Trial Day 9 (Nov. 4., 2011) — Cross-Examination of Ali Aboubakr (cooperating witness) by Janice Bassil (defense counsel)
The examination and cross-examination of Ali Aboubakr, one of the cooperating witnesses (an FBI euphemism for informant), presents the most compelling arguments made by the government, and yet has it gained them ground? Questions worth posing at this time include, what strategy have the prosecution focused on, and what has the defense’s response been, and how effective has that response been? Let’s take a closer look.
The examination and cross-examination of Ali Aboubakr revealed a number of important insights about the case against Tarek Mehanna. Much may be gleaned from scrutinizing the prosecution’s examination strategy, which relies entirely upon the selective exposure of the jury to chat logs between Tarek and Ali from 2006. The prosecutor, in this case Jeffrey Auerhahn (or “Jeff” as Ali felt comfortable calling him) examined Ali by highlighting a segment of a chat log, at which point he and Ali would conduct a roleplay, with Ali reading his own lines and “Jeff” reading Tarek’s lines. Rinse and repeat for a series of conversations, and taken alone this examination might leave one highly uncertain of what kind of person Tarek is. Ironically, the cooperating witness, left no uncertainty as to his religious preferences, making statements that were considerably more harsh relative to mainstream sensibilities than those of the defendant, and more frequently by far than seen from the defendant. It appears that the prosecution’s witness is far more “indoctrinated” than the defendant himself, thereby preempting their assertion that he was the one indoctrinating others. While the defendant did express his bitterness towards U.S. troops over their activities in Muslim nations, he did not espouse beliefs with the same zeal as the witness. This is not the only fascinating observation.
The examination really comes into focused context during Janice Bassil’s cross-examination of Ali. One dimension of her sophisticated and nuanced strategy included revisiting each one of the conversations reviewed by Auerhahn and Ali during examination, and demonstrating to the jury, Judge O’Toole and the audience in attendance, how a little can really mean a lot; that is, how following these very same chat logs for even 3 to 5 more lines of text could eliminate all ambiguity from what Tarek meant by his words. For instance (and you may refer to the transcript posted earlier), Tarek asks Ali if he would accompany him when he returns overseas, and Ali affirms that he would and expresses a desire to “donate blood to the Red Crescent,” (this is paraphrased, e.g., not verbatim). Terminating the roleplay at that statement leaves listeners with the implication that they would be going overseas to participate in a suicide bombing, martyrdom operation, violent jihad, etc. When revisiting the conversation, however, Janice reads the 3 lines immediately following it on the next page, where Tarek describes how he can help Ali find an apartment at a decent rent, introduce him to potential marriage candidates and his acceptance letter to a very prestigious institution, Medina University. From a practical standpoint, one may intuit that these would each be low priorities for somebody seeking to engage in violent jihad and suicide bombing. However, not only were they important, but as Janice points out by the exaggerated expressions used to convey them by Tarek and Ali both, the recommendation he received for Medina University was extremely significant to him, and to Ali as well.
The example above replayed itself over and over and over again until Janice had reviewed nearly all the conversations referenced by the prosecution’s examination, and her strategy for reconciling each of these examples remained unchanged–simply read a few more lines preceding or following the segments reviewed by the prosecution. A little can really mean a lot, and the information acquired by reading a little more than the government’s snippets meant that an accurate interpretation of Tarek’s words differed from the alternative reality constructed by the prosecution, quite literally as night differs from day. This raises questions about the prosecution’s inclusion and exclusion criteria, whether explicitly or implicitly stated, regarding the way they were selecting the evidence they wanted the jury to have access to. Inclusion criteria evidently consisted of any statement touching on jihad, violence related to Islam, 9/11, criticism of non-Muslims, etc.; it would not be inaccurate to say that in sum, their inclusion criteria was any statement that would push the jury’s emotional buttons.
The exclusion criteria is what really raises concerning questions about the transparency of the examination and in fact of the entire case against Tarek. Excluded from the conversations and statements presented by the prosecution to the jury as evidence, were records of the writing and conversations where Tarek expresses his personal opinions and views. These records reveal Tarek’s arguments to not only be quite moderate by mainstream sensibilities (e.g., condemning suicide bombings, rejecting the extremist notion that Americans may be targeted whenever/wherever), but in addition, they conveyed a Tarek that was extremely rational, who focused all his energy on pursuit of knowledge, who invited debate and discussion and willingly engaged alternative viewpoints. More importantly, by introducing those records, Janice effectively established that Tarek had actually been known widely for his commitment to calling non-Muslims to Islam through an explicit emphasis on the use of methods that were respectful, attractive and friendly to non-Muslim sensibilities, and through kindness, compassion, logic and reason. Violence was distinctly absent from any of the strategies that he advocated, and in fact in his writings and statements, he explicitly articulates violence and hate as exclusion criteria in the way that Muslims should interact with non-Muslims. The sole exception to this rule indicated by him, and this with heavy references and citations from core Islamic texts like the Qur’an and hadith, was reserved for those non-Muslims who were not civilians and who were actively engaged in military scale invasions of Muslim territories. It is regrettable that the records of these statements made by Tarek, all of them very thorough, detailed and heavily cited from Islamic texts, are not presently available for the public’s viewing (the author of this analysis will see if this can be remedied in the coming week).
What the chat logs and emails reviewed provide about Tarek, when presented in their entirety as opposed to the snippets that are selectively addressed by the government, is that his beliefs are overwhelmingly moderate, his ideology is far more focused on calling Americans to Islam through respectful, nonviolent means and he has dedicated his life to the acquisition of knowledge within the discourse of Islamic jurisprudence (Islamic law). In fact, Tarek has been banned from extremist forums like Tibyan Publications because his views were too moderate. This is another one of those important details that the government neglected to include, and it shines a poor light upon the transparency and legitimacy of their case against Tarek when the defense’s cross-examination routinely uncovers, over and over and over again, that the government’s modus operandi is to articulate a narrative that deliberately stops short of providing the context that is absolutely required for accurate interpretation of the evidence presented. Logic would suggest that the government does this because it does not want this evidence to be accurately interpreted.
These considerations offer some compelling food for thought. The government has described Tarek as an extremist but its arguments have been proven by the defense to be selective snippets that when placed in the context of the rest of his speech, have consistently demonstrated that Tarek is not what the government describes him as. Additionally, the government has remained oddly silent regarding the lengthy and detailed texts that Tarek published and spoke to and which firmly establish the most accurate representation of his viewpoints.
Notice the consistencies between the lack of transparency characterizing the government’s method of arresting and detaining Tarek as described in the previous post, and the deficiency of transparency qualifying their entire strategy as presented in the analysis above as well. This has been a consistent pattern that will likely be continued throughout the trial. For now, please continue to visit FreeTarek.wordpress.com for up to the minute coverage and analysis of Tarek’s trial. The second segment of this analysis will be posted tomorrow, and will cover additional elements of the examination and cross-examination of Ali Aboubakr’s enthusiastic and energetic yet mortally flawed testimony on behalf of the prosecution.