Cross examination of FBI agent begins (Oct. 3, 2008)

The prosecutors’ virtual pendulum swinging over the defendants was lifted hundreds of feet above on Friday, Oct. 2, 2008 as defense attorneys began cross-examining FBI agent Lara Burns. The government attorneys’ tinted arguments and bogus theories presented during the past four days were quickly crushed, making way for the genuine truth behind the Holy Land Foundation (HLF.)

Seconds after the jury entered the courtroom, prosecutor Barry Jonas passed the witness.

Defense attorney Linda Moreno—who represents Ghassan Elashi—was the first to cross-examine Burns. She began by making one point clear: The biggest international contributor of evidence in this case is the government of Israel. Burns then made it clear that Elashi was never a subject of a wiretap, however, he was captured numerous times on the tapped phone lines of other HLF defendants.

Moreno then cleared up a document that could have been misconceived by the jury insinuating that the HLF paid Elashi $1,500 a month for his charity work. Moreno asked Burns whether she ever found a single HLF check sent to Elashi. No, Burns replied, proving that Elashi was never paid a cent for his charity work at the HLF. Since prosecutors played several tapes associated with the 1987 Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, during Burns testimony, Moreno thought it would be crucial to briefly address the Intifada and its connection to the Israeli occupation. But Burns said she did not feel comfortable talking about the Israeli occupation. I’m not an expert in that area, she said.

Moreno brought up two important dates. First, Jan. 23, 1995, which is when the U.S. government designated Hamas as a SDT (Specially Designated Terrorist.) Second, Oct. 8, 1997, which is when the U.S. government designated Hamas as an FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organization.) Moreno then showed the jury various documents presented by prosecutors—such as lecture transcripts, memos and reports— all of which predate Hamas. The HLF transactions with Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook also took place before 1995. In addition, most of the videos played during direct examination predate Hamas. And finally, none of the zakat committees are listed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of designated terrorists. They are not individually named in the list, but they fall under Hamas, which is on the list, Burns said.

Nancy Hollander—who represents defendant Shukri Abu-Baker—was next to cross-examine Burns. Hollander pointed out that the attendees of the Philadelphia meeting—where Arab-American intellectuals including a couple of defendants met to discuss the Oslo Accords—used their real names to book airplane tickets and hotel rooms. In other words, this was no secret meeting. Hollander had to put her cross-examination of Burns on hold after prosecutors objected to evidence she wanted to show the jury. She will likely continue to question Burns on Monday, Oct. 6, 2008.

Defense attorney Greg Westfall—who represents Abdulrahman Odeh—was third to cross-examine Burns. He said Odeh was not in the Philadelphia meeting, nor was he a member of the Palestine Committee. Odeh’s number was not listed in Musa Abu Marzook’s phone book either.

The photo with spiritual leader Jamal Qaradawi and Khalid Mishal that prosecutors said was seized from Odeh’s office was a Reuters photo that was torn out of a newspaper, Westfall clarified. As for the flyer about Hamas founder Ahmad Yasin, Westfall said it was neither hung nor framed in Odeh’s office.

Westfall gave the jury more information about who his client really was: a relief worker. Westfall showed the jury footage of Odeh’s work outside the U.S., including Odeh’s visit to a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan where he passed out bags of donations to needy families. He showed another video of Odeh traveling to Kosovo where he gave away flour, bread makers and ambulances. In the U.S., Westfall said, Odeh set up booths at conventions depicting HLF’s charity work. At HLF’s New Jersey office, Odeh helped organize orphan, family and student sponsorships. He also set up a food pantry for the needy families in New Jersey. Westfall concluded by saying that the HLF and the United Nations worked on some of the same projects.

Marlo Caddedu—who represents Mufid Abdulqader—was next to cross-examine Lara Burns. She made it clear that Abdulqader was never paid for fundraising, just travel expenses. In addition, he did not attend the Philadelphia meeting. She said there were no FBI photos taken of Abdulqader. And his name did not appear on any hotel records, flight records and transcripts.

Defense attorneys will probably cross-examine Burns for another day or two.

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