Day 14 (11/14/2011): Part 2: Cross-Examination of Hassan Masood by Jay W. Carney, Jr.
HM: Hassan Masood (Cooperating witness)
KAZ: Karim Abu Zahra (Cooperating witness)
AAS: Ahmad Abousamra (Co-defendant)
JC: Jay W. Carney, Jr. (Defense counsel)
JA: Jeffrey Auerhahn (Assistant U.S. Attorney)
JC cross-examined HM, asking if he viewed AAS as a mentor, and whether AAS pushed his views on others. HM said he did. AAS talked about Islam, different sects, how to pray. According to HM, AAS “was the most passionate person about these issues.” HM, AAS and Tarek went out to dinner frequently and talked about religion. Occasionally KAZ would join them. All three of them were interested in how to fit Islam into their life in modern America: how to pray five times a day, how to meet women to marry, etc. Tarek would bring scholarly books and exhibited a particular interest in the scholarly aspects of Islamic jurisprudence.
Tarek Mehanna as a Student of Islamic Jurisprudence
HM acknowledged that Tarek sincerely believed he had an obligation to follow the teachings of the Quran and the sunnah of the Prophet Mohammed. HM also testified that he had been to Tarek’s house and seen that he had floor to ceiling walls covered in books, mostly classic texts composed hundreds of years ago. Tarek wanted to be able to read these texts that were written in ancient Arabic.
When asked if he knew that Tarek had a blog, HM responded that he didn’t recall, that he remembered him translating ancient texts.
When talking about fitting Islam into their modern lives, Tarek always brought it back to what was permitted under Islamic law. Tarek was like a teacher, said HM, and he always tried to present HM with ahadith (plural for “hadith”) and verses from the Quran to enable him to better understand how to live his life.
HM agreed that Tarek had a conservative view of Islam, but not as conservative as AAS. Tarek’s passion for ancient scholarly Islamic works was undeniable; HM talked about every time Tarek returned from the Mehanna family vacation to Egypt, he would have scores of new texts. He invested a lot of time in identifying vendors of rare texts and he spent most of his vacation time in Egypt visiting those vendors to pick up books he could not find in the United States.
Hassan Masood’s Confused Sense of Identity, Post-9/11
HM learned about the suffering of Muslims, of children dying because of the embargo in Iraq, of genocide in Bosnia, of Serbs trying to eliminate every Muslim in Bosnia just as the Nazis tried to eliminate every Jew in Poland. HM learned about the Soviets in Afghanistan and of the Chechnya ethnic cleansing. He learned about all of these things on Al Jazeera.
HM developed a connection with Muslims around the world, and believed the Quran obligated him to come to their assistance. Because the Quran doesn’t have specific instructions on how to assist Muslims around the world, they had to figure it out themselves. This became a tremendous challenge following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, which were an unexpected shock for HM.
“As a Muslim, everything changed, right?” JC asked.
“Yes,” replied HM.
JC pressed on: “Now you were living in a country, your country, that had been attacked by Muslims, your faith, your heritage. Was this confusing?”
“It was,” HM said.
Viewpoints differed between Tarek and Ahmad Abousamra
Despite testifying on direct examination that Tarek was supportive of “suicide bombings,” under JC’s cross-examination, HM admitted that Tarek had a problem with suicide bombings because the alarming frequency with which they killed civilians.
JC reiterated Tarek’s belief (as written by Tarek in an essay length forum post on Tibyan publications) that when defending Muslim countries, military personnel were the only valid targets. American civilians living in the country should be off limits.
HM confirmed that this was the belief Tarek espoused to him; it was never permissible to kill civilians. Additionally, HM also testified that AAS didn’t see eye to eye with Tarek with respects to these issues. AAS felt the killing of women and children was justified if they were Americans, because the American military’s invasion of multiple Muslim territories.
Tarek never participated in AAS and HM’s Pakistan planning
JC revisited AAS’ first trip to Pakistan, focusing on his success in convincing HM to accompany him.
“When AAS persuaded you to go with him to Pakistan,” JC asked, “did you (HM) realize that, with this agreement, you had committed a crime?”
HM denied realizing this: “No I did not.”
JC continued, “You were just doing what you thought was appropriate with your religion.”
