Terror case grows more complex
Requests, motions, new charges, new defendant Ñ judge has big task
The recent flurry of court maneuvers in the Portland Seven case hint at the complexity of the charges against the alleged Muslim terrorists Ñ and the daunting task facing U.S. District Judge Robert Jones as he steers it to trial.
Jones has said he hopes to try the case starting Oct. 1. But recent events suggest he may have trouble sticking to that schedule. In the last week alone:
• The Oregon U.S. attorney's office indicted a seventh defendant in the case, former Intel Corp. software engineer Maher Mofeid Hawash. He was arraigned Monday and pleaded not guilty.
• The latest indictment added charges against some of the other defendants, including conspiracy to possess and discharge firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence, against Jeffrey Leon Battle, Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal, Patrice Lumumba Ford and Habis Abdulla Al Saoub.
• Co-defendant Muhammad Bilal asked for a separate trial. In his filing last Wednesday, attorney Andrew Bates said that co-defendant Battle made a detailed statement about the alleged conspiracy after he was arrested.
• Attorneys representing co-defendant Ford filed a motion to dismiss the charges against all of the original six defendants late Friday. The 93-page motion argues that none of the charges is valid on a variety of technical and constitutional grounds. Among other things, attorneys Whitney Boise and Per Olson argue that one of the laws the defendants are accused of violating Ñ the Civil War-era seditious conspiracy law Ñ does not apply to actions outside the country.
Last week's motions even brought up the emotionally charged issues of politics and religious profiling. On Thursday, Boise filed a memorandum accusing the Justice Department of charging the original six defendants because it 'needed a public relations victory' in the war on terrorism.
Noting that all of the defendants are Muslims, Boise wrote that a number of individuals and companies did business with the Taliban government without being charged with any crimes Ñ including Telephone Systems International, which provides service to Afghanistan; Unocal oil company; and the University of Nebraska's Center for Afghan Studies.
'Yet none of these entities or individuals appears to have been investigated, much less prosecuted, for their conduct,' Boise wrote.
Jones has set a schedule for hearing and resolving such motions during the next few months. He has given the government three weeks to respond to last week's motions, after which the defense attorneys have one week to reply.
It is unclear how the late addition of defendant Hawash to the case will affect this schedule, however. His attorney, Stephen Houze, must be given time to file the same series of pretrial motions that the other defense attorneys already have filed.
One question is: Will Jones stick to his original schedule or allow the government to postpone all of its responses until Hawash's attorney finishes filing his motions?
Jones stated in court Monday that he hopes to adhere to the Oct. 1 trial date.
Then there is the question of whether to try the defendants separately or together. Like Bilal, co-defendant October Martinique Lewis has asked to be tried separately. Hawash will have the opportunity to make such a request, too.
Jones will have to decide whether to grant the requests, even though multiple trials would take more time and cost more money to conduct than a single large trial.
Jones still has to resolve some of the earlier defense motions, including the complex issue of whether to allow the government to introduce wiretap evidence authorized by a secret federal court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Although Jones already has ruled the defense attorneys cannot have access to underlying documents justifying the taps, he can review them in private and then rule whether they should be admitted into evidence.
'Without the benefit of adversary briefing, the judge will then rule on whether the warrants satisfy the law,' said legal scholar Anita Ramasastry, an assistant professor of law and the associate director of the Shidler Center for Law, Commerce & Technology at the University of Washington School of Law.
Jones has scheduled a hearing for May 13 to discuss the status of the case.