Day 31: Prosecution’s cross on Yemen continues to go nowhere, Expert Mohamed Fadel puts Tarek’s statements into context.
Jeffery Groharing Cross Examination of Gregory Johnsen (continued)
This morning began with a continued desperate attempt by JG to get some information out of GJ’s testimony that may be of assistance to the government’s case. He told GJ that he would like him to answer his questions with either a “yes” or “no” if possible. Though hesitant, he answered that he would do his best, “its 25 years in a country of 25 million people, so it’s complex but I’ll try to give answers to the best of my ability.” Still trying to make a link strong enough between AQ and Yemen to help his his allegations about Tarek’s trip, JG then asked him whether or not, between the years of 1990-2001, there was heightened AQ activity in Yemen. GJ responded that no, that was not exactly the case. He did agree that those years were a time of building organizational infrastructure. He described 9/11 as a game changer. Under the direction of the US, Yemen began to crack down, AQ members were rounded up and arrested, forced to be on the run. What really “broke AQ’s back”, according to GJ, was when the US was authorized to use drone attacks in 2002 which ended up being effective, killing a key leader. The explained that this “decapitation strike” hastened the crumbling of the organization. Unable to elicit any information that might help his case for the allegations against Tarek in relation to his 2004 trip to Yemen, JG moved on.
He asked about one of GJ’s published pieces in which he disputed the thought that Obama should have Anwar Al-Awlaki assassinated, stating that his death may incite others to harm the US and that his death wouldn’t actually do enough damage to AQ to increase US safety anyway. When asked about Al-Awlaki’s role in AQ, he agreed that he wrote that up until more recently there was actually some ambiguity as to whether or not he was ever a member of AQ,and that there was not evidence that he swore an oath, because “member” is a very technical term in this context. JG asked him if he said Al-Awlakie shouldn’t be assassinated. He responded, “that’s not quite right.” Frustrated, he asked again, “you didn’t write title?” (“An Act of Futility: Obama wants to assassinate the radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Thing is, his murder would do more harm than good.”) No, he responded, explaining that that’s normally how it goes. The editor writes the titles. Trying again to get a jab in, JG mentioned that his article, GJ said that after November 2002 AQ was “hobbled”. He asked if English was GJ’s native language. GJ laughed and responded that it was. JG then demanded whether or not “hobbled” was the same as “crumbled”. GJ nonchalantly responded that no, it wasn’t the same.
Still in no better position, JG changed his line of questioning:
JG: “You testified that there were numerous attacks [in Yemen after 9/11].”
GJ: “It depends on what you mean by numerous.”
JG: “Ok well did you state that there were attacks after 9/11?”
GJ: “That’s correct, yes.”
GJ agreed that after the 2006 jail break AQ began to reestablish and resurrect itself, and that acquiring new members was a slow process initially. GJ’s cross-examination then spiraled back into yesterday’s aimless foray into unrelated territory (e.g., Yemen est. 2008- Present, the period following TM’s arrest and having nothing at all to do with the investigation or trial). Following an objection to this effect by JC, the judge ruled that present activity in Yemen was not generally relevant to the case, and that anything beyond 2007 was irrelevant.
It is unclear whether this ruling “hobbled” or “crumbled” the remainder of JG’s examination, but it was clear, given his post-ruling body language (which was halting and unfocused) that many of the questions he had anticipated asking had to be scrapped.
With this limitation preventing JG from asking anymore unnecessary questions, he only had a few more questions to ask. JG asked if, after 2006, after the jail break, AQ in Yemen became aggressive in its use of propaganda. GJ confirmed this, stating specifically after January 2008, when the media wing was established. JG asked if GJ was testifying as an expert on AQ in Yemen. Once again GJ laughed at the redundant question and responded, “yes I believe so.” He then asked if GJ was familiar with their propaganda and, again, if they used the propaganda aggressively. He responded “yes” to both questions. GJ agreed that he had stated that the more vocal they are with the propaganda, the more recruits there are who want to join. JG had no further questions.
Jay Carney stood up with a single, on point re-direct question, asking if there was any evidence of AQ training camps in Yemen between November 2001-February 2006. GJ responded that there wasn’t. He was then excused.
Janice Bassil Direct Examination of Mohamed Fadel
Janice Bassil (JB) then called Mohamed Fadel (MF), associate socio-proffessor of law, to the stand. He explained that he teaches a course “Religion, Liberalism & the State: the Case of Islam (in which he discusses freedom of religion cases in the US, Canada and the UK). He said that he had formerly been a lawyer in NYC and that now he considered himself to be an academic lawyer. He has a PHD from the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Language and Civilizations. He stated that AQ was not the primary focus of his research but that he runs into it a lot. He speaks, reads and writes classic and Egyptian Arabic fluently. His scholarly area of expertise is Islamic law. He’s studied Islamic theology and theological history such as pre-modern Islamic tradition. MF has published several articles in peer review journals, chapters in scholarly books, and numerous pieces for scholarly encyclopedias. He has taught Arabic at different Universities and programs, and has taught extensive Islamic law courses. He has testified in a case for the Canadian government once and for a defense once before as well.
