Two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee employees facing charges of revealing classified information won a procedural victory June 20, when a federal appeals court ruled against the prosecution’s request to lower the burden of proof in their upcoming trial and against attempts to hold the trial behind closed doors.
The ruling was applauded by several Jewish groups, marking a slight shift in the position of the organized Jewish community, which until now has generally avoided making its voice heard on the case.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld the standard of proof set by a federal district court in the case of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who were indicted in 2005 for communicating classified information. The two former Aipac officials are accused of receiving classified information from Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin and passing it on to Israeli diplomats and journalists. A final trial date for the investigation, which became public in August 2004, has not yet been set.
In the earlier district court decision, Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that in order to make the case that Rosen and Weissman had broken the law, the prosecution would need to prove a series of assumptions, among them, that the defendants knew the information they were relaying was classified national defense information, that they knew it was unlawful to disclose the information and that they “had a bad-faith reason to believe the disclosures could be used to the injury of the United States or to the aid of a foreign nation.” The district court also ruled that the prosecution would have to prove that Rosen and Weissman intended to harm the United States or aid another nation by disclosing the information.
This past March, the government appealed Ellis’s ruling, but last month the appeals court knocked down the effort without discussing its merits. The court accepted the defense’s position that appeals should be limited to only the scope of evidence allowed in the trial, not to other rulings by the lower court.
An attempt by the prosecution to appeal a decision ensuring that the court proceedings remain open to the public and that evidence and witnesses are not presented behind closed doors was also turned down, on the same grounds.
Two major Jewish groups welcomed the appeals court’s decision.
The American Jewish Committee, which already had called for a speedy and open trial for Rosen and Weissman, issued a statement welcoming the decision. “The defendants and the public deserve to know the truth,” said the AJCommittee’s executive director, David Harris.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also applauded the court’s ruling. “We look forward to a swift, public, and just resolution to this trial,” Saperstein said in a statement.
Lawyers for Rosen and Weissman had been urging the community to take on the issue and to side with the two defendants. In a June 23 appearance at the annual conference of the American Jewish Press Association in Washington, Baruch Weiss, one of Weissman’s lawyers, said the Jewish community had failed the two former Aipac employees.
“The failure of the Jewish community to stand in support is shameful,” Weiss said, arguing that if the prosecution is successful in the case, all pro-Israel lobbying in Washington “will literally grind to a halt.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.