John Suthers's connection to "American terrorist" Anwar al-Awlaki

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers's name was recently juxtaposed with that of an extremely unsavory fellow -- serial killer Scott Lee Kimball. A front-page Denver Post story over the weekend noted that Suthers, who was then a U.S. Attorney, "signed the order that transferred the habitual criminal and escaped convict to Colorado and set in motion his ill-fated career as an FBI informant" less than a month before Kimball "started killing people."

Suthers's opponent in the AG's race, Boulder district attorney Stan Garnett, quickly seized on this link. However, Suthers's subsequent explanation that he wasn't briefed on the case before signing off on it convinced a Post editorialist that it's wrong to point fingers at him in relation to the Kimball slayings.

Now, however, there's a Suthers connection to Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical cleric who's called alleged Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan and failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab his "students." As reported by Fox News, Suthers's name is on a 2002 document dismissing an arrest warrant aimed at Awlaki.

In June 2002 in U.S. District Court in Colorado, a warrant for Awlaki's arrest was issued under the signature of U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Watanabe. The U.S. Attorney's Office charged that "on or about November 18, 1993," Awlaki, who attended Colorado State University, "willfully, knowingly and unlawfully made a false statement in an application for passport with intent to induce and secure the issuance of a passport under the authority of the United States for his own use contrary to the laws regulating the issuance of passports and the rules prescribed pursuant to such laws."

Then, in October 2002, the U.S. Attorney's Office essentially said, "Never mind." The Government's Motion of Dismiss Complaint and Vacate Arrest Warrant begins, "The United States of America, by and through John W. Suthers, United States Attorney for the District of Colorado and Joseph Mackey, Assistant United States Attorney, respectfully requests this Honorable Court dismiss the Criminal Complaint and vacate the Arrest Warrant in the above-captioned case and states that the interests of justice would best be served by dismissal of this complaint."

Why? The document doesn't say -- but the Justice Department recently sent a statement to Fox News with the following description of its actions:

"In June 2002, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado accepted on its face an affidavit for a criminal complaint submitted by a Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent in San Diego alleging a false statement in an application for a passport by Anwar Al-Awlaki.

"The passport application was made on November 18, 1993, at a post office in Fort Collins, Colorado. As the U.S. Attorney's Office reviewed the Awlaki case in preparing for presentation before a grand jury for an indictment, the federal prosecutor assigned to handle the matter determined that additional investigation was required.

"In the original DSS affidavit in support of a criminal complaint, the San Diego DSS agent alleged that on June 6, 1990, Awlaki had lied on an application for a social security number, allegedly falsely listing his place of birth. Awlaki was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, even though on the social security number application he listed his place of birth as Yemen. Awlaki then allegedly used the Social Security number on his application to renew his passport. As a U.S. citizen, Awlaki was entitled to a Social Security number and the renewal of his passport.

"At the time of the original DSS investigation, the statute of limitations regarding the alleged Social Security false statement regarding his place of birth had expired. After the criminal complaint was filed, further investigation was required to ensure that there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction in this case. That investigation, conducted by a Denver DSS agent, and outlined in a DSS report, revealed that, in 1996, Awlaki had contacted the Social Security Administration to request that his place of birth on his social security application be changed from Yemen to New Mexico.

"The Social Security Administration made the requested change long before the criminal investigation started in September 2001. As such, the U.S. Attorney's Office learned during the subsequent investigation that the Social Security Administration would testify only that Awlaki was entitled to a social security number, that the number was valid, and that their records indicated that he corrected his place of birth.

"This fact eliminated the crucial piece of evidence required to obtain a conviction. Based on that fact, the U.S. Attorney's Office met with the original DSS agent from San Diego on October 8, 2002, notifying him that they could not, as matter of law or ethics, seek a grand jury indictment against Awlaki.

"On that same day, October 8, 2002, after that meeting, according to a DSS report, the San Diego DSS agent contacted a DSS clerk in California, requesting that the clerk access the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computerized index of criminal justice information, and withdraw the arrest warrant from the system. A motion was later filed and was signed by the Magistrate Judge, dismissing the complaint.

"Dismissing a complaint is fairly common practice, done for a variety of reasons, including in cases where the state files charges in lieu of federal prosecution, or where a witness becomes unavailable, or where new unrelated charges are filed.

"In short, there was no legal basis to bring a passport fraud prosecution in this matter given the evidence uncovered by the Denver DSS agent, and had there been a legal basis for prosecution, it is unlikely that under the sentencing structure put in place in 2001 such a charge would have led to any, let alone significant time in prison.

"Furthermore, the penalties usually associated with passport or immigration fraud -- loss of U.S. immigration status -- were not available, given the fact that this individual was a U.S. citizen."

A strong argument. Nonetheless, news that Suthers's office dropped prosecution of Awlaki can't be welcome from a political standpoint given its proximity to the Kimball revelations.

Look below to watch American Terrorist, Fox News's special report about Awlaki, which debuted over the weekend:

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts