The prosecution team is, therefore, leaning heavily on Mr. Elsheikh’s own public comments about his actions. He gave at least seven news interviews after being captured by Kurdish forces and turned over to the U.S. military in 2018, disclosing knowledge of key operational details and his own role in seeking to extract millions in ransom payments for Western hostages.
Near the end of his summation, Mr. Parekh replayed one interview for the jury, who leaned in to hear the scratchy audio on a flat-screen TV.
Mr. Elsheikh was asked if he opposed slavery, in light of Ms. Mueller’s experience.
“No, I don’t denounce slavery,” he said.
Prosecutors are cherry-picking evidence to compensate for the lack of a witness who could clearly identify him as a member of the cell, a defense lawyer, Nina J. Ginsberg, said in her closing argument.
She tried to convince the jury that Mr. Elsheikh’s interviews in 2018 were motivated less by guilt than by fear he would be handed back to the Kurds for a quick trial and summary execution in Iraq, and that he was making a desperate effort to encourage American prosecutors to indict him.
“He became, at that time, committed to repeating these admissions in the hopes of being sent to the U.S. for a fair trial,” Ms. Ginsberg said.
Mr. Elsheikh’s appearance in an American courtroom, once seen as a long shot, is the product of intense political and legal wrangling. In August 2020, the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, agreed to waive the death penalty against Mr. Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, a member of the cell, in exchange for cooperation from British prosecutors — seen as a key element in obtaining a conviction.