Trial Day 14 (11/14/2011); Trial Notes on the direct examination of Hassan Masood, the second of a series of cooperating witnesses testifying against Tarek Mehanna on behalf of the federal government.
Day 14 (11/14/2011) kicked off with Carney making an objection before the jury even entered the room, relating to the prosecution’s intention to play a video of the beheading of Daniel Pearl during their direct examination of Detective Dearsley of the UK’s Metropolitan Police. As he submitted this appeal to Judge O’Toole, Mr. Carney gestured towards the audience seated across the bar and posed a rhetorical question:
“Your Honor, I wonder how many people on that side of the bar looked at the video the prosecution seeks to introduce. This was huge news at the time. Everybody wanted to see it, not only my client.”
The prosecution countered with the claim that the video was Al Qaeda propaganda, and as had become typical over the 3 weeks of trial elapsed thus far, Judge O’Toole ruled in the prosecution’s favor, describing the evidence as non-prejudicial and relevant. JC protested, with the following:
“The pile [of prejudicial evidence] is getting so high. I respectfully submit that at some point it just has to stop.”
Choosing not to respond to Mr. Carney’s appeals, O’Toole instead calls for the jury to enter the room.
Conclusion of UK Testimonies
[Jury enters; Detective Dearsley of the UK’s Metropolitan Police resumes the stand]
The prosecution proceeded first with a very brief (under 15 minutes) continuation of direct examination. During this short period, the prosecution sought to air the video of Daniel Pearl’s beheading; to the great surprise of Tarek Mehanna’s supporters, Judge O’Toole barred them from playing the video, instead instructing the prosecution to address the subject matter verbally.
Unable to air the video and finding verbal description an inadequate substitute, the prosecution rapidly gave the floor to the defense. Those in attendance were again surprised, this time when defense attorney Sejal Patel declined to cross-examine, providing no explanation for the decision. With no delay, Judge O’Toole instructed the prosecution to call the next witness: Hassan Masood (“HM”), second in a series of cooperating witnesses subpoenaed by the government to testify against their longtime friend, Tarek Mehanna.
[Hassan Masood is called to the stand; he approaches, swears his oath and takes his seat]
HM is a 29 year old Pakistani national, making him the same age as Tarek Mehanna. Yet to become nationalized as an American citizen, Hassan grew up in the household of Sheikh Masood, the former imam of the Sharon mosque, a prominent imam for a prominent Islamic center. His father was later deported for immigration problems after the FBI failed to build a case to prosecute him on terror charges; it is widely known that Hassan testified in the trial leading to his father’s deportation, on behalf of the prosecution. Clean shaven and his hair neatly combed over, he initially conveys greater confidence and comfort with being on the stand than seen in Ali Aboubakr; he takes only sparing sips of water from the cup before him throughout his testimony on direct examination.
Direct Examination [Auerhahn]
The following is a narrative of HM’s testimony under Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn’s (“JA”) direct examination. This is not an official transcript, nor does it include every statement made by the parties involved; however, the salient points are covered in as much depth and accuracy as possible.
After presenting HM with his immunity order and having him confirm his understanding that its protection does not shield him from prosecution if he commits perjury, JA draws HM into a discussion of his relationship with Ahmad Abousamra (AAS), Tarek’s co-defendant.
HM met Tarek sometime before 2001 at AAS’ house, where AAS often hosted gatherings of friends.
JA: “Do you remember any discussions led by AAS?”
HM: “Yes, he led many of our discussions. It was just the format of our gatherings, to include religious talks. He usually led these.”
Beliefs on Jihad and Suicide Bombings
JA: “Did anything change about AAS after September 11th, 2001?”
HM: “Yes, he became more political. Before 9/11, our religious discussions were always more about staying away from politics. Politics wasn’t understood among us as the way to better the Ummah. After 9/11, AAS was much more political. He talked about how there’s an obligation to change these politicians and to remove them if possible. He also talked about the obligation of fighting in a Muslim country when it is invaded.”
