News Clips— Guilt by link

WEHN BOMB SUSPECT Ahmed Ressam goes on trial March 12 in Los Angeles, he's sure to be "linked" to Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cells. Despite a highway of headlines generated by his arrest for ferrying bomb-making materials across the Canadian border 15 months ago in Port Angeles, Ressam hasn't actually been convicted of anything (unless you hold him, not Mayor Schell, culpable for canceling Seattle's Millennium New Year's party at the Space Needle). But he's so frequently "linked," "associated," or just "standing around" with other suspected terrorists (accusations usually made by "sources") that readers may wonder why the government is bothering with this fair-trial mumbo jumbo.

After all, though he's being held at the federal detention center in SeaTac, Ressam is already on trial in Paris—in absentia. Last week, Fateh Kamel, one of two dozen Islamic-militant terrorist suspects, testified Ressam "is someone I know very, very, very, very little." Aha! A very, very, very, very little link! As the Associated Press subsequently reported, Kamel "is alleged to have links to Ahmed Ressam." Hangman, prepare the noose.

Only a few days earlier, UPI reported that a former CIA source had linked Ressam to plots to bomb the Space Needle and Disneyland, and the Los Angeles Times added LA's airport to the alleged target list just in time to taint the LA trial. Two or three Ressam links a week is about average, however. (An online newspaper library search of "Ahmed Ressam" and "linked" turned up too many results—1,000-plus stories—for the computer to display.) Like the Afghanistan-based bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding such terrorist attacks as the 1998 US embassy bombings that killed 224 in Africa, Ressam has been linked by the best: The Washington Post ("links to"), the LA Times ("connections to"), and The New York Times ("is believed to"). If there's a Pulitzer for linking, it should go to The Seattle Times: In just one Ressam expos鬠it used "source" or "sources" 14 times, "link" or "linked" 11 times, and "suspected" eight times.

Reporters barely covered the one major court finding so far in the case—that the media made a fair trial here impossible, forcing a change of venue to LA. And even if you waded through their 15 months of breathless reporting, you likely know very, very, very, very little about Ahmed Ressam. In other words, up against the wall—you've just been linked.


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