[News] LA 8 - Part 2 - Lives of Worry, Sadness, 'Why?'

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Thu Jun 30 13:00:22 EDT 2005

Lives of Worry, Sadness, 'Why?'


The L.A. 8, arrested in 1987 for allegedly aiding terrorists, still express 
bewilderment over it all. And the government still presses its case.

By Peter H. King
Times Staff Writer

June 30, 2005

Picture a tidy, two-story house on the far eastern fringe of metropolitan 
Los Angeles, folded inconspicuously into the land of the tiled rooftop and 
the two-hour commute. At the front window stands an Arab man, 47 years old, 
with dark, brooding eyes and slumped shoulders. He stares out at the 
street, watching, waiting.

This is on the morning after Sept. 11, 2001. The man's name is Khader Musa 
Hamide. A Palestinian, he has lived in the United States for 30 years. He 
is a coffee bean wholesaler, an Internet day trader and the father of three 
boys. He is also, as he puts it, a "quote-unquote suspected terrorist."

For many years now, Hamide has fought off attempts by the United States 
government to deport him for activities related to his visible, vocal 
advocacy of Palestinian causes. He was arrested in early 1987, along with 
his Kenyan wife and six other Palestinian immigrants.

They initially appeared destined for rapid deportation to the Middle East. 
The proceedings stalled on legal challenges, however, and the L.A. 8, as 
they came to be called, were allowed to carry on with their lives as best 
they could while they waited for the litigation to run its course. They are 
waiting still.

On this grim morning, the man at the front window barely resembles the 
dashing young organizer captured years earlier in FBI surveillance 
photographs. He attributes his aging more to his troubles than to the 
passage of time. He has lost his hair. He has lost friends. And he has lost 
his sense of trust: Behind every new face, he sees a potential FBI 
undercover agent.

More than anything, though, he has lost his political voice, which, certain 
government documents suggest, was precisely the point of the investigation 
in the first place. This is a man who once demonstrated defiantly in front 
of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, who once exhorted hundreds at a 
1986 Glendale fundraiser to reach into their wallets, telling them, 
"People, the revolution will not continue, and the march to Palestine will 
not go on, with words alone."

Now he tries to keep his political views to himself. His weekends are 
filled not with rallies for the revolution, but with suburban errands, 
ferrying kids to basketball practice in his van. He worries that his 
neighbors might discover he's a principal in a terrorism case. One man up 
the block, in fact, did piece it together, and his children haven't come to 
play since.

"I can see that," Hamide will concede. "If somebody thinks that there is a 
quote-unquote suspected terrorist living in the neighborhood 

"Well, you know."

Fretting about neighborhood gossip on this morning, of course, would seem 
misplaced and maybe moot. Hamide has convinced himself that, given the 
terrible events of the day before, the FBI will start at once to round up 
every "Arab that has a brain."

Surely, he reasons, a Palestinian who already has been labeled a tool of 
terrorism by the United States, who for nearly 15 years has resisted a 
relentless government campaign to be rid of him, surely he will be among 
the first swept up. This is why Hamide watches the street. He is waiting, 
as he will recall years later in an interview, for the sedans with multiple 
antennae, the agents in their windbreakers. In 1987 they had surprised him 
at dawn, bursting into his apartment a dozen or so strong, guns drawn. This 
time he is ready.

"OK," he mutters to himself. "Come and get me. I've got my shoes on. Come 
and get me."

But the agents do not come, not on this day, not on any day since.

Instead, for Hamide and other members of the L.A. 8, the case simply will 
stagger along as it has from the start, with more legal filings and 
cross-filings, more revisions of the charges, more meetings with the 
lawyers, more paperwork to add to the heaping pile. And also, more time to 
ponder what they see as the central mystery of their peculiar legal 

"Why? This is the biggest question," Hamide says. "Why us? And why is the 
government so persistent in this case? We honestly don't understand."

The Los Angeles Herald Examiner announced the arrests with a headline 
stripped across its front page: "War on Terrorism Hits L.A." When they 
recall that headline today, 18 years later, members of the eight will make 
a point of noting that the Herald Examiner no longer exists.

Their case has outlasted the paper ­ along with five U.S. attorneys 
general, the McCarthy-era anti-communism law under which they were 
originally charged, the Soviet Union, numerous Middle East peace 
initiatives, Yasser Arafat, the coming and going of numerous "marathon" 
legal struggles, the Rodney King trial, the O.J. Simpson case, the Clinton 
impeachment, and their youth.

For the accused, the case long ago bolted the boundaries of mere 
jurisprudence. They tend to speak of it today as something almost animate ­ 
a hulking, many-limbed beast that stomped into their lives one gray January 
morning in 1987 and has refused to leave. The case, they say, has broken 
apart marriages and disturbs the sleep of their children. It impedes their 
concentration, and has cost them jobs. It dictates the terms of their lives.

They seem to recognize more readily in others the marks the case has left 
on them all. They will shake their heads and confide how much a certain one 
of them has aged, how another, beset by depression, could not leave his 
couch for three years, how the child of still another required treatment 
for psychological scarring caused by the case.

"You can see it in their eyes," said Aiad Khaled Barakat, a tall, gaunt 
44-year-old. "Look at them and you see the case."

What do you see?

"Worried. Sadness. You see wonder. That's what you see."

This bewilderment at what has befallen them is accompanied by a detectable 
wariness. Not all would agree to be interviewed, fearing repercussions. 
Those who did talk frequently offered up, with a certain urgency, anecdotes 
meant to demonstrate how ordinary their lives are, how thorough their 
assimilation into American mainstream ­ stories about the speeding ticket 
they beat, or the money they donated to tsunami relief, or the homeless man 
they set up in a successful window-washing business.

"I've been here for 33 years," said Hamide, now 51. "I eat like Americans. 
I act like Americans. I dress like Americans. I talk like Americans. I 
think like Americans. I do everything like Americans."

Indeed, from a distance, it would appear that the L.A. 8 have blended 
seamlessly into the Southern California landscape. Walk down Monrovia's 
main street in the middle of a workday afternoon and there, in front of the 
bank he manages, is Ayman Obeid, dressed in a starched shirt and creased 
trousers, cigarette dangling between his fingers as he discusses business 
with two customers. From time to time he's invited into classrooms, where 
he introduces youngsters to banking and the value of saving a dollar.

Drop in on Barakat's apartment in Arcadia, and on the family room coffee 
table are rolled-up blueprints for a public school renovation.

After his arrest, a budding venture in home building failed. Barakat then 
joined his brother in another construction firm, and they have made a 
success of it, securing bids on schools, public libraries, recreation 
halls, even winning a piece of the action on a Hollywood mogul's 45-room 

Michel Ibrahim Shehadeh bought a pizza parlor a few miles from Disneyland ­ 
Pizza Town. Most days this spring he could be found amid the stainless 
steel ovens; at the counter toiled his 21-year-old son, who as a 3-year-old 
had watched with horror as his father was hauled away in handcuffs.

Hamide works out of his home, and eavesdropping government agents who once 
strained to catch snatches of his conversations with supposed subversives 
now would hear him haggling about the wholesale price of coffee beans while 
trying to quiet a small child who had wandered into the room.

They would hear him explain why he couldn't meet this particular day to 
talk about his terrorism case: "I have a nanny problem."

All in all, Hamide would observe on another day, "we've been pretty good 

This was a sly reference to the initial charges filed against the eight, 
allegations that their distribution of magazines published by the 
Marxist-leaning Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine made them 
subject to deportation under a provision of the McCarran-Walter Act, an 
immigration bill passed amid the Red Scare of the early 1950s.

