. I also found Loughman’s testimony not credible, particularly when he professed that he was surprised when April 19th took place.”


No. 1: “But there was no evidence introduced of such an ulterior motive. How can we take this into account in our deliberations if it was not raised at the trial?”


No. 11: “Geller obviously knew that by failing to take action, he in effect would be killing the April 19th victims. In my view, while Loughman apparently was not privy to the details of the planned massacre, he also knew that it would take place. It strikes me that it is Loughman’s and Geller’s burden, and a heavy one, to justify permitting the murders of ninety-two innocent Americans, and I am not satisfied that they met this burden with their self-serving statements about an unconfirmed nuclear threat. We don’t need proof of an ulterior motive; they need to convince us that there wasn’t one.”


No. 1: “What about Geller? What did he stand to gain from April 19th?”


No. 11: “I am more prepared to accept that Geller was telling the truth at trial than Loughman. First, Geller seemed like a more truthful witness on the stand. Second, he clearly was aware that he put himself in a bind with his attempt to both insulate Loughman from responsibility but still cover his own ass based on the conversation with Loughman, and Geller did not attempt to spin or sugarcoat the relevant conversation when he testified. Third, while I could speculate that Geller might have seen some upside in April 19th in terms of getting an increased operating budget for the Bureau, I find it difficult to believe that he would consider this a worthwhile trade-off for the damage that was done to the reputation of the Bureau and his own personal reputation by failing to prevent the April 19th attacks. So I give Geller the benefit of the doubt that he truly was taking a calculated risk in order to avert a possible perceived nuclear threat.”





The jury unanimously convicted Loughman on all counts, unanimously acquitted Bishara on all counts, and was unable to reach a verdict on any count as respects Geller.




I am a senior partner in Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, a leading law firm in New York City. I have been with the firm since 1975, and I specialize in litigation and trial work.

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