Secret witness testifies, former HLF volunteer concludes testimony (Oct. 20, 2008)

The courtroom camera was covered and the doors were locked on Monday, Oct. 20, 2008 as prosecutors prepared to put Mohamed Shorbagi’s testimony on hold to call their next witness: A secret agent with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF.) The 40 or so attendees—with an exception to close family members of the defendants, several FBI agents and one IRS agent—were asked to leave the room and listen to the testimony from an overflow room on the top floor. The agent, who went by the fake name of “Major Lior,” testified under the same pseudonym during last year’s trial, which ended in a mistrial exactly a year ago (October 22, 2007) after jurors failed to reach a single guilty verdict.

<strong>Twelfth</strong>

Major Lior entered the room with a team made up of a few guards, a couple interpreters and an attorney. Prosecutor Elisabeth Shapiro began direct examination by asking him about Operative Defensive Shield, an operation that he oversaw from March to April 2002 where Israeli soldiers raided and seized documents from some of the Palestinian zakat (charity) committees listed on the HLF indictment. Major Lior said in Hebrew that the operation’s purpose was to help stop terrorism. He explained that after the documents were collected, they were sent to an Israeli military base where they were placed in boxes and categorized by location, date and time. Then, they are transported to a central location in Israel, where we deal with the documents in depth, he said through an interpreter.

Shapiro clarified that the U.S. government requested this Israeli intelligence as a part of the HLF investigation. They seized documents from the HLF office in Hebron, Jenin Zakat Committee, Nablus Zakat Committee, Qalqilia Zakat Committee, Tulkarem Zakat Committee and the Palestinian Authority compound in Ramallah. The documents seized include: posters, key chains, photos, videos and plenty of files.

Linda Moreno—who represents defendant Ghassan Elashi—began cross-examination by saying that there were numerous other occasions after 2002 where the IDF barged into Palestinian committees and seized items. Moreno then asked Major Lior if he’s ever accompanied his soldiers during these operations.

I go through a debriefing, he answered.

But you do not go into the locations with your soldiers, correct? Linda asked, searching for an answer.

Correct.

And no videos were made of the seizures, right?

Right.

Check back soon for the rest of the update, which includes the remaining testimonies by Major Lior and Mohamed Shorbagi.

She then asked Major Lior if he knew specifically where in the charities the posters, key chains and photos were seized. No, he said. She explained that the items could have been on a wall, on a table or in a trashcan. Moreno then asked if the Israeli soldiers have also taken documents from mosques. The IDF avoids entering mosques—unless terror is emanating from such a place, he said. He then admit that the IDF has gone into Palestinian orphanages and schools and seized orphan forms, books, report cards and birth certificates. Moreno then asked, Can you tell the jury what items your soldiers left behind. His response: No.

After quick cross-examinations by defense attorneys Nancy Hollander, Joshua Dratel and Marlo Caddedu, prosecutors said they had no further questions. So there were no redirect examination and re-cross examination of Major Lior.

Former HLF volunteer, Mohamed Shorbagi, then returned to the witness stand. Nancy Hollander—who represents defendant Shukri Abu-Baker—talked about a video that was played during Shorbagi’s direct examination. The clip depicted children throwing rocks, but she said that doesn’t necessarily make them Hamas. Shorbagi agreed. And some of the Palesinians in the video covered their faces. She said that’s because the Israeli government can demolish their homes, detain them or target their relatives. Again, Shorbagi agreed. Next, Hollander discussed the 1992 MAYA (Muslim Arab Youth Association) conference, where money was raised for the 410 Palestinians whom Israel deported to an icy, deserted Lebanese mountaintop called “No Man’s Land.” The deportation, which was in 1992, caused a major “humanitarian crises,” Hollander said, because they were left without food, water, shelter and medicine. The Red Cross and other charities assisted the deportees and the U.S. joined the international community in condemning Israel’s actions, Hollander said.

When asked about suicide bombings, Shorbagi said he does not support them. Hollander then asked Shorbagi, What matters is that charity gets to the needy Palestinians—not who ran the charity, correct? Shorbagi’s reply: The only way it will help the needy is through Hamas charities. She concluded by saying that it’s normal for Palestinians to discuss solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “It’s their daily food,” Shorbagi said.