After their arrests, a federal lawsuit was filed on their behalf, 
challenging the provision as a form of guilt by association. Before the 
challenge reached a judge, the government dropped the Marxist-related 
charges. Instead, it now sought to deport six of them on immigration 
technicalities ­ such things as violating the terms of a work permit or 
taking fewer college courses than required on a student visa.

"To use a football analogy," William B. Odencrantz, then regional counsel 
for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, told reporters at the time, 
"we don't care how we score our touchdown, by pass or run. We just want to 
get them out of the country."

Hamide and Shehadeh, alleged leaders of the group, had already gained 
permanent-resident status, so the visa violations tactic was not applied to 
them. Instead, they were recharged with other provisions of the immigration 
act: first, for associating with an organization that advocates "the 
destruction of property," and then for affiliating with a group that 
advocates the assassination of government officials of "any organized country."

"In those days," said Odencrantz, now with the Department of Homeland 
Security, "we really lacked the tools to properly deal with aliens involved 
in terrorist activities, whether they were threatening our domestic 
situation or engaged in activities that would foster terrorism around the 

This would change over time. An immigration statute drafted in 1990 to 
replace the McCarran-Walter Act ­ after its constitutional flaws were 
exposed by the L.A. 8 case ­ allowed the deportation of aliens who had 
provided material support to terrorist organizations. The 1995 Oklahoma 
City bombing led to a further toughening of anti-terrorism law.

Finally, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, there would come that sling blade of 
counter-terrorism laws, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing 
Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, 
more commonly known as the Patriot Act.

All of these legislative changes contained language that allowed their 
retroactive application to the L.A. 8 case. Indeed, it is under the Patriot 
Act that the government next month will again attempt to deport Hamide and 

"This is the horrendous thing about being an immigrant," Hamide said. 
"There is no double jeopardy. They can arrest you in '87 and charge you 
with a law that was enacted in 2001. It is just never-ending."

The legal dexterity that allows the government to bring new charges for 
past activities is what concerns others in the L.A. 8. Technically the July 
proceedings in immigration court will not involve them, but one enduring 
lesson of their experience has been to never underestimate the government's 
resolve to see them removed, be it by pass, run or dropkick.

If Hamide and Shehadeh win, Barakat said, "I will feel comfortable. If they 

He paused here and completed the thought wordlessly, with a drag on his 
cigarette, a shrug and a certain look in his eyes, a look of worry and 
sadness and wonder.

The law offices of Van Der Hout, Brigagliano and Nightingale occupy the 
fifth floor of a box of a building in the heart of San Francisco. A cabinet 
that runs along an interior wall is stuffed with files generated by the 
L.A. 8 case and its numerous side skirmishes, litigation that explored the 
boundaries of free-speech rights for noncitizen residents.

Inviting a reporter to plunge into these archives one afternoon, a legal 
aide apologized that they were not yet fully organized. She said she was 
working on it ­ is always working on it. Apparently, maintenance of the 
L.A. 8 files is akin to the repainting of the Golden Gate Bridge, a 
perpetual work in progress.

For all the legal churning the case has created, the basic forensic facts 
have not changed over the years. The case revolves, now as then, around the 
results of FBI Special Agent Frank H. Knight's stakeouts of a handful of 
events in the mid-1980s ­ translated transcripts of fiery speeches, 
surveillance photos of the eight setting up the hall at the fundraiser in 
Glendale, dancing a folk dance known as the dabka.

As the facts have remained the same, so have the fundamental legal positions.

Prosecutors have continually maintained that the money raised through the 
efforts of Hamide and the others made its way to the Popular Front for the 
Liberation of Palestine. And even if the PFLP ran kindergartens and clinics 
in Palestinian refugee camps, this did not mitigate the terrorist acts it 
also claimed to have committed. As one Justice Department attorney pointed 
out, "The Nazis built the autobahn."

The L.A. 8 and their lawyers, meanwhile, have framed the case as an assault 
on inalienable freedoms: the right to speak freely, to express even 
unpopular political viewpoints, to be protected from selective prosecution 
and guilt by association. They insist, in short, that the Palestinians were 
targeted because they stood, loudly, on the wrong side of U.S. policy on 
the Middle East.

