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Sky Not Falling?

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The prosecution received a sound rejection from U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke on Thursday, while using its key evidence, the taped conversations. FBI agent – John Kavanaugh – was reviewing the tapes and said the men were using words like “tourism” and “football” as code words for violence. Defense attorneys strongly objected. “In a ruling that frustrated prosecutors,” Vanessa Blum of the Sun-Sentinel wrote:

Kavanaugh, while permitted to use the words would not be allowed to provide his opinion of their overall meaning. The judge noted that the FBI agent who “does not speak Arabic and is testifying in court for the first time, did not have the experience to be considered an expert on Islamic concepts or Arabic communications.” .

The prosecution is continuing the phone call intercepts testimony – with the jury listening to roughly 120 calls between Adham Hjassoune and Kifah Jayyousi who are accused of conspiracy to “murder kidnap and maim.” The voice of the third alleged conspirator Jose Padilla, known to everyone but the jury as the “dirty bomber,” has yet to be heard.

One witness did appear, not on tape but live in the courtroom. A former volunteer for Jayyousi’s charity, “American World Wide Relief’ – 33year-old Jeremy Collins — testified that he had overheard conversations dealing with the purchase of two walkie-talkies ($2000) and two satellite phones ($43,000) for Chechnyans fighting Russians . According to the AP’s Curt Anderson, Collins characterized work at the charity as “chaos.” Collins added “There was no relief work. There seemed to be more fighting [within the charity office] than relief work.” Collins said Jauyousi churned out a radical newsletter which featured “theaters of jihad” and highlighted the trial and later conviction of the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, now serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York landmarks.

But Jayyousi’s attorney William Swor tried to cast a different portrait to counter the charity’s supposed links to violence. Swir asked Collins if it was not also possible to have “jihad of the heart … jihad with your checkbook, jihad with your pen?”

“Yes,” he answered.”In all the years that you knew Kifah Jayyousi, he always emphasized doing things legally, right?” Swor asked.

“Correct,” Jeremy Collins answered.

The A.P.’s Anderson noted the strange disconnect between Jayyousi and his alleged co-conspirator Padilla.

Jayyousi had never encountered Padilla before they met in court. Padilla was added to the Miami case in late 2005 amid a legal battle over the extent of the president’s wartime powers to detain U.S. citizens.

It is very likely that this tedious testimony became more relevant for the jurors when they looked at their weekend news (news the jurors were permitted to see.) Here was another case of a conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim. Federal prosecutors in New York Saturday charged one former member of the Guyamese parliament and three other men, including a former airport employee, with planning to blow up terminal buildings at John F. Kennedy Airport, fuel tanks and the fuel pipeline that runs beneath the airport complex.

While there was no direct link to al Qaeda, U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskoph described the alleged secret plan as “one of the most chilling plots imaginable,” one which, according to another government law-enforcement officer, might have caused “unthinkable” devastation, so vast that the Chicago Tribune described one law man as having “cringed” when he contemplated the possible tragedy.

Tough stuff. But then, perhaps because the Tribune may have learned something from being a willing Justice Department mirror-machine as it bought into the dirty bomb-exploding high-rise coverage of Padilla, they immediately backed off the incendiary remarks of U.S. Attorney Mauskoph even in the story’s headline –“Alleged plot talk hyped, some say” which had the immediate effect of downgrading the accusations.

To be fair to Masukoph, she was well within the boundaries set by the Bush Justice Department ethical standards of making outrageous prejudicial statements about people who, they assume, are guilty. Hell, who needs trials, when you have Guantanamo and Naval brigs?

But the Trib went on to kick the crap out of the story.

“I think her [U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskoph] comments were over the top,” said Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. “It was a totally overstated characterization.”

And

Terrorism expert Peter Bergen said he believes law enforcement officials are right to pursue such plotters, even though he wouldn’t rate this case, or most of the recent homegrown plots, as serious threats.

“Obviously they’re talking about stuff,” he said. “But did they have the capabilities or training to do it? The answer is obviously not. It seems to me the reason the London [transit] plot worked is these guys had gone to an Al Qaeda training camp.”

Even Fox News (miracle of miracles) smelled bullshit and said it was. “JFK Terror Plot Called Technology (sic) Impossible By Critics.

Half baked, and technologically impossible.That’s what the representatives of Buckeye Pipeline had to say about the plot to blow up the pipelines and fuel tanks in and around JFK airport. I’ve had a couple of really interesting conversations with the people of Buckeye and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, that give a better explanation of why the scheme to plant explosives and carry it out would have been hard to pull off.

The media reaction to the JFK fuel tank scare is, to this long time media watcher, a healthy sign. Six years ago after 9/11 we may be learning the difference between vigilance and hysteria. Will it be too late to offer justice to Jose Padilla? Stay tuned.

(With Rachel M. Koch)

Lew can be reached at lew dot koch at gmail dot com.

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Lewis Z. Koch

Lewis Z. Koch

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