He stated that the had reviewed materials from the defense. When asked how much he’d reviewed, he responded “a lot”, before going into detail: “More than 2,000 pages of instant messages, hundreds of pages of posts on Tibyan Publications, several entries from Tarek’s blog, and some emails.” JB asked he was aware of the evidence in the case. AC stood up to object, disagreeing that he was aware of the evidence. JB, almost ignoring AC, firmly asked MF if he was he’d reviewed the transcripts from trial and if he was aware of the evidence that has been presented thus far. He responded that he was. He felt he had something to offer in the case and that’s why he was testifying, saying he thought he could help the court and the jury understand better what was being presented.
MF said that in Islam, the rules that govern lives come from Allah (SWT). He said there are two parts, belief and conduct. He described a fatwah as a non-binding opinion made by a qualified religious leader. JB asked if OBL gave fatawah and whether or not MF felt he was qualified to do so. MF responded that he did gave fatawah but that, in his opinion, no OBL was not qualified. He laid out that Islam is an Abrahamic religion, the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) being a direct descendant of Ibrahim (Abraham). He said that Islam expanded dramatically, till the 19th century when Muslims came under colonial domination. He explained that early Muslims suffered great persecution and were forced to migrate. The original migration from Mecca to Medina was known as the hijrah. The defense shows a map of the Islamic world in the 16th century. JB asked if he would call this period the “Golden Age” of Islam. He responded that one could call it that, stating that it was an important time when cultural works were translated to Arabic and sciences, literature, philosophy, and mathematics flourished. At the same time, Europe was known to be in the “Dark Ages.” In the 19th century the Muslim dominated lands came under colonial occupation. After WWI the Ottoman empire was carved up by Britain and France, and became known as colonies or officially, “protectorates”. After WWII the rest of the Muslim world was divided up.
MF talked a bit about the idea of hijrah today, saying that it has come to be theological and legal doctrine. He stated that he saw references to hijrah in Tarek’s writing. There is the question whether or not Muslims should move to a Muslim country. He said this thought is prominent among the salafi school, which was generally not political, with Islamic opinions rooted in the first 3 generations of Muslims, looking to the Qur’an and Hadith as the purest source of guidance. He explained that the school of thought spread in the US beginning in the 1990’s and that Saudi Arabia even sent money and books to the US for education. An effective strategy by JB was to spell out and have MF describe the meaning of several words and concepts that have come up throughout the course of the trial in the context of Islam both historically and in today’s world. This included MF going on to list the 5 pillars of Islam, and describe the meaning of da’wah, kaffir, kuffar, apostate, ummah, takfir and jihad.
MF spent some time on jihad in Islam specifically, then talked AQ’s arguments that Muslims are under assault everywhere and there being a global arena of conflict thus meaning that Muslims are under a duty to fight all the time. He said that OBL’s 1998 declaration was not very convincing but that post 9/11 more people took OBL seriously and that certain things, like the global war on terror changed things, making that idea more seemingly real to many. He also explained that in defensive jihad it was not necessary for one to actually go out in fight, as there are other ways in which one could participate such as tending to the wounded. When JB asked if the “39 Ways” was written by a member of AQ, he responded that he hadn’t seen that. He said that “39 Ways” regurgitates the moral virtues of jihad and that to call it a training manual was an “unreasonable” way to describe it, testifying that the document is not operational. It doesn’t tell you how to do things, just suggests things to do. He stated that it expressly refers to defensive jihad and relates to the Qur’an and hadiths, specifically 42 hadiths and 40 ayahs were referenced. He explained “39 ways” as a generic work referring to a generic battlefield. It doesn’t tell one to go somewhere specific, like Iraq, Palestine, or Somalia.
JB then begins to pull up some of Tarek’s writings on Tibyan Publications, which MF hadn’t been aware of before the case. He testified that Tarek didn’t just talk about jihad, in fact many of the topics he discussed were mundane, ordinary things from an Islamic perspective. He referred to theology and his writings were a reflection of the salafi tradition of writing. JB then asked him if he was familiar with the positions of AQ. He responded that he was. She then asked if Tarek’s writings that he’d seen were consistent with AQ’s central positions. He said they weren’t. After an objection by AC who didn’t feel like MF was qualified to make a distinction, which the judge overruled, MF stated that it was easy to get AQ’s views, that they’re even on PBS. “It’s not rocket science,” he added. In one post, Tarek responded to someone who suggested that the 1998 bombing in Tanzania, in which many Muslims were killed, was legitimate. Tarek argued that it wasn’t okay to assume that any kind of assistance to the US (such as working at an embassy) would make one an apostate. MF explained that in Islam, killing another Muslim is a grievous sin and that AQ uses something called an “apostate theory” to justify such killings, by stating that they entered into apostasy an thus it was okay to kill them in such bombings. Tarek’s response was in contrast to AQ’s claim. In other posts, Tarek’s statements included that just because a Muslim was american, or liked certain aspects of america, it didn’t make them an apostate. He also stated that not all americans could be targeted just for being american. JB and MF went through several posts in which Tarek clearly, according to MF, repudiated the views expressed by AQ and OBL’s 1998 declaration. He also explained that the concept of martyrdom and honoring your dead is not unique to Islam and that even the US military assigns medals and special cemeteries to glorify soldiers who die.
The direct examination will continue Monday.