Thursday, September 21, 2006

BILL AND TIMS’ (AND GEORGE AND JOHN AND JUAN’s) TERROR ADVENTURE

NOTE: The following post was sent in by a friend. For a little background on this story please see

here,
here
here,
and
here... and on to our story....


(after 4 days of trial, where I missed the 4th day)

It all began - when? With 911? When they started illegally listening to phone calls and reading e-mails, and equating any criticism, especially from Muslims, as support for terrorism? (And we’re hardly immune - they said "If you’re not with us, you’re against us." Well write my name down George - put me on that enemies list.)

THE NOTEBOOK

Or was it when they bombed a camp and other sites in northern Iraq in 2003, killed everyone there and then claimed they had been terrorists? Very convenient since they’re all dead.. Maybe that was the first "mistake." One of the groups attacked was Ali Bapir’s group - a moderate former IMK leader who was not opposing them - they later apologized for killing several of his men and detaining him for a few months.

We definitely know about the "mistranslation" of the word "kak" - which is actually a very common Arabic word for BROTHER - and which certainly does NOT mean "commander." But that was the thing that got Yassin Aref denied bail the first time. (The second time was based on his poetry and private journal but that was a year later.) Luckily Terry straightened the first one out, but how many times is the defense expected to fix government "mistakes" which end up hurting their clients? Apparently a lot.

OTHER MISTRANSLATIONS

Like the mistranslations of the journal. Which kept Yassin locked up when his bail was denied. Where the prosecutors implied the "American Plan" was to attack the US when it was really based on the Iraqi Liberation Act passed by the US Congress in 1998 where seven Kurdish opposition groups - including the IMK - were to get US $ for an uprising against Saddam Hussein. And the poem - the one that said something like "raise the jihad sword with blood"? They left out the first half which showed it was all about getting rid of Saddam.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL WIRETAPPING AND SECRECY

Then there’s the classified government motions and even decisions which Terry and Kevin - with top secret security clearances - didn’t even get to see. Orders were faxed to the Court with the heading of the "counter-terrorism" section of the "Justice" Department in DC - and the judge would sign them and then send us an electronic notice saying another classified order had crossed his desk and, no, the defense couldn’t see this one either. And this isn’t a bad judge, he’s actually pretty good as federal judges go. What is happening to our country??! When the defense went up to the Second Circuit the Court fiddled around in procedural swamps and completely ignored the main point - the burning of the Constitution. Luckily Michigan Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was brave enough to say no to these would-be kings - course she’s a Black woman - maybe that has something to do with her courage, and with her understanding of just what is going on.

Anyway, for whatever reason they really wanted to take down Yassin Aref. Maybe because he is very trustworthy, religious and devoted to his faith and his principles - and is afraid of nothing but God. (All that was played on a tape at trial.) So how do they go about it? Well, he was in the US so it was apparently still too risky to attempt an "extraordinary rendition." But they have other ways. They found a guy who they had some leverage over - actually a lot of leverage - he faced a long prison term and deportation, and his wife also faced deportation. He was slimy enough, slippery enough, and willing enough to suit their purposes. So they gave him a secret body recorder, put a VHS recorder in a clock in his office (which I think they also gave him), and gave him all sorts of instructions.

URDU TAPES

Meet with Mohammed Musharraf Hossain first. (He was a law-abiding hard working immigrant who was actually living the American dream. He lived with 9 others in a little flat above his pizza store. Sure, like most all Muslims, he was angry at Israel and unfortunately he blamed Jews. Like many of us, he was angry at a lot of things the US did. But he just liked to talk - he wasn’t going to do anything. He also said that people would gradually convert to Islam and there was no need for killing. And Malik for some reason at one point told him that this was legal and that nothing he imported was capable of killing a man or harming anyone. Musharraf did want money though and that’s what he was offered. He is the collateral damage of this case.)

Tim Coll told Malik: Get to know him, impress him with your riches, give presents to his children, tell him what a great guy he is, and how you want to learn about Islam from him. Tell him you’re interested in buying his pizza business. Then offer him money. $5000 - you’ll give him $50,000 and he only has to give back $45000. Wow, that definitely impressed him. He sure seemed a lot more interested in the money than in any "plot" which Malik hinted about. That’s called entrapment. He even thought the terrorist group was a musical act.

But the point was to get to Aref. So when Hossain said (showing that he didn’t think this was particularly illegal) that they needed to have the loan witnessed and recorded under Islamic law, FBI Agent Tim Coll told Malik the informant to say that they didn’t want any Pakistanis or Bangladeshis - turns out then that the obvious choice was Yassin Aref. Musharref fell right into the trap and suggested Yassin. Wonderful choice says Malik. Yeah, says Musharraf, because he’s very honest and would never break his word. Not ‘oh yeah, he would love to get in on this plot.’ Nope, and later, when Malik told Musharraf that he had told Yassin of the plot (though he didn’t really, just hinted and used words Yassin didn’t know), Musharraf was really very surprised, showing that not only did he never discuss it with him, but also that he didn’t think Yassin would support whatever it was that was supposedly going on. Of course Musharref was also extremely surprised that Malik told HIM about the missile.

