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Potential Fallout of the Holy Land Verdict

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holyland.jpgIt’s with great sadness that we heard about the verdict of the Holy Land Foundation trial. I find it absolutely appalling that they can convict someone based solely on circumstantial evidence and an anonymous witness. It really begs the question if such a witness would be allowed to testify, in an expert status no less, if the accused had been anything other than Muslim.

May Allah (swt) free them, make this a means of forgiveness for them, and grant them and their families patience and Jannah.

Article by Laila al-Arian, posted on AlterNet and reproduced here with her permission. 

Verdict Against Holy Land Charity Could Have a Chilling Effect on the Muslim Community

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On Monday afternoon, a jury in Dallas, Texas found five Palestinian men guilty of more than 100 charges in the nation’s largest terrorism financing trial since 9/11.

But was this case about prosecuting terrorism, or the Bush administration’s “war on terror?”

Prosecutors never argued that the charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, or any of its officials were ever involved in violence, either through funding it or directly participating in it. Instead, they told the jury that the charity sent money to schools, hospitals and social welfare programs that were controlled by Hamas, a group listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department since 1995.

Edward Abington, the former number two intelligence official at the State Department (and ex-US consul in Jerusalem), told jurors he was never told that the Palestinian charity committees supported by Holy Land were part of Hamas in the daily intelligence briefings he received. In fact, these same charities, or “zakat committees,” still receive donations from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the International Red Cross.

This was the second trial against Holy Land. Last year, the government’s case ended in embarrassment and defeat when jurors returned after 19 days of deliberations with no guilty verdicts. At least one of the defendants would have been completely acquitted had a juror not changed her mind at the eleventh hour, backing out of her decision to acquit when the judge polled the panel about their votes. Another juror later said she refused to discuss the evidence during deliberations, simply explaining that she relied on her “feelings.”

The stark differences between the two juries became apparent at the conclusion of the second trial. “Twelve good American citizens in the first trial didn’t convict anyone of anything,” Linda Moreno, one of the defense attorneys on the case, told the Associated Press. “And 12 good American citizens in the second trial convicted everyone of everything. If you can make sense of that  explain it to me.” (Ms. Moreno was an attorney for my father, Sami Al-Arian, in his 2005 trial).

Over fervent objections from the defense, the judge in the Holy Land trial allowed the prosecution to present testimony from an anonymous Israeli intelligence agent. This bizarre episode marked the first time in American legal history that testimony has been allowed from an expert witness with no identity. If the witness, who was introduced to the jury simply as “Avi,” lied or committed perjury, he faces no consequences. He is officially non-existent, after all.

Though the prosecution ostensibly limited their case to Palestinian charities operating in the present day, most of the evidence presented to the jury involved the general activities of Hamas, and dated back decades. With its propaganda-like quality, the evidence was clearly intended to provoke an emotional response. For example, jurors were repeatedly shown videos of grisly suicide bombings that none of the defendants were in any way connected to, or accused of planning.

William Neal, who served on the first Holy Land jury, raised disturbing questions about the prosecution’s tactics in an interview with Dallas radio station KRLD 1080. “They never proved — they kept trying to show us stuff around the case, not the case. They presented to the jury, you know these committees, these organizations controlled by or on the behalf of Hamas, but they kept showing us blown-up buses and they kept showing us little kids in bomb belts reenacting Hamas leaders,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the actual charges. It had nothing to do with the defendants.”

I went to Dallas a week before the verdict to cover the case, and found a group of Holy Land supporters a block away from the federal courthouse where the case was being prosecuted. There, I met Diane Baker, a 62-year-old ordained minister with blonde hair and a rail-thin frame. On her lunch break from her job as a hospice chaplain, she came to the vigil wearing blue hospital scrubs and her colorful Reverend’s stole.

“When we carry the burden of others, we wear this,” she said, pointing to the cloth wrapped around her neck. “There were days when I left the courtroom with tears in my eyes, but I’m hopeful.”

