The American Police State
- The American Police State
By Chris Hedges
A Dallas jury caused a mistrial in the government case against this
country's largest Islamic charity. The action raises a defiant fist on
the sinking ship of American democracy.
If we lived in a state where due process and the rule of law could
curb the despotism of the Bush administration, this mistrial might be
counted a victory. But we do not. The jury may have rejected the
federal government's claim that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief
and Development funneled millions of dollars to Middle Eastern
terrorists. It may have acquitted Mohammad el-Mezain, the former
chairman of the foundation, of virtually all criminal charges related
to funding terrorism (the jury deadlocked on one of the 32 charges
against el-Mezain), and it may have deadlocked on the charges that had
been lodged against four other former leaders of the charity, but
don't be fooled. This mistrial will do nothing to impede the
administration's ongoing contempt for the rule of law. It will do
nothing to stop the curtailment of our civil liberties and rights. The
grim march toward a police state continues.
Constitutional rights are minor inconveniences, noisome chatter, flies
to be batted away on the steady road to despotism. And no one, not the
courts, not the press, not the gutless Democratic opposition, not a
compliant and passive citizenry hypnotized by tawdry television
spectacles and celebrity gossip, seems capable of stopping the
process. Those in power know this. We, too, might as well know it.
The Bush administration, which froze the foundation's finances three
months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and indicted its
officials three years later on charges that they provided funds for
the militant group Hamas, has ensured that the foundation and all
other Palestinian charities will never reopen in the United States.
Any organized support for Palestinians from within the U.S. has been
rendered impossible. The goal of the Israeli government and the Bush
administrationdespite the charade of peace negotiations to be held at
Annapolisis to grind defiant Palestinians into the dirt. Israel,
which has plunged the Gaza Strip into one of the world's worst
humanitarian crises, has now begun to ban fuel supplies and sever
electrical service. The severe deprivation, the Israelis hope, will
see the overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza and the
reinstatement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has become
the Marshal Pétain of the Palestinian people.
The Dallas triallike all of the major terrorism trials conducted by
this administration, from the Florida case against the Palestinian
activist Dr. Sami al-Arian, which also ended in a mistrial, to the
recent decision by a jury in Chicago to acquit two men of charges of
financing Hamashas been a judicial failure. William Neal, a juror in
the Dallas trial, told the Associated Press that the case "was strung
together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence."
Such trials, however, have been politically expedient. The
accusations, true or untrue, serve the aims of the administration. A
jury in Tampa, Chicago or Dallas can dismiss the government's assaults
on individual rights, but the draconian restrictions put in place
because of the mendacious charges remain firmly implanted within the
system. It is the charges, not the facts, which matter.
Dr. al-Arian, who was supposed to have been released and deported in
April, is still in a Virginia prison because he will not testify in a
separate case before a grand jury. The professor, broken by the long
ordeal of his trial and unable to raise another million dollars in
legal fees for a retrial, pleaded guilty to a minor charge in the
hopes that his persecution would end. It has not. Or take the case of
Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who in 2002 was spirited away by Homeland
Security from JFK Airport to Syria, where he spent 10 months being
tortured in a coffin-like cell. He was, upon his release, exonerated
of terrorism. Arar testified before a House panel this month about how
he was abducted by the U.S. and interrogated, stripped of his legal
rights and tortured. But he couldn't testify in person. He spoke to
the House members on a video link from Canada. He is forbidden by
Homeland Security to enter the United States because he allegedly
poses a threat to national security.
Those accused of being involved in conspiracies and terrorism plots,
as in all police states, become nonpersons. There is no
rehabilitation. There is no justice.
"He was never given a hearing nor did the Canadian consulate, his
lawyer, or his family know of his fate," Amnesty International wrote
of Arar. "Expulsion in such circumstances, without a fair hearing, and
to a country known for regularly torturing their prisoners, violates
the U.S. Government's obligations under international law,
specifically the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman,
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."
You can almost hear Dick Cheney yawn.
The Bush administration shut down the Holy Land Foundation for Relief
and Development six years ago and froze its assets. There was no
hearing or trial. It became a crime for anyone to engage in
transactions with the foundation. The administration never produced
evidence to support the charges. It did not have any. In the "war on
terror," evidence is unnecessary. An executive order is enough. The
foundation sued the government in a federal court in the District of
Columbia. Behind closed doors, the government presented secret
evidence that the charity had no opportunity to see or rebut. The
charity's case was dismissed.