JC tried to ask if HM realized that he could face a life in prison for these crimes, but the prosecution objected to the questioning, most likely because it implied to the jury that Tarek is facing a life sentence. HM testified before the court that at no point was Tarek ever party to the conversations between HM and AAS about traveling to Pakistan for training.
U.S. invasion of Iraq did not make Tarek’s Views Harden
After 9/11, the US invaded Iraq. The invasion was not related to 9/11, but was a US led initiative to produce regime change in Iraq, despite flagrantly violating international humanitarian law in the process. HM explained that the circumstances under which the invasion of Iraq was initiated precipitated intense debate and fragmentation of the Muslim community around diverging opinions on this issue.
With the US invading a Muslim country the question HM asked himself was what should Muslims in the US do? The group of friends continued to meet at their houses.
JC asked if Tarek continued to circulate and bring essays to their get togethers.
HM: “I don’t recall, but sure I guess. Tarek was most interested in the application of Quranic teachings to daily life. That didn’t change after the invasion of Iraq.”
Jihadi Videos: Exploring the suffering of the Muslim Ummah
JC asked about the videos the group of friends watched: the videos were not produced by the group of friends and were freely available online, they were not training videos but instead pertained to mujahideen.
Videos are mostly the same format: they all start out with quotes from Quran, then show pictures or scenes of Muslims suffering, then show scenes of bravery by mujahideen fighting actual battles, then sometimes show aftermath of battles, then call Muslims to their obligation of solidarity.
JC asked, “Is it fair to say you were exploring these issues for the first time in your life, and that maybe you were trying to find what the right answer would be?”
HM: “Yes you could say that.”
JC: “And is it also fair to say that’s what Tarek was doing as well?”
“Yes,” HM answered.
JC: “You’ve matured a lot since those days, haven’t you?”
HM: “Yes, absolutely.”
JC: “You don’t view Muslim obligations the same way you used to, and you said a lot of things back then that you now consider hateful, perhaps crude in context of talking with your friends. Do you regret such statements?”
HM: “Yes, I regret them a lot.”
Ahmed Abousamra heavily influenced Hassan Massood
JC shone light upon how influential AAS was in HM’s life and shaping his worldview; one demonstration of this is the way that AAS was very aggressive in convincing him to go to Pakistan.
In contrast, JC revealed, quoting HM’s statements to the FBI:
“Tarek was willing to listen to opposing views.”
Moreover, Tarek encouraged his friends to keep their grades up, emphasizing that helping Muslims began with having knowledge, which was in keeping with his scholarly disposition.
JC pointed out: “You testified under direct examination that AAS said that he should plan domestic attacks within the U.S.”
HM: “Yes, I did.”
JC: “But prior to today, you never mentioned that Abdul Majid said these things, that AAS should commit ‘domestic acts of terrorism.’ How many times met with the FBI and prosecutors since your grand jury indictment?
HM: “4 or 5 times, maybe?
JC: “In 2009, was your memory better than it is today?”
Tarek was a moderate and never discussed attacking within the U.S.
JC also pointed out and emphasized that HM didn’t mention anything about committing domestic attacks within US during his interviews with the FBI in 2009. Furthermore, HM couldn’t remember any comment made by Tarek regarding the need to plan such domestic attacks within the U.S.
IN FACT, the November 10, 2011conversation with the FBI and prosecutors of this case was the first time HM ever mentioned on official record the notion of committing attacks against major buildings and people related to military personnel here in the US.
In a major blow to his prior testimony painting Tarek as an extremist, HM was forced to admit that he and Tarek had in fact had a private conversation where, JC forced HM to confirm that:
“Tarek told you that AAS was very extreme, possibly outside the scope of Islam.”
HM agreed that for Tarek, it was always about what Islam permitted, required or forbid. He strictly interpreted these matters according to what the Quran, hadith and sunnah prescribed.
Hassan Masood’s Grand Jury Testimony
In the grand jury on Nov 5th of 2009, HM testified that there were two things he remembered about the trip AAS and Tarek took to Yemen:
1) AAS listened to a Yemeni scholar and mentioned a book authored by this scholar.
2) He had heard from AAS that there was a person that was going to help them get into Yemen.