"That's really what this case has been about," said L.A. 8 lawyer Marc Van 
Der Hout, "trying to stifle political dissent and political activity. It's 
about the government trying to stop political support in this country for 
groups abroad that it doesn't like, and that's the bottom line."

There have been several times in the run of litigation when it appeared the 
case might be resolved in the eight's favor. Their most satisfying victory 
came in April 1996. U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, a Reagan 
appointee, moved to block the deportation process, ruling that the eight 
had been unfairly singled out because of their political viewpoints and 
that their affiliation with the PFLP was protected free speech.

The decision had added significance in that Wilson was the first judge ­ 
and to this point the only one ­ to weigh all of the government's evidence, 
a previously classified 10,000-page monument to the persistence and 
investigative ingenuity of FBI agent Knight. The judge found it less than 

"The government," he wrote, "has submitted book-length tracts published by 
the PFLP explaining its interpretation of Marxist-Leninist ideology. It has 
submitted dozens of issues of Al Hadaf, the PFLP's official newspaper, none 
of which mention any of the plaintiffs. It has also submitted extensive 
hearsay compilations of the acts of terrorism linked to the PFLP over the 
years, in none of which any of the plaintiffs are in any way implicated."

Wilson turned to Knight's stakeout of the 1986 Glendale fundraiser, 
scoffing at the agent's conclusion that khaki clothes and posters depicting 
AK-47 assault rifles were proof of support for terrorism.

"Instead of following the trail of the money collected at the Glendale 
dinner," Wilson wrote, "the government simply advances the bald assertion 
that because the event had a militant tone, it must have been intended to 
support exclusively the PFLP's terrorist activities. There is no basis in 
logic or in the proffered evidence for this assertion."

Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his decision, 
determining that the eight had gone prematurely to the federal courts for 
relief, before the deportation process had played out. However, the 
opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, went beyond the technical 
issues the lawyers had been asked to brief.

Turning to the substance of the case, Scalia disagreed with a lower court 
ruling that a defense claiming selective prosecution ­ that is, the 
targeting of certain groups by law enforcement because of race, gender, 
political associations ­ could be applied to the L.A. 8 case.

"An alien unlawfully in this country," he declared, "has no constitutional 
right to assert selective enforcement as a defense against his 
deportation." Moreover, the government "should not have to disclose its 
'real' reasons for deeming nationals of a particular country a special 
threat ­ or indeed for simply wishing to antagonize a particular foreign 
country by focusing on that country's nationals."

In the aftermath of 9/11, this has meant that federal investigators can 
target specific immigrant communities, detaining or deporting anyone found 
to have overstayed a visa or otherwise run afoul of immigration fine print 
­ without fear of facing a selective-prosecution challenge in court. "As a 
result," warns David D. Cole, another L.A. 8 lawyer who came to the case, 
pro bono, through the Center for Constitutional Rights, "Arab and Muslim 
foreign nationals with any possible immigration problem are well advised to 
do nothing ­ such as speaking out, demonstrating or joining political 
associations ­ that might bring them to the attention of the federal 

In other words, hunker down, lie low, which is pretty much what the L.A. 8 
have been doing for the last 18 years.

They no longer see much of one another. They don't subscribe to Palestinian 
magazines. Few of them attend Palestinian events, and only one, Shehadeh, 
has remained politically active. They would not be surprised to discover 
that their telephones were still tapped. Most try to avoid political 
discussions with strangers.

None dance the dabka anymore.

"No, not since '86, that infamous year," Ayman Obeid said. "I have just 
kind of isolated myself from the whole thing. I do not dance. I can dance 
now, I taught it. But do I dance? No."

In fact, he went on, "I don't even want to be in the vicinity of somebody 
who says, 'I love Palestine,' because I don't know. I know what I thought, 
and I know what I wanted for my life, for Palestine. But I don't know your 
background. So I don't want to be in the same set as you are, because I 
don't know what they think of you."

