[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
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/43482

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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