I for one do not really think the “new war” will be fought overseas. . . . I feel the real war is gonna be at home. We [hear] language about “finding their supporters and their organization.”. . . I fear that the government is going to use this as a pretext—and I’m going to say the I-word—to go after those groups and individuals who have stood up against the Israeli lobby in this country. They will use this as an opportunity to empanel grand juries, to go after financial records, to do everything they can to repay their friends in the Middle East. And we know who their friends are. . . .
—Radical attorney Stanley Cohen, speaking to Muslims in Passaic County, September 22
This is the kind of Israel bashing that infuriates the Jewish Defense Organization, a band of anti-Arab and anti-black extremists who once called for the assassination of the Reverend Al Sharpton. But because it is illegal for the JDO to openly sanction the murder of people like Cohen, it has spewed the type of incendiary rhetoric that could get him killed in the wake of the outrage over the terrorist attack on America.
Last week, after the Voice first reported that Cohen might defend Saudi Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden—if he is captured and brought to justice for the massacre at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—the JDO left a threatening outgoing message about Cohen on the group’s answering machine. Although the message stops short of calling on supporters to exact “infinite justice”—what the Bush administration has promised to deliver to the terrorists it suspects are behind the suicide bombings—it makes plain the fate the JDO wishes would befall Cohen.
This is what callers will hear on the two-minute-long recording:
A vicious bombing by Arab and Muslim terrorists against America, the same Arab and Muslim terrorists that want to destroy Israel and also want to destroy America. And yet an attorney by the name of Stanley Cohen, a self-hating Jew, may become the lawyer, and offering to be the lawyer for Bin Laden, the Arab terrorist. Stanley Cohen defended Hamas terrorists and now is defending Bin Laden. Stanley Cohen’s office, for your information, is located at [address deleted], and that’s in Manhattan. His office number is [deleted]. Stanley Cohen is a traitor to the Jews. He is a traitor to America and all the victims of the World Trade Center bombing, all those innocent people of all different backgrounds. Their fingers point at this greedy pig, Cohen, and they scream out for justice.
Boycott! Don’t ever use Stanley Cohen as an attorney. Spread the word about what he is. Give his phone number to all your friends. . . . Stanley Cohen, self-hating Jew. Stanley Cohen, traitor to America. Stanley Cohen, traitor to Israel. Stanley Cohen, garbage that needs to be swept into the bag and run out of town, permanently, legally, and effectively. Stanley Cohen must be driven from New York, legally and effectively. Jewish Defense Organization intends to do it.
The ponytailed Cohen, who believes that his detractor, a male JDO member, is “in need of some major doses of Thorazine and a good shrink,” considered the threat serious enough to file a complaint with the FBI. It mirrors a similar one that three Washington, D.C.-based Muslim organizations lodged with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, alleging that the JDO’s virulent criticism of Cohen amounted to a hate crime. “They, Jews themselves, are targeting me as a Jew, in violation of the law,” asserts the 47-year-old Cohen, who has skirmished with the JDO before. In 1995, while Cohen was defending Hamas political leader Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, about six angry JDO members swooped down on the attorney’s Lower East Side office. As Cohen recalls, “They basically were confronted by about 50 of my clients from the projects and they ran home quickly.”
Cohen claims that after his picture appeared in the Voice, and after the JDO recorded the voice-mail message, he began “receiving hundreds of phone threats, including faxed threats from Israel.” He said that during his defense of Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, he got about a dozen faxed threats from Israel; this time he received half that amount. The venomous protests call for this “self-hating Jew” to be “blown up” and “thrown out with the rest of the Arab trash you represent.” Cohen has hardened in the face of the threats. “If Osama bin Laden arrived in the United States today and asked me to represent him, sure I’d represent him,” he vows.
Last Saturday, leaders at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in New Jersey introduced Stanley Cohen to about 300 bewildered Muslims by playing the JDO’s wild threat to get rid of him. Cohen tried to mask his nervousness with humor. “I’m not sure what I can say after that wonderful greeting by my friend on the phone,” he says referring to the male voice on the JDO’s answering machine. “I hope he has a sister. I can marry her and call him brother-in-law.”
The Muslims—men, women, and boys—chuckled. But amid the FBI’s wide-ranging investigation of their community’s suspected involvement in the September 11 attacks, what the Muslims of Passaic County had invited Cohen to talk to them about was no laughing matter. The FBI seems to be hauling in any Arab or Muslim with ties to Bin Laden’s associates. Hundreds of people nationwide are being questioned or held on immigration charges. Many of the Passaic County Muslims feared agents would be knocking on their doors next, and wanted to know about specific rights they once enjoyed under the Constitution. Cohen told them they did not have to cooperate with the FBI, federal prosecutors, or police. But if subpoenaed by a grand jury, they must respond.
According to Cohen, the typical FBI approach is, “This is a horrible crime. We know all of you are offended. We know all of you want to help us to rid America of terrorists, because terrorists make you look bad.” Some Muslims tape-recorded Cohen’s remarks; others took notes. Even the most intense FBI probes, Cohen charged, never violate the sanctity of houses of worship. “They’ve never done that at Saint Paddy’s, they’ve never done it in my synagogue,” he said. “They do it at mosques.”
The bottom line, the lawyer emphasized, is to shut up. “If you tell them things that are inconsistent with information that others provide, you could end up not [being] charged with any other underlying crime, but arrested and indicted for perjury or obstruction of justice,” he warned. “That’s how many people in your community have been singled out in the last 10 years—not because they’ve committed crimes, but because people forget things, people’s memories fail.”
