I knew this was the case of a lifetime. It was a career maker.
USA Kenith Bell
There was no proof he [Mohamad] raised funds for violent Hezbollah activity.
The actual crime committed here was not as serious as other terrorism cases; it was not a crime of violence or a potential conspiracy to commit violence.
Trial Judge Mullen
The government admits that the only source of information indicating that Hammoud was sending money to Hezbollah was Said Harb. Mr. Harb was described throughout the trial as untrustworthy, manipulative, a liar, and exaggerator – I have found no testimony in the record completing this chain that allegedly stretched from Hammoud to Harake (Hezbollah).
Appellate Judge Gregory
After years of extensive investigation before and after the arrest, the prosecutor could not charge Mohamad with material support to Hezbollah. However, when Said Harb pled guilty after the tragedy of September 11 (in exchange for a lucrative deal and agreement to testify against Mohamad), then Mohamad was charged with material support to Hezbollah. A few weeks thereafter, Mohamad went to trial.
During the trial, the atmosphere of the tragedy was palpable, and animosity toward Muslim and Middle Easterners was at its peak. Mr. Kenneth Bell, the lead prosecutor, was ready to retire his government job after 18 years. He saw Mohamad’s case as a “career maker.” Due to his seniority as a prosecutor, he had the privilege to select his cases for prosecution. Thus, he chose to end his career as a “champ” by selecting Mohamad’s case: “I knew this was the case of a lifetime. It was a career maker,” he later said in an interview to the author of Lightning Out of Lebanon. In absence of credible evidence to convict Mohamad on material support to Hezbollah charges, Mr. Bell, an experienced prosecutor and former United States congressional candidate, carefully manipulated his trial strategy to fit the country’s feeling after 9/11: fear, emotion, and patriotism, inside and outside the courthouse.
OUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE:
Since the beginning of the case and particularly after 9/11, the prosecutor inflamed the public and the potential jury. He consistently reminded the media of the unfortunate incidents of terrorism that occurred in Lebanon in the eighties when Mohamad was a child.
Additionally, to persuade the public and the jury that Mohamad was a “dangerous terrorist,” the courthouse security was beefed up in “Hollywood” style. It looked like a military zone: concrete barriers were set up, metal detectors were added, federal marshals with shotguns and assault rifles stood guard, the jurors were driven to the courthouse from a secret location by armed marshals, and their names were kept secret. Mohamad and his brother were driven to and from the courthouse in an armored truck escorted by police motorcade. Ironically, when the media was not present outside the courthouse, the security status of Mohamad and his brothers was lowered considerably, and they were driven to the courthouse in a van with other “ordinary” prisoners!
INSIDE THE COURTHOUSE:
Just in case the jury was not yet biased by the media and the highly visible security, the prosecutor played excerpts from documentaries in which protestors and Hezbollah members were chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” as a response to Israel’s bombing civilian targets in Lebanon. These excerpts were shown throughout the trial. Also, when Mohamad took the stand in his defense, the prosecutor asked him several times about the sad events that occurred in Lebanon in the early eighties when Mohamad was nine years old although these incidents have nothing to do with Mohamad’s case. Mohamad vehemently rejected terrorism; however, he acknowledged his admiration of Hezbollah’s charitable works and the liberation of Lebanon. As such, Mohamad was no different from most Lebanese citizens, be they Muslim or Christian.
The only evidence the government had that connected Mohamad to material support to Hezbollah ($3,500) was Said Harb’s word. Harb was described throughout the trial by the government’s own witnesses as a liar, a manipulator, an exaggerator, a person who would cheat and lie when it was in his interest [Harb quickly lived up to his reputation.] His testimony significantly contradicted itself and his previous statement to the FBI. For example:
a) Harb told the FBI that Mohamad gave him a First Union envelope that contained one cashier’s check in the amount of $3,500 intended for Harake. (Harake was a Hezbollah member and a friend of Mohamad).
b) Harb at the trial testified that Mohamad gave him two unknown checks in the amount of $3,500.
a) Harb told the FBI that he was supposed to deliver the check to Harake.
b) Harb at the trial testified that Mohamad told him not to deliver the checks to Harake.
a) Harb told the FBI that he delivered the envelope with the check to Mohamad’s mother.
b) Harb at the trial testified that he gave the checks to his own mother and told her to give them to Mohamad’s mother.
a) Harb told the FBI that in Lebanon he learned about Harake’s position in Hezbollah.
b) Harb at the trial testified that Mohamad told him about Harake’s position in Hezbollah.
Why did Harb shift his story tremendously, from one cashier’s check to two unknown checks, and from Harb delivering the envelope to Mohamad’s mother to delivering it to his own mother?
Harb at the trial could not explain why Mohamad would send $3,500 with him to Lebanon when Mohamad, 45 days earlier, had received $20,000 from his brother in Lebanon to support Mohamad’s new business. Harb claimed that he carried money from Mohamad to his family before, but Mohamad never told him how much because, according to Harb, “It was very, very private. You do not open the envelope. You do not ask. Whatever. I mean, for all I know it could be anything in the envelope.”
Why, in 1999, the date Harb claimed that Mohamad gave him the check[s], were the contents of the envelope not “very, very private”. Why would Mohamad tell him the amount and the type of the check[s] this time?
Moreover, Harb claimed that Mohamad told him he quit sending money to Harake after his sister’s death. Instead, Mohamad began sending the money to his deceased sister’s children, who needed the money. Mohamad’s sister died in 1998.
Why would Mohamad tell Harb that he quit sending money to Harake after his sister’s death but then turn around and send money with him to Harake after her death?
Most importantly, why didn’t the experienced prosecutor administer a polygraph exam to verify Said Harb’s claims when he was aware of Harb’s poor character and his crucial incentive to lie to avoid a life prison sentence?
Mohamad, on the other hand, offered to submit to a polygraph exam on many occasions to verify his truthfulness that he did not send money with Harb. Unfortunately, Mohamad’s offers were declined!
The truth is that Mr. Bell was unequivocally aware of Said’s substantial lies. However, due to his self-interest in the case -his career maker- he abandoned his responsibilities and sought a wrongful conviction rather than justice. Regarding this charge which brought the draconian sentence that Mohamad received, Appellate Judge Gregory stated in the first appeal:
“The government admits that the only source of information indicating that Hammoud was sending money to Hezbollah was Said Harb. Mr. Harb was described throughout the trial as untrustworthy, manipulative, a liar, and exaggerator- I have found no testimony in the record completing this chain that allegedly stretched from Hammoud to Harake(Hezbollah).”