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Day 30: Greg Johnsen: “No AQ in Yemen in ’04”


Before the jury came in the room today, Aloke Chakravarty (AC) disputed the defense’s use of new exhibits with a witness who is scheduled to testify tomorrow. Janice Bassil (JB) argued that the evidence is from the government’s discovery, and they only planned to used 5-6 Tibyan posts. JB argued that it was ridiculous to even insinuate that their presentation of evidence was cumulative considering the government’s past 6 weeks of cumulation. The judge didn’t immediately rule, saying they’d figure out some compromise.

Aloke Chakravarty (AC) Cross Examination of Andrew March (AM) Continued
The second part of AC’s cross examination was equally as unimpressive as the first half yesterday. AC  he brought up the same posts as yesterday in which Tarek is arguing about what Islamic jurisprudence says about killing civilians, specifically referring to the discussion of Paul Johnson. AC this time had AM read the paragraph before the one they read yesterday. The paragraph stated that many Muslims he knows feel that it was legitimate to kill Johnson, and that many of those people only had a problem with the way he was killed. “Isn’t it clear that the author is saying that it’s okay to kill Paul Johnson?” AC asked. AM again replies that it’s not clear and that the author is talking about Muslims he knows; AM asserted that Tarek was saying it’s a separate question from the civilian question that requires a different analysis. AC asked if AM knew that Paul Johnson was a citizen, and AM responded that he didn’t know who Paul Johnson was. AC tries the same tactic with Tarek’s statement, “those who fight us should be fought.” AC was trying to show state of mind, that Tarek thought it was legitimate to go fight US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but again AM says the fact that no one is specified to fight and also the use of passive voice—should be fought instead of we should fight or I want to fight—makes the sentence ambiguous.
AC asked what Abu Sabaya means, and AM said he would have to see it written in Arabic, but one of the meanings is Father of Children. AC asked a question about what Osama bin Laden was thinking during a certain time, and AM replied, “I’m a scholar of Islamic law, not psychology—I can’t talk to you about feelings.” With that, AC had no further questions.
Jay Carney (JC) Direct of Greg Johnsen (GJ)
GJ is an expert on Al Qaeda (AQ) in Yemen. JC began by establishing GJ’s credentials, which include being a PhD candidate on Near Eastern studies, studying in Egypt, Peace Corps in Jordan, several fellowships including Fulbright in Yemen in ’03-’04, and fluency in Arabic, French, and Persian. GJ is almost finished writing a book about AQ in Yemen. He has traveled to Yemen four times and has briefed the CIA, FBI, National Intelligence Council, and State Department before they went to Yemen. GJ testified that it was essential to speak Arabic in order to understand such a complex country as Yemen, as well as to have personal relationships with Yemeni people and develop trust (“you either have [Arabic language skills and personal relationships] or you guess at that, and if you guess, you make all kinds of mistaken assumptions”). JC asked if translators could be an adequate substitute for knowing Arabic, and GJ responded that translators can only do so much since they may miss important contextual implications. JC took another shot at Evan Kohlmann and informed GJ that an “alleged expert” used Google Translation; he asked what GJ thought that about that, to which he replied that most serious scholars and analysts were distrustful of the program, and that it wasn’t something that academics use or trust.
GJ discussed his trips to Yemen, testifying that it was very important to go, and that there was no substitute for it; looking at Yemen from the US made it appear black and white, but when one gets on the ground it becomes much more complex, he explained. He cited a need to triangulate his thinking. In Yemen, he met and interacted with a wide variety of people, from the highest levels of government to day laborers; most of the people he made lasting friendships with were in the latter category. He met veterans of the Afghanistan-Soviet war and former members of AQ.
JC asked GJ about the AQ presence during the period between 1990-2001. He said that in the ’90s, AQ worked to set up training camps to fight the socialists that were taking over part of Yemen. During this time, President Salih had a tacit non-aggression pact with AQ, in that he didn’t crack down on the camps. After 9/11, President Salih was eager to not be perceived as against the US and announced he would eradicate AQ in Yemen. The raids they conducted were ineffective until the US drone strikes in November of 2002 that “decapitated” the organizational structure of AQ with the killing of one of the main leaders. JC asked if there was any evidence that there were any training camps operating in Yemen after 2001 until 2006. GJ replied, no. GJ testified about a prison break in 2006 that ignited AQ in Yemen once again.