By "they" he meant the FBI.

 From beneath his banker's dress shirt, Obeid produced a medallion that 
hung from a chain around his neck.

"It says 'Palestine' in Arabic," he said. "I've never taken it off. I love 
where I come from. If you don't, then you're not a man, or a woman, of 
heritage and background. Did I want to be an Arab? I don't know. Did I want 
to be a Palestinian? I don't know. But I am, so it is who I am

"I mean, why can't I sing and dance for my country? I mean, everybody does 
it. Arabs, Italians, Armenians, Greeks. Greek movies we go to, and we pay 
money to see them. I bet you if I have a Palestinian movie, not only are we 
not going to have people going there, but probably they will shut down the 
movie theater. I mean, I hope I'm wrong, but why cannot I say what I feel 
as long as it is at a peaceful gathering?"

Then he stuffed the medallion back inside his shirt.

The early government decision to go after six of the eight on technical 
visa violations in effect scattered their individual cases through the 
system, and as a result their current immigration statuses vary.

Basher Amer, pulled from his chemistry finals by the arresting officers, 
beat the charge that he had failed to take the minimum course load required 
by his student visa: He'd received bum advice from a college counselor. He 
has since returned to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, the only one of the 
eight to have left Southern California.

Hamide's wife, Julie Mungai, received permanent-resident status in 
December, a decision that came after the immigration judge noted how dated 
the case was: "I think we have had enough time to deliberate
. Time has 
been favorable to the respondent. They have a good family, good jobs."

As the family rose to leave the courtroom, the judge had words of 
encouragement for one of Hamide's young sons. Maybe, the judge said, the 
boy would become president of the United States one day, or at least 
attorney general.

Amjad Obeid, Ayman's brother, also has won permanent-resident status. Told 
that this terrorism suspect was now employed as a state transportation 
engineer, the immigration judge only laughed.

Ayman is awaiting a decision on his permanent-residency application; until 
then he must renew his work permit regularly if he is to continue as a bank 

Barakat and Naim Sharif at first were denied permanent-resident status 
after an immigration judge heard the FBI's secret evidence against them. 
This led to a successful challenge in federal court.

Over the last year, Barakat has sought in vain to gain citizenship. In 
immigration hearings, the case workers have peppered him with questions 
about the PFLP and his pro-Palestinian activities in the 1980s.

"Do you agree with the methods of the PFLP, their terrorist activities?" he 
is asked at one hearing, according to a transcript.

"I don't agree with any terrorist act," Barakat responds.

"At the time, you weren't in support of the PFLP?"

"I am not in support of any terrorist act. I support the PLO, and the PFLP 
is part of it. I support that we want an independent state for the 

The hearing officer keeps pressing. He asks Barakat about his participation 
in events that were promoted as a celebration of the PFLP's founding.

"When you went to these events, did you know they were PFLP events?"

"They were not PFLP events. They were celebrations of that date."

"So you were celebrating the PFLP?"

"The people, yes."

"If you weren't in support of the PFLP, why were you attending a 
celebration of it?"

Even in the cold type of the transcript, Barakat's mounting exasperation 
becomes obvious.

"I have no ideology," he says at last. "I don't not like this guy because 
of his beliefs." He went to PFLP parties, he says. He went to Fatah 
parties. He went to Egyptian parties, Iranian parties, Armenian parties. "I 
go to any party that has dance, cultural, Middle Eastern food. I love to 
meet people, especially women, and dance. I was a young guy."

The stakes for the eight have risen as the years have piled up. The L.A. 8, 
they often say, have become more like the L.A. 28, with the children and 
spouses who have come aboard since the arrests.

Asked if he had ever considered just giving up, Hamide's response was 
emphatic: "No. Absolutely not. And for a very good reason. Because it is my 
life, for one thing. And my family's life. I have nowhere else to go."

