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Randall Hamud received two death threats last week. He has been getting them regularly for eight months now. Usually they come in e-mails or in messages left on his voice mail. “The police tell me you don’t have to worry about that kind,” Hamud says. “It’s the ones who don’t call you that you have to worry about.” Eight months ago, Hamud took on three clients who had been detained as material witnesses in the terrorism investigations. For the San Diego solo practitioner, it was the beginning of an enduring maelstrom. He now has added Aicha el-Wafi to his client roster. El-Wafi is the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, the French citizen being tried in federal court in Alexandria on charges of conspiring in the Sept. 11 hijackings, charges that could carry the death penalty. In April, Moussaoui’s case took a turn toward the bizarre when the defendant told U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema he wanted to represent himself at trial, accusing his veteran court-appointed lawyers of working for the government against his interests. In an hour-long speech in open court, Moussaoui said he wanted a Muslim attorney. Brinkema ordered a psychiatric examination, which was filed under seal last week apparently without Moussaoui’s cooperation. Meanwhile, his mother turned to Hamud in the hope that he could persuade her son to cooperate with his court-appointed attorneys and stop trying to represent himself. Hamud spent most of last week in the D.C. area, trying without success to meet with Moussaoui. Suddenly, Hamud was thrust into an unorthodox role in the high-profile case. He represents Moussaoui’s mother, and his job is to talk sense into her son. He does not have a formal role in Moussaoui’s defense, but says he would “listen” if the defense team or the court suggested some way in which he could participate. This is not the kind of matter Hamud is used to handling. He is a civil litigator, and aside from some employment cases that dealt with civil rights issues, Hamud has focused his practice on representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits. But the treatment of Arab-Americans and Muslims by the Justice Department since Sept. 11 awakened the activist in him. Says his friend Dan Winne, owner of Happy Trails horse rentals in San Diego: “He’s just so terrified that in the aftermath of all this people will have lost their civil rights because they don’t understand what is happening and they’ve given them up.” For Hamud, it all started on Sept. 21, when Osama Awadallah’s family, which had found Hamud’s name through the San Diego Arab-American community, called and asked him to represent the young man who had been detained as a material witness in the terrorism probe. When he went to meet his client, a prison guard sent in the wrong material witness detainee. And so Mohdar Abdullah became a client too. Two days later, he was asked to represent a third material witness, Yazeed Al-Salmi. Hamud called his first press conference on Sept. 24. Since then, he has been an unsparing critic of the government’s tactics in the war on terrorism. “They’ve loosed the running dogs of hatred and bigotry on Arabs and Muslims in this country. It’s diabolical. And it’s disappointing,” he says. “Thomas Paine would be in the mountains, locking and loading.” Hamud has helped win the release of two of his clients. Abdullah remains in jail in San Diego pending a July trial on immigration charges. Life didn’t used to be this way. The 56-year-old California native had a comfortable practice and few worries. About six years ago, he got interested in country dancing and horses and became co-owner of San Diego’s Canyonside Stables. He favors black cowboy boots, a Stetson hat, and has a deep respect for cowboy values of stalwart loyalty and integrity. Hamud was always politically active, but in a quiet way. He supported the civil rights movement and opposed the war in Vietnam. He has worked on a couple of San Diego mayoral campaigns and chairs the Arab-American Advisory Board for the San Diego Police Department. Not long after graduating from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law in 1970, he served as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles. Relatively anonymous last year, Hamud is now well-known enough to have attracted the attention of Moussaoui’s mother, who lives in France. “I was surprised when she called,” Hamud says. “But I thought, if I tell her no and I don’t go to see him [Moussaoui], and he’s executed. . . .” He pauses. “It was kind of a no-brainer.” Hamud says he has been given a Federal Bureau of Investigation security clearance to meet with Moussaoui and has been working with Moussaoui’s estranged defense lawyers. Barred from visiting her son, el-Wafi gave Hamud a letter to pass