Trial Day 16 (Nov. 16, 2011): Cross-examination of Cooperating Witness Jason Pippin, Direct/Cross-ex of FBI Special Agent Bradley Davis
JC initiated the day’s cross-examination through a continuation of the strategy the defense had repeatedly put to effective use over the course of the trial. By tracing the journey of personal transformation that overtook JP over the past 10 years, JC was able to discretely impel JP to testify to a spectrum of beliefs and ideologies as being moderate and not at all extreme, and after doing so he adroitly cornered JP into acknowledging that those were precisely Tarek’s beliefs. By doing so, he revealed that Tarek was not at all the extremist JP had framed him as during direct-examination. Additionally, JC hammered upon a 2005 FBI interrogation of JP that took place in Finland, and successfully solicited testimony from JP confirming that the FBI had used threats of prosecution and no-fly-listing to coerce him into collaborating as a cooperating witness. These points and numerous others were scored by the defense in another day of stunning revelation as more of the stories only partially told during direct-examination were fleshed out and rendered aseptic during cross-ex.
A second witness, FBI special agent Bradley Davis (“BD”), was examined by Aloke Chakravarty (“AC”) and partially cross-examined by defense attorney Janice Bassil (“JB”).
JP – Jason Pippin (Cooperating Witness)
JC – Jay Carney (Defense Attorney)
AC Aloke Charavarty (Assistant US Attorney, Prosecutor)
JA – Jeffery Auerhahn (Assistant US Attorney, Prosecutor)
BD – Bradley Davis (FBI agent)
KAZ – Kareem Abuzahra (Cooperating Witness)
JB – Janice Bassil (Defense Attorney)
Defense completes cross-examination of Pippin
Day 16 kicked off with a pre-jury sidebar, with defense attorney Jay W. Carney, Jr. (“JC”) resuming cross-examination of Jason Pippin (“JP”) following jury entry.
Pre-2005 Pippin: Extremist Ideology and Support for Violent Jihad
JC: “You mentioned having studied the reasons for the [9/11] attacks, according to the people who were behind them?”JP: “Yes.”JC: “And you felt the 9/11 attacks were justified, right?”JP: “Yes.”JC: You personally believe the killing of 3,000 people was justified? JP: “Yes.”JC: You personally supported Osama bin Laden?” JP: “Yes.”
JC: “In March of 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, a Muslim country, for the second time. This was unrelated to 9/11, right?”
JC: “You understood it as an invasion of a Muslim country to change the government there?”
JC: “And you personally believed it to be obligatory upon all Muslims to support the Iraqi people in expelling the invaders?”JP: “Yes.”JC: “Would it be fair to say the justification for this support came from the Qur’an?”JP: “Yes.”JC: “And you also mentioned that you used to believe Muslims who were in favor of the war were apostates?”JP: “Correct.”
JC then directed his questions to the subject of translation.
Translation of Texts and Tibyan Publications
During this segment of cross-ex, JC established that translation of texts was not to advance or incite violent jihad but rather to give English speaking audiences the ability to discover and understand objective primary Islamic literature previously available in Arabic only.
JC: “Now, you voluntarily translated [documents] to post on Tibyan, isn’t that right?”
JP: “Yes, it is.”
JC: “And you did so but not at the direction of al Qaeda, correct?” JP: “Correct.”
JC: “And not in coordination with al Qaeda, correct?” JP: “Right.”
JC: “Isn’t it true that many people who are members of the Tibyan Publications forum do not speak Arabic fluently?”
JC: “And so it would be fair to say that you and others translated these texts so that such people could understand the views presented in these texts–the words and ideas; by being able to read what other people in the world think, people might consider or reconsider their own views.”
JP: Yes, you could say that.”
The point of these translations was for non-Arabic speaking people to be able to read texts that were already publicly available in Arabic, making them more accessible. JP agreed to JC’s statement in regards to the purpose of such translations. Leveraging the mainstream presumption that the U.S. does not censor the American people’s access to Internet content (“Arabic text streams uncensored into the United States, isn’t that right?”), JC contrasted this with the censorship practiced by the governments of authoritarian nations like China and Iran, who don’t want certain info accessible, shut down international internet, alluding to the similarity of what the US government is doing in this case by trying to criminalizing the translation of certain texts from Arabic to English. The prosecution objected twice as he was reaching the punchline of his point, but JC persisted in making the point while managing to avoid speaking over the prosecutors and still emphasizing and repeating the point twice.
JC: “By translating these texts to English, Americans only able to read in English would then be able to understand what these texts were saying.”
JP: “Yes, that is true.”
JC: “Is it possible to support jihad while not supporting al Qaeda?”
JC: “And is it fair to say that the Muslim world does not have a figure comparable to the Pope? That is, no central leader who is able to make definitive announcements, particularly on controversial topics, say like abortion for example?”
JC: “Instead, there are many different schools of thought, and they often disagree with one another on small and large matters, right?”
JP: “Yes, that is right.”
JC: “And didn’t you hold your more extreme views because you believed under the First Amendment that you had the right to freedom of religion, and so the right to have those extreme views?”
JC also had JP explain to the jury the Islamic concept of “aman,” which refers to the obligation to obey the sovereign laws of the land one resides in, so long as one is not prevented from freely practicing Islam. At this point, the prosecution objected, followed by both legal teams approaching sidebar.
U.S. praise and endorsement for Afghani jihad
Upon resuming cross-ex, JC turned to the topic of a book titled Join the Caravan, written by Abdullah Azzam in 1987 to inspire Muslims around the world to join the Afghani mujahideen (Arabic: warrior) in their struggle to expel the Soviet invaders from Muslim lands. JC focused on Azzam’s use of the Quran and hadith, both core Islamic texts and references, to justify a call to arms in defense of Afghanistan, a Muslim land:
JC: “Did you know Azzam was granted a U.S. visa so that he could tour the states to promote this book? A tour during which he was openly calling for Muslims to join the Afghan mujahideen in military combat?”
JC: “Did you know former U.S. president Ronald Reagan openly endorsed the mujahideen? And that he dedicated a space shuttle launch in their name?”
[JP indicated he was unaware of these points]
JC requested then for Judge O’Toole to let him play a brief video clip, triggering objections from the prosecution and a sidebar resulting in the objection being overruled. The clip was a video of former US president Ronald Reagan praising the Mujahideen from Afghanistan.
Tarek was a moderate who routinely disputed extremists’ views
JC questioned more JP about his beliefs. JP stated that his beliefs began to change around 2005. “Did you agree that people fighting in Iraq were justified in killing any American?” JC asked. “No, only combatants” JP responded. JC pulls up a post by Tarek on Tibyan Publicans from March 2005 in which Tarek presents a robust and thorough argument in opposition of the targeting of non-military personnel, based upon and extensively referencing Islamic law, the Quran and the hadith.
Americans and westerners who are civilians and not participating in fighting against Muslims in Muslim lands cannot be targeted. I can find no rationale for, and I completely disagree with the view that targeting them or killing them is justified simply because they are Americans. I do agree with their expulsion, but not with their killing.
Another member of the Tibyan Publications forum challenged his viewpoint, and Tarek responded with a second lengthy and heavily referenced, essay-length post of scholarly quality.
“Again I strongly disagree with the position that simply because a person is an American that we can kill them. I used to believe that this was legitimate, but after lengthy reflection and review of the evidence, the only logical conclusion is that this viewpoint is wrong. It will be useless for me to cover all of the Shariah evidence I have reviewed, but simple logic is enough to refute the belief that because Americans elect their leaders democratically (which they do not) that their military’s invasion of Muslim lands makes all Americans fair targets. Americans are not homogenous in their view of the invasion of Iraq. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that nearly half of the American population voted for Kerry during the last election, which in a democracy means that half of them opposed the war. Also, the biggest anti-war protests in the world took place in the United States and the countries of its allies during the invasion, including the U.K. and Spain. Based on this, one can no longer use the argument that it is okay to kill any Americans on the spot simply because they are American. Rather, it is those who fight us that should be fought, not those of the same nationality of those who fight us.
Moreover, it is important to recognize that things are not as simple as when the fatwah endorsing that view was issued; today, we need to combine Shariah based evidence with knowledge of world events and realities to properly apply Islamic principles to our lives.
Thus, while I agree that all non-Muslim Americans are clearly kufar, I also acknowledge that there are many kind and just people among them. One American I know personally practically begged me to join him in attending an anti-war rally. I declined because I disagree with such things, but the point remains, I can find no rationale for indiscriminately targeting them. A more useful way to deal with this issue is to call them to Islam through the use of words. Every situation has a proper way of dealing with it, and such indiscriminate blanket responses no longer work.”
Pippin’s post-2005 change in ideology
JC also pointed out that at this time, around ’05, when JP’s views were becoming “less extreme”, he was about 28, meaning at the same time, Tarek was only 23. He then asked about the process of his change in mindset. JP responded
“I have always been one to read a variety of sources. I would search for the soundest and strongest arguments, but I would still read about other viewpoints as well, and so they were always in the back of my mind. Back in 2005, even while holding salafi-jihadi viewpoint, I still continued to read about alternative perspectives. When I moved to Finland, I found myself isolated from the community of like-minded individuals who had reinforced my salafi-jihadi perspectives, and I began to realize how spiritually dry I felt with those beliefs. Apart from that community, I found more time to reflect on and challenge my own viewpoints more honestly, and this led to the changing mentality I described earlier.
JC felt this process was universal for most people, irrespective of faith, and acknowledged having seen many young Muslims go through the same process.
Pippin’s relationship with Ahmad Abousamra
The questioning then turned to the topic of AAS, who JP said he met in around 2001 on a web forum. He stated that he communicated with AAS through instant messages and personal messages on web forums, that JP mentioned his trip to military training in Pakistan and his trip for studying in Yemen. According to JP, AAS said he wanted to meet privately and flew to California to meet him. JP claimed that AAS told him that he wanted to go to Iraq to fight American forces and that he needed to know if JP knew of any training camps in Yemen. JP gave him that names of two individuals in Yemen who he thought might know of camps in the area. JC asked JP if he was aware that after 9/11 there were no more training camps in Yemen. JP said the last time he was in Yemen was ’99 and he wasn’t aware of that.
Pippin is guilty of the same terrorism charges Tarek now faces
JC asked whether or not JP knew that by attempting to aid someone in getting training he was providing material support to terrorists, and then whether that this is a charge Tarek is now facing and was he aware of the penalty? JP stated that he wasn’t aware of any of that. According to JP, AAS discussed the possibility of them traveling to Yemen together but the timing wasn’t right so JP declined. JP stated that if they had gone together, they would have parted ways after meeting one of the individuals he’d suggested.
JP stated that AAS knew Tarek and referred to him as Abu Sabaayaa but that he mostly talked about an “IT guy” who lived with his parents and “had a lot of money”. Through AAS this “IT guy” actually, according to JP, gave him $5K to do with what he pleased. When later asked if the “IT guy” was Kareem Abuzahra, he said he didn’t recall the name but if they (the government) wanted to find out who he was they should find a guy that worked IT, had substantial money and lived with his parents. JP testified that in this conversation, AAS mentioned he knew other people who, while not in a position to go train, were in a position to provide financial or moral support. JC asked if he was told that Tarek was going to train or just provide moral support. JP responded that he thought AAS said he was just support.
Yemeni schools famous for “pure Arabic,” not for jihadi training
JP confirmed that he had been a professional Arabic teacher and was very fluent. While being questioned by JC, he said that Yemen is a place to learn more about Arabic grammar and Islamic jurisprudence, which is why he wanted to go. He explained the importance of knowing a more pure form of Arabic to better read and interpret the Qur’an and ancient texts. He affirmed JC’s description of Yemen as a very poor country, where most residents carried around big guns, “well AK-47’s” he corrected when JC mentioned big guns.
“You’d consider AK-47’s big guns, right?” JC asked.
“I’m from Georgia” PC responded. Almost everyone in the courtroom laughed.
JP went on to describe one of the schools he attended, Dar Al-Hadith, as fenced in with a mosque in the middle, dorms, a library, classrooms. Unlike like the University of Madina, which JP was accepted into, he felt it was more austere, more rigorous. He stated that study was exclusively in Arabic with about 12 hours of studying a day with many classes and expectation. He said there was nothing comparable to it in the US and also mentioned that the school was free to attend. He said it was a less distracting environment, more conducive to concentration, with students who were very serious overall. He said he lived there in a student dorm for about 6-7 months before transferring after the head teacher, Abu Hasan Masri, left and programs diminished greatly. Many other students transferred around that time as well, to another school in Ma’rib, for a better education, he stated. He said he stayed at that school for a little over a year and learned a lot.
Through JC’s questioning, it was revealed to the jury that this was not a political school with any affiliation to AQ, nor was it a recruiting tool for AQ. He explained how Osama bin Laden even tried to donate money to the school in the early 90’s in exchange for setting up some space for training. The head of the school refused, saying that it was a place for learning and that if he did donate it would be with no strings attached.
Tarek Mehanna routinely disputed extremist ideologies
JC then shifted to ask about Tarek’s posts on Clear Guidance. JP said he didn’t really recall Tarek’s posts. JC directed his attention to a post on Tibyan regarding voting in a democratic system and whether or not that was equivalent to polytheism. Yet again, Tarek does not shy away from disputing and debunking extremist ideologies. Mehanna posted opposing views citing classical texts. Eventually, this resulted in his expulsion from the forum; he disputed extremist viewpoints so often that he went from being a moderator on Tibyan to not even being able to post.
JP stated that he would occasionally read posts by Tarek through about ’08. He acknowledged that he told the FBI/US Attorney’s Office in an interview that he saw Tarek as “a moderating presence on the site” (which site he meant seemed unclear) and said today that he was clarifying and would calm down some of the rhetoric. He agreed that he didn’t recall ever seeing Tarek inciting anything.
In addition, JC used cross-examination of Pippen to reveal to the jury that Tarek and AAS did not share identical viewpoints; in fact, Tarek wrote a post disputing the condemnation of democratic voting as an act of polytheism. AAS responded to his post with strong ridicule.
Prosecution re-direct examination of Pippin.
With no further questions from JC, AC stepped up to question JP in a re-direct. He began with the meeting with AAS in California, asking if, when they talked about traveling to Yemen, it was AAS that inquired about JP accompanying him to Yemen. He asked if JP had given two possible contacts to AAS and whether or not he would have helped AAS to get to those contacts or find other contacts, if he had traveled with him. JP responded yes to these questions. AC then asked about JP’s “terrorist” training in Pakistan and what theological training he’d gotten. JP responded first by saying he wouldn’t call it “terrorist” training, but that he learning about reading and reciting Qur’an and jurisprudence related to jihad and worship.
AC pointed to posts that the defense had just showed in which Tarek states the legitimacy of fighting in self-defense of Muslims, in a weak attempt to use this belief, which the defense has already fore fronted, against Tarek. AC also points to a post welcoming Abu Sabaayaa (Tarek) to Tibyan as a translator. JP then notes that the discussion about issue of voting in a democracy was over a small email group, not publicly on the forum.
Defense re-cross examines Pippin
JC’s re-cross ex of Pippin hammered on the FBI’s interview sessions with him at the American embassy in Helsinki in 2005. Despite the prosecution’s objections, an ensuing sidebar concluded favorably for the defense, judging by long faces seen on Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chakravarty and Auerhahn (O’Toole surprised them by not sustaining objections to keep the defense from revealing details of JP’s negative experience with the FBI).
JP described the 2005 interview by saying that he received a call from the FBI while he was in Finland to participate in an interview. He described an interrogation lasting 2 days, 8 hours apiece, where he was held captive in a cramped room with a guard posted outside.
The FBI told JP they had evidence he had been a driver for the 9/11 hijackers and that he had fought in Afghanistan. No evidence was produced to substantiate the allegations, but the FBI threatened JP with being no-fly listed, and more:
JC: “Did the FBI make a threat?”
JP: “Yes; they said to me, “if you don’t work or us then we will have to do things ‘the hard way’, and they mentioned I could be placed on a no-fly list.”
JC: “Did the FBI say “we can make your life a living hell or you can work for us?”
JP: “I can’t recall precisely–” (Obvious by now that the experience and memory were uncomfortable for JP).
AC objected and Judge O’Toole sustained the objection. JP described the experience as a “very stressful situation” and that the phrase “No Fly List” was very worrisome to him.
JC closed by revisiting a private forum message from Tibyan Publications, introduced earlier during AC’s direct examination of Pippin. The message contained a list of documents and suggested the recipient ask Tarek Mehanna to translate them. These texts documented extremist salafi-jihadi beliefs. Tarek did not respond or acknowledge the message and never translated a single one of them. JC asked JP if he was aware of this, and JP denied such knowledge.
Prosecution re re direct examination of Pippin
AC was clearly flustered by JP’s portrayal of his experience with the FBI in 2005; he made no effort to mask the apprehensive tremor in his voice as he scrambled for damage control, asking JP to confirm that his second interview experience was much more relaxed. JP confirmed it was, and that he had already “signed the document”. He asked if JP was aware that Tarek translated 39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad. He said yes. And finally, asked if AAS had only talked about schools in Yemen as a cover story. He responded yes.
Jeffery Auerhahn Direct of Bradley Davis
Jeffery Auerhahn called JTTF and FBI agent, Bradley Davis, to the stand. He started by asking about an interview on August 23rd, 2006 with Kareem Abuzahra. According to BD, he and another agent approached KAZ while at his parents’ home and identified themselves, stating that they had questions about his international travel. KAZ said he’d meet them at his residence, which he did soon afterwards. He expressed concern that letting them in his home would lead to a search, but they stated it would not and he allowed them in for a “voluntary interview”. According to BD, KAZ described his personal and family life as well as some of his early travels. He then talked about his trip with a couple friends to go to Yemen to attend schools. He said that one friend did most of the research. He said that they planned to stay for a month to pick a school, return to the US to apply, and then return to attend school for about a year. He said they chose Yemen because they were easier to get into and there was more flexibility. He indicated that he did not make it to Yemen and to his knowledge his friends did not find what they were looking for, according BD.
KAZ said that soon after coming back from Yemen, he lost interest in becoming a scholar. His two friends (who to this point were unnamed to the agents) observed their religion more strictly and he stopped hanging out with them, BD testified.
JA then turned the focus to an interview on December 12th, 2006 with BD, Tom Daily and a third agent who went to UMass Boston to question AAS. BD stated that they knew his routine, when he went to the cafeteria, went to class, etc. and enlisted the help of a school officer who approached him and pulled him aside.
They told him that they were interested in discussing foreign travel. He indicated to them that in 2004 he had been through a divorce, was going through some depression and wanted to attend Arabic language school. He mentioned Dar Al-Mustafa. They asked if he knew anyone in Yemen who assisted them. He said no, according to BD. AAS told the agents that he left Yemen to go to Jordan where he attempted to get a waiver form to get out of mandatory military service when he returned to Syria. He went from Jordan to Iraq to volunteer as a translator, but was unsuccessful. He became ill, spent time in a hospital and then returned to Syria, AAS said, according to BD.
At some point, AAS said he did not want to answer any further questions by FBI agents without a lawyer. The FBI mentioned the possibility of a grand jury before ending the questioning.
(The prosecution submitted phone calls and the transcripts of these calls to the Jury)
In the first call the court heard with AAS speaking to Tarek about the FBI interview, Tarek told him, “I wouldn’t worry about it”
AAS responded, “These people have the tendency to make up stories out of nothing”
AAS talked about 3 FBI agents approaching him.
In the next call Tarek asked AAS if he told his father about the FBI, which he had. Tarek told AAS again that he shouldn’t worry and if the FBI comes again he doesn’t have to talk to them.
Tarek asked whether or not the FBI agents were rude to him. Then AAS recalled that they seemed nice and that one of the FBI agents had this fake looking mustache, saying he just wanted to reach out and rip it off. This comment woke up the jury and the audience as they chuckled at the joke. Even agent Heidi Williams, one of the three FBI agents responsible for promoting suspicion and initiating the investigation of Tarek, smiled after hearing the comment.
AAS said that the first thing the FBI said to him was that they wanted to ask him about his trip to Yemen. At the end of the interview they had shown AAS pictures of Tarek and KAZ. Tarek asked which picture of him it was and if he was smiling in it. AAS said it was Tarek’s driver’s license. “Yeah but which one was it? Was I smiling? I just want to make sure I looked friendly.” This evoked another laugh from several people in the courtroom.
AAS then stated that they would know that Tarek only accompanied him to Yemen, “anything else I did was my own thing…we went to study Arabic, I don’t understand what the big deal is?” Then Tarek remarked that even though their purpose for the trip was educationally motivated, that it would be expected that the FBI would find suspicion with their trip to a Muslim country.
In both calls, AAS and Tarek mentioned telling the truth several times. The second phone call ended and JA turned his questioning an interview done by the FBI with Tarek while he was working at a pharmacy on December 16th, 2006. The only people present at the interview were two agents from the Joint Terrorism Task force and Tarek. The following is an account of the interview by BD.
They told Tarek that they had questions about his international travels and asked him to identify KAZ as his friend, which Tarek did. They then proceeded to ask Tarek about his trip to Yemen in February of 2004. Tarek let them know that AAS, KAZ and Tarek all went to Yemen for the same purpose, to look for an Islamic School to later study at, however KAZ cut his trip short.
They asked about how the trip was paid for. Tarek answered that KAZ paid on Tarek and AAS’s behalf and the two later paid him back after returning home. They asked why the group went to Yemen. Tarek explained to them that they wanted to learn classical Arabic and that Yemen was an ideal location to do so. They asked if he had let his parents know that he was going. He said yes he had informed them right before the trip. Tarek gave them details of the trip, informing the agents that he had stayed in a school for 2 days in Dar Al Mustafa, and later took a bus to Sanaa to tour another school.
Tarek was asked if AAS was at the school for the same purpose and Tarek answered yes. Tarek explained that he did not find what he was expecting according to his online research and that the conditions made him want to return home. When asked if the group had been assisted by anyone other than themselves in planning their trip Tarek answer no. Tarek described his return from Sanaa to UAE, and then from London to Boston.
What happened to AAS, he was asked. Tarek answered that he went to Jordan to get a waiver for military obligation to his Syrian Nationality. He needed the waiver before going to Syria. He then went to Iraq from Jordan, and then later went to Syria. His purpose in going to Iraq was to look for a job as an Arabic and English translator in the reconstruction process. AAS never said anything to him about any combat or anything of the sort. The only thing Tarek knew about the trip was that AAS had gotten sick.
Tarek was shown a picture of JP to identify but Tarek did not recognize the picture and told the agents that he did not know him nor did he know anyone from California. Tarek was also asked about Daniel Maldonado. Tarek knew him since 2002. They asked when he had last had seen him and Tarek answer that he had seen him the last time his family and him had gone to Egypt. The last time he had spoken to him before the interview and been about 2 weeks prior. DM lived in Alexandria at the time maintaining a website for his work.
They asked Tarek for his number and he gave it to them.
The prosecution had BD read the number from notes he was given by the prosecution, and he read them out load to the jury. The prosecution played a phone called made by Tarek to his mother after the interview. The entire phone call was in Arabic and translated transcripts were passed out to the jury.
The prosecution asked BD if Tarek had answered with more details would he have asked him more questions about people assisting them or AAS going to Iraq. BD responded that, of course, they would have asked about anything that could help the JTFF with any information about activities overseas. In 2004 the Iraqi insurgency was getting big. The prosecution asked how different responses from Tarek would have changed BD questioning. Although the vague question seemed hard to answer, BD responded with, “lots of things.”
Janice Bassil Cross Bradley Davis
With only ten to fifteen minutes left the Jury perked up in their seats as Janice Bassil approached the stand for the cross examination. She pointed out that for the search warrant the FBI had to search Tarek’s house, they needed to already have certain information about Tarek.
She stated that the FBI, although they could easily record their interviews, do not do so. The only records they have are what the agents write down in their notes during the time of the interview. And these notes are used to generate the reports written after the interview, like what was being referred to today. She also pointed out that during the interviews of Tarek, AAS and KAZ they had to already have all of the information they were seeking in asking the questions they were asking, meaning they were not conducting the interviews because they needed any new information from the three men.
Her point was that that the agents had specific answer they wanted to hear from the three that fit their interpretation of their investigation and they just wanted to see if they could get a different answer from them. She asked BD if, before conducting the interview, he already believed that AAS, KAZ and Tarek had gone to get military training. He said yes.
She also confirmed that it is perfectly legitimate for a person to ask to have a lawyer present before they continue to talk to the FBI. She pointed out that if the three had said they had gone to Yemen for military training that the FBI agent’s investigation would be exactly where it was before. They had already made up their mind about these three before even speaking with them. The prosecution objected, the objection was sustained.
More to come tomorrow…