JA then asked HM how AAS felt about the 9/11 attacks.
HM: “AAS said they deserved 9/11 for their intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine and Israel, and [several other conflicts in Muslim territories].”
JA: “And Mr. Mehanna? Did he share those beliefs?” HM: “Yes, very similar.”
JA: And is that how Mr. Mehanna viewed it? As they?” HM: “Yes.”
JA: “Were AAS’ thoughts on jihad religious or political?” HM: “Religious.”
JA: “And Mr. Mehanna?” HM: “Same.”
In response to a question about Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghani Taliban, HM responded that they found him “admirable because he did not betray a guest,” alluding to his refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden; “Mullah Omar did not give him up,” HM explained.
JA then jumped to the topic of suicide bombings. AAS’s initial view of “suicide bombings” could be used only as last resort. Tarek felt the same way. However, gradually AAS’ view changed to beig that suicide bombings need not be only a last resort. JA didn’t ask HM whether Tarek’s views also changed in the same way (see defense cross examination further down for the answer to that question).
Asking whether HM recalled having “discussions about suicide bombings” with AAS and Tarek; when HM replied in the affirmative, JA pressed:
JA: “And what were their views on suicide bombings?”
HM: “AAS’ view was initially that suicide bombings are only to be used as a last resort. His view changed over time to being that suicide bombings could be used as a tool.”
JA: “And Tarek Mehanna? Did he share those views?”
HM: “Tarek Mehanna’s view was that they should not be used unless absolutely necessary, as a last resort.”
Ahmad Abousamra, Pakistan and Training Camps
The next major topic was AAS’ interest in Pakistan, and the two trips he made there. Note that this substantial component of the direct examination had very little, if anything, to do with Tarek, focusing instead on AAS. When asked the stated purpose of these trips by JA, HM responded that “AAS said he wanted to receive training to fight against U.S. and NATO forces. He thought I might be helpful for getting in touch with leaders of training camps because my uncle is the founder of LAT.”
HM claims that AAS successfully convinced him to accompany him to Pakistan for this purpose, but that HM’s parents found out and they were “very unhappy.” HM describes droving AAS to the train station for his first trip to Pakistan and states that AAS was blown off at LAT training camps in Pakistan, but “found somebody on a bus” named “Abdul Majid” who “talked to him and agreed to try to help him out by finding him a training camp.” HM claims that AAS “did [visit several camps] and fired a weapon, possibly, or at least held one. But he didn’t actually get training.” HM also testified that this Abdul Majid individual “found no training camps. He told AAS to go back to America.”
JA then took the questioning in a new direction, asking HM if he could recall “any discussions about doing something in America?” According to HM, “Abdul Majid” allegedly advised AAS to go back to the US and do what he could there. When AAS was talking about Abdul Majid’s advice, sometimes Tarek was around and sometimes it was just HM and AAS. AAS said that Abdul Majid suggested targeting military and financial institutions here, and that AAS talked about specific targets in the US such as financial buildings in Boston.
HM Testifies that Domestic Terror Planning Was Discussed
Worth noting, the prosecution called the defense only last Thursday telling them that HM “remembered” this one detail at what amounts to the very last minute, particularly in context of the gravity of the new narrative. There is cause for skepticism when the defense has been assured months in advance of having the prosecution’s intended narrative, only to see the prosecution attempt to rock the boat by claiming that their witness spontaneously recalled a discussion as inflammatory and of such prejudicial impact as the new claim was uniquely capable of. One such “memory” was of a discussion where it was suggested to “seek out individual people related to military personnel because they could be targeted.” HM testifying that “Tarek was involved in these conversations” only invites more skepticism of the prosecution’s handling of HM.
Asked by JA whether he was “familiar with jihadi videos,” HM said he used to watch such videos with Tarek and AAS, and that they would discuss the videos they watched, talking about how the personalities in the videos were “inspirational people for us. People who gave up their lives fighting for Muslims.”
JA: “What was the purpose of watching these videos?”
