The shoot-you-in-the-back-of-the-head real world walks into the Eugene courtroom that day, in the person of Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. If attorney Christopher Cardani wants to portray Pete Seda as a menace to society, he couldn’t have asked for a better witness than Gartenstein-Ross, whose 2007 memoir, My Year Inside Radical Islam, portrays Seda as “the ultimate con man,” a Muslim extremist hiding behind the public façade of a pacifist.
Gartenstein-Ross grew up in Ashland and spent a year between college and law school in 1999 working as Seda’s “deputy administrator” at al Haramain. His responsibilities included everything from filing weekly dispatches to the head office in Riyadh to mailing copies of the Saudi Arabian Noble Qur’an to U.S. prisoners. The FBI informant (who converted to Christianity in 2000 after leaving al Haramain and is now a research analyst at a Washington. D.C.-based counterterrorism think tank) looks nothing like the bearded radical of his Ashland days. He’s as polished as the prosecution, and walks stiff-legged to the witness stand.
His testimony lasts nearly an hour, much of it taken to explain Wahhabism, a conservative strain of Islam that’s prevalent in Saudi Arabia and that, he says, formed the basis of the literature he distributed on behalf of al Haramain. Wahhabism is distinguished by a controversial interpretation of the concept of jihad (holy war) that some believe requires Muslims to spread their faith by force. At one point, Cardani hands Gartenstein-Ross an excerpt from the appendix in one of the Noble Qur’ans he mailed out while working for Seda.
The shoot-you-in-the-back-of-the-head real world walks into the courtroom that day.
“‘Allah made the fighting obligatory,’” Gartenstein-Ross reads. “‘To get ready for jihad involves various kinds of preparations and weapons. Tanks, missiles, artillery, airplanes…’”
To underscore the notion that Seda actually participated in the spread of the violence he advocated, Cardani asks Gartenstein-Ross to tell the court about a speech that Seda delivered at the Ashland prayer house upon returning from hajj in the spring of 1999, at the height of the conflict in Kosovo, when the mujahideen’s Kosovo Liberation Army was battling forces loyal to Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
“Pete said he knew a couple of individuals who were going to go over to fight against the Serbs,” says Gartenstein-Ross. “He encouraged us to give money for this.”
Cardani, referring to “Exhibit K,” a receipt for a $2,000 wire transfer from Seda’s business account to the bank account of the al Haramain branch office in Tirane, Albania, declares: “That office was later designated by the United States, and as well by the United Nations, as a terrorist-supporting organization.”
To reiterate that all of this is connected to what Seda’s actually being charged with, Cardani asks Gartenstein-Ross to testify about Seda’s pro-Chechen sentiments, bringing up Egyptian Mahmoud El Fiki’s $150,000 donation in support of “Muslim brothers in Chychnia.”
After the final arguments, Judge Coffin sighs: “Well, to say the least, this has been a most unusual detention hearing.”