The government has closed seven Muslim charities in the United States
and frozen their assets. Not one of them, or any person associated
with them, has been found guilty of financing terrorism. They will
remain shut. George W. Bush can tar any organization or individual,
here or abroad, as being part of a terrorist conspiracy and by fiat
render them powerless. He does not need to make formal charges. He
does not need to wait for a trial verdict. Secret evidence, which
these court cases have exposed as a sham, is enough. The juries in
Tampa, Chicago and Dallas did their duty. They spoke for the rights of
citizens. They spoke for the protection of due process and the rule of
law. They threw small hurdles in front of the emergent police state.
But the abuse rolls on. I fear terrorism. I know it is real. I am sure
terrorists will strike again on American soil. But while terrorists
can wound and disrupt our democracy, only we can kill it.
JURORS FIND NO PROOF THAT DONATIONS AIDED TERROR
Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post
The trial against what was once the nation's largest Islamic charity
ended in a mistrial Monday as federal prosecutors in Dallas were
unable to gain a conviction on charges that the group's leaders had
funneled millions of dollars to Mideast terrorists.
The jurors in the high-profile case acquitted Mohammad el-Mezain, the
former chairman of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development, on virtually all the charges brought against him and
deadlocked on the other charges that had been lodged against four
other former leaders of the charity.
Monday's developments were a setback for the Bush administration,
which had frozen the group's finances three months after the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks and indicted its officials three years later
on charges that they provided funds in support of Hamas, a militant
Palestinian group that the United States considers a terrorist
During the trial, the government did not argue that Holy Land directly
supported terrorist groups. Instead, prosecutors asserted that the
charity provided money to committees in the West Bank and Gaza that
were controlled by Hamas and, in doing so, created goodwill toward the
militant organization, helping it recruit members.
But at least some of the jurors apparently did not see strong links
between the charity and terrorists.
Juror William Neal told the Associated Press that the panel found
little evidence against Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader, a top fundraiser for
Holy Land, and Abdulrahman Odeh, the group's New Jersey
representative. It was evenly split on charges against Shukri Abu
Baker, the charity's former chief executive, and former Holy Land
chairman Ghassan Elashi, who were seen as Holy Land's principal
leaders. . .
"It's a huge sense of relief," said Nihad Awad, executive director of
the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who was there. "Twelve
regular people in the U.S. couldn't be convinced to issue a single
guilty verdict. That's a sign of good news that the justice system is
working and the campaign of fear is apparently not working." (MORE)
HLF JUROR: GOVERNMENT `REALLY USED FEAR'
Los Angeles Times
The U.S. Justice Department suffered a major setback in another
high-profile terrorist prosecution Monday when its criminal case
against five former officials of a now-defunct Islamic charity
collapsed into a tangle of legal confusion.
U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish declared a mistrial, but not before it
became clear that the government's landmark terrorism finance case --
and one of its most-costly post-9/11 prosecutions -- was in serious
His decision came after jury verdicts were read to a packed courtroom
indicating that none of the defendants had been found guilty on any of
the 200 combined counts against them. Jurors had acquitted defendants
on some counts and were deadlocked on charges ranging from tax
violations to providing material support for terrorists.
However, during routine polling of the jurors to determine that their
votes were accurately reflected in the findings, two said they were
not. When efforts to reconcile the surprise conflict failed, Fish
declared the mistrial.
The case presented to a Texas jury of eight women and four men relied
heavily on Israeli intelligence and involved disputed documents and
electronic surveillance gathered by federal agents over a span of
nearly 15 years. Fish's order ended a two-month trial and 19 days of
jury deliberations over allegations that Holy Land Foundation for
Relief and Development and five of its former leaders provided
financial aid to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
President Bush announced in December 2001 that the Texas-based
charity's assets were being seized, and in a Rose Garden news
conference accused the organization of financing terrorism. Monday's
outcome, however, raised serious questions about those allegations as
"I think it is a huge defeat for the government," said David Cole, a
Georgetown University law professor specializing in 1st Amendment
cases and terrorism prosecutions.
