Prosecutors in the case of a Massachusetts man accused of plotting to kill American troops in Iraq won't be allowed to refer to the troops as "our soldiers" during his trial, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
The judge also ruled that supporters of Tarek Mehanna cannot wear the yellow scarves or "Free Tarek" T-shirts they have worn to many of his court hearings in front of the jury.
Mehanna, a U.S. citizen who grew up in Sudbury, a wealthy Boston suburb, is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 24 on charges that include providing support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill in a foreign country.
Prosecutors say he made an unsuccessful trip to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp and actively tried to help al-Qaida by translating materials promoting Muslim holy war, including a publication entitled "39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad."
Mehanna's lawyers say he went to Yemen to look for religious schools and argue that his other activities amounted to free speech protected by the First Amendment.
During Mehanna's final pre-trial hearing, his lawyers argued Thursday that allowing the government to refer to U.S. troops as "our soldiers" during the trial could create a bond between the jury and prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty said the government does not intend to try to create "some special partisan bond" with the jury, but argued that Mehanna "perceived his loyalties to be with another army."
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. ruled that the troops should be referred to as "United States soldiers" or "American soldiers."
O'Toole granted a request by prosecutors to instruct Mehanna's supporters to refrain from wearing obvious symbols of support in front of the jury. The judge said his supporters are free to express support for Mehanna outside the courtroom but can't wear signs of symbols of support in front of the jury.
Mehanna, 28, was initially charged with lying to the FBI in 2008, but more serious terror-related charges were added in 2009.
His lawyers argued Thursday that prosecutors should not be allowed to show the jury certain "highly inflammatory" evidence seized from his computer, including a video of American businessman Nicholas Berg being beheaded in Iraq and another video of dead American soldiers being mutilated in Iraq.
Attorney Janice Bassil said a defense computer expert has concluded that the materials were automatically cached on Mehanna's computer, not downloaded by Mehanna. She said it would be "grossly unfair" if the video is shown to the jury.
Attorney J.W. Carney Jr. said Mehanna believes that U.S. armed forces should not be in Muslim countries and that he participated in Internet forums where he strongly advocated for the removal of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he said that does not make Mehanna a co-conspirator with al-Qaida leaders.
Prosecutors argued that Mehanna is accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and that the materials on his computer should be shown to the jury.
"We can't sanitize it just because it's really bad evidence for the defendant to come in," Chakravarty said.
O'Toole did not immediately rule on the request.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers said they expect the trial to last six or seven weeks.