U.S. Seeks to Exclude Defense Expert in Chicago Terror Trial

Jury selection begins next week in the Chicago terror trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, charged with participation in the 2008 Mumbai bombings, the planned attack on a news agency in Denmark, and providing matierial support to Lashkar e Tayyiba (LeT.) The Second Superseding Indictment is here. Both Rana and the Government's star witness, former DEA informant David Headley, who cooperated in exchange for taking the death penalty and extradition to India and Pakistan off the table, insist they were receiving instructions from Pakistan's ISI and military. While the Judge won't let the information about ISI and Army in the front door, it's bound to come in the back door.

Today the Court entered a minute order directing Rana to respond to the Government's motion to exclude his expert witness, Marc Sageman. Sageman is a counter-terror expert, former CIA agent and psychiatrist who is the leading proponent of the theory that al Qaeda as a central organization is no longer a big threat, that Pakistan houses the main terror groups in the region. Here's his 2009 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Global terror is more of a grass-roots thing in recent years, composed of leaderless jihadis. They may be affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda but al Qaeda, the core group, is too weak to provide much more.

So why does Rana want to call Sageman, and why does the Government object? [More...]

Rana is charged in three counts (9, 11 and 12) with providing material support to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. § 2339(A). Count 9 pertains to the Mumbai bombings, Count 11 to the planned Denmark attack and Count 12 charges he provided material support to LeT.

What did the Canadian businessman do? According to the Government, he allowed Headley to say he worked for his Chicago immigration business, using it as a cover for both the Mumbai and planned Denmark attacks. Rana has said he was duped by Headley. He has insisted that his actions related to the Mumbai charges were done at the behest of the Pakistani government and the ISI, not Lashkar (which the Judge has said is no defense.) The Government says Rana was aware of the plots, intended by his actions to further their objectives, and is responsible for the deaths of American citizens in the Mumbai bombings. He's facing up to life in prison if convicted.

Almost all the meaningful pleadings are sealed due to classified information, including FISA surveillance. But the judge has not sealed many of his rulings on the sealed motions, which give big clues. From his order denying Rana's motion to sever the Denmark count, he writes:

[Rana] contends that the counts involve separate terrorist plots with separate organizations, which will require separate defense strategies. The Government, on the other hand, argues that Lashkar was involved in both the Mumbai and Denmark plots,

....Rana alleges that Lashkar Member A withdrew the organization’s involvement in the attack in March 2009, and that Headley subsequently met with Harakat ul Juhad al Islami (“HJI”) leader, and Co-Defendant, Ilyas Kashmiri (“Kashmiri”) to urge HJI’s support of the Denmark attack. Rana argues that Lashkar had only a brief and nonmaterial involvement with the Denmark plot, which differentiates it from the Mumbai attack.

....In March 2009, after Lashkar Member A told Headley that Lashkar would halt its involvement in the Denmark attack, Headley turned to Kashmiri to receive HJI’s assistance with the plot.

....Defendant argues that the Government’s failure to charge Lashkar Member A or any other Lashkar member in the Denmark plot shows that a tenuous connection exists between Lashkar and the Denmark plot.

The Court denied his motion, finding enough common elements between the Mumbai, Denmark and LeT charges. He also ruled that cautionary jury instructions will prevent any prejudice to Rana.

Admittedly, I never heard of Sageman before today, since I don't follow counter-terrorism analysts, although it turns out I agree with a lot of what he says. But it doesn't seem like he's written a lot on LeT or the Mumbai bombings. He seems focused on al Qaeda.

How does he help Rana, especially since Rana can't argue as a defense he thought he was helping Pakistan and not LeT? Would his testimony help impeach David Headley, who claimed there was an al Qaida connection to the Denmark plot? Headley reportedly told India that his al Qaida connection was former Pakistani Army major, Abdur-Rehman Syed, whose ISI handler was a Col Shah and who had contacts with bin Laden.

Or is it to support an entrapment defense? In 2010, Newsweek reported:

Sageman, an independent terrorism expert who worked for the CIA during the 1980s, notes that some of the recent cases on the list—such as the Newburgh, N.Y., plot and the case of the man who wanted to bomb an Illinois courthouse—are less significant than others because they were the products of FBI “sting” operations and thus constitute what Sageman considers to be “entrapment,” meaning a heavy government role in luring the suspects into what they thought was jihad.

The raid at Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden will fuel interest in this trial. I've been writing about the case since Headley was arrested, due to his DEA connection. All of our coverage is available here.

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    Curious... (none / 0) (#1)
    by lentinel on Sat May 14, 2011 at 05:17:06 AM EST
    Why couldn't the government just allow Sageman to testify as an expert witness, and then define him as a terrorist supporter to undermine his credibility?