I called Diane a day after the verdict and asked her how she felt. “I was shocked,” she said. “And I felt a great deal of grief, especially for the families, who I know.” Speaking of the defendants, she said, “These people have done what their hearts has called on them to do.”

Hadi Jawad, a member of the Hungry for Justice coalition, an umbrella group of Holy Land supporters, said the U.S. government has taken sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through their prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation.

“It’s about demonizing an entire people — in this case, the Palestinian people,” Jawad told me. “They’re saying that they’re not worthy of aid and help, even when they’re destitute, hungry and need medical attention.”

Holy Land was the largest Muslim charity in the United States when the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. On the heels of the September 11th attacks, Bush, Ashcroft and company wanted to show they were fighting the “war on terror” by pointing to the Holy Land case, and the arrest of its five officials. In an unusual move, prosecutors unveiled the list of more than 300 un-indicted co-conspirators, something that is kept secret under normal legal protocol. Many of those on the list were respected Muslim leaders who were shocked to find they were under suspicion for involvement in terrorist acts.

Mustafaa Carroll, the director of the Dallas chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, warned the Holy Land verdict could send a chilling effect over America’s already traumatized Muslim community. “Muslims are concerned about how this is going to affect them,” he told me. “By criminalizing charity, it may even have an impact on American charities in general. People are really afraid.”

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Laila Al-Arian is a Washington DC-based journalist. A graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, she has written for The Nation, United Press International, Huffingtonpost.com and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She is the author, with Chris Hedges, of Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians (Nation Books). She can be reached at Lailaa@gmail.com.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 29, 2008 at 8:41 PM

    innalhamdolillah. bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem.

    the problem is the people who adopted the laws under which such an expert could testify, the laws which make credible the whole premise of the case: that a person who funds a purely charitable venture can thereby be guilty of supporting terrorism. these lawmakers and jurists fail to recognize that such a draconian abuse of justice could easily befall them or someone just like them. in other words they imagine the laws will only be used against Muslims — and the least bigoted among them imagine that the law will only be used against “bad guys” (who happen to speak Arabic, have beards, wear hijab, etc.)

    but justice is not served by such self-delusion, which is why so many non-Muslims who truly champion justice stand up against these laws. some day one of these laws will be used in a way that upsets non-Muslims, because it will be used against non-Muslims. (remember the fingerprinting of all non-permanent-resident aliens? how it started with certain countries — which happened to have large numbers of Muslims. and then somehow the need for the program ended, before it had moved on to countries with few Muslims?)

    and sadly, when the laws are repealed, we will probably only find an empty apology, an “oh my God! we had no idea that the law was that unjust. aren’t you proud of us for repealing it!”

    inna lillahi wa inna alayhi rajioon. may Allah reward those tried, their families, and their communities for their patience for the sake of Allah in the face of so much injustice. and may He give them better than what they have lost in this process, and facilitate the way for them to every goodness.

  2. Organica

    November 30, 2008 at 12:38 AM

    A few years ago they shut a famous Palestinian newspaper because they associated it with terrorism.

    Today the same newspaper functions under a different name.

    I don’t know how to respond to this article. I know for sure that I AM ANGRY.

  3. Sarah

    November 30, 2008 at 12:53 PM

    This bizarre episode marked the first time in American legal history that testimony has been allowed from an expert witness with no identity

    This is absolute BS. Anonymous testimony is allowed all the time in American courts, especially in Organized Crime trials where the witness or his family might face violent reprisal for his or her testimony. And that is what the goups the HLF interacts with are: violent, organized crime syndicates. The lawyers and their clients are just upset that they could not get the name of the witness in order to intimidate them into recanting their testimony by threatening them or their wives and children.

    Many times and in many cases when faced with a complex criminal organization with a lot of money and a lot of sophistication in hiding how revenue is spent The People are at a severe disadvantage and can usually be expected to lose That is why Crime Orgs like the HLF are set up to defeat attempts to bring them to justice while they fund the bloody slaughter which is their overall purpose.

