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False quotes rock terror trial

Federal prosecutors say they'll probe a botched wiretap summary. The defense wants more documents declassified to verify accuracy.

February 28, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

The mystery of how and why a government wiretap summary falsely attributed anti-Jewish slurs to officials of a Muslim charity remained unanswered Tuesday as federal prosecutors pledged to look into the matter.

In court papers filed late Monday, the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas said it was trying to determine how the recently declassified summary of a 1996 FBI wiretap of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development included vitriolic language that was not found in a verbatim transcript of a recorded conversation.

"The government is attempting to determine the reason for the discrepancy between the summary and the transcript," prosecutors said, adding that officials wanted to locate the language specialist who prepared the summary.

Meanwhile, the unexplained discrepancies have brought potential controversy to the government's biggest terrorism funding case to date.

According to the discredited summary, Holy Land officials referred to Israel as "the government of the demons" and to Jews as trying "to rob as much money as possible from the American taxpayers for the illegitimate excuse of protecting and preserving the chosen people of God."

One Muslim charity official supposedly told a colleague: "Even Jesus Christ had called the Jews and their high priests ... the sons of snakes and scorpions."

None of those comments was contained in a 13-page verbatim transcript of the conversation recorded April 15, 1996, by the FBI. In response, defense lawyers demanded declassification of large portions of the government's documents in the case.

On Monday, federal prosecutors argued that the discrepancies were not serious enough to justify such sweeping declassifications.

Five years ago, authorities shut down what was then the nation's largest Muslim charity on grounds that it was a fundraising front for the Palestinian group Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization. In 2004, federal prosecutors charged seven former Holy Land officials, six of them U.S. citizens, with sending money to overseas charities controlled by Hamas, an accusation they deny.

Defense attorneys asked U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish to declassify 10 years worth of wiretapped conversations and faxes after discovering the faulty summary among the first batch they reviewed.

Without declassifying the government's evidence in the case, defense attorneys argued, they would have no way of knowing whether other documents had discrepancies or inaccuracies because the classified originals of documents could not be shared with their clients.

In response, government prosecutors said it was "an overreaction" to extrapolate that all of the government summaries were useless on the basis of discrepancies found in one set of documents.

Prosecutors also said the contested summary, while including some language not found in the transcript, "does not otherwise misrepresent the substance of the conversation" among the Holy Land officials.

Defense attorneys, who declined to comment Tuesday, have argued that the government summary "fundamentally distorted" the conversation by attributing "an anti-Semitic diatribe" to the foundation officials.

The lead prosecutor in the case said there would be no comment beyond court filings.

In the meantime, defense attorneys filed a new request with the judge to gain access to government documents they contend will show the U.S. Agency for International Development has funded or worked with organizations that are linked to the same overseas' charities allegedly controlled by Hamas and named in the indictment.

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greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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