Examiner : Arguments Wrap Up in Ex-Sailor's Trial

Monday, March 03, 2008

Arguments Wrap Up in Ex-Sailor's Trial

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, The Associated Press | March 3, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Federal prosecutors urged a jury Monday to convict a former Navy sailor of leaking ship movements to suspected terrorists, saying he sympathized with the enemy and admitted disclosing military intelligence.

But an attorney for defendant Hassan Abu-Jihaad said an investigation that spanned two continents over four years failed to turn up proof that he leaked details of ship movements and their vulnerability to attack.

A jury will begin deliberating Abu-Jihaad's fate Tuesday after hearing six days of testimony.

Abu-Jihaad, 32, of Phoenix, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he provided material support to terrorists and disclosed classified national defense information.

He is accused of passing along details that included the makeup of his Navy battle group, its planned movements and a drawing of the group's formation when it was to pass through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf on April 29, 2001.

Abu-Jihaad, who did not take the stand, was a Navy signalman honorably discharged in 2002.

Prosecutors said Abu-Jihaad was the only member of the military communicating with the suspected terrorists.

They cited one e-mail in which he called the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 a "martyrdom operation" and praised "the men who have brong (sic) honor ... in the lands of jihad Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, etc."

Said prosecutor Stephen Reynolds: "The evidence in this case points to one conclusion: That Abu-Jihaad was the leaker."

Prosecutors also cited secretly recorded phone calls played during the trial in which they claimed Abu-Jihaad spoke in code about useful information and outdated intelligence.

Prosecutors acknowledged they did not have direct proof that Abu-Jihaad leaked the ship details.

Authorities said details of ship movements had to have been leaked by an insider, saying they were not publicly known and contained military jargon. The leaked documents closely matched what Abu-Jihaad would have had access to as a signalman, authorities said.

"In 2001, Abu-Jihaad had just enough information to be dangerous," Reynolds said.

But Dan LaBelle, Abu-Jihaad's attorney, tried to show Monday that many details of ship movements he is accused of leaking were publicly available through news reports, press releases and Web sites.

He also noted that Navy officials testified that the details were full of errors.

"There are so many errors in that document that it could not possibly have come from an insider," LaBelle said. "If that document is riddled with errors, the government's case is riddled with reasonable doubt."

LaBelle rejected the claim that Abu-Jihaad admitted to leaking Navy secrets, saying that the phone conversation cited by prosecutors occurred many years after he left the Navy and that it was not clear what Abu-Jihaad was referring to.

Abu-Jihaad, an American-born Muslim convert formerly known as Paul R. Hall, served aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold. Prosecutors say the details he is accused of leaking could have endangered his own ship and others.

Abu-Jihaad was charged in the same case that led to the 2004 arrest of Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money, appeal for fighters and provide equipment such as gas masks and night vision goggles for terrorists. Ahmad is to be extradited to the U.S.

Abu-Jihaad is being prosecuted in New Haven because the investigation first focused on a Connecticut-based Internet service provider.

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