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Saturday, March 22, 2008

US government may be in trouble over AIPAC prosecuation case

Was the US prosecution of AIPAC officials a big mistake?
Last update - 07:03 22/03/2008

 U.S. govt. to appeal ruling on classified material in AIPAC trial 
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspondent 
Two former pro-Israel lobbyists charged with violating Espionage Act by revealing info to Israeli diplomats. 
Friday afternoon is not the best time for major news developments, but in the case of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) trial it seems to have become a habit.

For those who might have forgotten by now, the case is about two former AIPAC lobbyists, charged by the government with violating the Espionage Act, a legislation from the time of World War I, by revealing information to journalists and Israeli diplomats.

This classified information, acquired by Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman in the course of conversing with American officials, dealt mainly with the sensitive topics of Iran and Iraq.

The most tantalizing decision made in this case came a while ago, when the judge ruled that the defense will be able to subpoena a group of senior Bush administration officials.

This group includes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, the new Deputy at State William Burns, former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith and others.

The government was not happy about it, but the legal proceedings kept going toward the target date - not the first one, as the judge had to push back the trial date many times in the past - April 29. But on Friday a new development threatened to extend the trial into the future.

This has been going on for quite a while now. It was 2004 when federal agents knocked on Rosen's door in Silver Spring, informing him that he plays a role in this criminal case.

So what happened Friday? That's the easy part: the prosecutors informed the court that they might be appealing a decision the judge made. The government has around ten days to decide.

However, the important issue at hand is the reason for the decision to appeal. On Thursday, the judge submitted his decision regarding one of the most crucial elements of this trial. That is, what classified material will be revealed and used in the course of the public legal proceedings. The defense was quite satisfied with his ruling, but the prosecution seems to be very discontent. The government wanted as little revealed as possible in the trial, but the judge, again, was giving the defense what he felt was necessary in order for them to present their case.

Similar to what happened with the senior officials who might be required to testify, the ruling on the classified information presents the government with a challenge that is very hard to overcome. Many observers in Washington have already concluded that this trial was a huge mistake on the part of the government, but now it seems to have become even more complicated: officials on the stand revealing how foreign policy debates are conducted and classified material that the government wants to keep secret has been revealed. No wonder a decision to appeal was made.

The question is what's next? What if the appeal does not convince the courts to change course?

Abe Lowell, the attorney representing Rosen, told Haaretz today that "It now appears that the government does not want to try this case". He believes that the problem is leadership. No one seems to be able to master "the authority or the courage" needed in order to "admit that they've made a mistake". Lowell also wanted to emphasize the fact that "these delays are terrible on the lives of the defendants".

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