Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chilling cross examination in Jason Abdo trial

Violence, soldier on soldier, in thought, words  
Waco – It's been a long war; it's a war that is carried out daily, now, on the streets of our nation - at the gates of our forts.

The war has been going on long enough that there are people rapidly approaching young adulthood who don't remember anything else, young people who can't recall any conditions other than the status quo.

Arriving at the Federal Courthouse in this city, a yellow brick affair with limestone trim, expansive north facing window lights, Spanish tile accents, a study in faux Moorish architecture, one is confronted by the latest security precaution.

No visitors are allowed to carry a cell phone into the premises.

No need asking why. There have been hundreds upon hundreds of depredations worldwide that were provoked, provided or performed with the use of a cell phone. The Federal Court Service guard, chipper and cheerful in blue blazer and rep tie, is easily appeased with a grateful attitude and a promise to return after stowing the phone in the car.

On return, he says, “Now, then, let's try this again,” in a hearty tone of voice.

In reply, The Legendary says, with a smile big as Dallas, “Some days, the dragon wins, sir...” We both smile, then laugh it off.

We both laughed, but underneath, the reality remains. When the enemy has forced you to begin doing things differently than you had always done them, back in a world we left far, far behind - many years ago - the battle is not really going in the favor of one's side.

Not really.

On the witness stand in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, FBI Special Agent Richard Stryker is going through that peculiarly pettifogging formality known as cross examination.

Defense Counsel Zachary Boyd is putting him through his paces, recalling his previous testimony elicited by prosecutors about laboratory efforts to replicate the construction and detonation of an improvised explosive device by following the instructions provided in a magazine article published by Al Qaida.

“Make A Bomb In The Kitchen Of Your Mom” instructs would-be terrorists in the construction of a deadly fragmentation device by using a 16-quart aluminum pressure cooker coated on the inside with contact cement to which BB's adhere, then stuffed with smokeless gun powder and detonated with a Christmas tree bulb whose bare filaments are thrust through a hole in the cooker's lid.

The detonator is designed to be attached to the face of an alarm clock whose hands are to be brought into contact with two nails to complete an electrical circuit, thus detonating the highly volatile gunpowder.

The two are involved in the rambling but always polite thrust and parry of a skillful cross examiner putting question after question to an expert witness, often the same question stated multiple ways, while the opposing counsel objects frequently to leading the witness, calling for a conclusion, or an argumentative style.

One learns that the bomb was not constructed in exactly the way the terrorists' magazine instructed, that putting an “electric match” for purposes of safety in the bottom of the pressure cooker instead of the top does not necessarily produce a shaped charge, and that matters of common sense are not universal to all folks on the planet, in the expert opinion of Agent Stryker, who remains courteous and cheerful enough throughout the inquisitive onslaught.

At one point, he answers his interlocutor by saying, “Regardless of where it was, it would make it no less of a bomb.”

Onwards. Police who apprehended Jason Naser Abdo to his hotel near the main gate of Ft. Hood last July 27 recall that he was advised of his rights under the Miranda decision, that he had a handgun in his backpack, and that, yes, they isolated him immediaely, put him in handcuffs and transported him to a secure law enforcement center in order to better control the situation while they questioned him and other investigators searched his room.

A certain Lt. Boone is seen in a video drawing his pistol, pointing it at Mr. Abdo and ordering him to assume a prone position face down under the ramada of the motel where a taxi is waiting for him.

Detective Willie Winfield is questioned extensively about whether the video camera in the police car swiveled, and whether he read Mr. Abdo his rights.

“Is it true that you really didn't read that Miranda warning?” the defense attorney asked the young detective.

“No, sir, it is not,” he answered. At this point, the 5-man, 7-woman jury panel began to fidget. They're the kind of middle-aged people you see every day in the bank, the post office, the grocery story. They clearly aren't the kind of people who are willing to put up with a lot of this nonsense. In fact, a couple of the gentlemen's eyes narrow to a squint; they run a protesting forefinger around their collars, and snort in a subdued way. Several of the women heave a sigh.

It's a nasty story, and then the government rests, and the jurors are removed from the courtroom while Judge Walter Smith considers Mr. Boyd's Bill of Exceptions, 24 in number and offered under the terms of Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Under that rule, after the close of evidnce, a defendant may move for a judgment of acquittal for any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.

The highlights are provocative enough. Mr. Boyd asserts that the conscientious objector packet Mr. Abdo filled out at his former duty station, an Army fort in Kentucky that is the home of the 101st Airborne, was deemed insufficient. A prosecutor immediately objects that the matter is irrelevant.

It was the reason Mr. Abdo gave investigators for his alleged plot to detonate a bomb in a crowded restaurant that is popular with soldiers at Ft. Hood. He objects to the conduct of his fellow soldiers toward adherents of Islam, his chosen religious faith. It was for this reason he joined the jihad, this simple one-word concept, which is Arabic for "peace.".

A certain Lieutenant Colonel reviewed allegations that the soldier was in possession of child pornography, charges which Mr. Boyd says were “ultimately proved to be without probable cause.”

Playing a video of the attempted detonation of an explosive device built by the FBI “misleads jurors” because, he reminds the judge, “Mr. Abdo did not buid a bomb.”

The defense attorney objects to the way the federal statute against making home made bombs is written; he asserts that it “allows Mr. Abdo to be convicted for his mens rea alone, and not his mens rea and actus rea together.”

In effect, he implies, the government is trying to send a man to the federal penitentiary to serve a potential life sentence for what he was thinking, not for what he did.

In asking for the acquittal, he said, “The government has failed to prove its case in chief, Your Honor.”

At this point, the gallery and officers of the court were treated to the sight of the venerable white-headed judge throwing his hands up in disgust and reverting to a hostile and abravise tone much unlike his usual silky smooth affect and manner of speaking.

Judge Smith thundered, “Do you have all that in writing so you could just submit it without standing up there and reading all that nonsense?” Most people looked at the floor, or at some point in mid-space, somewhere about a thousand yards distant.

Clouds whizzing along high above brought intense sunlight to the air shaft outside the expansive windows of the courtroom, alternately throwing its ornate study in beige, brown and walnut tones into shadow, then the stark relief of intense sunshine bright enough to make the copper nail heads in the ornately decorated hardwood doors shine with a brilliant copper fire that diminshed, then blazed anew, over and over, while Mr. Boyd stood at the lectern silently, looking at the toes of his brightly polished dress shoes.

After a long, rambling explanation, Judge Smith again threw up his hands in capitulaton, exclaiming, “It would be quicker for you to just go ahead, and just read what you're reading.”

After some desultory questioning of a couple of witnesses, the defense rested, and Judge Smith sent the jury to lunch while he prepared his instructions for them, to be followed by the final arguments of counsel.

All the while, the Army deserter and conscientious objector, Jason Naser Abdo, sat quietly, his facial expressions hidden by a surgical mask he is forced to wear over a scraggly beard he has grown.

Its purpose is simple enough. It is there to keep him from biting through his lip or his tongue and spitting blood on the guards who lead him in and out of court.

Somewhere, an eagle screamed – out loud, and bold as ever.

We The People all stood respectfully, as the jurors left the courtroom, then waited while the elderly man of the law strode into his chambers, his black robe trailing behind him.

What was told, what was taught, what was learned - is simple enough. When the chips are down – as they always are in love and war – you're going to believe in something.

Believe it.

The revolution never ended...Believe it.

No comments:

Post a Comment