US journalist testifies in Hamas trial

Reporter Miller: No sign Israelis tortured Palestinian-American suspect in '93.

miller, judith 298 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
miller, judith 298 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Former New York Times journalist Judith Miller told a US federal court jury Monday how she secretly witnessed the 1993 interrogation by Israeli agents of a Palestinian-American grocer charged with providing money and recruits to a terrorist group. Miller, who was Cairo bureau chief of The New York Times at the time, said Muhammad Salah's lawyer told her that he had been tortured by Israeli agents at the interrogation center but she saw no evidence of that. "He was boasting, he was jaunty, there was no reason to believe that he had been subjected to that kind of treatment," Miller testified. Salah, 53, and former university professor Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, were charged in a federal racketeering indictment with providing money and fresh recruits to Hamas in its campaign to topple the Israeli government. The two men have said they merely were trying to help impoverished Palestinians suffering under the IDF's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They deny that they are Hamas members or support any form of terrorism. Salah was arrested in Israel in January 1993 and served four and a half years in Israeli prisons before his release and return to Chicago. He claims that he was deprived of sleep, hooded and forced to sit in a tiny chair with his hands cuffed behind his back before he made a series of statements to agents of the Shin Bet. Shin Bet interrogators using aliases and testifying before a courtroom cleared of spectators have said that Salah's statements were made voluntarily. Miller drew the national spotlight when she served 85 days in jail for civil contempt after refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in Washington's CIA leak investigation. She resigned from the Times in 2005. She testified that she flew to Israel in 1993 after reading about Salah's arrest and contacted aides to then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, whom she described as a longtime friend. Through Rabin and Shin Bet chief Yakov Perry, she was invited to visit the interrogation center in Ramallah, provided that she would not reveal in any article she wrote that she had been there and seen Salah questioned. She said that she agreed to that condition after checking with an editor. On cross-examination, she was asked which editor had approved. "I don't recall. We had a lot of editors, sir," she said. She also said that she could not remember whether she was allowed to use a tape recorder while watching the interrogation session on television from a room adjacent to where Salah was being questioned. She continued to say she could not remember after being reminded of a 1998 radio interview in which she said she had used a tape recorder. Miller said she was taken to the interrogation center because the Israelis wanted her to write about Salah. He allegedly had already confessed that money to finance Hamas was coming out of the United States and Israeli officials wanted to draw US attention to that. However, she said she was initially skeptical and believed that Salah might have been tortured into making such statements and was only willing to write a story after seeing him for herself under Israeli interrogation. "Was he handcuffed?" federal prosecutor Carrie E. Hamilton asked. "No," said Miller. She said she was "looking at him for any sign of torture," but that she saw nothing that raised such concerns. Defense attorneys repeatedly tried to portray her as biased in favor of Israel. "Have you ever been used as a Mossad asset?" asked Salah attorney Michael Deutsch, referring to the Israeli intelligence service. "No," Miller said. She left the courthouse in the company of a lawyer, refusing to stop to answer questions from reporters.