Los Angeles Times staff writer John J. Goldman reports. Excerpt:
NEW YORK — The Justice Department has uncovered no evidence to corroborate an Egyptian student’s allegations that an FBI polygraph examiner coerced him into confessing that he owned an aviation radio found near the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, according to a report released Monday.
At the same time, the judge who ordered the inquiry cast doubt on the polygraph as a valid investigative tool.
Government prosecutors welcomed the Justice Department’s finding, and they said no further action is necessary.
Robert S. Dunn, a lawyer representing Abdallah Higazy, subject of the report, labeled the finding “a craftily woven cloth of deceit and deception that was essentially a whitewash.”
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff called for the probe after prosecutors in January dropped charges of lying to investigators against Higazy, 30, a computer science student who was detained as a material witness in connection with the attack on the twin towers.
Higazy was released in January after a pilot notified authorities that he was the true owner of the radio.
A month later, a hotel security guard pleaded guilty to lying when he told the FBI that he found the radio in a locked safe in the room that Higazy, a student at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, occupied during the terrorist attack.
The guard, Ronald Ferry, 48, was sentenced to six months of weekends in a halfway house.
After these events, Rakoff ordered a report on how the FBI had gotten the confession from an innocent man.
Higazy charged that he was pressured into giving false information after the FBI polygraph examiner threatened that the lives of his family in Egypt and his brother in upstate New York would become a “living hell.”
Higazy told interviewers from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General that to save his family, he decided to confess falsely to owning the radio found in the Millennium Hilton Hotel.
He said he told the FBI agent administering the test that he gave three different versions of how he obtained the radio.
Higazy said he didn’t inform his lawyer, or the government, about the alleged threat the day of the examination or the next day at a court hearing because he was afraid.
In a memorandum, Rakoff said that conflicts remain between Higazy’s and the government’s accounts of what happened in the polygrapher’s office, and that the reports left unanswered a broader question.
That issue, the judge added, was “whether the government’s continued reliance on such a doubtful investigatory tool as polygraph testing increases the possibility of false confessions.”