In a rare legal move, attorneys for two South Florida Muslim clerics accused of aiding terrorists will be allowed to travel to Pakistan during a Miami trial to question witnesses considered crucial to their defense.
A federal judge has granted permission to attorneys for two former imams of local mosques, father and son Hafiz Khan and Izhar Khan, to travel to Islamabad in February to depose five witnesses during a live video teleconference call with prosecutors remaining in Miami.
Federal prosecutors had opposed the depositions under any circumstances, noting the difficulty of cross-examining the Pakistani witnesses, three of whom were indicted along with the Khans on charges of conspiring to support the Taliban. But the judge disagreed, citing basic fairness.
“All things being equal, the court would prefer that both government and defense attorneys be able to travel to the deposition room in Islamabad,” U.S. District Judge Robert Scola wrote in his 10-page ruling issued Friday.
“But that cannot occur. Government attorneys cannot safely travel to Islamabad to participate in the depositions,” he wrote. “Using [video-teleconferencing] works around this safety problem to preserve evidence critical to defendants combating the charges they face, while still allowing prosecutors to cross-examine [the witnesses].” Scola established logistical requirements for the Feb. 4 depositions, which will take place after the Khans’ trial gets underway in January.
Among them: Two video cameras for the witnesses and deposition room in an Islamabad hotel, and one for the Miami federal courtroom. A Pakistani official must be present in Islamabad to verify the identity of the witnesses. Interpreters must be in Islamabad to translate, and a court reporter must be in Miami to transcribe the depositions live.
Both clerics are being represented by appointed lawyers, whose salaries and costs are paid for by the U.S. government.
The Miami terrorism indictment was filed in May 2011. Prosecutors charged Hafiz Khan, 77, former imam of the Flagler Mosque in Miami; his son, Izhar Khan, 26, the one-time leader of the Masjid Jammat Al-Mumineen mosque in Margate; Hafiz Khan’s daughter, Amina Khan; her son, Alam Zeb; and Ali Rehman with conspiring to provide financial support for the Taliban from 2008 to 2010.
The FBI used a confidential informant, bank transfer records and more than 1,000 wiretapped phone calls to build the case against the Khan family and others.
Defense attorneys want to question Amina Khan, Zeb, Rehman and an unindicted co-conspirator, Noor Mohammed, a suspected Taliban soldier, all of whom have said they don’t want to come to the United States to testify at trial. The fifth witness is a Pakistani pharmacist who received some of the money transfers from Hafiz Khan’s foreign bank accounts.
Izhar Khan’s attorney, Joseph Rosenbaum, argued that that the prosecutors opposed any depositions of the Pakistani witnesses because their testimony could poke holes in the government’s case, which is built on phone recordings of the Khan family’s alleged fundraising for the Taliban, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.
Rosenbaum, along with attorney Khurrum Wahid, further argued that the witnesses would provide “context” for the phone calls. The lawyers asserted that the defendants wired about $50,000 from Miami to Pakistan to aid schools and families in the embattled northwest territory known as the Swat Valley — not to fund Taliban violence against U.S. government interests in the region.