Section: Capital Region, Times Union
Date: Sunday, July 16, 2006
JUSTICE MAY GET LOST IN TRANSLATION
By FRED LeBRUN
Yassin M. Aref, an Albany imam caught in an FBI sting operation two years ago, was denied bail for the fifth time this week.
Aref is accused by the U.S. Justice Department of somehow supporting terrorism. Exactly how or to what end is foggy.
Still, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Homer ruled Thursday that a 43-page motion by Aref's attorney, Terry Kindlon, "while thorough and well argued ... presents insufficient grounds" for granting bail.
The magistrate reaffirmed an earlier ruling that he thought Aref posed both a risk for flight and a danger to the community. Although why the court feels that way remains as vague as the evidence against the Albany mosque leader. Finally, a trial is set to begin on Sept. 6.
We should brace ourselves for quite a government spectacle in federal court, designed to get us all worked up over terrorism, real and imagined.
Even though Aref does not stand accused of any terrorist act, or planning one, or consorting with terrorists. Keep in mind he was not present during the sting when a missile launcher was shown to his co-defendant, nor did Aref stand to make a nickel. From the government's point of view, nevertheless Aref is a sort of terrorist sympathizer. Aref and his attorney deny this utterly, claiming Aref is nonviolent, pro-American and not what the government claims at all.
U.S. Attorney William Pericak says he's ready for a trial that should take about three weeks. Defense attorney Kindlon, of course, will be careening north after defending Christopher Porco down in Goshen.
If the two sides hold true to form, we can expect the government to fill in the many spaces in a diary kept by Aref, who is from Kurdistan, to paint him as someone who met with known terrorists and therefore by extension is of the same ilk.
Kindlon pretty much outlined the defense strategy in his detailed refutation of the government's case in the latest bail motion.
He asserts that the government's case is "a shameful tapestry of lies designed to confuse anyone who reads it into accepting a fantasy world of government paranoia." He's claiming deliberate mistranslations and distortion have depicted Aref as a mythical bogeyman.
With what we know so far, the government does not have a strong case. But the government does have an odd if devilish ace in the hole: secret stuff.
Gleaned probably by wiretaps that are arguably illegal. Now, that might be damning for Aref. Except that time and again the government's translations of the Kurdish dialect Aref speaks and writes has been critically off the mark, akin to confusing hamburger for Limburger. So who knows who will be damned if and when all the secret stuff comes out.
There's a hearing in August to determine what the government has to produce from its secret stash so that we can have a straight-up American trial by jury.
This entire sting operation and its post-traumatics have been Kafkaesque from the beginning. If the judge in August, for example, were to rule that the government does not have to divulge the materials that form the basis of the accusations, how in the world can there be a proper defense?
I was in Virginia visiting relatives when the arrests were made, and this Albany imam story started the national news that night. The case has deteriorated badly since for the government, but we may still have national media present and peeking at this.
Regardless, we'll see quite a show. Battling translators, no doubt, and in a Kurdish dialect yet.
Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.