Terror trial judge faults destruction of telephone tapes
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The judge in the terror conspiracy trial of Ahmed Ressam said Tuesday he was troubled by the destruction of tapes of telephone intercepts by a Canadian agency and the refusal of an agent involved to testify.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour commented outside the jury’s presence before resumption of testimony in the trial of the Algerian man accused of bringing explosives from Canada to the United States in December 1999, just before millennium celebrations.
The judge had asked to see copies of the intercepts, which reportedly contain references to Ressam. When Coughenour took the bench he said, ”I’m very troubled that the tape recordings don’t exist anymore. Apparently that’s the Canadian way of doing things.
”I’m also concerned that the person who heard what was said is unwilling to have his or her identity revealed or to sit on this witness stand.”
He said the Canadians were refusing to cooperate in providing testimony from the member of a security agency which was not identified.
”I find the Canadian stand is totally unacceptable,” he said.
”They may have their own reasons but we’re not running a Canadian trial,” the judge added.
The judge dismissed suggestions that the agent might testify via videotape and in silhouette with his or her identity undisclosed.
”I don’t think any American judge would let these tapes in evidence,” he said.
In other developments, the judge excused a juror who sent him a note during the morning. The only indication was that the juror didn’t feel well enough to continue serving. She was replaced by a woman alternate.
In testimony, Canadian forensic expert Karen Ohashi said she found particles of urea and aluminum sulfate in a suitcase linked to a motel room that Ressam occupied in Vancouver before crossing the border.
The two chemicals, used in fertilizer, can also be components of explosives.
The witness said, however, that no particles were found anywhere in the motel room where authorities claim Ressam and fugitive co-defendant Abdelmajid Dahoumane made explosives for transfer to the United States.
Ressam arrived at Port Angeles, Wash., by ferry on Dec. 14, 1999. He fled on foot when U.S. Customs agents stopped his car, but was arrested after a chase.
Prosecutors say the explosives and timers were found in his car. They have told the jury they do not intend to prove specific sites were targeted, but have presented testimony indicating Ressam was interested in airports and landmark buildings.
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