Attorneys for an Indiana woman accused of providing support to the Islamic State group received a judge’s approval to seek depositions from three Yazidis who were taken as slaves by her husband, who she says died while fighting for IS.
A federal judge in Hammond gave Samantha Elhassani’s lawyers permission Tuesday to seek depositions from the two Yazidi women and a young Yazidi boy in hopes of bolstering her defense, the Post-Tribune reported. One of the women and the boy are in the Kurdish-controlled city of Erbil, Iraq, and the other woman lives nearby.
Elhassani has argued that her husband tricked her into traveling to Syria and allegedly bought the two women and the boy while in IS-controlled territory.
In court documents, her lawyers say that Elhassani offered the Yazidis protection while her husband was alive and after he died, when she, her four children and the Yazidis made their way to a Kurdish refugee camp. Although she wasn’t able to prevent her husband from raping the women or to stop IS from using the boy in propaganda videos, she tried to help them and “all of this conduct by (Elhassani) was done at the risk of certain execution,” they wrote.
Defense attorney Thomas Durkin said the potential depositions would be “incredibly helpful” in determining whether the former Elkhart woman “ever intended to give material support to ISIS,” a charge to which she has pleaded not guilty. Both he and fellow defense attorney Joshua Herman noted there are several obstacles that could hinder getting the depositions and using them at Elhassani’s trial, which is scheduled to start in January.
While “at least the two Yazidi women witnesses have indicated that they would be willing to be deposed,” the Yazidis are “stateless” and “beyond the subpoena power” to appear in U.S. court, according to the defense motion.
Additionally, defense attorneys would need to get consent from the sovereignty that rules the region in order to go there and take depositions.
“But I don’t for the life of me know the (sovereign) status of Kurdish-controlled Iraq,” Durkin said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Abizer Zanzi said that since the U.S. lacks a treaty for court depositions with Iraq, the task that Elhassani’s attorneys aim to achieve becomes a “diplomatic function” that would have to go through the U.S. Department of State — a potentially long process that provides no assurance of success.