Magazine article The New Yorker

Three Rings

Magazine article The New Yorker

Three Rings

Article excerpt

Down in Washington, last week, Roger Clemens went on trial for the second time, and, over in Oslo, Anders Breivik, the confessed killer of seventy-seven innocents, took the stand in his own so-called defense. ("I did this out of goodness, not evil," he said. "I would have done it again.") Local court buffs needn't be envious: in the course of a day's elevator hopping, in downtown Brooklyn, it was possible to observe a tabloid trifecta of criminal proceedings--terrorism, the Mob, and embezzlement by politicians. No credential or admittance fee required, but turn your phone off, please, and leave it with the marshal after you pass through the metal detector.

First stop: Judge John Gleeson's courtroom, on the sixth floor. Opening statements in the matter of U.S.A. v. Medunjanin. "You're going to get an inside look at Al Qaeda and its secretive inner workings," James Loonam, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, said. "One of these Al Qaeda terrorists is in this courtroom right now." He meant the defendant, Adis Medunjanin, an American citizen, who had neglected to trim his beard or to put on a necktie for the jury. Medunjanin, one learned, was born in 1984 in Bosnia (at the time, Yugoslavia), and moved with his family to the United States when he was eight. They settled in Queens. His sister attended nursing school. He attended Flushing High School, where he played football, and, later, Queens College, majoring in economics.

"He was serious, studious, and sincere in his religious beliefs," Robert Gottlieb, Medunjanin's lead lawyer, said. Those beliefs led him to travel to Pakistan, in 2008, and to adopt the name Muhammad. In Peshawar, he hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take him to Afghanistan, where he hoped to volunteer for the Taliban, but he was rebuffed at the border. "Adis truly was the stranger in a strange land," Gottlieb said. "He came this close to being arrested as a spy." Deflated, he returned home to Queens, where he either did or did not conspire to bomb the New York City subway system. When the F.B.I. showed up at his house, in 2010, he took off in his Nissan Altima and, in an act of suicidal desperation, rear-ended a car on the Whitestone Expressway, but not before calling 911 and swearing his allegiance to Allah. "Even after his arrest, the defendant asked the United States government to . . . be traded to the Taliban," Loonam, the prosecutor, said. "As you can see, the defendant was not traded to the Taliban."

Midmorning recess in Judge Gleeson's court afforded an opportunity to visit the eighth floor, where an F. …

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