"They spent almost 15 years investigating this group, seized all their
records and had extensive wiretapping and yet could not obtain a
single conviction on charges of supporting a terrorist organization."
According to one juror interviewed Monday afternoon, the panel was
evenly split on most of the disputed charges and not close to
Juror William Neal, 33, who said his father worked in military
intelligence, said that the government's case had "so many gaps" that
he regarded the prosecution as "a waste of time." (MORE)
U.S. PROSECUTION OF MUSLIM GROUP ENDS IN MISTRIAL
New York Times
A federal judge declared a mistrial on Monday in what was widely seen
as the government's flagship terrorism-financing case after
prosecutors failed to persuade a jury to convict five leaders of a
Muslim charity on any charges, or even to reach a verdict on many of
the 197 counts.
The case, involving the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development and five of its backers, is the government's largest and
most complex legal effort to shut down what it contends is American
financing for terrorist organizations in the Middle East.
President Bush announced he was freezing the charity's assets in
December 2001, saying that the radical Islamic group Hamas had
"obtained much of the money it pays for murder abroad right here in
the United States."
But at the trial, the government did not accuse the foundation, which
was based in a Dallas suburb, of paying directly for suicide bombings.
Instead, the prosecution said, the foundation supported terrorism by
sending more than $12 million to charitable groups, known as zakat
committees, which build hospitals and feed the poor. (MORE)
CAIR: VERDICTS CAUSE CONFUSION, THEN MORE DELIBERATION, FINALLY JOY
Michael Grabell and Jeffrey Weiss
Dallas Morning News
At first, three of the six defendants in the Holy Land Foundation
trial were found not guilty. Then, they weren't. Then, one was found
not guilty. But not on all charges.
Such was the confusion Monday at the Earle Cabell Federal Building and
Courthouse in downtown Dallas, where jurors rendered their verdict in
the nation's largest terrorism financing case.
After 14 years of investigation, two months of trial, 19 days of
deliberations and four more of waiting, the Holy Land case is
essentially back where it started. The judge declared a mistrial on
nearly all the charges, and prosecutors can retry everyone.
But the confusion quickly turned to jubilation among Holy Land supporters.
"Like Rosa Parks once was persecuted for simply sitting in a front
seat of a bus, my dad was singled out for feeding, clothing and
educating the children of Palestine," said Noor Elashi, daughter of
defendant Ghassan Elashi.
The defendants had arrived Monday morning in a cold rain that seemed
to swirl from every direction.
"We'll be all right," Shukri Abu Baker, the former Holy Land CEO, told
a United Church of Christ minister, there to support him. He then
looked up to the ceiling. "We're in good hands," he said.
More than 200 people, most of them Muslim, eventually assembled in a
sixth-floor cafeteria at the federal courthouse to await the verdicts.
The jury made up its mind Thursday, but the verdict had been sealed
over the weekend because the judge was out of town. . .
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, drew links to McCarthyism in the 1950s.
"Today's campaign has a different name and a different target," said
Mr. Awad, whose group is an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
"The campaign is anti-terrorism and the target is the American Muslim
HOLY LAND TRIAL THIRD MAJOR SETBACK FOR PROSECUTORS
The failure to win any convictions against the Holy Land Foundation
for Relief and Development was the third major setback for federal
prosecutors after charging individuals in this country with providing
aid to foreign terrorists.
In 2005, former college professor Sami Al-Arian was acquitted on eight
counts of aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. After a six-month
trial, jurors deadlocked on nine other counts. Al-Arian pleaded guilty
to one count of providing services to members of the terrorist group
rather than face a retrial. He was sentenced last year to four years
and nine months in prison and will be deported after serving the sentence.
This year, a jury in Illinois acquitted Muhammad Salah and Abdelhaleem
Ashqar of operating a terrorist recruiting and financing cell. Salah
was sentenced in July to 21 months in federal prison for lying in a
civil lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by parents of an American
teenager murdered in Israel by Hamas gunmen - Holy Land was a defendant.
On Monday, a federal court jury in Dallas failed to reach a verdict
after a two-month trial in which Holy Land was accused of aiding the
Palestinian militant group Hamas. The judge declared a mistrial, and
the lead prosecutor said he expected the government to retry the case.
1 of 5 defendants was acquitted on 31 of 32 counts against him but
could be retried on that single count. (MORE)
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