A videotape showing a US soldier willingly sharing military information with federal undercover agents he believed to be al-Qaeda members is expected to be among key evidence in his court martial, which was scheduled to begin yesterday.
Specialist Ryan Anderson of the Washington National Guard is charged with five counts of trying to provide the al-Qaeda terrorist network with information about US troop strength and tactics, as well as methods for killing American soldiers.
On the video, Anderson offers sketches and information about weaknesses in the M1A1 Abrams, the Army's primary battle tank.
"While I love my country, I think the leaders have taken this horrible road," he is recorded as saying. "I have no belief in what the American Army has asked me to do. They have sent me to die."
Anderson, a 27-year-old Muslim convert, has pleaded innocent and requested his general court martial at Fort Lewis be heard by commissioned officers rather than a judge or a mixed panel of officers and enlisted soldiers. The hearing is expected to last five days.
"He's making a tactical decision. They believe the officers, given this type of charge, will give him the fair shake," said David Sheldon, a Washington, D.C., attorney who specializes in military law.
The tank crewman with the Guard's 81st Armor Brigade, whose unit is in Iraq, faces life in prison without parole. A conviction requires agreement by two-thirds of a panel of commissioned officers, unlike a federal trial that requires a unanimous decision.
Specifics of the case have been guarded and both Anderson's attorney, Major Joseph Morse, and military prosecutor, Major Chris Jenks, have refused to comment.
In June, Morse was denied a request that the government pay for a psychologist to help prepare his case. Judge Colonel Debra Boudreau said the defense was free to pay one on its own.
Fort Lewis officials have not said whether Anderson has undergone a psychological evaluation.
Such an expert would help determine whether Anderson understands his conduct was wrong, said Sheldon, and therefore whether he should be held criminally responsible.
"In any federal court where this type of issue was litigated an expert would be provided," Sheldon said. "In a military court, sadly, this type of result is the routine, not the exception."
Anderson was raised Lutheran but began studying Islam while attending Washington State University. He has been described by high school classmates in Everett as a paramilitary enthusiast who was passionate about guns.
Anderson caught the attention of federal agents last year with help from a Montana judge.
Shannen Rossmiller of Conrad, Montana, testified at a hearing in May that she monitors the Web for signs of extremist or terrorist activity. She said she came across a posting in October on a Muslim-oriented site by an "Amir Abdul Rashid."
Several Internet searches linked the name and e-mail address to Anderson, and Rossmiller said when she posted a phony call for jihad against the US, "Rashid" wrote back.
"He was curious if a brother fighting on the wrong side could join or defect," she testified.
Rossmiller was put into in touch with the FBI, and soon Anderson was text messaging a federal agent he believed was a member of al-Qaeda. The conversations culminated in a meeting with two undercover investigators in a parking lot near the Space Needle in Seattle. The hour-long discussion was secretly recorded Feb. 9, just days before Anderson was to deploy to Iraq.