along. “It’s the most poignant letter between mother and son that I’ve ever read,” he says. But so far, Moussaoui refuses to see Hamud, or anyone else. “If [he] tries to represent himself, it will be a one-way ticket to the death chamber,” Hamud says. “What adds to the tragedy, in a sense, is that the government brought a death notice on such tenuous legal grounds.” The Justice Department declines comment. Hamud’s sudden metamorphosis into a high-profile advocate for civil rights came at a price. Before Sept. 11, says his friend Winne, he “was just another American. Now he’s singled out as an Arab-American” for death threats. And these changes came when Hamud, who is Muslim, was having some midlife thoughts about his own beliefs. “I was having serious questions of faith, frankly,” he says. “Since that time, I have, by necessity, refreshed and learned anew about the Islamic faith in dealing with my clients,” he says. “A basic tenet of the faith is that no Muslim dies before his or her time to die. You die when God says you die. I was taught that as a kid and I think that’s one reason that the death threats don’t concern me in the sense that in knowing this, I continue to have the strength to do what I do.” OPENING THE BRIG For the past eight weeks, Yaser Esam Hamdi, 21, has been sitting in the brig at the Navel Station in Norfolk, Va. He hasn’t been charged with a crime, nor has he been allowed to meet with a lawyer. The U.S. citizen, dubbed by the press the “Cajun Taliban” because of his birth in Louisiana, was captured by Northern Alliance soldiers in Afghanistan last November and transferred sometime after that to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He arrived in Norfolk on April 5. Last week, U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that Hamdi could meet with attorneys in the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District. The judge said the meeting could occur as early as 1 p.m. on June 1 if the government does not first have his ruling reversed. Doumar also gave the government until June 13 to explain why it is holding Hamdi. In court, Doumar termed “idiotic” the government’s argument that as a captured enemy combatant who has not been charged with any crimes, Hamdi has no right to a lawyer and may be held indefinitely. Federal Public Defender Frank Dunham Jr. filed a habeas corpus petition on Hamdi’s behalf early last month at the behest of Hamdi’s family. Born in Baton Rouge, La., and raised in Saudi Arabia, Hamdi holds both U.S. and Saudi citizenship. Prosecutors were expected to appeal Doumar’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit but had not done so by press time. LINDH’S UNUSUAL DISCOVERY Meanwhile, John Walker Lindh’s defense team wants a word with Hamdi. The lawyers believe he may have information helpful to their case. Although they still have a remote chance of interviewing Hamdi, their chances of directly questioning 20 Guantanamo Bay detainees who may provide exculpatory information about their client were dashed last week by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. Lindh’s attorneys argued that they needed to speak with the prisoners to prepare an adequate defense for their 21-year-old client, who faces an Aug. 26 trial on charges he conspired to kill American citizens. Prosecutors countered that such questioning would pose a security risk and disrupt ongoing interrogations. On May 28, Ellis ruled that government interrogators could weave questions provided by Lindh’s lawyers into the course of their ongoing interviews with the Guantanamo Bay detainees. The detainees won’t know that the questions came from lawyers trying to defend the former Taliban soldier. A team of government attorneys will act as a “fire wall,” reviewing the defense’s questions and flagging any national security concerns or objections. The group of screeners will include Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura Ingersoll and Steve Pelak, both of the District of Columbia, and two Department of Defense lawyers yet to be identified. Ingersoll helped prosecute convicted double agent Robert Hanssen. She and Pelak will be supervised by William Blier, a supervisory assistant U.S. attorney in the District. The prosecutors presenting the government’s case in court will have no access to the defense’s questions or the fire-wall team’s findings. Ellis will make the final decision as to which questions are asked of the detainees. At a May 28 hearing, Judge Ellis said the Fifth Amendment does not “mandate face-to-face contact with potential witnesses in every case.” Ellis warned prosecutors, though, that during trial Lindh will have the right to call prisoners as witnesses and the government will have to “make a choice” of whether prosecuting Lindh is worth letting the prisoners testify.

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