The others on trial in Padilla case
The terror case against two of Jose Padilla's codefendants hinges on secretly recorded calls.
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Of the 123 transcribed conversations, federal agents say 79 involve Hassoun. Mr. Padilla's voice can be heard in only seven intercepted conversations. In one, recorded in July 1999, Padilla reportedly requests "an army jacket, a book bag, and a sleeping bag" because there "was a rumor here that the door was open somewhere."Skip to next paragraph
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Prosecutors say this is evidence of Padilla's desire to obtain terrorist training from Al Qaeda. His lawyers say Padilla was a recent Muslim convert who wanted to become an Islamic preacher and was seeking out scholars for instruction.
Defense lawyers for all three men say that many of the statements in the government's transcripts are vague and misleading. Of the 300,000 intercepted communications, they say, Arabic translators working for the FBI prepared summaries of only 14,000 calls. Rather than assembling a fair and comprehensive picture of their clients, government translators and agents "cherry-picked" conversations that present their clients in the worst possible light, they say.
It was up to the translators to decide which conversations might interest the FBI case agents. Defense lawyers say the translators were searching for incriminating evidence and ignoring exculpatory evidence. Some 285,000 conversations remain untranslated and effectively off limits to defense lawyers in FBI vaults, the lawyers say.
The electronic surveillance was originally undertaken to gather intelligence information about suspected terrorists rather than to prosecute a criminal case for alleged material support of terrorists. So the usual safeguards required for collection of potential evidence during a criminal investigation did not apply as the surveillance tapes were being produced and monitored, defense lawyers say.
In testimony last week, FBI translator Majed Sam acknowledged that it was up to him to decide which conversations to translate. But he said he pursued no FBI agenda. "My goal is to translate everything in as accurate English as I can," he told the jury.
During cross-examination, Jayyousi defense lawyer Marshall Dore Louis asked Mr. Sam whether he was familiar with the American term "to cherry-pick."
"It means selecting what you want to select," Mr. Louis said.
"Yes," Sam agreed.
At the conclusion of his cross-examination, Louis returned to that theme. He asked if Sam was familiar with other American terms: paint with a broad brush, stereotype, prejudice, bigotry.
Sam answered that he was familiar with each term.
The move appeared to be an effort to encourage the jury – made up of three African-Americans, four whites, and five Latinos – to closely scrutinize whether the government was using stereotypes and prejudice against Muslims to try to win convictions.
Later when the jury was excused for the day, Assistant US Attorney Russell Killinger complained to the judge about Louis's questions. "They were totally improper and uncalled for," he told US District Judge Marcia Cooke.
"I was a little surprised myself," the judge said.
Louis said he didn't mean to imply the translator was himself bigoted. His questions were intended to highlight the way the government is presenting its case.
"That's [an] argument" that can be presented later in the trial, the judge told Louis. "This witness didn't deserve those kinds of questions," she said.
Jeanne Baker, a lawyer for Hassoun, disagreed. "There is a right we have to advance our themes," she said.
Judge Cooke said the questions crossed the line into impermissible argument. "Everyone is on notice," she said.
The trial is expected to continue on Tuesday with more testimony from FBI translators.