Those two points were all that HM testified in the grand jury, with respects to describing what AAS had said about going to Yemen.
Thus, at no point during the grand jury testimony did HM ever state that Tarek was going to Yemen for military training. (The grand jury occurred a week after a meeting with the prosecutors for an extensive debriefing)
JC continued highlighting the inconsistencies in HM’s various testimonies before different bodies, repeatedly leading HM to confirm that during the grand jury hearing, he never claimed that Tarek traveled to Yemen for training. JC also cornered HM into acknowledging that today was the first time he had stated any such an allegation under oath in court.
JC: “He never said that, did he?”
HM: “I can’t remember if he did or didn’t.”
JC went on (paraphrased, not direct a direct quote): The first time you said that Tarek went to Yemen [to fight] was during a meeting with the prosecution a month ago. Even last month you said you had talked to Tarek about training camps but you couldn’t recall any precise details.
JC: “Tarek never discussed with you personally his reason for going to Yemen, did he?”
HM: “I can’t recall any specific instance.”
JC: “Did your memory improve after meeting with the FBI? When they suggested things, when they prompted you by their questions?”
Revisiting and Clarifying Components of the Direct Examination
JC then questioned HM about the dinner at KAZ’s house, leading to revelation of another knot of inconsistencies in his testimony. For example, when HM walked up to AAS, KAZ and Tarek. they asked him openly if he could keep a secret. JC asked HM if he had said yes then left the room. Otherwise, he would have been informed of the content of their discussion.
HM expressed difficulty recalling any details at all, or even what was said in the exchange. He claims that he thought he had asked, “What are you doing?”
JC: “But it never went any further?”
HM: “I don’t recall.”
JC: “Would you be guessing?” (A question many in the audience had already been pondering for hours).
HM floundered, saying that he was trying to remember if that was when he found out that AAS had someone helping him get into Yemen. JC pointed out that AAS mentioned that to him in private the first time he talked to HM about it. The inconsistencies in HM’s testimony continued to accrue, and it became overwhelmingly clear that his memory was not a reliable source of facts. The most common response he gave during cross-examination was “I don’t recall.”
Upon returning from yemen, HM testified, Tarek told him that they had gone to a school in Yemen; JC’s questioning of HM revealed that Tarek had even mentioned speaking to scholars, attending classes, and Tarek’s own statement that the purpose of his trip was to identify schools he would attend at a later point.
JC also made a significant point of teasing out of HM the revelation that neither AAS nor KAZ had at any point made a similar claim about their reasons for traveling to Yemen; JC’s questioning suggested strongly that AAS and KAZ had very different intentions for traveling to Yemen than Tarek did.
There was a phone call in 2007 between Tarek and HM which neither of them knew was being recorded. [JC showed HM the transcript of the June 15, 2007 conversation]. In this conversation, HM was interested in knowing what the FBI talked to Tarek about. Tarek said,
“The trip when I went to go look for schools to study in” and HM never said ‘Wait a minute, that’s not what you told me you were going to Yemen for.’
JC emphasized the fact that since neither HM nor Tarek were aware that their conversation was being recorded, it is highly unlikely that they were censoring any of their speech; this lends greater reliability to Tarek’s assertion that the trip to Yemen was purely an academic and scholarly venture.
Hassan Masood’s Immigration Dilemma
JC established that HM is neither a citizen nor permanent resident, rendering him vulnerable to deportation. JC also highlighted the fact that HM’s request for permanent residency was denied in 2003. In May ’07 HM’s attorney filed in Boston immigration court a request for political asylum in the US, and that HM’s father was charged with immigration fraud and making false statements and pled guilty.
A stunning moment was when JC revealed that HM’s father was deported at the hands of the very same prosecutors he was presently cooperating with in this case against Tarek: Jeffrey Auerhahn (“JA”) and Aloke Chakravarty (“AC”).
JC established that through his father’s experience, HM witnessed first hand the overwhelming power the federal government had over the livelihood of “aliens.” JC referred extensively to HM’s 2009 grand jury testimony to make HM acknowledge that he had told the judge on Sept. 23rd 2009 hearing that:
- He feared he would be persecuted if deported to Pakistan;
- Feared that Muslim extremists might try to hurt or kill him; and
- That he now had Western values that wouldn’t be valued in Pakistan.