And there’s no indication that anyone ever believed the insane fake plot about shooting the Pakistani Ambassador in NYC with a 10 foot long missile launcher. I can just imagine hiding that in my pocket walking down the streets of Manhattan - it wouldn’t even fit under a trench coat. And it’s heat seeking - so they’re going to fire it in the middle of a crowded city and expect to hit a particular target?

ENGLISH TAPES

So Yassin meets with them, and explains why it is so important to write down all the terms of the loan. And in fact it says in the Koran that if you’re asked to witness and record a financial transaction under this Surah (chapter of the Koran), it is your duty to do so and you cannot refuse. Especially if you’re an imam. He also explains, in connection with both giving and paying back the loan, how important it is as Muslims to fulfill promises. He says, when Malik hints about "black money" and avoiding taxes, that he doesn’t think this is illegal. Then it seems that he thinks it has to do with not paying taxes, which is illegal, but not that the source of the money was illegal. You can hear from the tapes how poor Yassin’s English was - it’s pretty clear that he was unfamiliar with the words "ammunition" (which is not illegal anyway) and "missile."

But Malik keeps trying - at one point throwing the phrase "I send the missile" into the middle of an unrelated conversation. There was no indication that Yassin even heard him - he just kept making his points as if there had been no interruption. Malik tries really hard to earn his money and stay out of jail - he says, ‘oh great Imam, you know so much, I really want to learn from you about our religion - please teach me.’ Which is part of Yassin’s duty as an imam. Yassin explains that his purpose here is to fulfil that duty - to lead prayers, marry people, counsel people. That when he came to this country he promised to obey American laws and it very important to him - and should be for all Muslims, as it is part of the faith - to fulfill promises.

Malik also tries really hard to get Yassin to say he supports the group JEM - which is a designated foreign terrorist group. But Yassin says over and over and over again (he is repetitive but extremely consistent) that he cannot support that group, he does not know enough about them. The most he can say is that if Malik knows about them and supports them, then it is up to him, he should support them if he believes they are doing the right thing. But that he, Yassin, cannot do so. He also points out that it is generally better to give money to service groups who help orphans and women who are hungry and cold in the mountains, etc.. That with many political groups money ends up going to the wrong people or for the wrong purpose.

Malik keeps trying though, and, still under the guise of being "taught about Islam" draws Yassin into political conversations. Yassin says that while he supports the right of peoples to self-determination, such as the Palestinians, the people of Kashmir and the people of Kurdistan, all of whom have been occupied and oppressed by others, he does not support suicide bombing or really any kind of bombings. And that for him it is irrelevant anyway, since he, though sympathetic to the plight of, say, a Palestinian child, is simply not in that situation. He is an imam, and his duties are to lead prayers, counsel people, etc...


TRIAL

So then comes the trial. First thing they do is put on a witness who holds up the shoulder-fired missile and explains how to use it. How is this even relevant? It was the government’s missile and they provided it to Malik who showed it to Musharraf - but not Yassin. The defense agreed to stipulate that the missile was what the government said it was (met the particular statutory definition of a "weapon of mass destruction" - so it fit into their carefully constructed plot) But no, they refused to stipulate - because the whole point was for the jury to see it - and be terrorized.

Then they start playing the sting tapes. First the urdu ones with Malik and Musharraf. Many of their translations were bad, and Kevin got them thrown out, and replaced with translations by someone else. But the jury wasn’t told that and so the FBI translator came across looking like the perfect little translator who was SO careful about each word and would NEVER make a mistake... Then she said "jihad" meant "holy war." Well, she "enlarged" on that definition the next day, either at the request of the defense or because they knew it would come out later - and pointed out that, well, that is an over-simplification - that jihad really means "struggle" and can be inner or outer, defensive or offensive etc. Like the English word "crusade." She also "defined" a few other words - "mushrik" and I don’t remember what else. The underlying implication and assumption is that of course these defendants are terrorist extremist Islamists so she would "naturally" interpret the words in that context... Luckily the defense can show later that Yassin didn’t buy into the extremist definitions - that, for example, he bought meat at Price Chopper because he believed that Christians and Jews were not "mushrik" ("unbelievers") but were, rather "People of the Book" - that only pagans (idol-worshippers) were "mushrik."

