Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Shin Bet agents to testify at US trial

From Reuters:

Israel will send two Shin Bet security agents to testify at the U.S. trial of a Palestinian immigrant who says he was forced to confess to terrorism charges while in Israeli custody, Israeli security sources said on Wednesday.

Their testimony would be the first public discussion in a foreign forum by serving members of the Israeli agency, whose covert tactics have drawn censure from civil liberties groups.

Officially known as the Israeli Security Agency, the Shin Bet carries out counter-terrorism and counter-espionage missions within the Jewish state and Israeli-occupied territory.

The agents are to appear in connection with a case against Mohammed Salah, who was charged last year in a U.S. court with two other Palestinian immigrants with a racketeering conspiracy to funnel money to the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Salah, an Illinois resident of West Bank descent, served a five-year prison sentence in Israel during the 1990s on charges of funding Hamas, which is sworn to the Jewish state's destruction and has carried out scores of suicide bombings.

Salah's lawyer, Michael Deutsch, said in Chicago that the Israeli agents would likely testify during a two-week pretrial hearing scheduled to begin there March 6. At issue in the hearing is whether a confession Salah gave to Israeli interrogators was coerced, and thus should not be used against him by U.S. prosecutors.

"The burden is on the U.S. government to show that his statements were given freely and voluntarily. We've alleged that they were given under coercion," he said.

Deutsch also said Israeli officials asked for "special procedures to protect the agents" when they testify but it was not specified what they were seeking and the judge overseeing the case will determine the guidelines.

He said they should be treated no differently than any witness in a U.S. court. The trial itself is not scheduled to begin until late next year.

The Shin Bet agreed for its agents to testify in the Salah case after being promised that their identities would not be published, Israeli security sources said.