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Potential terror jurors cite 9/11 doubts

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By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer
Thu May 3, 2:31 PM ET

Many potential jurors in the Jose Padilla terrorism-support case say they aren’t
sure who directed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because they don’t trust reporters
or the federal government.

“There are too many ifs, too many things going on,” one male juror
said. “I don’t know the whole story.”

Others say they just don’t pay close enough attention to world events to be
certain.

“I’m oblivious to that stuff,” one prospective female juror said
during questioning this week. “I don’t watch the news much. I try to avoid
it.”

The doubts were noted by a significant portion of the more than 160 people
who have been questioned individually since jury selection in the case began
April 16.

Padilla and two co-defendants are charged with being part of a North American
support cell for Islamic extremists. A jury is expected to be seated next week,
with testimony to begin May 14.

Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant, is accused
of applying for an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. He was previously
accused of an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb”
in a U.S. city, but that allegation is not part of the Miami case.

Before they came to court, each of the jurors filled out a 115-question form
asking about a wide range of legal, political and religious topics, particularly
their views of Arabs, Muslims and Islamic radicals. On question No. 60, which
asks for an opinion about responsibility for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, many
people said they don’t know.

“I’ve been surprised at the number of our jurors who don’t have an opinion
about 9/11,” U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who is presiding over the
case and asks most of the juror questions, said Wednesday.

The questionnaires were used to weed out dozens of people with obvious biases
or personal hardships before the face-to-face interviews began, meaning many
potential jurors with strong views about Sept. 11 never made it to court because
their ability to be impartial was in question.

A cottage industry of conspiracy theorists has sprung up among academics and
others who claim such things as that the U.S. was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks,
or that explosives planted inside the World Trade Center towers brought the
buildings down rather than the jetliners that crashed into them.

In the Padilla case, what’s notable is not so much conspiracy theories as the
lack of any views at all.

To be sure, most jurors without a Sept. 11 opinion are aware that the attacks
have been blamed on terrorists of some sort. But many seem unwilling to blame
al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden — the conclusion reached by the
national Sept. 11 Commission and the Bush administration and widely reported
by news media.

One female juror agreed that was a “general public consensus” but
still held out skepticism.

“I don’t have an opinion. I don’t tend to trust the news media,”
she said.

Many jurors seem to be unwilling to state the al-Qaida connection as fact because
they don’t have firsthand knowledge. An older male juror said he answered “al-Qaida
and bin Laden” on his questionnaire because “that was what the news
said.”

“I really can’t say who did it,” said the man, who was not being
identified because Cooke has prohibited publication of jurors’ names.

Samuel Terilli, a journalism professor at the University of Miami and former
general counsel at The Miami Herald, said that hesitancy often comes naturally
when people are asked for their opinions in an official setting, such as federal
court.

“You have a tendency among some people when they are called to jury duty
to heighten their skepticism about what they have read or watched, and also
they have a desire to be more neutral,” Terilli said. “People are
on guard too much.”

Some people say they don’t necessarily believe the U.S. government’s statements
about Sept. 11, with many of those people citing the faulty intelligence and
misinformation about weapons of mass destruction that led to the U.S. invasion
of Iraq and the toppling of President Saddam Hussein.

“It could have been Saddam Hussein. It could have been bin Laden. I really
don’t know who,” one woman said.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.

Source URL: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070503/ap_on_re_us/padilla_terror_charges_1