The Algerian man convicted of plotting to blow up the Los Angeles airport on the eve of the millennium was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in prison.
Ahmed Ressam got a lighter sentence than prosecutors had requested, reflecting his cooperation in telling international investigators about the workings of terror camps in Afghanistan.
"There is no doubt about it. With this sentence, Ressam caught a bit of a break from this judge, mostly because the would-be bomber DID help the feds as an informant for many years following his arrest," said CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "I think the judge wanted to reward that behavior and he probably did."
But Ressam, 38, could have received a shorter sentence had he not stopped talking to investigators in early 2003. Prosecutors argued that his recalcitrance has jeopardized cases against two of his co-conspirators.
"This still isn't a light sentence but it is not nearly as long as a lot of people expected. Essentially, the judge gave Ressam time off in advance for his good behavior over many years of providing good information to the feds following his arrest and conviction," Cohen said.
In sentencing Ressam, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said he hoped to balance U.S. resolve to punish potential terrorist acts with Ressam's cooperation. Coughenour also said he hoped to send a message that the U.S. court system works in terrorism cases.
"We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely or deny the defendant the right to counsel. ... Our courts have not abandoned the commitment to the ideals that set this nation apart," he said.
Ressam was arrested in Port Angeles in December 1999 as he drove off a ferry from British Columbia with a trunk full of bomb-making materials.
Prosecutors recommended a 35-year sentence; Ressam's lawyers asked for 12 1/2 years.
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