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Hezbollah Trial As UN Allows In Terrorist Scribes Who Text Names For Honor Killings

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Maxwell Book
BBC-Guardian UK - Honduras - ESPN NY Mag

LITERARY UN / SDNY April 30 – Alexi Saab didn't look like much of a threat, there at the defense table with two US Marshals behind him.

  His lawyer Marlon Kirton had a question for Judge Gardephe. Could he get a standing order at least that Alexi got his glasses each day to come to court?

  Things were still in jury selection. It began with 122 prospective jurors. Many however said in writing in the questionnaire that they hated terrorists and could not, they said, be fair.

They were excused. Maybe they'd shift over to the more boring trial taking place two stories below, of US Airways against the Sabre flight ticketing system. Maybe would would be given the heebie-jeebies by that one too.

  Kurt Wheelock was covering both trials, or trying to. The US Air he was doing for money,  the Hezbollah for love or something like it. Ever since he had been thrown out of the United Nations as he asked about their laxness on genocide (like today in Ukraine) and terrorism and sexual abuses, from Haiti to Ghislaine Maxwell, he had looked for other ways to continue to cover or say he could cover international affairs.

  The Federal court provided that way. There were cases against countries' mission to the UN, for not upkeeping their tax free buildings in Turtle Bay, like Sierra Leone, or ripping off their architects and contractors, like Senegal.

There were cases about sanctions - Virgil Griffin and North Korea, Turkey's Halkbank, and now collections cases against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

  But Alexi Saab's was accused of straight terrorism, or at least, of scouting out targets for Hezbollah to attack. He'd gone up to Boston to scope out Fenway Park - Kurt found this funny, as a Yankee fan - and the Grand Central and the UN four blocks East here in New York, natch.

The prosecutors said the trial would take two weeks. Between or beyond the air ticket monopoly snooze fest on the first floor, Kurt Wheelock was all in. Where would it lead him?

* * * 

    The government's case against Alexi Saab was top heavy with dry tech witnesses. The documents custodian of Google. The woman who responded to subpoenas for Microsoft. But then there was the honor killing.

  Really, it was an attempt to avoid or discourage an honor killing. There was  woman - Kurt decided to call her Lama - with whom Alexi had had a relationship. She became relevant to the prosecution against him because of text messages turned over by the aforesaid dry tech witnesses.

  But she had married another man, apparently more violent than Alexi. And now they said that if her name was said or even shown in open court, she could be subject to abuse and even an honor killing.

  "It's a small town in Lebanon," the AUSA said. "Everyone knows everyone."

   Judge Gardephe proposed they call her L.J. and make no other changes to the text message that the jury would see. I'm not going to monkey with the witnesses, Judge Gardephe said. He sounded annoyed, as he had during the Michael Avenatti NIKE trial which Kurt had also covered.

  Kurt decided to voluntarily not public the name he had heard in open court, when it was too late to really seal it. He had done the same, for a time, with the Larry Ray trial exhibit which listed the clients or Johns of Claudia Drury, violently forced into prostitution by Larry Ray.

They didn't do honor killings at Sarah Lawrence College. But the small town in Lebanon that had been mentioned, Kurt had heard of it before. From Hezbollah TV's man inside the UN, then and now. Kurt had a plan.

* * *

     The SDNY prosecutors had an FBI agent who knew all about Hezbollah, he said. But they said not to ask him about non-public information. So he replied again and again, Yes I read that in a report. Does Iran support Hezbollah? I read that in a report.

   Next up would be another Hezbollah expert, but a more public one - a podcaster, in fact, like Kurt. This Levitt had testified as well in the Kourani that Kurt had covered before SDNY Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, leading to a long, long sentence. Kourani's lawyer afterward had told Kurt they would definitely appeal. Had they? Kurt would have to check.

   Things with the prosecutors were getting dicey. Kurt dropped Saab's trial to run to their office for a press conference about the belated arrest of Archegos' Bill Hwang. He took from still photos from the back for Alamy, then moved up to ask a question. The spokesman saw him and nodded, You're next. Then gave the question to another. A CJA lawyer, formerly Federal Defenders, emailed him to ask if he thought Saab might be found not guilty. He stared at his phone for a long time - then used it to podcast.

* * *

    Alexi Saab's lawyer was doggedly digging into Hezbollah's past, all the way back to Amal, then the flurry of attacks in Kuwait. Why had they done them?

   Levitt answered cautiously, as one would under cross examination. He was more fulsome on his podcast. But had Saab's lawyer listened to it?

  One answer, of course, was that Hezbollah had been acting for Iran and the Ayatollah, trying to send a message to other countries to not support Iraq in that war. It was a strange way of communicating, not unlike Kurt Wheelock's lashing outs at the UN.

Russia on the other hand was clear, brutally clear. It cut off Gazprom to Poland, and fired missiles on Kyiv when their boy Big Tony was waddling around there in his green sweater. Maybe they did it to make Tony look more legitimate, so that going forward his continued fronting for them would be of more value.

  The Assistant US Attorney acknowledge that their case was coming to a close, at the one- and not two-week mark. Saab wanted to subpoena a government witness but the AUSA got the judge to hold off signing it. The witness, they said, would be "in the area" on Friday afternoon. The call to prayer...

* * *

   The government was ending its evidence against Alexi Saab with yet another expert on Hezbollah. Saab's lawyer was asking seemingly random questions about history - is this Nasrallah? Who was Rafiq Hariri? Kurt was tuning out.

   Kurt had put in an email into the UN press corpse and for once got a response. Mouselike, but a response. It was Nabil Abboud and as if doing a big favor he agreed to meet, at a garish Egyptian hookah bar on Steinway Street in Queens. "Only don't tell anyone I met you," he added. "They hate you over here."

   Kurt took the subway to Broadway and walked north, past bars which had kept their enclosed sidewalk seat areas even as COVID supposedly subsided, many of them with the Yankee game on TV, various kinds of Spanish dance music. A Turkish restaurant had replaced a longtime pizzeria; a fruit stand had been knocked down for a condominium building.

   On Steinway Kurt turns north and found the place, with a golden Sphinx head and water running in a loop over a slab of glass in front. It looked more like a whorehouse than a Hezbollah hangout. But from what he knew of Nabil, the former excited at least as much as the latter.

   Kurt had used to sit by the UN Security Council with Nabil, before Antonio Guterres had Kurt thrown out of the UN. Nabil was constantly showing him things on his expensive laptop, most memorably a drugged up looking Asian woman sitting on top of a large rock.

   "That's my house in London," Nabil said loudly. "And that's my girlfriend."

   Kurt had wanted to ask, Is she mentally challenged? Is she all there? But Nabil went there first.

  "Sometimes she forget things," he said. "But sometimes that's good, you know?" Nabil cackled and Kurt didn't want to think of it.

   "Let's make this fast," Nabil said, putting down his hookah pipe. "I've been reading what you wrote about Hasan's trial. You got it all wrong."

  "Hasan?" Kurt asked.

  "That's his real name," Nabil said. "They are just railroading him. That expert, we are going to get him. And the lady--"

  Kurt blurted out her name and immediately regretted it.

  Nabil smiled, as he had while referring to his girlfriend in London. Nabil wrote the name down.  "Anyway I'll email you something," Nabil said. "To help with your coverage. I could put you on Al Mayadeen maybe. But we'd have to film far away from the UN. I don't want to be seen there with you."

  "Of course," Kurt said. He hoped Nabil hadn't heard him right.


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