    This decision is a victory for justice and for civilized people everywhere (including Muslims)

  4. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    November 30, 2008 at 2:20 PM

    innalhamdolillah. bismillah.

    sayeth the troll: That is why Crime Orgs like the HLF are set up to defeat attempts to bring them to justice while they fund the bloody slaughter which is their overall purpose.

    if that were true, next you’ll be asking for indictments against the Red Cross and USAID and every other non-Muslim charity, NGO, and government agency that distributes money or other aid to needy Palestinians via the exact same zakat committees that the Holy Land Foundation used.

    and then once you’ve finally sent elliott ness to bust up that group of bleeding hearts, you can start to hunt down all the irish americans who ever gave money to any non-British hospital, orphanage, soup kitchen or charity in northern ireland. because if there was justice in the government’s case, or anything remotely noble in your trollish comments, then every dollar spent on charities in northern ireland directly financed the terrorist actions of irish catholics against the state and the protestant terrorist-loyalists who wanted to keep the catholics under their boot heels. and we could hunt down similar so-called charitable people who’ve sent money that propped up revolutionaries in latin america and africa.

    but we won’t do any of that because the people who brought down the HLF and then sought these convictions so zealously did not do so for justice. they did it to advance their own political agenda and their own careers.

    it is nice to see you here, though, sarah. i’m praying that all the time you spend on your addiction to hateful speech against Muslims will be the way towards your repentance to Allah someday. if Amad just keeps deleting your bile, it’s only because he likes to clean up vomit when he sees it dirtying the pages. you just keep on puking and maybe one day you’ll cough up that devil inside you.

  5. DrM

    November 30, 2008 at 6:00 PM

    I wonder where “Sarah” gets her disinformation from. I guess if the HLF was distributing copies of “obsession” like that militant Jewish “charity group” there would be no problem.

  6. Sarah

    November 30, 2008 at 8:13 PM

    Sigh. Abu,

    Check here. It wasn’t only the “evil” Bush administration which recognizes HLF as a supporter of terror; but the Clinton Admin, the EU, and one of it’s founders. USAID and the Red Cross are there to actually help the Palestinians and only that; HLF is there to help, but more importantly, to transform the territories into Terrorland and the Palestinians into slaughtering monsters. I would hope that you cared enough for your Palestinian brothers and sisters to oppose HLF and Hamas, and support and encourge them to seek peace by way of the two-state solution (which Hamas opposes)

  7. Miako

    December 1, 2008 at 2:48 PM

    Umm… I really wish that no one would give money that would support Hamas. I understand that they do some good, but they also do some really bad stuff.

    If this prosecution, however tainted it was, leads to some separation between charities and Hamas, I think that would be a good thing. (I understand that Hamas is now the ruling party in part of Palestine, and that just makes the whole thing more complicated!)

    But that’s my moral view. It’s the same reason I believe giving money to the Catholic church is immoral — they will use your money for good, but use other money for bad, and the more you give them, the more they can do bad things.

    Just my thoughts

  8. DrM

    December 1, 2008 at 3:26 PM

    Wrong on all points, Sarah. As if the judeofascists you support have any intention of peace. Bush considers anyone not on his bandwagon a terrorist whether its the HLF or antiwar nuns on terror watch lists. Ofcourse this is a guy who openly said that “God told me to attack Iraq.” nuff said.

  9. Amad

    December 1, 2008 at 4:10 PM

    Miako, you do know that many governments consider the Myanmar regime and the North Korean regimes, for instance, as regimes not to be funneled money to. Well, we have official NGOs and even American government that has sent aid to these regimes for distribution among the people.

    So, firstly, if Hamas is in government, picked by the people, how would you feel being told who you can pick for your government and who you can’t? Secondly, now given that Hamas is in power, does that mean we punish the Gazans collectively for choosing, as a way of saying, one evil over an evil that they felt was worse (Fatah’s corruption)? What should we do? Let millions of people die because we don’t want their government to get any food and basic necessities of life? Is that the kind of American bullying that we would like to advertise??

