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Day 32: “A Grave and Mistaken Understanding That Must Be Corrected.”

Janice Bassil (JB) Continued Direct Examination Mohamed Fadel (MF)

JB continued to question MF today about whether Tarek’s writing was consistent with Al Qaeda’s (AQ) principles. JB asked about AQ’s view of martyrdom operations, and questioned MF about the Islamic position on suicide. MF explained that suicide by itself is considered a major sin, but that there were a lot of medieval debates about the validity of a soldier who faces inhospitable circumstances in battle and decides to sacrifice himself if it will hurt his enemies. Fighting to the death was seen as more beneficial than surrendering. He said AQ uses this explanation to justify strapping on a bomb, but there is a difference between the enemy killing a soldier and that soldier killing himself in battle. AQ also says all Americans are legitimate targets, and that when Muslims are in the mix, they use either the human shield or the apostate argument to legitimize killing them (see day 30 for the explanation of those arguments).  MF declared that Tarek’s writings that he reviewed were not aligned with AQ’s beliefs regarding martyrdom operations. Instead, Tarek argued for a high threshold of necessity and a high standard of discrimination with respect to the use of martyrdom operations. Even within the Expedition of Umar Hadid, the video that Tarek translated, the martyrdom operations in that video were directed at military targets.

Next they looked at a piece of writing by Abu Basir that Tarek posted on Tibyan called “A Grave and Mistaken Understanding That Must Be Corrected.” The piece reemphasized the importance of jihad as internal struggle as well.  The piece was against the idea that mujahideen are infallible and that they can commit crimes against Allah simply because they are mujahideen.

JB asked MF if he saw posts where others disagreed with Tarek; he responded, “A lot.” MF testified that a lot of themes arose in Tarek’s chats with his friends, for example, the desire to get married, move to a Muslim country, and what his notions of jihad were. He testified that a lot of the chats were “hardly politically correct,” but that these were very private communications with men his age. His public writing on the forum was more consistent with scholarly argument than the chats.

They reviewed the types of books that Tarek had on his shelf, based on a picture that the FBI took during their secret raid of the Mehanna household (this is the infamous “jihadi library” that people have been talking about, nestled amongst the “treasure trove of jihadi materials” that Chakravarty claimed were in Tarek’s room). Most of the books were part of a standard collection of hadiths. MF testified that there were many chats in which Tarek displayed his devotion to books. MF testified that he also saw books in Tarek’s room by Abdullah Azzam and speeches by Osama bin Laden. There were many tapes that were sermons of salafi preachers, for example, Mohamed Hassan, a well known, apolitical “evangelist” salafi preacher. Tarek also had books on jihad. MF described Tarek’s library as “eclectic,” and that there was no single theme of the collection, just a slanted toward a salafi view of religion.

JB questioned MF about some translations that Tarek did from classical Arabic that weren’t quite correct as translations and conceptually. MF agreed that classical Arabic is difficult to learn, and that the study of Arabic is a lifelong study. There is an individual obligation to know what it means to be a good Muslim, and then there is a higher scholarly goal of intense study.

Aloke Chakravarty (AC) Cross Examination of Mohammad Fadel (MF)

Once again, AC’s cross examination was scattered, full of sweeping generalizations and harmful dichotomies, and failed to further the case of the prosecution. I’ll do my best here to organize and make sense of it. One thing to note is how much this case relies on interpreting Tarek’s beliefs based on things he said on the internet. The prosecution is so desperate to paint Tarek as a rabid, frenzied, stop-at-nothing AQ supporter because their whole case rests upon that premise. The prosecution’s intolerance of any suggestion otherwise demonstrates once again that this case is not about what he did, but about his beliefs and what he said.

When asked, MF confirmed that the vast majority of Muslims in the US do not support AQ. He then went on to describe the Muslim advocacy groups in the US like Muslim American Society (MAS) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). AC described these groups as trying to better integrate Muslims into American society, protect civil liberties, and defend against Islamaphobia. “These groups are trying to engage in peaceful discourse to improve the lot of Muslims in North America” AC said. AC said there is a wide diversity of opinions within Islam, that each Muslim has a different interpretation. But MF clarified that it wasn’t that extreme, that there isn’t “an Islam for every Muslim.” Twice during MF’s testimony, AC questioned his knowledge of AQ beliefs comes from, stating inaccurately that he hadn’t studied AQ. Twice he corrected AC, saying that he focuses on Islamic law of war, and that AQ is on the margins of that topic. When AC questioned whether he was qualified to discuss Tarek’s belief system since he hadn’t met Tarek, MF retorted, “If a person has written a lot, then I don’t need to talk to him.”

39 Ways

Since MF had declared on Friday that 39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad is not a manual of any kind, AC insisted on pointing out that the jihad the document discussed was the fighting aspect of jihad, not just the inner struggle to become a better Muslim. MF concurred that it does include the fighting aspect, but that the document doesn’t show anyone how to do anything. AC brought up the Electronic Jihad section, which encouraged hacking.

