The federal judge presiding over the Holy Land Foundation terror finance trial ordered his courtroom cleared of spectators Thursday as a secret agent for the Israeli Defense Forces took the stand.
The agent, referred to only by the pseudonym Major Lior, testified through a translator about a cache of documents, videos and posters that his team of commandos seized during raids on several charity committees in the Palestinian territories between 2002 and 2004.
Prosecutors say these zakat, or charity, committees are controlled by Hamas and contend that Holy Land’s support of them amounts to illegal support of terrorists.
No one was allowed to see the agent’s face except the judge, the jurors, the attorneys, the five defendants who helped organize Holy Land, and their immediate family members, who were allowed to remain in the courtroom. Everyone else went to an overflow courtroom with an audio-only feed.
Jurors were not shown the evidence, and the agent’s testimony was mostly limited to confirming the legitimacy of documents and tapes that the Israelis seized during the raids. He wasn’t questioned on their contents.
U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish said he would have to review before allowing the testimony into the record.
Even defense attorneys did not know the man’s true identity. The Israeli government allowed him to testify in an American courtroom only if his name and face were not made public.
The witness, one of two Israeli agents set to testify under similar security conditions, drew the ire of defense attorneys, who had complained to Judge Fish before the trial began that hiding the agents’ identities violates their clients’ Sixth Amendment rights to confront their accusers.
“The circumstances are rarer than a unicorn,” said Thomas Melsheimer, a former Dallas federal prosecutor.
“It is highly unusual for a witness to take the stand under these circumstances,” he said. “The closest analogy I could make would be to some of the Mafia trials where a witness might have a shielded identity. It makes it extraordinarily difficult for the defense to cross-examine him in any meaningful way.”