[Ppnews] Muhammad Salah, NY Times reporter testifies
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 14 08:33:42 EST 2006
Former New York Times Reporter Testifies in Trial
of Men With Alleged Hamas Links
BY JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
November 14, 2006
CHICAGO A former New York Times reporter who
was jailed for nearly three months after refusing
to testify in a CIA leak investigation, Judith
Miller, spent more than two hours on the stand
yesterday as a key prosecution witness in a
federal trial of two men accused of conspiring
with a Palestinian Arab terrorist group, Hamas.
Ms. Miller's testimony centered on her unusual
role in the 1993 interrogation of a former
Chicago-area used-car dealer, Muhammad Salah, at
an Israeli prison in the West Bank. The veteran
journalist said she arranged to witness the
interrogation through contacts at the office of
the Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitzhak
Rabin, whom she described as a friend.
Ms. Miller said she expected special access to
the high-security facility, but got a bit more
than she bargained for when the Israeli
interrogator asked her to propose questions to be put to Mr. Salah.
"He asked me what I wanted Mr. Salah to talk
about. I was a little taken aback," Ms. Miller
said in response to questions from a federal
prosecutor, Carrie Hamilton. "I had concerns
about being directly or indirectly involved in an
interrogation. I just wanted to witness one. I
didn't want to be part of direct questioning."
Ms. Miller said she offered a general suggestion
that Mr. Salah be asked to confirm the Israelis'
claims that he had admitted to knowledge of
Hamas's political structure and its fund-raising operations in America.
Mr. Salah's alleged admissions of a role in
Hamas's financial affairs led to him spending
almost five years in an Israeli jail before he
was deported to America in 1997. Those admissions
also form the crux of the evidence in the Chicago
case, where Mr. Salah and a former Howard
University professor, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, are
charged with racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Ms. Miller was a strong witness for the
prosecution, undercutting Mr. Salah's defense
that he was tortured and only admitted to the
Hamas activities after more than two weeks of
nearly relentless questioning and sleep
deprivation. She said Mr. Salah, whom she saw on
an audiovisual feed from an adjacent room at the
prison, gave no indication he'd been abused.
"I saw no signs of him being tortured or
mistreated during the time that I was there and
witnessing his behavior," Ms. Miller said. Mr.
Salah "was almost goading him about how Hamas was
getting the better of the Israelis. He seemed
very relaxed and at ease.
He seemed to take
pride in the fact that Hamas had been able to regroup again and again."
On cross-examination, defense attorneys pointed
up some discrepancies in Ms. Miller's accounts of
the episode and attempted to paint her as a shill for the Israeli government.
In a February 17, 1993, story on the front page
of the Times, Ms. Miller discussed the evidence
against Mr. Salah but did not disclose that she
visited the prison or saw the suspect via a video
link. She did offer readers uncanny detail about
the interrogation, describing it as taking place
at "a T-shaped Formica table." However, she
attributed her account to Israeli officials and documents they provided.
When a lawyer for Mr. Salah, Michael Deutsch,
suggested that Ms. Miller agreed to "cover up"
her visit to the interrogation center so that her
readers would not learn of it, the longtime Times
journalist took umbrage. "I did not cover up'
the fact. I did not disclose it," she said. "We
often in journalism do not disclose specific
sources of information presented as long as they
do not contradict the information presented."
Ms. Miller said she needed some corroboration of
the Israeli claims about Mr. Salah and that her
editors agreed the prison visit offered that,
even if it could not be shared with readers.
Supporters of Messrs. Salah and Ashqar, including
about two dozen women in headscarves who sat in
the courtroom gallery, seemed deeply skeptical of
Ms. Miller's veracity. When the journalist said
she could not remember the name of the editor who
signed off on the ground rules for the prison
visit, the Muslim women tittered audibly, drawing
a stare from the judge, Amy St. Eve.
Under prosecution questioning, Ms. Miller
testified that she sought to bring a translator
for the Times to the prison, but the Israelis,
who said no outsider had ever been allowed at the
site before, refused. She said she reluctantly
relied on an Israeli government translator to
recount the interrogation, which took place mostly in Arabic.
On cross-examination, Mr. Deutsch asked Ms.
Miller about a radio interview she did in 1998 in
which she said she tape-recorded the
interrogation and had it independently
translated. The journalist said yesterday that
she didn't remember having taped the session.
As Mr. Deutsch continued, his questions became
more speculative, asking Ms. Miller at one point
whether she had ever acted as an "asset" for the
Israeli intelligence service known as the Mossad.
"No, sir," Ms. Miller said with an exasperated laugh.
Mr. Deutsch also made reference to the veteran
journalist's departure from the Times last year
after 28 years on staff. The defense attorney
suggested Ms. Miller was dismissed because she
parroted the Bush administration line about Iraq
and weapons of mass destruction.
"That's not why I left the New York Times," Ms.
Miller said, without elaborating.
Ms. Miller eventually disclosed her visit to the
interrogation center, describing it in a book she
published in 1996, "God Has Ninety-Nine Names."
In the book, she acknowledged the role of Rabin's
office and that she was given the opportunity to
ask questions of Mr. Salah through an
interrogator. That made her "deeply
uncomfortable," Ms. Miller wrote. "Where was the
line between journalism and participating in an
official inquiry, and, for all I knew, torture?"
Asked to explain her inclusion of the
interrogation in her book, Ms. Miller said
circumstances had changed. "Mr. Rabin was dead
and since Mr. Salah had been convicted
thought an appropriate amount of time had passed
so I would not be interfering in an ongoing investigation," she said.
Ms. Miller's testimony yesterday marked the third
time she has crossed paths with the U.S. attorney
for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, or his aides.
The Chicago prosecutor, who cut his teeth on
terrorism cases in New York, was selected by the
Justice Department to oversee the CIA leak
investigation that resulted in Ms. Miller's
jailing last summer for contempt. She is likely
to be called as a witness next year at the trial
of a former White House aide charged with
obstructing that probe, I. Lewis Libby.
In a separate and ongoing legal clash that may be
headed for the Supreme Court, Mr. Fitzgerald is
seeking to obtain Ms. Miller's telephone records
as part of an investigation into who leaked
advance word of federal raids against Islamic charities in 2001.
An instructor on journalism ethics, Kelly McBride
of the Poynter Institute, said she was troubled
by the decision to omit Ms. Miller's secret visit
to the jail from the Times article. "Any time
you're given special access as a reporter to
something that a member of the public normally
would not gain access to, you've got to find a
way to reveal the nature of that reporting to the audience," Ms. McBride said.
The Times did not respond to a request for
comment for this article. Ms. Miller also
declined to discuss her involvement in the Hamas
case with reporters yesterday. However, in
response to a question from The New York Sun, she
said her appearance was not voluntary. "I was subpoenaed," she said.
A professor of press law at the University of
Minnesota, Jane Kirtley, said it would probably
have been futile for Ms. Miller to attempt to
resist testifying. However, Ms. Kirtley said the
unusual entrée the reporter received and her
courtroom testimony could increase the perception
that reporters are working hand in hand with government officials.
"Journalists working in this part of the world
really need to make it clear they're not part of
the government," Ms. Kirtley said. "It's a
cautionary tale of how engaging in this kind of
newsgathering can eventually come back to haunt you."
November 14, 2006 Edition > Section:
<http://www.nysun.com/section/2>National > Printer-Friendly Version
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