Attorneys for three Toledo-area terrorism suspects said yesterday that national security restrictions are causing problems for their defense.
During a 90-minute pretrial conference in federal court in Toledo, attorneys for the men sought additional information from federal prosecutors and questioned the process for deciding what classified information should be released to the defense.
Attorneys Dennis Terez and Steve Hartman, two of the five defense attorneys present, asked for clarification on how U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Carr will determine what material can be disclosed.
"Right now we don't know what we're talking about," said Mr. Hartman, who is representing defendant Marwan Othman El-Hindi. "We're throwing darts in the dark."
Mr. Terez, who is representing Mohammad Zaki Amawi, asked Judge Carr to allow him to participate in the process for deciding what secret government information can be shared with the defense. Judge Carr, who gave attorneys time to file supporting arguments, indicated during the proceeding that he was leaning toward prosecutors, who oppose the idea.
Toledoans Mr. Amawi, 26, and Mr. El-Hindi, 42, and Wassim I. Mazloum, 24, of Sylvania are charged with conspiring to kill or injure people in the Middle East - including U.S. troops serving in Iraq - and with providing the "support and resources" to do so.
Mr. Amawi was also charged with twice threatening President Bush and with distributing bomb-making information.
The trio are scheduled to stand trial May 1. If convicted on the terrorism conspiracy charge, the men could face life in prison.
Throughout yesterday's hearing, the secret nature of the terrorism investigation loomed. Prosecutors said they are nearly ready to provide classified yet "significant and substantial" material to the defense teams.
Gregg Sofer, a Justice Department attorney, said the government is being careful to "balance national security interests versus the rights of the individuals."
But he and Thomas Getz, an assistant U.S. Attorney based in Cleveland, cautioned Judge Carr against revealing some of the information sought by Mr. Terez and others.
For instance, Mr. Terez has asked whether the warrantless telephone wiretapping program used by the National Security Agency - the public disclosure of which created a firestorm of controversy last year - was used in the case against the three local men.
In a court filing in August, he argued that the wiretapping information is "critical" to determine if the information was legally obtained.
But Mr. Getz said yesterday that providing that information - and he did not say whether it was true or not - would be inappropriate. The government would vigorously fight its disclosure, he said, because to do so would "slow the case down in a very radical way."
Neither the defendants nor the prosecutors were present in the Toledo courtroom. The defendants are all detained at the federal prison in Milan, Mich.; the prosecutors participated by telephone.
Mr. Mazloum and Mr. El-Hindi were arrested in the Toledo area in February. Mr. Amawi was detained in Jordan, where he had traveled with a government-paid informant. Mr. Amawi is a Jordanian citizen who was living in Toledo; Mr. El-Hindi is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Jordan and was living in Toledo, and Mr. Mazloum is from Lebanon but a legal permanent resident of the United States.
Though unrelated to the case against the three local men, Judge Carr is familiar with terrorist wiretapping cases because he is one of only 11 judges nationwide who are members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Sometimes called the "spy court" because it deals with intelligence gathering requests involving suspected spies, terrorists, foreign powers, and foreign agents, the special court was created in 1978. Judge Carr has been a member of the court since May, 2002.
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