As their children have grown older, the parents have confronted the dilemma 
of what and how to tell them about Dad's terrorism problem. For Amjad 
Obeid, that moment came last Christmas Eve. His 14-year-old daughter had 
been bombarding him with questions. Why didn't he travel with them to 
Mexico when they went to see her mom's family? Why, if he was Arab, did he 
not visit the Middle East? Why did he need a lawyer?

"So Christmas Eve, I was just driving with her. I said: 'You know what? I 
think you're old enough to know. You're entitled. Here's the story.'

"She was shocked and surprised and then, knowing her intelligence, she went 
on the computer and she read the whole Supreme Court brief and very much 
understood the case."

Because of their immigration status and the repercussions of the case, most 
of the eight have not managed to visit the Middle East, even as their now 
elderly parents begin to pass away. It's not clear that Israel would permit 
them to enter the occupied Palestinian territories; it's also not clear 
that they would be allowed back into the United States. In essence, they 
have become detainees of the country that wants to deport them.

At a later immigration hearing, Barakat tries to explain the urgency behind 
his effort to become a U.S. citizen.

"This has been over 16 years, 17 years," he says. "I need to go visit my 
family, serious
. My father passed away. When he was sick I couldn't go see 
him. And my mom, she is about 80 years now, and she is sick."

The hearing officer asks if formal travel restrictions are in place: With a 
green card, he should be able to fly overseas.

"Israel won't let me in," Barakat explains.

"I see," the hearing officer says.

"I need an American passport so I can get in. We get problems there, we 
come to the freedom country, we start getting problem. I don't know where 
to go."

In December 2004, Barakat learned that his bid for citizenship had been 
denied: He lacked "good moral character." The 14-page rejection leaned 
heavily on the works of FBI agent Knight: "You were observed rehearsing for 
the entrance ceremony of the event. The FBI declassified records of the 
investigation indicate that you participated in setting up the event."

When they contemplate the case, as they seem to do constantly, what baffles 
the Palestinians most is the government's persistence. Their early victory 
in the bail hearing, the many federal court rulings in their favor, the 
enormity of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ­ all of these, to them, would 
have provided the government a natural opening to drop a difficult and even 
embarrassing case.

They have developed many theories to explain why, instead, the case was 
kept alive. There is the legal guinea pig theory ­ that the case was 
designed to establish precedent for removing immigrants who support 
disfavored foreign groups. There is the bureaucratic inertia theory ­ that 
in time the case became something of a self-justifying institution.

There is the theory that the case has been driven by some mysterious order 
from on high ­ that someone in the top tier of government has it out for 
them. And there is the theory that it was rooted in their fledgling success 
in the early 1980s as proponents of Palestinian statehood.

The government lawyer Odencrantz did not necessarily reject all of these 
theories. Yes, he said, the case has provided a vehicle to test "very 
important" legal issues and to accumulate the "tools" needed to proactively 
deal with terrorism threats. As for bureaucratic inertia, yes, "the case 
has its own momentum. As they have bitterly resisted the decision to remove 
them, we see no reason that their resistance should cause us to simply say: 
'Well, we'll forget it. It has gone on too long.' "

As for 9/11, the ramming of hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center 
and Pentagon did not suggest to the government that circulating PFLP 
magazines and participating in folk dances perhaps no longer met the 
terrorism bar. From a brief filed in the L.A. 8 case after 9/11:

"This case involves an issue of critical importance to the nation's ability 
to deport aliens who have provided financial and material support to a 
foreign terrorist organization. In light of the tragic events of September 
11, 2001, the importance of this issue cannot be overstated."

Within weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks, L.A. 8 attorney Cole received a call 
in his Washington office from a congressional aide. The lead Justice 
Department attorneys on the case, he was told, were in the conference room 
where the bill that would become the Patriot Act was being drafted. Perhaps 
Cole should come over. He did, but the Justice Department lawyers protested.

