Shocking newly-acquired video footage shows an unscrupulous government informant entrapping four unworldly men from a poverty-stricken town into a world of crime to further a post-9/11 government agenda that plays upon American fears and unfairly targets Muslim-Americans at their places of worship.
That’s the compelling and provocative story that HBO Documentaries’ film, The Newburgh Sting, by directors David Heilbroner and Kate Davis, wants to tell, and does, in cinematic fashion.
There’s only one problem. It’s not even remotely true.
The documentary, which debuts at 9 p.m. EST July 21, covers the case of the “Newburgh 4”: James “Abdul Rahman” Cromitie, David “Daoud” Williams, Onta “Hamza” Williams, and Laguerre “Amin” Payen, who were convicted on May 3rd 2011 for “a plot to launch missiles at an Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh NY, and bomb two synagogues in the Bronx.”
The documentary uses highly selective edits of recorded conversations between the defendants and the FBI Informant. It particularly focuses on ring-leader James Cromitie, in an attempt to show that the men were not terrorists, but merely poor men motivated by money offered by FBI informant Shahed Hussein a.k.a “Maqsood,” a Pakistani national convicted of fraud and working as a government informant to avoid deportation.
What the movie does not show, however, is that Cromitie displayed clear knowledge of terrorist doctrine like that embraced by Al Qaeda, and–far from being motivated solely by money–clearly expresses his desire to act out of ideological conviction.
In his first conversation with Hussein, Cromitie discussed fighting in Afghanistan and stated his desire to travel there and “die like a shahid, a martyr” and to “go to paradise.” He then expressed a desire to “do something to America.”
On video, Cromitie repeatedly expresses violent hatred of Americans in general, and especially Jews, yet, true to jihadist doctrine, insists that killing done for reasons other than “Fisabilillah” was not acceptable. Fisabilillah means “in the cause of Allah,” i.e. undertaking an action to comply with Allah’s will, and can be used to refer to violent Jihad.
Cromitie returns to this issue repeatedly in conversations with Hussein, but this motivation is completely excised from The Newburgh Sting. The filmmakers attempt to orient the documentary on the basis of a “haves versus the have-nots” dichotomy by claiming informant Hussein’s financial offers represent “outrageous” inducement amounting to entrapment by the FBI.
The reality is this claim was utterly rejected by both the trial and appellate courts after considering the totality of the evidence presented in the record. Elsewhere, the movie includes a snippet of discussion by Cromitie regarding financial motives of his “team” who he has recruited for his plot against Stewart Airport and the two synagogues, yet ignores that in this very same statement Cromitie rejects such a motivation for himself.
In a separate conversation, Cromitie tells Hussein about turning down a potential recruit, because the man demanded money in exchange for participation before grilling defendant David Williams about his motives and insisting they must not be financial. That conversation however is not featured in The Newburgh Sting.
Considering the totality of the evidence available, it is quite obvious that The Newburgh Sting is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. Considering the grandiose claims made by its directors, producers and promoters to be a genuine expose ́ on governmental malfeasance, promising the revelation of “never-before-seen footage,” the documentary turns out to be a huge disappointment.
The purported secret footage is available on multiple Internet sources, and was heavily edited to push the innocence of the four convicts. The interviewees were by no means unbiased, and included officials from CAIR, MPAC, and the ACLU, organizations that had already formed their notions regarding the innocence of the convicted four, already oppose government surveillance even under methods currently permitted by law, and which have a deep suspicion of the government.
In short, The Newburgh Sting is not intended to convey the true story of the Newburgh Four. It is a shameless attempt to twist the mountain of evidence and facts to fit a factually baseless preconceived concept. Even the defense counsel’s brief to the court would have been less biased.
This case raises many issues important our constitutional rights as American citizens and our national security. It is definitely worthy of open and honest discussion. However, it would behoove HBO–in order to safeguard their reputation for presenting controversial yet informative documentaries–to review the factual record and not be taken in by those who would twist facts in order to serve political agendas.
Kyle Shideler is the Director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy.