About the Post
Day 29: Andrew March: “I don’t formulate beliefs based on hearsay.”
Today the prosecution, after 6 weeks of testimony, including 21 videos, hundreds of chats and emails, and the testimony of 6 informants, rested its case. Before the jury came in the room, the defense moved for a directed verdict of not guilty on all counts, a motion which is standard procedure and which was denied by Judge O’Toole.
Sejal Patel Direct of Andrew March
The defense called Dr. Andrew March (AM), an associate professor of political science at Yale University. Sejal Patel (SP) established AM’s extensive qualifications, including majoring in Islamic studies (an actual degree in Islam, unlike Evan Kohlmann), a PhD in politics from Oxford University specializing in Islamic doctrine of citizenship in non-Muslim countries. He testified that he was being paid for his testimony, but that testifying isn’t how he makes his living. He explained that he only agreed to testify after he had read about the case, including a lot of instant messages and emails that are in evidence. When SP asked him if he studied Arabic, he said yes, and that he believed it to be essential to understanding primary sources in his field (another critical difference between AM and Evan Kohlmann). In addition to Arabic, which he speaks, reads and writes fluently (as he accidentally demonstrated to the court later), AM is or has been fluent in Russian, French, Spanish, Albanian, Serbo-Croatian, plus a few others.
SP introduced debates Tarek had on Tibyan forums about how targeting American citizens is impermissible under Islamic law. After reading each argument that Tarek posted, AM testified that this religious argument was in direct opposition to the ideology of Al Qaeda. There were numerous examples of how Tarek’s arguments contradicted the ideologies and arguments of Al-Qaeda. For example, Tarek argued that American citizens cannot be targeted because they pay taxes, since paying taxes is mandatory in the US and the citizens don’t get to choose where the tax money goes. Tarek argued that there are many people in the US who don’t want their country to go to war in Muslim countries. SP also showed a video interview with Anwar al-Awlaki in which al-Awlaki discussed his beliefs that all Americans are legitimate targets because they could have voted for a president who didn’t want war, but they didn’t. Al-Awlaki argued that Americans have the war technology to differentiate between fighters and non-fighters, but they yet they kill civilians all the time. Al-Awlaki argued that if civilians are mixed in with combatants, it’s ok to kill them. AM said that Tarek’s religious arguments as posted on this forum were a direct refutation of al-Awlaki’s and Al Qaeda’s beliefs. AM referenced passages from the Qur’an and hadiths that related to the arguments Tarek was making to show they were based in Quranic scholarship.
A large part of what AM testified about was the concept aman, the covenant that every Muslim living in a non-Muslim country enters into, which states that when the non-Muslim country allows Muslims to practice their religion, they must not harm the country. This covenant is a strong one, and it is to be upheld even during a legitimate war; even if the enemy takes Muslim prisoners, those Muslims living in that Dar Al-Harb, or the land of war, cannot fight unless the contract is broken by the other side. SP showed a website that looks up verses from the Qur’an and had him show proof from the Qur’an of this concept of aman. This concept even trumps a Muslim’s obligation to aid other Muslims facing religious persecution. AM testified that the verses in the Qur’an that SP brought up relating to aman related to Tarek’s arguments on the Tibyan forum they had just reviewed. AM then discussed the belief in Islam that making a promise, even a small one, carries enormous religious significance, and is not taken lightly.
In one post, there was a section in Arabic after a section in English, and after reading the English AM launched into reading the Arabic section quickly and fluently, not realizing he wasn’t supposed to read the Arabic for the court. Besides being a moment of comedy for the whole courtroom, AM’s accidental reading of Arabic showed once again just how skilled he was, compared to Evan Kohlmann who could barely decipher two words of Arabic.
SP asked AM if jihad was synonymous with violence, to which he responded no, although there is a small section of jihad that is about fighting. SP asked him if any Muslims rejected the idea of jihad. No, he replied, and there is no sect of Islam that rejects jihad.
SP introduces a chat between Tarek and Ali Aboubakr where they mention Yasir Qadhi. Qadhi was one of AM’s students and in the chats Tarek mentions that Qadhi wrote a recommendation for him to go to Medinah University.
In a rapid-fire ending to direct examination, SP asked if he’d ever translated Arabic texts to English (“yes”), if he’d ever posted these translations to the internet (“excerpts”), if he’d ever discussed jihad (“yes”), watched jihadi videos (“some”), if he had books on jihad (“yes”), and finally, if he had ever been charged with a federal crime (“no”); the last question was, of course, objected to and stricken from the record.
Aloke Chakravarty (AC) Cross-Examination of AM
AC was ill-prepared for cross examination. Many of the questions he asked were irrelevant, inflammatory, childish, or factually incorrect. Many times AM’s responses simply made AC sound ridiculous and ignorant. The cross examination of AM was markedly different from the cross of Evan Kohlmann and any other hostile prosecution witnesses. Unlike those witnesses, it was clear that AM didn’t have a motivation to present information in a way that would help “his side.” For the sake of time and space, I will not list every time AC asked a question that was corrected or clarified by AM.
AC started with asking AM if he meant to support a terrorist organization through his work, which AM said no (We’ve learned in the last two days that apparently if you break what the prosecution interprets as the material support law by promoting, translating and distributing jihadi materials, and it’s clear that you didn’t mean to be supportive, you won’t go to prison and don’t deserve to. Such is the case with the Nine Eleven Finding Answers, or NEFA, website [once again: 103 Al Qaeda statements and 37 videos on that site!] and the witness AM, who have done exactly what Tarek has done. It is our strong belief that none of these parties should face penalties for disseminating information).
AM was careful not to inflate his credentials; he said that he didn’t use the phrases social science or expertise lightly. AC asked AM if he had seen all the evidence the jury had seen (something that the defense always mentions in cross; the answer they usually get is ‘no, only what the prosecution picked out for me to see’). AM said he wasn’t sure. AC asked if AM had asked to see it and he responded that he made it clear that he would be interested in seeing any exhibits that would help. That would help the defense? AC asked. That would help me, AM responded. Did you look at more than just what the defense presented here? AC again tried. AM testified that he had read a fair number of the 2,073 pages of instant messages, along with two dozen other files and emails, though no audio or videos except the Expedition of Umar Hadid. When asked why the defense wanted him to testify, he responded that they thought he had expertise, but he didn’t think he could help. AC, thinking he finally had something to “get him” on, countered, “Was that because this case is about material support for terrorism, and you have no expertise in that area?” AM shut him down: “No, it was because I hadn’t yet seen the evidence this case would present.”
When asked why he was here testifying, AM responded that he felt it was his patriotic duty to share what he could in this case. “You are clearly on the defense’s camp,” AC charged, which AM denied. (This accusation was bizarre; perhaps AC was trying to show that AM was bias, but unlike Evan Kohlmann, whose livelihood relies on prosecutions of “terrorists,” it was clear that AM had nothing big to gain from testifying.) AM said he had responded to a call by the defense and felt he had a rare expertise to contribute to their case, and that the prosecution had not asked him to be a witness. AC joked that maybe next time they would ask him, and AM responded, “I understand it could be of benefit to me,” another quip aimed at Evan Kohlmann. Stated that he only agreed to testify once he had formulated an opinion about the evidence in the case. AC, now sounding more like a jealous and entitled sibling than an Assistant US Attorney, asked AM, “And you didn’t choose to share that with the rest of us?” AM replied that he didn’t choose to share with the defense, they approached him, and that he was not asked to share it with the prosecution.
AC asked AM about his involvement in the Harvard Law Project, for which AM teaches Islamic law, international law and American law to humanitarians trying to understand complex international conflict. AC made a lot of vague implications and asked a lot of unclear questions that AM did his best to answer. Eventually AC asked if AM knew that it was against the law to provide material support to al Shabab in Somalia or mujahideen in general; the question seemed completely irrelevant to AM’s testimony in this case.
AC asked whether Islam is opposed to killing. “No religion is a pacifist one, except Quakers.” AC then said, “So you’re saying Islam is a violent religion?” “No, I’m saying it’s not a pacifist religion.” AC asked if it was a “non-killing” religion; AM responded that he didn’t know what a non-killing religion would be, and repeated that Islam is not a pacifist religion and that the only pacifist religion is Quakerism.
AC tried to talk about takfir and again got schooled: takfir is not a strand of Islam, it’s a verb. AC suggested to AM that there were Americans who support Al Qaeda; AM had him define support, and then he responded, “I have no knowledge of that. I don’t formulate beliefs based on hearsay.” Again AC was schooled when he tried arguing about the justification of the 9/11 attacks and AM replied that that position was not solely held by salafi jihadis. (At one point, when AM was answering more than AC had asked in a question, AC quipped that this wasn’t AM’s classroom; it sure seemed like it sometimes.)
AC then turned his attention to aman. AM testified that everyone except AQ and Al-Zawahiri agrees that visas are valid aman contracts (something he read on the NEFA website…), and that there’s no debate about the scope of aman, only about when the covenant is broken. Everyone agrees that one can’t harm life, property, honor or law under this covenant, including people who were born into this country. AC argued that people in the US break aman; “why else,” he posited, “would there be 1000s of Muslims in jail? They’ve hurt the country.” AM countered that people who break aman don’t ever pay lip service to it.
At one point, AC tried to make a tenuous connection between al-Awlaki and Yasir Qadhi, who was the student of Andrew March and the person who wrote a recommendation for Tarek. He pointed out that Umar Farouk was a student of his, and al-Awlaki mentioned Farouk in an interview. We’re not sure where that was going, but it didn’t get there.
AC then skipped around in his questioning: he mentioned al-Awlaki’s “44 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad” and pointed out that one of the ways was translating jihad writings (the prosecution is still trying to insinuate that jihad is illegal). Then AC showed AM a post where Tarek is talking about how it’s wrong to kill civilians who happen to be in a battle zone. Then Tarek mentions Paul Johnson, the American who did fixed the military helicopters, and said that’s “a totally different story.” AC asked if Tarek justified the killing of Paul Johnson, and AM said, “No sir, he said ‘it is a totally different story.'”
And finally, AC read one more comment AC meant to show a negative side, but which only reinforced the defense’s depiction of Tarek: “Just because one may support and respect Osama bin Laden doesn’t mean that by default he has to support every single attack or operation around the world.”
AC will finish his cross examination tomorrow.