"The compromise was that I got to sit outside," Cole said. "It was like 
being a lawyer in a grand jury proceeding. I sat outside and the 
[congressional] folks would come out and say, 'What do you think of this? 
What are the implications of this?' And then they'd go back in."

The questions convinced Cole that the government lawyers "were definitely 
in there trying to write a law that would basically knock these guys out of 
the park."

In its final form, the Patriot Act did render moot many of the legal issues 
in the L.A. 8 case.

As a result, the coming trial of Hamide and Shehadeh will revolve around 
two questions: Did the money raised at the fundraisers actually go to the 
PFLP, and, if so, did the two know, or should they have known, that it 
would be used to underwrite terrorist activities?

Asked whether, if the government prevails, deportation charges will be 
brought against other members of the L.A. 8, Odencrantz replied:

"Probably not."

Probably not?

"Probably not. Obviously, if we get information that suggests one of the 
others did something

One day in late May, six weeks before the scheduled start of the trial, 
Shehadeh and his wife were scrubbing the kitchen at Pizza Town one final 
time. The next day they were to turn over the keys to new owners.

"This way," Maxine Shehadeh said, "whatever they dish out, we will be able 
to deal with it."

Michel Shehadeh expressed confidence, as had Hamide, that they would win. 
If they did not, he said, there would be the opportunity to appeal again 
through the federal courts. That the case might come to provide a 
constitutional test of the Patriot Act is not out of the question ­ and, in 
an odd way, might even be fitting.

"The lawyers," Shehadeh said, "have been saying it may be another 20 years."

It was not clear if he was joking.

The talk turned to the topic of Frank Knight. They all seem to have Knight 
stories ­ how he would appear at seemingly every court hearing over the 
years, how he would look coldly beyond them whenever they tried to make eye 
contact or engage him in small talk during recesses, his palpable fury when 
rulings went their way, his intimidation tactics, his threats to flick them 
from the country, like flies.

They wonder what drove him. Was he out, as Barakat put it, "to win a star"? 
They question his methods. They mimic his gait and mock his performance in 
deposition, four days of sometimes combative, sometimes stammering 
testimony about the fungible nature of money, about the "statement" one 
makes by moving the American flag off a stage, about how to connect the 
dots between a folk dance performance in Glendale and an assassination in 
the West Bank.

"He always struck me as professorial, always deep in thought," Shehadeh 
said. "Who knew he was just deeply unthoughtful?"

And now, here he was, Frank Knight himself, standing in the doorway of his 
San Diego condominium. He was 3 inches shorter and substantially thinner 
than the hulking 6-foot-5 linebacker of a man the Palestinians had 
described. He was wearing jeans, a polo shirt, running shoes.

He smiled almost shyly as he congratulated his unexpected visitor for 
tracking him down. Unfortunately, Knight said, government policy prohibited 
him and any other agents who worked the L.A. 8 case from discussing it.

"It's not that we don't want to talk," he said. "We can't. We would end up 
in jail."

He fairly beamed when it was suggested that he and the New York agent who 
had conceived of the plan to go after the eight with immigration laws had 
been, it turned out, many years ahead of their time.

"We were two Lone Rangers," he recalled.

As he remained in the doorway, Knight was given a rushed update on the 
lives the Palestinians had carved for themselves in the years since he 
first began to track them ­ running a bank branch, opening a pizza parlor 
near Disneyland, building public schools, selling coffee beans, buying 
houses, raising families, all of it.

"Well," he said, smile quickly fading, "if you have read my reports, if you 
have done your homework, you should know they shouldn't be in those 
positions. But I really can't talk."

Come back, he suggested, when the case is over. He would be happy to 
discuss it then, he said, for hours, for days, "for as long as you want."

It was a polite offer, delivered with one last winning smile, but of course 
it ran counter to the one incontrovertible rule that has governed the case 
of the L.A. 8 for 18 years now: For whatever reason, it is never over.

The Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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