Trial starts for former Michigan man accused of being Iraqi agent

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A former U.S. military translator accused of conspiring to help the regime of fallen Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein simply passed along benign information in the 1990s about Iraqi Christians in the United States, a defense lawyer told jurors Wednesday on the first full day of trial.

Issam Hamama, 60, of El Cajon, Calif., is charged with conspiring to act as an unregistered agent and making false statements to investigators.

Hamama, an Iraqi native who left that country in 1979, was identified as agent 6129 in documents seized by the U.S. government after Hussein's fall in 2003. Hamama applied to become a U.S. translator in Iraq that same year and declared he had never had contact with foreign governments.

Defense attorney Haytham Faraj acknowledged Hamama had contact in the 1990s with Iraqi officials stationed in the U.S.

"Mr. Hamama believed they were diplomats," not Iraqi intelligence agents, Faraj told jurors. "Now he finds himself in this terrible nightmare."

Hamama is a naturalized U.S. citizen and Iraqi Christian who lived among other Chaldeans in Sterling Heights, a Detroit suburb, before moving to California.

The first trial witness was Robert Smego, an expert in translating Arabic, who said Hamama's secret identity, 6129, showed up "numerous times" in Iraqi records in Baghdad.

Hamama was described in a handwritten document as a "collaborator" who supplies good information on "hostile activity" in the U.S., Smego testified.

The indictment accuses him of traveling to Washington and Iraq to talk to his handlers. There is no allegation that he aided the enemy while serving as a U.S. military translator.

In fact, Faraj said he will present witnesses who will praise Hamama's service. He was arrested in 2008 while working for the U.S.

"He was on the inside with Army units and had opportunity to do great harm. You know what? He protected them," Faraj told jurors.

Hamama is not the first Iraqi native to be charged because of documents found in Baghdad. In 2009, Najib Shemami of Sterling Heights was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for supplying information to Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

He was described in records as "our good cooperating source."

Published: Fri, Jan 7, 2011