If the agents persist, ask them to put their questions in writing, Cohen advised. “They don’t do that, because there [would be] a record of the truth, and they don’t want a record of the truth,” he alleged. Contact a lawyer, the attorney added. “I suspect that once you see the questions, you’re gonna realize this has very little to do with these horrible crimes but much more to do with spying on your community,” he said.
But the FBI has argued that its broad sweep of Arab and Muslim communities yields crucial evidence. Agents in a Dallas suburb arrested a Palestinian whose name turned up in the address book of of Wadih el Hage, a former personal secretary to Bin Laden. Ghassan Dahduli is appealing an immigration court deportation ruling for obtaining a work visa through fraud, authorities said. Dahduli’s name surfaced in records introduced at El Hage’s trial earlier this year. El Hage and three other Bin Laden disciples were convicted of conspiring to murder Americans.
Cohen dredged up the case of El Hage and Moataz Al-Hallak to illustrate his argument about guilt by association. He recalled that prosecutors tried to suggest there was a money-laundering conspiracy involving El Hage and Al-Hallak, a Texas-based imam whom he represented last week during questioning by a federal prosecutor in Washington.
“How were [El Hage and Al-Hallak] connected?” Cohen asked with a hint of sarcasm. “Really sinister.” Cohen said that after El Hage was involved in a car accident several years ago, he won a $10,000 settlement from the insurance company. He decided to return to the Sudan and appointed Al-Hallak power of attorney. As requested, Al-Hallak accepted the check, put it in an account, wrote a check out to El Hage, and mailed it to him. “The story was that Moataz had sent money to Osama bin Laden,” Cohen scoffed. “For a guy who’s got $300 million, he needed the $10,000 from an insurance settlement.”
Cohen also told the story of the FBI’s attempt to link Al-Hallak to terrorists who may have tried to use a crop duster to wage chemical and biological warfare against the U.S. On Sunday, the government grounded crop-dusting planes across the country. It was the second time that agricultural pilots had been told not to fly since the attacks. Responding to questions about the latest grounding, the FBI said that it was one of the steps the bureau has taken out of “an abundance of caution” and “in reaction to every bit of information and threats received during the course of this investigation.”
Three Middle Eastern men inquired about crop-duster planes during visits earlier this year to a single-runway airport in Belle Glade, Florida, The Washington Post reported Sunday night on its Web site. One of the men has since been identified as Mohamed Atta, believed to be one of the suicide hijackers in the terrorist attacks. The Post also reported that government investigators found a manual on crop dusters among the possessions of Zacarias Moussaoui, who currently is in federal custody.
Cohen said that about three years ago someone approached Al-Hallak, asking for his help in hiring a pilot to fly a crop duster for an agricultural project run by the then Sudan-based Bin Laden. Al-Hallak, according to Cohen, had no such contacts. But a few weeks later, Al-Hallak was introduced to someone who had some pilot training. He said Al-Hallak gave the pilot the name of the man who was spearheading Bin Laden’s crop-dusting project. “Well, the two men got together,” Cohen recalled. “They essentially turned this crop duster into a plane that somehow made it across to the Middle East. Although it broke down in Canada for six weeks, and in Britain for six weeks, the plane, eventually, with God as my witness, crashed of its own weight crop-dusting in the Sudan. That’s the connection! The air force of Osama bin Laden.”
In the aftermath of the attacks, a top FBI agent told reporters that the agency was looking for Moataz Al-Hallak for questioning. During his speech to the Muslims in Passaic County, Cohen maintained that agents knew all along where to find his client. “For days, they disseminated misinformation,” he charged. After refusing to allow the FBI to interrogate Al-Hallak, Cohen spent six days “begging” federal prosecutors to intervene.
“I said, ‘Moataz wants to talk to you. This is a horrible crime. He wants to help,’ ” Cohen remembered. “I said, ‘Gimme a subpoena.’ No subpoena was issued. Everyone said, ‘We’ll get back to you.’ But no one returned calls.” Last week, Cohen took Al-Hallak to Washington. He presented the imam to the media and released a four-page letter he had written to Assistant U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks, renewing Al-Hallak’s offer to be interviewed by prosecutors. On his way back to New York, Cohen received a call from Patrick Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney who had grilled Al-Hallak before a grand jury in connection to the deadly embassy bombings in Africa.
Fitzgerald invited Cohen and Al-Hallak back to Washington. “We spent three hours, just sitting with prosecutors, no FBI, as was his right,” Cohen told the Muslims in Passaic. “As I had suspected, 95 percent of the interrogation had nothing to do with this crime. It was general intelligence information he wanted about the community, about organizations overseas. Yes, there were some questions about this horrible crime, and yes, Moataz was shown 20 photographs and asked: Did he know anyone? No. Had he ever spoken to anyone? No.” He said that after viewing the pictures, Al-Hallak burst into tears. “They’re children,” Cohen quoted the imam as saying. “They’re children, these boys.”
The feds, Cohen bragged, had nothing on Al-Hallak. “We left,” he said. “The No. 1 terrorist that everyone in the country was hot to find, and to interrogate, and to jail, walked out—not arrested, not charged, not subpoenaed, back home with his family.”
The JDO HAS a history of issuing vicious threats. In 1991, lawyers for the Reverend Al Sharpton accused JDO leader Mordechai Levy of calling for the death of the civil rights activist. Levy had erroneously blamed Sharpton of inciting attacks on Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights. At the time, Levy’s attorney denied the allegations. Now the JDO wants to strong-arm Stanley Cohen and run him out of town—a tactic that should attract the attention of the new Office of Homeland Security. But Cohen, whose clientele includes accused cop-shooters and drug-dealing gangstas, has all the protection he needs. In Loisaida, where la familia watches Cohen’s back, the JDO is persona non grata.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 25, 2001