The courtroom in Dallas was off limits to all but essential parties and immediate family members much of the day Thursday. The reason for the extra security measures was an unidentified Israeli agent who took the witness stand to discuss documents and other items seized in raids from Palestinian organizations relevant to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) terrorism financing case. Another room in the courthouse with audio but no video was available to spectators usually allowed in the court room. Defense attorneys cross-examined the witness on chain of custody issues attempting to cast doubt on those issues and collection methods. A few of these items were entered into evidence but U.S. District Court Judge A. Joe Fish has yet to rule whether the majority of the Israeli exhibits will be admitted into evidence.
FBI agent Lara Burns returned to the stand on Thursday afternoon to resume cross examination by the defense. Agent Burns was questioned about a former HAMAS leader whose name who has been mentioned in this case named Jamil Hamami. Hamami appeared in one of the videotapes found buried in the backyard of the former Northern Virginia residence of co-conspirator Fawaz Mushtaha. The videos showed HLF fundraising festivals (involving singing, lectures and sermons presumably for charitable purposes), including one in which defendant Muhammad El Mezain is sandwiched between Mahmoud al Zahar, a HAMAS leader and Jamil Hamami, a top HAMAS official at the time of the video.
A defense attorney asked Agent Burns whether she knew about invitations Hamami received in 1998 and 1999 to the United States by the United States Information Agency's (USIA) International Visitor's Program (IVP). The USIA is an independent, federal foreign affairs agency promoting U.S. national interests abroad through a wide range of information, educational and cultural programs. The IVP which has been in place for more than half a century was designed to bring foreign politicians, scientists, scholars and other influential individuals to the United States "to experience America firsthand." While the program itself has had many successes in bridging gaps between the U.S. and the Muslim world, it also made some very counterproductive mistakes in poorly organized programs.
The defense attorney went on to question Agent Burns: "So Jamil Hamami, this man you say is a HAMAS founder is being described as a distinguished gentleman, right?" (Counterterrorism Blog contributor Matthew Levitt testified at the onset of the trial that in 1996, a HAMAS Spokesman issued statements saying the Hamami no longer speaks for them).But this is part of a trend seen in other cases and it is very misleading.Take Sami Al-Arian, self-admitted Palestinian Jihad operative in the U.S. who was photographed with President Bush and at a 2002 dinner speech said "I think I personally played a big role in electing Bush. " Or Abdurahman Alamoudi, a visitor to the Clinton White House, who shortly afterwards was sentenced to 23 years in prison in a terrorism financing case.
In the case of Jamil Hamami, his inclusion may or may not be a dangerous oversight. In fact, a program like the IVP may be exactly what a potential reformer might benefit from (and us from him) but participation in a U.S. government funded program or even a photo-op with a U.S. President clearly does not make a "distinguished gentleman" nor absolve one from a violent past.