MH: “I wanted to know who these people were. I found them inspirational. I believed, like they did, that 9/11 was deserved.”
Additionally, MH wasn’t sure, but he thought he may have watched a beheading video with Tarek:
JA: “Ever watched a video of Zarqawi?” HM: “Yes, with him holding a large gun.”
JA: “Any beheading videos?” HM: “Yes. Daniel Pearl.”
JA: “Do you remember who you saw it with?” HM: “Don’t recall; I think Tarek.”
Worth noting, the email Tarek sent to AAS and HM contained a link to the Daniel Pearl video, but this link did not originate from an Islamist or jihadist website; it was a link from the website http://www.Ogrish.com/, a page dedicated entirely to gruesome videos. Also, notably, an American website that is one of several in its category, alongside other sites like http://www.goregallery.com/, for instance. It is unlikely that the FBI has charged the operators of those sites with providing material support to terrorism, and yet here their content is being allowed as evidence against Tarek, albeit only prejudicial evidence at that.
Also, it sounded a bit too convenient for HM to be able to throw Tarek’s name into what he himself acknowledged was quite a fuzzy memory. When asked if he, AAS and Tarek ever did anything physically to train, HM responded uncertainly, almost as a question, “we played paintball?” He testified that AAS and Tarek used to go on hikes to keep themselves in shape.
The Yemen Trip
HM related another account of a time, while eating dinner at Karim Abuzahra’s (KAZ) home, he found AAS, Tarek and KAZ talking quietly together in a corner. Upon his approach, he describes the conversation hushing. Asked why they were behaving so, HM states they told him they weren’t going to tell him what they were talking about because they were afraid he wouldn’t keep the secret. HM told JA that Tarek, AAS and KAZ all said they wanted to go to Yemen to find training camps. HM claimed that he only refused to go along to Yemen because of his own immigration issues and the fact that AAS had proven unsuccessful in the past. Moreover, HM testified flat out that Tarek said the reason he was going to Yemen was to fulfill the obligation of Muslims to fight and defend Muslim countries.
According to HM, based on what AAS had told him, Tarek and KAZ, a contact in California was supposed to help them find a camp. When taking the three to the airport, HM asked, “what am I going to tell your parents?” HM claims that AAS then instructed him to fabricate an alibi.
When Tarek returned from Yemen several weeks later, HM asked what had happened there. HM said that Tarek told him they went from US to UAE to Yemen, went to look for that person from California to help them, but couldn’t find him because he was in hiding. Everybody in Yemen had weapons. They eventually found that person, only to hear him declare it impossible to get training under the prevailing circumstances. Tarek then went to religious school.
JA: “Did Tarek tell you where AAS was going?”
HM: “He said to Syria to try to get into Iraq.”
JA: “What did AAS do after leaving Yemen?”
HM: “AAS or Tarek, I’m not sure which, told me that AAS had gone to Fallujah to try to fight, but people there thought he was a spy and rejected him.”
In 2006, HM learned that Tarek had been questioned by the FBI. He asked Tarek if the FBI asked about him. Tarek told HM that he talked about Yemen. He didn’t recall exactly what Tarek said. Tarek also asked about Daniel Maldonado. Did AAS tell you about his visit by the FBI?
MH: “Yes, he was questioned about Yemen, he planned to tell them that he went to religious school to get religious education. After questioning, Mr. Abousamra planned to leave US right away,” MH alleges.
JA then asked HM about his immigration status and related difficulties: HM is even now fighting deportation to Pakistan, where he hasn’t been since the age of five or six years. In September 2009 at an immigration court, prosecutors asked if HM had contact with anyone who espoused violent jihadi views, and HM said no. “That was incorrect,” JA pointed out, and HM agreed. JA questioned whether or not the prosecutors at immigration court asked if he had jihadi views, to which Mr. Masood answered no.
JA: “Was that correct?”
JA: “But did you have jihadi views in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006?”
End of direct examination. Cross-examination will be posted within 2 hours.