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Day 6: First Round of Examination/Cross-Ex, FBI Agents Schwarz & Boonyasait, on Tibyan

Trial Day 6 (Nov 1, 2011), Examination/Cross-Examination by Janice of Schwartz and Carney of Boonyasait.  Boonyasait was responsible for analyzing Tibyan Forums posting; major breakthrough by Carney during cross-examination, revealing indisputably that Tarek held viewpoints that were viewed by extremists as being moderate, and which resulted in his being barred from accessing a forum where he made persistent arguments advocating moderate viewpoints in the face of extremist ideology.  

Court got underway promptly this morning with the cross-examination of Mr. Schwartz, an FBI agent at the Washington Field Office, who took the stand again today, as a continuation of his testimony from the day before. Despite the fact that Mr. Schwartz is in the CT-9 (Counter-terrorism/internet terrorism) Unit of the FBI, he was surprisingly unfamiliar with many forums that deal with Islamic issues, considering the FBI’s constant surveillance of all things Islam. He hadn’t heard of forums like Islamic Awakening, Islamic Network, and the forum of discussion, At-Tibyan Publications. Through Ms. Bassil’s questions it was revealed that in his 24 or so months working in the so-called “internet terrorism” Unit, Mr. Schwartz had only become aware of Tibyan this past August when he was assigned to this investigation to analyze a narrow scope of content in relation to Tarek. And he did just that – he only read the cherry-picked posts and messages given to him by the prosecution. He admitted that he didn’t read the messages before or after those in exhibit. He admitted that he didn’t spend time learning about the forum and didn’t know anything about the people on the forum.

J.W. Carney, Carney&Bassil, Partner

Ms. Bassil moved on to asking about Mr. Schwartz’s knowledge about Islam, asking whether or not he received training about Islam and relevant words, phrases, and people. He answered yes to her questions, yet quickly proved that he knew very little. When asked about basic Islamic terms like “hadith” and “ummah” (the Muslim people) he stated that he didn’t know their meaning. One word he did recognize was “mujahideen,” or fighers. Interesting. One of Ms. Bassil’s final questions was perhaps most revealing: Did you know that Tarek was banned from Tibyan? Mr. Schwartz’s answer: No.

The government moved onto another agent for testimony. The direct and cross-examination were both brief. John Cauthen, “cyber agent” with the FBI, testified that he had above average knowledge about Tibyan publications. However, when asked by Ms. Bassil when Tibyan started, Mr. Cauthen responded “I don’t know”. He, like Mr. Schwartz, was also unaware that Tarek was banned from the forum. When asked if the forum is illegal he paused and then responded, “Well, I’m not a lawyer…” Not much else was revealed in this portion.

The next and last witness for the day was, Veera Boonyasait, of the FBI Counter-Terrorism Unit. He explained his role of “reconstructing” the Tibyan site and spent some time showing-off his memorization abilities by listing off the usernames and email addresses of several members of the forum. Mr. Chakravarty had Mr. Boonyasait read many passages from “39 Ways,” the text that the prosecution has most often mentioned as an example of Tarek’s “support of terrorism.” Mr. Chakravarty did little more than have Mr. Boonyasait read the widely available text before he finished questioning for the day.

In cross examination, Mr. Carney asked about the various subjects debated on the Tibyan forum, such the appropriate responses by Muslims and the obligations of Muslims in response to armies invading Muslim countries, the Saudi government, attacks in Riyadh, the ’03 invasion of Iraq, etc. He asked about the differing viewpoints expressed on the forum. Mr. Boonyasait denied that there was a variety of opinions, suggesting that all opinions on Tibyan are extreme, so there isn’t that much variety. After strategic and tenacious questioning on Mr. Carney’s part, Mr. Boonyasait admits there is some pushback to certain posts, semi-disagreement and eventually yes, there is variety. Mr. Carney asked about Tarek and his rejection of certain opinions stated on the forum and Mr. Boonyasait eventually conceded that yes, Tarek did reject certain opinions on the forum. Mr. Carney read many pieces directly from the forum, including much of Tarek’s own words clearly expressing his views, which are contrary to the image the government has attempted to portray. A memorable quote of Tarek’s that Mr. Carney read today was, “Those who fight us – not those who carry the same nationality as those who fight us – should be fought”. Tarek believed then, and still believes now, that people have the right to self-defense. His words from a 2005 forum expressing this belief shine the truth through the murkiness of the prosecution’s deceptive case.

Mr. Carney established that on Tibyan, Tarek posted two types of statements – those that others have written, and those that are his own opinions. Mr. Carney asked Mr. Boonyasait if he was aware of who actually wrote the “39 Ways,” where it was written, when it was written, or that it is widely available online. He asked Mr. Boonyasait if he knew that the parts from the text that were in bold are direct quotes from the Prophet Muhammed, and that the entire text is based off of the Quran. Also in a telling response, Mr. Boonyasait answered “no” to all of the questions.

One of the main points the government is trying to make is that al Qaeda asked Tarek to translate a document, which is the only aspect of this case that would actually constitute the material support charge as the law is written. Mr. Carney asked if Mr. Boonyasait was aware that Tarek did not actually translate al Qaeda’s statement. Mr. Boonyasait said no. Mr. Carney asked if, to his knowledge, al Qaeda ever posted to Tibyan. The answer was again, “no.” The majority of the government’s witnesses have no knowledge, let alone expertise, with regards to this case.

More to continue tomorrow! Please join us in court! We will be there 9am-1pm, Monday through Friday at Moakley Courthouse in Boston.

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