BOSTON – A Massachusetts man is asking a judge to dismiss portions of charges accusing him of providing support to al-Qaida, arguing that most of his activities amounted to free speech protected by the First Amendment.
Lawyers for Tarek Mehanna are expected to make the arguments Wednesday during a hearing in U.S. District Court. Mehanna, an American citizen from the wealthy Boston suburb of Sudbury, is accused in a 2010 indictment of conspiring to kill American troops in Iraq.
In a motion to dismiss the parts of the charges that are based on speech protected by the First Amendment, Mehanna's lawyers say he watched movies, translated texts and talked with people about controversial topics inherent in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They say his speech was "at worst, political hyperbole."
"This is not the kind of speech that would lead listeners to immediately engage in violence or lawless action. The indictment attests to the fact that the defendant's speech led to absolutely nothing," attorneys J.W. Carney Jr. and Janice Bassil argue in the motion.
Prosecutors, however, say Mehanna traveled to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp and supported terrorist groups by translating videos and textbooks intended to encourage others to participate in Muslim holy war, or jihad. They say that Mehanna, though unsuccessful in getting training in a camp, committed a crime by being part of a conspiracy to provide support to a terrorist organization.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. also plans to hear arguments Wednesday on a request by prosecutors to not release certain evidence against Mehanna.to his lawyers.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. argued in court documents that evidence gathered through electronic surveillance and physical searches under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act should be reviewed by the judge privately and not turned over to the defense because the disclosure of "top secret" materials could harm national security.
"The FISA Materials contain sensitive and classified information concerning United States intelligence sources and methods and other information related to efforts of the United States to conduct counterterrorism investigations, including the manner and means by which those investigations are conducted," Holder stated in a memo filed in court last month.
Mehanna in scheduled to go on trial in October on charges that include conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and making false statements.