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In Miami, testimony resumes tomorrow in the trial of accused al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla and his two co-defendants. The three are charged with providing support to terrorist groups operating overseas. Although Padilla is the headliner, he has just a marginal role in the case the government is laying out in federal court.
From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: For the past two months, Jose Padilla has been in court daily, wearing a gray suit and wire-rimmed glasses, talking occasionally with his lawyers. But for most of the time, the focus hasn't been on him but on the alleged activities of his two co-defendants, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi.
When Padilla was arrested more than five years ago, then Attorney General John Ashcroft said he'd been plotting to set off a radioactive dirty bomb in the U.S. Those allegations went away last year when the government dropped Padilla's designation as an enemy combatant and added his name to a federal indictment in Miami.
The indictment charges Hassoun, Jayyousi and Padilla with supporting jihadist groups fighting in places like Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kosovo. But as the trial has unfolded, it's become clear that Padilla's involvement in most of what's being discussed was peripheral.
This week over defense objections, Federal Judge Marcia Cooke allowed prosecutors to play for jurors one of the potentially most inflammatory pieces of evidence - a 10-year-old interview with Osama bin Laden conducted by CNN's Peter Arnett.
(Soundbite of archived interview)
Mr. PETER ARNETT (Reporter, CNN): Mr. bin Laden, if you had an opportunity to give a message to President Clinton, what would that message be?
Mr. OSAMA BIN LADEN (Leader, al-Qaida): (Through translator) Mentioning the name of Clinton provokes disgust and revulsion. The president has a heart that knows no words.
ALLEN: On its face, this old interview seemed to have little to do with the charges that Hassoun, Jayyousi and Padilla were sending money and supplies to terrorists overseas. In fact, Judge Cooke told jurors it has nothing to do with Padilla. Before showing it, she cautioned the jury that there's no evidence Padilla, quote, "viewed, heard, commented on, or endorsed the video tape". She allowed it to be shown, however, because Hassoun and Jayyousi are heard discussing the interview in intercepted phone calls introduced as evidence, such as this one.
(Soundbite of recorded phone conversation)
ALLEN: In the phone call, Hassoun and Jayyousi talked admiringly about bin Laden's interview, including his comments about Bill Clinton. Robert Chesney, a national security law expert at Wake Forest University, says, in allowing the tape to be played, Judge Cooke had to weigh its possible prejudicial effect on the jury against its value in understanding Hassoun and Jayyousi's state of mind.
Professor ROBERT CHESNEY (National Security Law, Wake Forest University): As soon as you have bin Laden's face appear, of course, there is some risk of emotional inflammation, but does it substantially outweigh the probative value for shedding light on their intentions, I don't think it's that surprising that the judge said the tape could come in ultimately.
ALLEN: For Hassoun and Jayyousi, the prosecution case is built almost entirely on wiretaps - hundreds of thousands of phone calls and faxes intercepted between 1993 and 2001. Of the more than 100 phone intercepts being played for the jury, only seven directly involved Jose Padilla. Prosecutors say Padilla was recruited by Hassoun to take part in jihad overseas. And one phone call seemed to support that. While Padilla is living in Egypt, Hassoun encourages him to get to an area where jihad is being taught. Padilla replies, God willing, it's going to happen soon.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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