MIAMI (AP) – The FBI wiretap intercepts that were central to the prosecution in the Jose Padilla trial are also crucial for defense lawyers who hope to persu ade jurors that the defendants were not supporting violent Islamic extremism around the world.
The defense case, set to begin Monday, will focus initially on Adham Amin Hassoun, who prosecutors say recruited Padilla and others to fight Islamic jihad overseas. Hassoun’s voice is heard on more than half the thousands of FBI intercepts collected over an eight-year period.
Hassoun lawyer Kenneth Swartz said he wants jurors to hear conversations in which Hassoun discusses the need to assist oppressed and persecuted Muslims in places like Bosnia, Chechnya and Somalia, providing an alternative to calls in which he allegedly talks about violence and extremist groups like al-Qaida.
“When he describes jihad, he’s talking about helping people,” Swartz said at a hearing Friday on the admissibility of the intercepts. “Not the intent to kill people – the intent to help.”
In one call, Hassoun discusses a 1995 massacre by Serbs of Muslims in Srebenica, Bosnia, which Swartz said helps explain why he wanted to assist Muslims threatened by Serbs in nearby Kosovo a few years later.
Lawyers for defendant Kifah Wael Jayyousi also want to single out portions of FBI intercepts they say refute the prosecution’s charge that he, Hassoun and Padilla conspired to provide money, supplies and recruits for violent Islamic extremist causes.
“It’s offered to show why he was doing these things. His knowledge and belief are at issue here,” said Jayyousi attorney Marshall Dore Louis.
Prosecutors, however, object to the defense using many of the calls, contending that they don’t meet proper rules of evidence because they often are unconnected to an action that is in dispute – such as the reason Hassoun wrote checks to organizations operating in Chechnya or why he encouraged men to go to battle zones.
Defense lawyers “are trying to get Hassoun’s testimony before the jury without putting him on the stand subject to cross-examination,” federal prosecutor Russell Killinger said.
After Friday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke allowed Hassoun’s lawyers to submit some FBI calls as evidence but ruled others out. She said some evidence regarding Hassoun’s state of mind might have to come from the defendant himself if the defense wants to present it.
“Perhaps the only way to lay that foundation is for your client to testify,” the judge said.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held for 31/2 years as an enemy combatant after his 2002 arrest on what U.S. authorities originally claimed as a mission to blow up a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major city. He was added to the Miami case in late 2005 amid a legal battle over President Bush’s authority to hold him indefinitely without charge, and the “dirty bomb” allegations were dropped.
Padilla’s voice is heard on only seven of the FBI intercepts. He isn’t overheard discussing violence or Islamic extremism and doesn’t use the code words prosecutors say Hassoun and Jayyousi employed.
The main evidence against Padilla is a “mujahedeen data form” he allegedly filled out in 2000 to attend an al-Qaida training camp. His fingerprints are on the form, which was recovered in late 2001 by the CIA in Afghanistan.
Padilla’s lawyers have said the Muslim convert went to Egypt in 1998 to study Arabic and Islam with the goal of becoming an imam.
All three defendants face possible life in prison if convicted.