Joshua Dratel—who represents defendant Mohammad El-Mezain—was next to cross-examine Shorbagi. Dratel spent the next 30 minutes or so exposing Shorbagi as a fraud and a thief. He said the FBI confronted Shorbagi in 1996, telling him he was in deep trouble for steeling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You were concerned about your future and you wanted your sentence to be as low as possible, right? Dratel asked.

Right, Shorbagi answered.

Dratel went on, Your boss, Samir Khatib, trusted you. And his company is the one you stole from, correct?

Correct.

The total money stolen by Shorbagi’s scheme was $610,000. So he lied to the FBI when he told them he stole $210,000, Dratel said. Shorbagi was not charged with stealing $610,000; he must repay it in restitution. In addition, Shorbagi was not charged with lying on his tax returns and lying about the cost of his apartment in Gaza. Dratel clarified that Shorbagi’s sentence dropped from life to 15 years after his plea agreement and dropped again to seven years after testifying in a case in 2006.

Dratel also explained that Shorbagi’s sentence could still be reduced after testifying in the HLF Retrial. By cooperating with the government and testifying, Shorbagi received additional benefits. As a felon, Shorbagi and his wife are deportable; however, his wife was given the required paperwork to reenter the U.S. and Shorbagi was told he could live in the U.S. after serving his sentence. Dratel then asked, Did the FBI ever say ‘You’ve lied too many times, so we don’t need you to testify. Shorbagi’s answer: No. Shorbago concluded by saying, Jail is okay. I’m paying the price for a crime I did.

Prosecutor Jim Jacks asked Shorbagi several follow-up questions during redirect examination. Jacks explained that Shorbagi did not take any of the money he raised for the HLF; he sent all of it to the HLF. Jacks added that Shorbagi was responsible for paying back the money he and his partner stole. Shorbagi’s wife was the only one who needed papers to reenter the U.S.—not his five American-born children.

As for the deportees sent to Lebanon in 1992, they belonged to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Jacks said. They were offered an opportunity to live in another country, but they chose to stay, he added. He then asked Shorbagi to explain the cause of the 1992 deportations. Israeli soldiers imprisoned Hamas founder Ahmad Yasin, so to retaliate, a couple of Palestinians kidnapped and killed an Israeli officer, Shorbagi said. That’s when the Israeli government rounded up the men and shipped them to Lebanon.

Jacks then addressed the Israeli demolishment of Palestinian homes. Some homes had tunnels underneath them, mainly to help smuggle weapons into Palestine, he said. Jacks also brought up Yahya Ayyash, nicknamed “the engineer” because he designed the suicide bomb. Most Palestinians praised him highly, and half a million people attended his funeral. I still believe he was a great man and a hero, Shorbagi said. Jacks added that after a few weeks of mourning, Hamas started a wave of suicide bombings.

The speakers at the MAYA and IAP (Islamic Association for Palestine) conventions encouraged martyrdom and jihad and used phrases such as this one: “Jewish people are the sons of pigs and monkeys.” Jacks concluded by asking Shorbagi why he’s afraid to return to Gaza. Shorbagi admit he would feel endangered because of his testimony in the HLF case.

Greg Westfall—who represents defendant Abdulrahman Odeh—cross-examined Shorbagi by asking a couple of questions.

How did Yahya Ayyash die? he asked.

A cell phone bomb planted by Israel. Shorbagi responded.

He left two young sons, didn’t he?

Yes, one son was 2-years-old and the other was a few weeks old.

It’s wouldn’t be a crime to send charity to his sons, would it?

Objection, prosecutor Jonas shouted, after which U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis sustained the objection.

During her re-cross examination of Shorbagi, Hollander’s focus was the 1992 deportation of 410 Palestinians. They were never charged with a crime, she said. They were collectively punished for the actions of the kidnappers. The deportees were lawyers and doctors and teachers, she said.

And that’s the end of Shorbagi’s testimony. Prosecutors will likely call back FBI agent Lara Burns as their next witness on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008.

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