ALEX WITT: Let' s get a little bit more now on the verdict. To do that we turn to terrorism expert, Steve Emerson and former federal prosecutor, Aitan Goelman. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us.
AITAN GOELMAN: Thank you.
WITT: Steve, I'll get to you first. Let's talk about how this is going to affect the larger war on terror – this verdict. What do you think?
STEVEN EMERSON: This was a major victory for the Justice Department, a very difficult case for several reasons. One is that the conversations that they recorded as wiretaps were coded, and they didn't make direct references to jihad, or violent death, or anything. Number two, they took place over a long period of time, and they referred to objectives overseas – not taking into account stuff happening in the United States. Three, there was a financial labyrinth of money transfers that was very dizzying and was hard for the jury to actually follow, but they obviously did. So this was a difficult case and one that the prosecutors were not at all sure they could win.
I remember myself, Alex, back in 1995, when I was investigating Islamic groups in the United States, that I came across two of the defendants – Jayyousi and Adham Hassoun – and I asked the FBI at that point, "why aren't you prosecuting them." And their reaction was, "we can't because we're collecting the intelligence pursuant to FISA – which was an intelligence wiretap as opposed to a wiretap for criminal prosecution. Now that they're able to use that, they're able to make this conviction. I think it will be very helpful for other cases in the United States, including the one in Dallas, where they are also charged with raising money for jihad overseas
WITT: Ok, then perhaps some precedent is being set if you're right about this, Steve.
Aitan, this trial took three months. It only took the jury three-and-a-half days to decide the verdict. Do you read anything into that in terms of the tenor of those jurors or the tenor of this country as we face charges like these?
GOELMAN: Three-and-a-half days is not an insignificant amount of time to deliberate. I think that Steve's right that the government must have done a good job in presenting this evidence in a compelling way because it was not the strongest case in the world and they were handicapped by their inability to put in some of the most compelling evidence against Jose Padilla, which came, ostensibly, from his own mouth during his military incarceration and from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
WITT: Aitan, that was because it was a procedure having broken down – that he did not get the due rights afforded to him being in prison and having an attorney present? Is that why all that went away?
GOELMAN: Essentially. It was like a consequence of just what a tortured legal path Mr. Padilla's case had. Initially, he was arrested as a – in the civilian justice system – as a material witness. After about a month, he was transferred to military custody where he spent the next three-and-a-half years. Then he was transferred back and charged in a civilian case. In between, his case was before the U.S. Supreme Court a couple times, various Courts of Appeals. Because of that, there was certain evidence that might have been admissible in a military tribunal, but wasn't admissible in a civilian court.
WITT: Ok, Steve, as always, I want the big picture perspective here with you.
Jose Padilla – he is accused of being a member of this North American terrorist support cell. How widespread a problem is this – supports cells right here on our soil?
EMERSON: Well, this is a very interesting case because it spans a period going back 14 years – going back to 1993, when, Kifah Jayyousi, in San Diego, began publishing The Islamic Report, and under the protections of free speech, began soliciting money for jihad and even issuing communiqués for jihad operations overseas against the United States.
Now, I think it'll have profound effect for other potential terrorists who would be prosecuted that the government might fear would not be found guilty because of the complications of presenting the information to a jury. But this jury obviously got it.
The government's record in this case has been mixed in the last couple of years – they've lost some, they've won some – but this is a major victory. I think this also is going to be a deterrent to other would-be jihadists who are plotting from the United States' sanctuary to carry out jihad overseas.
WITT: Ok. Steve Emerson, Aitan Goelman – gentlemen, thank you so much for weighing in on this breaking story.
GOELMAN: Thank you.