HALABJA VICTIM HELPS THE DEFENSE

Then, the wonderful and heartbreaking testimony of the Kurdish witness Mohammed Aziz. Again slippery stuff on the part of the government translator, who tried to twist the Kurdish words into English which the government wanted to hear. Luckily Yassin was paying attention and raised enough of a stink so that, after a side-bar, the translation suddenly improved greatly and we started hearing a lot of good things said about Yassin. And when the witness sort of fumbled identifying Yassin by pointing in his general direction, Yassin probably made a good impression on the jury by jumping up and waving. (Channel 9 said that was an "obvious cultural divide between the defendant and his lawyers" but it was just a spontaneous move by Yassin showing he has nothing to hide. I liked it and am guessing Terry and Kent did too.) And, thanks to Terry’s "cross" - he was really sweet to the guy - we heard a lot about how Saddam gassed the Kurds in Halabja in 1988 - that’s why Mohammed, all these years later, is in constant pain and needs a new set of lungs. We also heard about how the IMK (the whole point of this witness was to connect Yassin to that group and make the group - which is clearly NOT a terrorist group - look bad) was a service organization with an office in Damascus which helped Kurdish men, women and children travel back and forth to Kurdistan, get medical treatment etc. On redirect Bill tried to get him to say that the IMK just helped IMK people, but he said, "no, they helped everybody, regardless of political affiliation." Also Bill tried really hard to get him to say that Yassin was in charge of the office (which is a lie anyway) and he never said that - if anything the implication was that his nephew, Lokman, a college friend of Yassin’s, was in charge. Bill also tried to get him to say that the college in question was some kind of nefarious training ground for extremist Islamists - but he said, no, there were various courses and majors - some were religious and some degrees were in language, history, etc. Terry asked "like a Catholic college?" The witness said he didn’t know, having never been to one, but everyone chuckled and got the point.

STING TAPES CHERRY PICKED BY GOVERNMENT

Long ago the government had given the defense a set of cassette tapes - the sting tapes recorded by the FBI. They also provided some pretty poor quality transcripts. Then shortly before trial they gave the defense some revised and generally improved transcripts - (although there were certain changes which were extremely prejudicial and misleading - such as using the word "terrorist" where it was really impossible to tell what the word actually was). Tim Coll made the new transcripts. But the government only provided the transcripts for the cherry-picked parts of the tapes which they wanted to use at trial. All the parts the defense wanted were left out. They tended to be short sections between the parts the government wanted - legally, the defense had a right to get most of them back under the "rule of completeness" So, since there were many page numbers missing from the government transcripts, the defense asked for the specific page numbers for the parts to be put back. The government refused. So then the defense hired a stenographer who stayed up late a couple of week-end nights listening to these tapes (which, as everyone at the trial knows now, are not easy to understand). She made a set of transcripts for the parts the defense wanted to add back. When the government learned that, they must have had a vision of playing their parts, and then having Terry or Kent say, "And now for the part they didn’t show you." So they said they were adding it all back in. And they even provided new transcripts with those parts included - the "missing" pages which had been requested earlier. So then on the day that they played those tapes, with Tim Coll on the stand, they somehow "forgot?!" to play the most crucial one they had agreed to add back - the part where Yassin says that when he came to this country he promised to obey American laws, and how important it is as Muslims to fulfil promises. That section is also where Yassin makes it clear that he is opposed to suicide bombing and bombing in general. So now the defense will most likely get to play that section, and give the jury the transcript for it - their attention will be even more focused on it than it would have if the government hadn’t made this latest "mistake."

WHAT NEXT?

Stay tuned....

A little bit on the Cast of Characters:

Bill is Bill Pericak, the main US atty on the case.

Tim is FBI Special Agent Tim Coll, the lead agent on the case.

Terry is Terry Kindlon, attorney for Yassin Aref.

Kevin is Kevin Luibrand, attorney for Mohammed Mushareff Hossain.

Kent Sprotbery is one of the defense attorneys conducting the trial - he is an associate with the firm and has extensive federal trial experience.

Yassin Aref is an Iraqi Kurd who had to flee after the anti-Saddam Kurdish uprising in 1991. He then returned to Kurdistan until 1995 when he came to Damascus to study and work. He worked for the IMK (an Islamic Kurdish opposition group which helped Kurdish refugees and exliles, many of whom came through Damascus since, due to the no-fly zone, they couldn't fly into Iraq) - Yassin worked there for a few months in 1999 and never denied that. Then in 1999 he entered a UN refugee program where they chose a country for him - which was the US. They also chose for him to go to Albany. He started working at Albany Med as a janitor, and later became the Imam of the Central Ave mosque. He has a green card but is not a citizen. Even if he gets completely aquitted, it is possible he could be deported, which would be especially rough for his children, who have been here since '99 - the oldest is 12 and the youngest is 8 months.

Musharraf is a citizen - he is from Bangladesh but came here many years ago, and owns Little Italy Pizzeria. I don't know as much about him. Neither defendant has ever been in trouble with the law before.