JC asked if Yemen was noted for education, and GJ discussed in depth the benefits studying in Yemen. He testified that even the State department recognized Yemen’s rich educational opportunities. Not only do people go to Yemen to study classical Arabic, GJ said, there is also “quite extensive” focus on hadiths and jurisprudence, and the incentive of studying with a particular sheikh. There are schools all over the country. The rigorousness, schedule of study, and philosophy of each school is shaped by each individual sheikh, so often one has to be on the ground in Yemen to see what each school offers. It’s not like all of these schools has an internet page, GJ testified.
JC asked him about the reputation three different schools had in February of 2004 (when Tarek went to Yemen): dar al mustafa, dar al hadith and dar al hadith in dammaj. GJ described all schools as having great reputations for teaching classical Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence. He stated that none of the schools had a reputation for being feeder schools for AQ, and that many of them were apolitical or diametrically opposed to the ideals of AQ.
Jeffrey Groharing (JDG) Direct Examination of Greg Johnsen (GJ)
(Since their initials are so similar, for ease of reading I will include Mr. Groharing’s middle initial)
JDG had a similar experience as AC in cross examining: neither of them made much if any headway for their case. JDG mistakenly said that GJ wasn’t researching AQ in ’03-’04 when he was in Yemen, and GJ corrected him that in fact he was, and writing articles about it as well. JDG said parts of Yemen were a ‘wild place’ and that the tribes do what they wanted to in their region, to which GJ responded that that was too simple of an explanation for the situation (one of the most refreshing aspects of the two defense witnesses we’ve heard so far is their refusal to oversimplify a complicated situation at the risk of losing meaning that is critical to understanding other points of view). When JDG asked if Yemeni President Salih picked and chose the times he felt it was good to cooperate with the US regarding AQ, GJ disagreed, saying there were not many times since 9/11 that Salih hadn’t wanted to cooperate.
JDG brought up a chat in which Tarek was telling his friend about how Ma’rib (a city in Yemen) is “anarchy” and there’s no government anywhere to be seen. GJ testified that this sounds like someone who didn’t quite understand the dynamic there. In another chat, Tarek said there were tribes, bandits and AQ in Yemen. GJ differentiated between people who were sympathetic to AQ, individuals who were AQ members, and organizational structure of AQ, and pointed out that AQ’s organizational structure and their focus on training had been eliminated. JDG mentioned the 4,000 mujahideen veterans of the Afghanistan-Soviet war who had returned to Yemen, and GJ pointed out that not all of them fought with Osama bin Laden. When JDG clarified that they fought on the same side of the conflict as bin Laden, GJ retorted, “And the US, for that matter.”
JDG asked if GJ had been to any of the Yemeni camps, and he responded that they were all gone by the first time he was there. JDG asked about AQ training happening in safe houses instead of camps, and GJ testified that he hadn’t seen any evidence of that. The rest of JDG’s questioning was admittedly difficult to follow; he quickly went through many events and names that were not relevant to the case, like the Jiblah hospital attack and the Ramadan Release Program, random attacks, and prosecutions of combatants. GJ had to continually remind him that, while there were sporadic AQ members in Yemen, many of whom didn’t go around advertising their association with AQ, there was no structure or organization of AQ in Yemen in ’04. He also had to remind JDG that not all mujahideen are AQ. JDG asked whether Yemen was dangerous in ’03-’04 for government people, and JG said he didn’t think so. JDG will finish his cross tomorrow. Court recessed for the day.
Many of JDG’s questions were so far off topic that after court recessed, the judge reminded the attorneys (most likely with JDG in mind) to keep their questions relevant to the case. JC brought up an issue of Kareem Abouzahra’s (KAZ) lack of credibility as a witness; he learned on December 6th that KAZ had received communication from some people at UMass Lowell that his job was in jeopardy. He called the FBI seeking help. The chancellor of UMass Lowell then contacted the US Attorney’s Office to discuss what to do. JC wanted to look into this evidence, searching for the possibility of KAZ understanding that the FBI is promising him something. This, he argued, could affect the testimony KAZ gave under cross examination. The judge agreed to do some further exploration of this subject.
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