JC continued pointing out major inconsistencies between HM’s grand jury testimony and his testimony before the court today. For instance, one of the prosecutors at HM’s asylum hearing had asked him if he was in contact with anybody who had ever engaged in terrorist activity. HM denied any such contact.
The prosecutor asked if he had any contact with people who espoused jihadi views. Again, HM denied any such contact.
And yet, JC pointed out, HM knew AAS at the time, knew the objective of his trips to Pakistan, knew his ideology and beliefs regarding suicide bombers, the targeting of civilians, and allegedly about domestic attacks in planning. His denial during the asylum hearing now placed him in an extremely precarious position, given his revelation of how close he and AAS were.
JC: “It was a lie, wasn’t it? You want desperately to remain in the US?”
JC: “The last thing you want is to be deported.”
JC: “You were asking the judge to order the federal government not to deport you. In order to get that benefit you were willing to lie under oath to federal judge and officials.”
The chronology of events is revealing. The judge denied HM’s request for asylum. Less than one month later, HM met with Aloke Chakravarty, Jeffrey Auerhahn, and FBI agents interested in what he knew about Tarek. HM told them what he knew in 2009; JC pointed out that HM told them different stories in 2011, however.
JC: “You know these prosecutors were the same people that prosecuted your father. You want your testimony to be helpful to the prosecutors. You want them to be grateful.”
HM: “Why would I want that?”
JC: “Did they mention your immigration status?”
JC: “If you lost this appeal, they may be the only chance you have at staying here.”
HM: “My dad was a good man; they deported him, why would I think they would help me?”
JC: “Did your dad testify against anyone in a hearing?”
JC: “No more questions your honor.”
Jeffrey Auerhahn: Redirect Examination
JA: “Did anyone promise you anything?”
JA: “Can you be prosecuted for perjury?”
JA: “You said you didn’t know anyone who supported jihad?”
HM: “There’s a lot of people that I knew that supported jihad [HM lists a few of them, not including Tarek].”
JA: “How about Tarek?”
HM: “I believe he did too.”
JA: “As you talked about events, sometimes you remembered more, sometimes you forgot some things?”
JA: “Tarek’s view on ‘suicide bombings’ was that they were not totally impermissible, but the killing of civilians was off limits?”
JA: “US soldiers, however, were acceptable targets?”
JA: “Did AAS convince you to do anything you didn’t want to do?”
HM: “He convinced me to remove pamphlets from our Mosque on Eid.”
JA: “Did he convince you to go to Yemen?”
JA: “Did he convince other people to go to Yemen?”
HM: “I don’t know if he convinced others or not.”
JA: “Were you present when he tried to convince others?”
JA: “Did you talk to Tarek before his trip?”
HM: “I want to say yes.” (this is literally what he said. It was extremely clear how inconsistent and erratic his storytelling was becoming as his testimony continued).
JA: “Did Tarek explain why he was going?”
HM: “I don’t remember why he said he was going to Yemen, but from knowing [AAS, KAZ and Tarek], I assumed it was to fulfill the obligation to fight.”
JA: “That was your understanding of why they were going?”
JA: “No question in your mind?”
Jay W. Carney Jr.: Redirect Examination
JC: “JA asked you what Tarek’s views were before going to Yemen. You were asked the same questions under oath at the grand jury. Were you truthful?”
JC: “Did the prosecutors at the grand jury ask you if you knew how Tarek felt?”
JC: “Did you answer?”
HM: “Yes. I guessed…I guessed…Maybe I even had conversations about these particular things…I thought AAS, Tarek and KAZ all had the same beliefs. I can’t remember if I ever had a conversation one-on-one about ‘suicide bombings’ with Tarek. AAS was the one whose beliefs were dominant. I assumed Tarek’s beliefs were probably similar.”
JC: “In order to bring a perjury charge, the prosecutor makes a decision about whether you’re lying, right? As long as you say what the prosecutor thinks is the truth you won’t be charged with perjury. You’re talking about events he was not present at, so as long as you testify in a manner that he believes is the truth, you won’t get charged with perjury, right?”
JC: “No further questions, Your Honor.”
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