Ex-Army translator acquitted of working as agent for Iraq

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A jury last Friday acquitted a former military translator of secretly working as an Iraqi agent in the U.S. but convicted him of making false statements when he sought a security clearance.

The split verdict offered some relief to Issam "Sam" Hamama, who claimed he was only passing along basic information about Iraqis in the U.S. when he reached out to Iraqi officials in the 1990s during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"We've been vindicated. They were accusing him of voluntarily working as a spy," defense lawyer Haytham Faraj said.

Hamama, 60, of El Cajon, Calif., was found not guilty of conspiring to work as an unregistered Iraqi agent. The government said it didn't know he had contacts with Iraqi officials in the '90s until his name was discovered in documents seized during the war.

In recent years, Hamama worked as a translator for the U.S. military in Iraq. He was convicted of making false statements to the FBI and on his application for a security clearance when he had denied having any contact with a foreign government.

Hamama said he didn't consider Iraq to be foreign because he's an Iraqi native. The former Detroit-area resident faces up to five years in federal prison.

The government's trial lawyers declined to comment on the verdict. In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Martin told the judge he would seek a "significant" prison sentence for Hamama.

The government's evidence included Iraqi documents that described Hamama as agent 6129. Iraqi records show he was considered a "good" source who could "follow up on hostile activity in America" in the '90s.

Hamama, a Chaldean, acknowledged he liked Saddam but only because the dictator favored Christians. He claimed he didn't know that his Iraqi contacts in New York and Washington, D.C., were intelligence agents.

A juror, Antoinette Monastiere, said Hamama was cleared of the conspiracy charge because there wasn't enough evidence that he knowingly became an Iraqi intelligence source.

Just talking to diplomats "doesn't make him guilty," she said.

Near the end of trial, Army officers who served with Hamama testified as character witnesses and praised his work as a translator.

"We trusted him enough to give him a loaded weapon," Sgt. Maj. Ronald Coleman told the jury.

Hamama has been free on bond since his arrest in 2008 on a return trip to the United States. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds turned down Martin's request to lock up Hamama until he is sentenced.

Published: Tue, Jan 18, 2011