Playing DressUp

patriotic-pup.JPGFederal Circuit Court Judge Marcia Cooke has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that regardless of what transpires at the trial of Jose Padilla, nothing will deter her from ensuring that this trial moves forward, ends and a verdict is handed down. Nothing.

The jurors even seem to have a sense of the inevitability in the air, and if so, they took the opportunity to revel in it just prior to the 4th of July, as each of them entered the courtroom wearing red, white and blue. A prank of sorts, though with this being a real criminal trial taking place in a real US court room, with very real life sentences hanging over the heads of Padilla and his two alleged co-conspirators – Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi – should a guilty verdict be rendered, this type of collusion begs the question of whether three months of evidence concerning “violent jihad” has altered the jury’s perception of what they are there to do.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first instance of this jury possibly conspiring or at the very best, failing to weigh evidence independently. A week before the red, white and blue incident, every juror except for one, wore (more…)

Empathic Experts

lewfri.JPGIt’s a holiday. The Padilla trial is not in session, but if the prosecution wanted to identify a better expert on terrorism than Pentagon-puppet Rohan Gunaratna who testified last week, they would spend the time off reading Jessica Stern’s astonishing 2003 book Terror in the Name of God – Why Religious Militants Kill.

Let me try to tell you about Jessica Stern. Jessica Stern is a rare intellectual, a Harvard professor who has gone to the most dangerous places in the world to meet with and try to comprehend terrorists.

A few years ago she sat down to supper in the home of Michael Bray, “the intellectual father of the extreme radical fringe of the anti-abortion movement, a movement that murders doctors who perform abortions and bombs abortion clinics. Stern has, as well, supped in Gaza City with Dr, Abdel Aziz Rantissi “one of the founders of Hamas and a member of the executive committee under house arrest at his home in Gaza.” Over a period of several years she did exactly what journalist Daniel Pearl did–only she survived.

Stern differs significantly from other terrorist profilers in her enormous capacity for empathy, believing that comprehending evil doers is better (more…)

I Could Tell You ….

witness-resize.GIFWhere the defense attorneys at the Padilla trial likely scored some points was with their cross examination of the prosecution’s expert witness, Rohan Gunaratna.

He responded to a question about whom he had worked for in the past with a variation on the classic — I-could-tell-you-but-then -I’d- have -to-kill-you response. He was obtusely mysterious (or mysteriously obtuse) when questioned about his claim to have interviewed purported terrorists for his 2002 book “Inside al-Qaida.”

“In some interviews I worked for government. I do not wish to name these countries, I would be breaching some confidentiality and agreements I signed with governments,” he said. Judge Cooke would not permit a defense lawyer to ask if any of the purported terrorists Gunaratna had interviewed had also been tortured.

So it all boiled down to “I’m a United States Government expert witness. Trust me.”

Gunaratna is being paid $300 an hour for this kind of courtroom testimony, up to a maximum of $53,700.00. Not too shabby.

In 2001 Gunaratna was quoted as saying:

The Americans lack a deep understanding of how to fight terrorism because unlike the European states the experience of America in the fight against terrorism is very limited.

He’s wrong.

Terrorism has played a historic (more…)

Instilling Fear

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Federal District Court Judge Marcia Cooke has made a decision that Jose Padilla’s lawyers and others believe will cause a mistrial. At worst, should Padilla be convicted, it will be the Judge’s ruling that will play a significant role in a probable reversal by the Supreme Court, even one that has turned so sharply to the right.

While it may or may not be a legal blunder, Judge Cooke’s decision is a moral error.

Judge Cooke agreed to a prosecution request to play for the jury a 1997 CNN taped interview with Osama bin Laden. Judge Cooke excised what she said were the most inflammatory 13 minutes from the 20 minute tape, so the jury will hear only 7 minutes of this manipulative terrorist spouting his self-serving narrative. The reason for the jury to review the 7 minutes of Osama is the prosecution has taped phone conversations between two of the defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, celebrating the contents of the interview, even, according to prosecutor John Shipley, rejoicing over bin Laden’s incendiary words.

This is what is driving Padiila’s attorney, Andrew Natale a tad crazy. There is no evidence, repeat, no evidence that Padilla ever heard or saw the bin Laden interview. “How the heck can we defend against something he’s never seen, never discussed, never had anything to do with?” Natale asked. Good question.