    How evil it is indeed to punish people because they funneled health, education and food through middle-men that we don’t agree with? If indeed HLF had funded Hamas’s militant activity, then I would be with you and agree that it should be stopped. But everyone admits they didn’t. So, why the punishment?

    You have to know that this is Israeli occupation extending to American courts, through a sophisticated web of draconian laws and government pressure. We indicted Israel’s perceived problem, not America’s criminals.

    Finally, why is that HLF’s assets: MY donations, my FRIENDS’ donations, Muslim donations everywhere, are now part of government property?? Why not return the money to the Muslims who donated?? Why not donate it to a Muslim charity of the government’s choice, not even our choice?? Is it because this money will now be funneled back to Israel, who after all, can claim the real victory?? Is there more salt that can be rubbed into Muslim wounds than to give our religiously-mandated charities to the greatest terrorist-state of our time, at least in the Muslim view?? Don’t you see what message this all is sending? How things like these continue to embolden extremists because it merely proves that America and Israel are together fighting Muslim interests?? I am just asking questions that are being echoed in Muslim communities, and to show you how we continue to send the most awful messages to the Muslim world through injustice against Muslim interests in this country.

  10. Miako

    December 1, 2008 at 5:22 PM

    Amad,

    my thanks for your insightful post.

    I grieve for those who starve because they live under awful dictatorships, wherever they live.
    I do not believe that the Palestinians should be punished because they elected Hamas — I understand that polling shows it was mostly an anti-corruption vote, and I believe firmly that sort of vote is helpful. I believe that there should be a civil service where people should do their jobs and not worry so much about political ideology. With people like that, I would have no problem giving money, even understanding that the government was ruled by Hamas.
    That is an ideal, and if America is in the middle of righting her own ship, perhaps I ought to not throw so many stones.

    I understand that people have used the tools available, and I’m not casting any stone particularly at you. But I hope that there can be better tools fashioned, ones that do not have relation to terrorism. If, as you have many times stated, many Muslims in Palestine march for peace — is there a way to organize them into charities that are not Hamas-affiliated? (again, government affiliated is a different story, but my thoughts on that aren’t germane).

    Arafat’s corruption made things much more difficult than they might have otherwise been. I know that it is exceedingly difficult for cultures that have a history of corruption to shake that off, and I hope that the election of Hamas shows that the Palestinian people have the will to do so.

    If there are no good solutions, the idea should never be to punish the people making even half-assed contributions to justice. That is simply dunderheaded.

    Israel has a large share of blame herself, for not having effectively rehabilitated the Palestinian state that she occupied — and also for not having accorded them some level of self rule.

    I understand the questions you are asking – and they hurt. I continue to believe that the path towards peace is to forgive but not forget.

    America has much to atone for. Hopefully, she can start by defusing the potential of nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

  11. Solomon2

    December 2, 2008 at 10:39 AM

    Am I permitted to comment?

  12. Solomon2

    December 2, 2008 at 1:32 PM

    I find it absolutely appalling that they can convict someone based solely on circumstantial evidence and an anonymous witness. It really begs the question if such a witness would be allowed to testify, in an expert status no less, if the accused had been anything other than Muslim.

    Am I correct that a great deal of emphasis is placed by Islam in the testimony of eyewitnesses of known character, and little or none at all in forensic evidence?

  13. New lawless law for FBI probe since 12-01-08

    December 2, 2008 at 5:25 PM

  14. Manas Shaikh

    December 4, 2008 at 11:26 AM

    So holding a profile with fascist VHP is not enough proof to stop somebody from getting a profile in govt.

    But circumstantial evidences are enough to convict HLF. Great! Pass the toast.

  15. Miako

    December 4, 2008 at 2:59 PM

    Gohar,
    thanks. this is very interesting. ;-)

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