Legitimate targets

AC asked MF about Tarek’s post regarding the killing of Paul Johnson (once again, this post is a topic of questioning, even after AC himself objected on Friday to JB’s showing of the post with the argument, “Your honor, the jury has already seen this.” As if redundancy is something the prosecution is worried about.) He pointed to the argument that someone assisting the US military can be a target, and MF replied, it says those who are fighting us. They then discussed whether the US military occupation in Saudi Arabia was considered an invasion if the Saudi government invited the US there. MF explained that the legitimacy of the presence of foreign military occupation in the Arabian Peninsula was a topic of debate amongst Muslims, and that was the underlying issue at hand. The US was not at the time actively attacking Saudi Arabia, but the issue was more complicated than the government’s hypothesis of Tarek’s worldview was willing to accept. “So if you’re part of an army that is attacking Muslims, then you’re a fair target?” AC asked. “According to Islamic law of war, yes,” replied MF. “American soldiers fighting Muslims in Iraq are legitimate targets?” AC also asked. MF’s response was the same. The government’s implication is that Muslims should passively accept the mass destruction of their own people because the US government says so.

AC and MF spent quite a bit of time on the discussion of who is a legitimate target, and MF kept going back to Tarek’s view that targets must be carefully selected. Almost as if to prove MF’s point, AC repeated Tarek’s statement that just because one may support or respect Osama bin Laden, doesn’t mean he or she has to support every attack that he supports.

AC asked MF if he had gotten a chance to review an email Tarek had sent regarding nine opinions about the permissibility of killing oneself in battle or the document that he emailed called The Ruling Regarding Killing Oneself to Protect Information, whether that would have changed his opinion regarding Tarek’s beliefs being inconsistent with AQ’s beliefs in terms of martyrdom operations. MF said no.

AC brought up MF’s personal criticisms of the US policies regarding counter-terrorism, the amount money the US is spending on counter-terrorism, and the recent assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. He also admitted to disagreeing with how the material support law was interpreted by the Holder v. Humanitarian Law decision. He brought up MF’s criticism of the government’s policies to imply perhaps that MF is, like they think of Tarek, a “terrorist sympathizer.”

AC then stated that advocacy groups like CAIR use peaceful, democratic methods to change things while AQ uses violence. MF, once again trying to bring some three-dimensionality to AC’s stubborn dichotomy, countered that lots of salafis believe democracy is a heresy but they’re not part of AQ. AC brought up a chat that showed that Tarek disagreed with CAIR, trying again to show that either you support CAIR and MAS, or you support AQ. This is the same simplistic “with us or against us” ideology that George W. Bush was famous for, so it’s not surprising that an Assistant US Attorney would regurgitate these beliefs to back up his equally simplistic rationale. “Does this show Tarek’s agreement with Zarqawi and his disagreement with CAIR?” AC asked. It did not, concluded MF.

AC mentioned that all of the posts from Tibyan publications were from after 2004. In a desperate closing, he brought up a Twitter post of MF’s from last week. AC said he posted something on twitter about his testimony in court, and how that was inappropriate. MF was confused about the accusation, not because of generational misunderstandings of how Twitter and Facebook work (although he admitted that someone else set both accounts up for him and wasn’t sure where he had posted what), but also because he didn’t actually tweet about his testimony, but reposted a Boston Globe article about Evan Kohlmann’s testimony. When asked about what AC considered his inappropriate postings about the case, MF said, “I just forward something, sometimes without thinking.” It would be good if the prosecution could keep that kind of thinking in mind when reviewing their discovery.

Janice Bassil Redirect of Mohammad Fadel

JB mentioned that people disagree with CAIR and its leaders, and asked MF if disagreeing with CAIR meant agreeing with everything posted by AQ. It did not, MF replied. When she asked what Tarek’s instant messages showed, he said immaturity and rude trash talking, which was unfortunately very prevalent amongst youth these days. JB asked MF about his feelings on the al-Awlaki assassination, and he explained that he thought the response of the US was disproportionate to al-Awlaki’s rhetoric. When questioned about his criticism of US money spent on counter-terrorism, MF cited a study that talked about how that amount of money could only be justified if there were a 9/11 attack in the US every year. JB asked about the “Electronic Jihad” section of 39 Ways and asserted that the document doesn’t explain how to hack, how to post on forums, which forums to post on, or where to find them, and therefore it can’t be considered a manual. She went through several other of the 39 Ways and how they were related to Islamic history, law or passages from the Quran. The majority of the 39 Ways were not related to fighting. MF testified that 39 Ways is the type of “exhortation literature” seen in Islamic law and history. Lastly, she asked if he would describe 39 Ways as a training manual, and he replied no.



  1. Updates: The Trial of Tarek Mehanna - Page 37 - December 13, 2011

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