On Tuesday morning, the Internet connection linking a suspected Taliban soldier who was testifying in a video call from Pakistan to a Miami federal courtroom suddenly went dead.
Was it a communications glitch at the Islamabad hotel? Or did the Pakistani government kill the feed because of the witness’s alleged Taliban ties?
The 12 jurors were left in the dark, as U.S. District Judge Robert Scola excused them after saying, “We have lost our transmission.”
Perhaps the most befuddled in the bunch: Miami imam Hafiz Khan, 77, who is standing trial on charges of sending thousands of dollars to the Taliban terrorist organization, sworn enemies of the U.S. and Pakistan governments. Khan was the leader of the Flagler Mosque, 7350 NW Third St.
Despite safety concerns, the judge had allowed Khan’s defense attorney to travel to Pakistan to take live testimony from 11 witnesses so the defendant could receive a fair trial. Prosecutors opposed allowing the testimony and refused to make the trip.
Everything seemed to be going pretty well until about 11:20 a.m., or 9:20 p.m. Tuesday in Islamabad — with 8,000 miles separating the two cities. The flat-screen televisions and video monitors in front of the judge, lawyers and jurors suddenly lost signal and flashed “disconnected.”
Khan’s defense attorney, Khurrum Wahid, explained to the judge by phone that there was “absolutely no problem” until a prosecutor in Miami mentioned the name of the Serena Hotel, where the testimony was being taken, during cross-examination. He noted the hotel staff said “there were some intelligence operatives in the business center here, and they were taking pictures of us and our witnesses.”
Added Wahid: “I’ve been told by the hotel staff that it’s from outside the building and that ... the IP address has been blacklisted by the Interior Ministry, I’m sorry, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.”
Scola was not amused. He reminded Wahid that he allowed him to travel to Pakistan to take the live testimony of defense witnesses — including three defendants who had been indicted along with Khan — as long as he obtained the approval of the Pakistan government. Wahid told the judge that he had received verbal approval, but the government refused to put it in writing.
“They’re supposed to know about it,” the judge told Wahid. “The whole purpose of this was that I wanted it to be open and notorious. I didn’t want to do something behind the back of the Pakistani government.”
The judge wondered aloud about possible solutions: If the problem is purely technical, it could be fixed and testimony could resume Wednesday morning. If it’s an “intentional act by the government of Pakistan,” there probably wouldn’t be any more live testimony from Islamabad.
Then, Wahid suggested that Skype might work as an alternative to the Internet video-conference feed.
Scola seemed flabbergasted: “I’m not going to do that. I’m not creating some kind of international incident. This is exactly what I was trying to avoid.”
Then, Wahid pointed a finger of blame at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami for killing the Internet connection: “I’m of the belief at this point that our government, through the prosecutors, is attempting to derail this process.”