Thursday, January 31, 2008

Convictions Without Evidence: Federal Prosecutors Try To Establish Dangerous Precedent In Weak Anti-Terror Case

(UPDATED below)

John Christoffersen for the AP via Newsday:
A federal judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors trying a former Navy sailor charged with supporting terrorism can tell a jury about his coded speech and admissions that he communicated with suspected terrorism supporters and destroyed videos that promoted violent jihad.

Authorities allege that Hassan Abu-Jihaad leaked a document describing the location and vulnerabilities of a Navy battle group to suspected terrorism supporters in London. His trial starts Feb. 25.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz is a boost to prosecutors, who have acknowledged that they don't have direct proof that Abu-Jihaad leaked details of ship movements.
The case against Hassan Abu-Jihaad (aka Abujihaad) gets weirder and thinner by the month. George Smith (aka Dick Destiny) has written an excellent article on the topic for the UK's Register and I urge you to read it: "FBI's 'idiot dude' fails to boost US Navy terror emails: Wiretap excerpts hint at rich vein of pointless tedium". Here's the beginning:
We now return readers to the case of alleged terrorist Hassan Abu-jihaad, the former US Navy signalman banged up for sending Babar Ahmad and Azzam Publications information on when his surface action group was transiting the Strait of Hormuz in 2001. Another alleged crime was buying a few Chechen jihadi videos and tipping the web company five dollars in overpayment.

These actions eventually resulted in Abu-jihaad's arrest and indictment in 2006 on charges of materially aiding terrorists and disclosing information said to be of use to terrorists. However, it has now become plain that the US government has been nursing its case against Abu-jihaad. It had started running surveillance on him in 2004, employing wiretapping and an informant. The government accumulated as much talk as possible, coming up with a thirty-three page list of excerpts which the prosecution has submitted for consideration as further evidence in advance of the defendant's trial.

The FBI informant, known as William Chrisman, was many things: a former convicted armed robber, car thief and gang member who converted to Islam and claimed to be patriotically moved to help protect the nation against terror after 9/11. He has nine children by three wives - apparently a harem - in some type of ill-defined common law arrangement and was angling for a fourth, according the Associated Press, when the proposed new addition was apparently scared off by the size of the Chrisman stable.

Normally, one does not expect FBI informants to be model citizens. But increasingly in the war on terror, the government seems to have been employing individuals of extremely dubious quality, people looking for a payday while trolling for potential patsies.

In a twist of fate, Chrisman's future career as an FBI informant was scotched when the New Haven Independent, an on-line local news organization covering pre-trial maneuvering in the Abu-jihaad case, published his picture.

The Independent portrayed Chrisman as a "terrorist buster," then busted his days as a clandestine operative with the photo. Although the publication quickly yanked it, the WinterPatriot blog plastered a copy of Chrisman's mug all through its coverage of the informant, where it indelibly remains.

Chrisman's testimony in court, assembled in the FBI proffer, is an attempt to further indict Abu-jihaad by implication. While the affidavit is lengthy, it adds little of hard substance - and we'll get to this in a bit - to the original emails to Azzam which resulted in the terror complaint against him.
As the case gets weirder, and thinner, the government gets more desperate, of course, so it gets even more chilling, as John Christoffersen reported (same link as above):
In court papers, prosecutors cite Abu-Jihaad's "obsession with operation security," his use of codes and his suspicion of government surveillance to "explain why there is no forensic footprint that directly links the defendant" to the leaked document.
If this argument is accepted, it will set a precedent effectively eliminating the notion that the prosecution must provide proof of guilt, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. If they really want to put you away, federal prosecutors won't have fabricate evidence, or lie about what their genuine evidence really means. They won't even have to give the impression that they have incriminating evidence against you.

They will only have to say, "We don't have any proof because the suspect is too sneaky."

And that will be the end of that.

see also: Burned! Meet William Chrisman, FBI Entrapment Specialist

and don't forget the rest of : FBI's 'idiot dude' fails to boost US Navy terror emails: Wiretap excerpts hint at rich vein of pointless tedium

UPDATE: two new posts from George Smith for your consideration:

at The Register: Email trail from navy man to London 'terror' site goes fuzzy
In pre-trial maneuvering this month the US government's case against ex-Navy signalman Hassan Abu-jihaad became more moth-eaten. Prosecutors filed an interesting brief indicating they had no evidence against the defendant of a terror plot modus operandi.

Abu-jihaad has been charged with e-mailing information on the transit of his naval battle group through the Straits of Hormuz to Babar Ahmad and Azzam Publications in London in 2001. At the time he was serving on the destroyer Benfold. For the purpose of the case, Babar Ahmad - now awaiting a court decision in February on whether or not he is to be extradited to the States - is considered by the US government to be a terrorist. The government alleges Abu-jihaad's communications with Ahmad and the purchase of Chechen resistance videotapes from the Azzam website to be aiding terror, with the defendant an agent of a foreign power.

A glaring problem with the government's case against Abu-jihaad is that the evidence against him is thin. Although the US has submitted e-mails to Azzam which they have claimed are from Abu-jihaad, prosecutors admitted in pre-trial filings this month that "the Government had no recorded statements or testimony personally linking Abu-jihaad to the e-mail account from which [the communications to Azzam in question] were sent."
and there's more at his blog, "Dick Destiny": SHIFTY ATTITUDE INDICATES TERROR AIM: Main prosecution plank against Hassan Abu-jihaad

Click. Read. Learn. Then what?


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