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Goba Meets Padilla

An American who's admitted supporting al Qaeda and an American accused of doing so are going to meet face to face in a federal courtroom. One is a witness; the other is a defendant. One was detained as an "enemy combatant" for years; the other felt threatened with such treatment.

In Miami, Yahya Goba (far right defendant in above sketch), one of the "Buffalo Six," the six Yemeni-American men who attended an al Qaeda training camp in 2001, will take the stand in the trial of Jose Padilla as a government witness. Goba, now 30, has served almost half of his 10 year sentence for providing material support or resources -- consisting of himself -- to a designated terrorist organization.

Federal prosecutors will elicit testimony from Goba about al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan. But he is also being called for a much simpler task – to verify one of the government's key pieces of evidence against Padilla – the "mujahideen" (holy warrior) data form and de facto terror camp application that prosecutors say Padilla filled out in July 2000. To view application click here.

A CIA agent has already told the jury Padilla's form was obtained in December 2001 inside a blue binder containing 100 such typewritten applications. The cache of documents was a gift from an Afghan driving a pick-up truck, according to the agent, who delivered it to the U.S embassy in Islamabad for analysis. After a government fingerprint analyst testifies the document bears Padilla's prints, Goba is expected to testify he filled out the same type of form when he stayed at an al Qaeda guest house.

Goba and Co. attended the defunct basic training camp known as al Farooq, near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the summer of 2001, just a few months before al Qaeda orchestrated the September 11th terrorist attacks. In his guilty plea four years ago, Goba said he learned to fire Kalashnikov machine guns, M-16 rifles, a 9-millimeter handguns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, while receiving instruction in military tactics during his six week training, which he completed. Goba also saw and heard al Qaeda's leader, Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, speak about martyrdom and make anti-Israeli and anti-American statements, including his long-held view that U.S. troops should be driven out of Saudi Arabia, site of the holiest Muslim shrines in Mecca and Medina.

To the government, Goba's jihadist credentials are solid. In the Buffalo Six case, he was portrayed as a group leader who allowed an al Qaeda recruiter who paid for their travels to stay at his upstate New York home both before and after the illegal trip to Afghanistan. Goba and the other five convicts, sentenced to 7 to 10 years, are U.S. citizens of Yemeni descent who resided in Lackawanna, New York, a former steel town, five miles outside Buffalo, that has a large Yemeni community. The government suggested the men might have constituted a "sleeper cell," possibly waiting for orders to carry out some future attack in the United States, though prosecutors conceded there is no evidence of any such plan.

At the time of his March 2003 plea, Goba's defense attorney said the government had threatened him with tougher penalties for charges ranging from weapons violations to treason. Goba's attorney also feared President Bush could have declared him an "enemy combatant," removing him indefinitely to military detention, without representation, which is what happened to Padilla for three-and-half-years, from May 2002 until he was added to the Miami terrorism conspiracy indictment in November 2005. Goba's plea deal explicitly prohibited the government from declaring him an enemy combatant.

Judge Marcia Cooke warned the attorneys outside the jury's presence Tuesday: "no compare and contrast" of Goba vs. Padilla's treatment in government custody. Defense attorney Michael Caruso told Cooke, "I didn't imagine that whoever does Mr. Goba's cross-examination would stand up here and say, 'And you were promised that you would not be designated an enemy combatant like my client, Jose Padilla.'" Indeed, any mention of Padilla's one-time "enemy combatant" status and his alleged radioactive "dirty bomb" plot that provoked it is supposed to stay out of the jury's earshot

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