On that chilly day three years ago when Hammoudeh was arrested, two FBI agents handcuffed him and drove him to FBI headquarters for questioning. Hammoudeh said the agents told him he was not their target, but that they wanted him to aid their investigation. They asked him to provide information about how he helped Sami Al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida, get money to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad after 1994.
The U.S. government has designated the PIJ a terrorist organization. The group has claimed responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of people in Israel and the occupied territories.
In 1995, it became illegal for people in the United States to provide funds, goods or services to the organization. Because Hammoudeh worked with Al-Arian, prosecutors focused on money Hammoudeh was sending to the occupied territories, in an attempt to link Al-Arian to the PIJ after 1994. Hammoudeh's indictment accused him of "transferring monies and funds . . . for the purpose of promoting PIJ activities."
Summaries of the wiretapped conversations that the government used to justify this accusation seem to undercut the charges.
Here are three excerpts, chosen from more than a dozen similar examples in the indictment, that show what the government chose to include from the tech cuts in building a case that Hammoudeh's activities are linked to the PIJ:
From the indictment: "On Dec. 20, 1999, defendant Sameeh Hammoudeh used his residence telephone line to call his father, who is in the occupied territories of Israel. In this conversation, Sameeh Hammoudeh indicated to his father that he raised some money and will be receiving more. He also told his father he will be sending him $1,000 to distribute."
From the FBI tech cut, the source for this Dec. 20, 1999, conversation: "Sameeh told his father, "I would like you to spend, give a thousand and when I get someone traveling to the homeland I will send it to you with him."'
"His father said he would "distribute it to the people or give it to the Kaffiat,"' believed to be an institution for the blind and/or disabled in the area.
Hammoudeh replied: "There are orphans in the Family Welfare Organization. Give them. They are also an institution."
A second example from the indictment: "On or about Dec. 29, 1999, Sameeh Hammoudeh called his father who was overseas. Sameeh Hammoudeh asked his father to distribute money, and Sameeh Hammoudeh said he would reimburse him by sending money overseas via courier."
From the tech cut of this same Dec. 29, 1999, conversation: "Hammoudeh asked his father to give the funds to those in need, especially the orphans. His father said that he will give it to the orphans, the family sponsorship society and the disable (sic) and/or blind society."
A third example from the indictment: "On or about Feb. 22, 1995, . . . Sameeh Hammoudeh . . . received a facsimile at WISE (a think tank where he worked that was created by Al-Arian and affiliated with the University of South Florida) . . . from Fathi Shikaki (the head of the PIJ in Damascus, Syria)." From the tech cuts: The receiving phone number is (813) 989-xxxx.
According to the tech cut index, that was the phone number for the Tampa home of Ramadan Shallah, who also worked at WISE. The PIJ faxes were not sent to WISE or to Sameeh Hammoudeh. They were sent from PIJ headquarters to Shallah's home. (Editor's note: We have omitted the last four digits because the number is no longer issued to Shallah, and may belong to someone else.)
Shallah worked at WISE until May 1995. He left Florida and became the leader of the PIJ in October 1995 in Syria after the death of Shikaki.
A year and a half after Hammoudeh was arrested, prosecutors acknowledged the phone number in the faxes was Shallah's and dropped the eight counts associated with the error. But the misinformation, contradicted by the tech cuts, was among the justifications used for arresting Hammoudeh.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment on repeated contradictions between information in the indictment and the tech cuts, the source material for the indictment. But former FBI agent and federal prosecutor Todd Foster didn't.
Foster, now a Tampa criminal defense attorney, was part of the defense team in a high-profile 1997 case, which, like the case against Hammoudeh, was built on secret surveillance of the defendants' conversations.
In the Aisenberg case, a Valrico couple reported their baby girl, Sabrina, missing. Hillsborough County sheriff's investigators planted secret listening devices in the couple's home and based the indictment on their conversations. But a federal judge said many of the surveillance tapes were largely inaudible, and that investigators had misled authorities about what they contained in order to justify arresting the parents. The case crumbled.
Foster called the Aisenberg case "a shocking example of how wiretap information in an indictment can be full of missing statements, statements taken out of context and false statements."
He said, however, that he doesn't think such distortions are common: "But when it happens rarely, that's too often. Whether reckless or deliberate, it's wrong."
Wednesday, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer brought papers to Hammoudeh's cell at the Manatee County Jail. They said, "ICE has made the decision to continue your detention."
Federal prosecutors have a Monday deadline to file documents explaining why. Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore will preside over a habeas corpus hearing for Hammoudeh, where his attorneys will argue that his continued incarceration is unconstitutional.
"I am hopeful," Hammoudeh said. "I can't say why after this long nightmare. But I am."