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Padilla defense begins by disputing FBI transcripts

A language expert questions the accuracy of wiretapped calls.

July 24, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Attorneys for Jose Padilla and two co-defendants began their defense Monday by casting doubt on the accuracy of FBI transcripts of wiretapped phone calls and assertions that the men spoke in code to mask criminal intent.

Government witnesses contended during nine weeks of testimony that Padilla's co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, used words like "tourism" and "picnic" to mean waging holy war against enemies of Islam.

In a February 1998 conversation, Hassoun and another man referred to weapons for Islamic warriors as "eggplants" and "zucchinis," a government translator testified last month. The three men are charged with conspiracy to kill, kidnap or maim people abroad and with material support to terrorist groups.

But Kamal Yunis, a Palestinian-born chemist and state-certified Arabic-English translator, told jurors it was clear from context that the men were talking about money sent to aid victims of repressive foreign regimes.

Yunis also testified that Arabs tend toward "flowery language" and frequently use references to Allah as neutral "filler" in their conversations.

The latter testimony was an apparent effort by lawyers for Hassoun and Jayyousi to respond to a tape jurors heard last month on which the two defendants talked animatedly about a 1997 CNN interview with Osama bin Laden. Hassoun is heard saying: "May Allah protect him."

"Arabs have a way of introducing Allah in many things they say," Yunis told the court. He likened the comment to an English speaker saying "Oh my God!" or "I hear you!" to an interlocutor.

"I think it was filler, based on the tone of voice, how they were talking about it," Yunis testified.

None of Monday's testimony referred to Padilla, who has been relegated to bit-player status during much of the trial despite being the more well-known figure. He had been accused by the government of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city. That allegation is absent from the January 2006 federal indictment.

The men could face life in prison if convicted in the trial presided by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.

After his May 2002 arrest, Padilla, now 36, was held in isolation at a Navy brig in South Carolina for 3 1/2 years before the Pentagon transferred him to the civilian court system. Apparently lacking legally obtained evidence to support the dirty-bomb charge, the government added Padilla to its case against Hassoun and Jayyousi, his alleged recruiters.

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