Let’s examine the reasons why Judge Cooke’s ruling violates the idea of a “fair” trial.

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Vanessa’s Big Story

journo-resize.JPGThe best thing about getting an “exclusive” is the exhilaration, the thrill of digging out new information which casts a big story in a different, and significant way. You get a warm feeling, a glow all over. And when competitors comes up with their own “exclusive,” you smile and grit your teeth and say, “Nice job” and try to submerge all those nasty green-eyed feelings of jealously.

The absolute best exclusive is not the one where you pry loose the lips of an insider, or take a tip over the phone and. if it checks out, run with it. The very best exclusive is the one that is just lying there, in plain sight, obvious to anyone who cares enough to root around and dig it out.

It is the stuff of the old radio program “The Big Story” – the Pall Mall cigarettes $500.00 award for outstanding journalism, a dramatization of “You lived it! You wrote it!” Today’s Pall Mall award would go to Vanessa Blum of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Her lead – while not exactly rubbing your nose in it – just notes that anyone could have pried this out from the government documents – but didn’t.

It’s a passing reference that could easily go unnoticed on the dozens of government wiretaps in the Miami trial of Jose Padilla.

It has nothing to do with terrorism or militant Islam or any of the crimes prosecutors hope to prove in court. It has to do with a tape of a radio interview Padilla gave in the mid 1990s about his troubled youth and conversion to Islam.

For the first time in this 45-minute radio interview we gain an insight into someone whom the public (including yours truly) and the police had basically dubbed “a thug,” back from the Middle East and “terrorist training,” only to be arrested at O’Hare airport and charged by the Attorney General of the United States himself, John Ashcroft, with planning to explode a radioactive “dirty bomb.”

But here is another Padilla in 1997, recently released from the South Flordia Broward County jail where he had served 303 days for firing pistol shots at a motorist who had offended him. Padilla reflected on his life as a young criminal,

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We Get Calls … from DC?

620-resize.JPGThere is something delicious about reading secret wiretaps. It’s like, well, all of a sudden looking out your bedroom window and seeing that the neighbors have forgotten to draw down the bedroom shades in the late evening. It’s more than you ever wanted to know or see. On the other hand, it can also be boring and stupid and inane. (Have you ever taped your own phone calls and then had the painful experience of having to listen to yourself going on and on and on…)

But thanks to the FBI wiretaps I’ve found – well, not exactly heart pounding secrets but some uncovered or realized information. (Competition is the soul of investigative and interpretative journalism and soul food, the “exclusive.”)

The government, in the spirit of openness and transparency, has to provide transcripts of the wiretapped phone conversations of the co-conspirators to the defense teams. It’s the law of discovery. The defense gets to “know” what evidence, what “cards” the prosecution is holding. In this case part (the most important part of the government’s case against Padilla and his two co-conspirators, Adham Hossoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi) is wiretaps, and the alleged criminal plans the accused were drawing up over the phone. (more…)

Peppermint Tea and Padilla

women.GIFWhen I attended the opening of the Jose Padilla trial–can it be two months ago–I noticed two middle aged women in the small, packed Miami courtroom. I realized that for some folks public trials are a welcome alternative to Court TV, or even Dr. Phil and Oprah.

I tried to imagine how the two ladies, let’s call them Nancy and Maureen, might react to “this week in Padilla.”

“I’m sorry you missed the trial today, Maureen. The wife of one of the conspirators–they played a tape and Nahed, that’s her name. She’s the one married to Hassoun, yeah, rhymes with Sassoon, that’s how I remember it. Well Nahed said her husband knew their phones were tapped, but he blabbed anyway. I downloaded the story from that woman, you know, the one with brown hair from–right–Carol Williams, Los Angeles Times. Listen to this:

Hassoun’s wife, Nahed, commented to one caller — who phoned to convey suspicions that Hassoun was under surveillance — that “we know that the lines are always … always monitored, but Adham doesn’t care … he talks.”

