From a spy to a patriot: Muthanna al-Hanooti
By Ahmed Ghappour | Saturday, 03.26.2011, 03:00 PM

Three years ago, when the Department of Justice announced Muthanna al-Hanooti's indictment, they alleged he was a spy for Iraq. They claimed that he worked for Saddam Hussein's foreign intelligence arm, the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), and was paid for his services. The charges carried a 15-year sentence. There was also chatter that the indictment would be superseded, adding a charge that Mr. al-Hanooti was an agent of a foreign government, and increasing his potential sentence to 25 years.

Mainstream media's portrayal of al-Hanooti was pervasive and negative, alleging he was a terrorist on the private payroll of Saddam Hussein. This was particularly painful for al-Hanooti, a humanitarian and loyal citizen. Those in the community who knew al-Hanooti as an outspoken critic of Hussein were outraged.

Recognizing the fallacy of these accusations, al-Hanooti's attorney put on a defense that set the record straight. Linda Moreno spent over 18 months meticulously reviewing classified documents, picking apart the prosecutor's allegations, and mounting a defense that would restore her client's dignity. 

The fruit of this labor was a disposition favorable to al-Hanooti, especially in light of the devastation he faced: a plea of guilty to one count of violating the U.S. sanctions on Iraq. In conjunction with the plea, al-Hanooti admitted to entering into a contract to transact Iraqi oil without prior authorization from the U.S. Treasury.

However, the transaction was never completed. More importantly, the undisputed evidence pointed to the fact that al-Hanooti would not have personally profited. Rather, any funds derived were slated for reinvestment into his humanitarian work to combat the Iraq sanctions—a U.S. initiative that had little effect on Saddam's regime, yet devastated an entire civilian population. While al-Hanooti was mistaken in conducting this transaction, he harbored no ill intent.

Still, the government recommended that al-Hanooti serve four years for this mistake. They urged the judge to be guided by a four-year sentence imposed on Najib Shemami in the same district. Moreno was quick to point out the difference in the two cases, and advocated for a sentence of two days time-served. She argued that any additional period of incarceration would be a miscarriage of justice.  

In support of this, Moreno submitted a lengthy sentencing memo filed under seal to protect al-Hanooti's privacy, and countless letters from diverse elements of the community. Christians, Muslims and Mennonites were among the voices in support of al Hanooti's character as a humanitarian and loyal citizen. A former prosecutor described al Hanooti as a "gentleman's gentleman." At the sentencing hearing, al-Hanooti's eldest son brought the courtroom to tears, testifying that his father inspired him to serve the community, and strive to become a lawyer.

Judge Paul Borman sentenced al-Hanooti to serve 10 months, citing his life of charitable and civic work in rejecting the government's call for considerably more prison time.

As an attorney handling federal national security cases across the country, I have never seen a judge depart so radically from the government's recommended sentence. This underscores the fact that al-Hanooti is a committed humanitarian and a role model for the community he so dearly served.  In the end, a stunning trajectory for Muthanna al Hanooti: From spy to patriot.


Ahmed Ghappour is an Egyptian-American trial attorney who focuses on national security law.

By Ahmed Ghappour

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