“She said it Maureen, right on the tape! We heard it. Her husband had to sit through that. (more…)

Picnic anyone?

gonzo.JPGLew will be interviewed by Peter Hart of FAIR on CounterSpin tomorrow at 2PM – find stations here. The MP3 and podcast will be available at the same link on Friday – and don’t forget to check out all the other great CounterSpin programs while you’re at it. – Siun

If you’re wondering how the “al-Marri-can’t-be- detained-as an-enemy-combatant– without-a- charge-being-filed” decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affects the case of Jose Padilla, the short answer is – it doesn’t. The decision comes too late. The Justice Department managed to weasel around a previous Supreme Court which was on the verge of freeing Padilla of those “enemy combatant” charges, and instead, the DoJ — voila — discovered new charges – conspiracy – dug up from aging wiretaps. So on it goes.

* * * *

We return to non-Arabic speaking, non-Arabic reading FBI agent John T. Kavanaugh, Jr. He was explaining to the Miami jury in the conspiracy case against Jose Padilla, that he, and others at the Justice Department, had parsed out the coded meaning of certain words and phrases overhead in the wiretapped taped phone conversations.

“Mr. Kavanaugh also said a reference to ‘eating cheese’ was code for waging jihad. But he said he had no idea what a reference to a “reservation on the female donkey” meant.

The jurors didn’t need a translation when Padilla addressed the others he was talking as “Bro.”

While this is not exactly the stuff of Captain Midnight’s Decoder Ring, it’s a slam dunk that Padilla and his co-conspirators were not planning a secretive, destructive foreign operation.

There is no example here of the cryptanalyst’s finest hour in a minute-by-minute breaking of the Japanese coded messages from Tokyo to Washington, D.C. on December 7, 1941, no blazing success story as the Americans baffled the Japanese by using the exclusively oral language of the Navahoes, and nothing bearing the imprint of the all seeing-all knowing National Security Agency, no network of global surveillance. Just audio tapes of guys talking shit. They do that – guys talk shit.

What is being presented to the jury is the prosecution’s interpretation of the code gleaned from the 300,000 taped phone conversations :

“go to the picnic” = travel to an area of jihad

“the first area” = Afghanistan

“the trade” and “commerce” = jihad

“married” = killed or martyred

“the dogs” = the United States government

“playing football” and “to eat cheese” = engaging in jihad

“the students” = the Taliban

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Sky Not Falling?

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The prosecution received a sound rejection from U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke on Thursday, while using its key evidence, the taped conversations. FBI agent – John Kavanaugh – was reviewing the tapes and said the men were using words like “tourism” and “football” as code words for violence. Defense attorneys strongly objected. “In a ruling that frustrated prosecutors,” Vanessa Blum of the Sun-Sentinel wrote:

Kavanaugh, while permitted to use the words would not be allowed to provide his opinion of their overall meaning. The judge noted that the FBI agent who “does not speak Arabic and is testifying in court for the first time, did not have the experience to be considered an expert on Islamic concepts or Arabic communications.” .

The prosecution is continuing the phone call intercepts testimony – with the jury listening to roughly 120 calls between Adham Hjassoune and Kifah Jayyousi who are accused of conspiracy to “murder kidnap and maim.” The voice of the third alleged conspirator Jose Padilla, known to everyone but the jury as the “dirty bomber,” has yet to be heard.

One witness did appear, not on tape but live in the courtroom. A former volunteer for Jayyousi’s charity, “American World Wide Relief’ – (more…)

This week at the Padilla Trial

courtroom.jpgFriday June 1 — From Carol J. Williams at the Los Angeles Times

In testimony that appeared to backfire for the prosecution, an ex convict who attended the same mosque as terrorism suspect Jose Padilla testified Thursday that he himself had considered going abroad for training to become an Islamic holy warrior, as Padilla allegedly did.

Herbert Atwell, 38, was the second prosecution witness to characterize the alleged actions of Padilla and two codefendants not as terrorism but as acts of altruism in helping Muslims under siege in foreign countries.(Emphasis added.)

One reporter on the scene who asked not to be quoted by name said the prosecution’s tactic was “throwing a lot of frightening insinuations at the jury and hoping they follow.”

June 1 Friday – This week and a large portion of next week is expected to be taken up with playing portions of the hard evidence in this conspiracy case which consists of 230 out of 300,000 taped telephone conversations.  Friday excerpts from the tapes of conversations between alleged co-conspirators Adhan Amim Haussoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were played.  These excerpts didn’t have Padilla’s voice or even a reference to him.

Hausson’s (more…)