Another Thorn in the Crown
- Holy Land Five convictions mark sad day for American justice systemþ
Another Thorn in the Crown
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Another addition to the list of disgraces here, this morning. Dallas
has amassed quite a record as the home of the assassination of
President Kennedy, the home of the tv show that lauded greed and
ruthlessness, the location of that church related SMU that overrode
its church's laws to give a home to the papers of the worst president
ever - papers that the public is denied access to - and now the home
of the only successful verdict this occupied White House managed in
prosecuting Muslim charity. This morning the city has a new thorn in
its crown. An editorial in the local paper praises the verdict twelve
members of this community reached in a trial that was always
The Dallas Morning News coverage that I read always gave the
prosecution side of the trial that I attended. When I saw the paper's
presentation of the events of the days I was there those events did
not have the same character that I had witnessed as an observer. It's
no wonder that the editorial's view was skewed.
The closing day particularly was memorable. Prosecution once again
brought up the use of evidence in a Treasury Department document that
had been put in after Hamas had been labelled terrorist by executive
order. That evidence was an essential part of the prosecution case,
and it established that other organizations than those named by the
Treasury were to be treated as terrorist organizations. That notation
appeared in a footnote in the instructions sent to Holy Land
Foundation, but the version in which it appeared actually came out
after the HLF had closed down in 2001.
The organizations that HLF contributed to are zakat committees. The
prosecution called, and prosecuted them as, terrorist organizations.
Never were they officially designated terrorist by our government. In
his closing remarks, however, prosecutor Jacks insisted that he
hadn't heard the defense prove its points, and that jurors should
depend on their memories rather than evidence.
From my attendance at the trial, I felt that the whole case against
Holy Land Foundation turned on the prosecution's insistence on facts
that it did not prove, and that if the jury had considered evidence
carefully as the previous, hung, jury had that there was no case
against Holy Land Foundation.
The editorial finding showed me that editors, like the public, had
been sadly misinformed.
Last week's guilty verdicts in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist
fundraising trial were a welcome conclusion to a long and hard-fought
case. As reporting earlier in this decade by this newspaper's Steve
McGonigle showed, the Richardson-based Islamic charity, once the
largest of its kind in the nation, secretly funneled money to the
Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas and sought to cover up the
The government's victory over five leaders of the now-defunct HLF
means real progress in shutting off the financial lifeline that
sustains Mideast terrorists.
"We have to look back as a community and reassess our moral compass,"
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician and moderate Muslim leader,
told us after the verdict.
Precisely. The government got the HLF defendants by clarifying its
case. This should be a clarifying moment for others, too.
Odd that a prosecution wrapped up this 'clarified' case by contending
the jury should ignore evidence. Prosecutor Jacks insisted that
freedom of speech did not apply here, either, as it 'showed a state
By his words, the paper that printed the opinion it had reached
should have had no right to print that opinion either.
I would rather all the misinformation in the world be given me than
that I be told the newspaper and American citizens can't express
their state of mind. Mine is very downhearted this morning. I am free
to tell you that because the U.S. Department of Justice has not
prevailed over the constitution outside of the Federal courtroom
where the HLF was tried, at least not so far.
U.S. Terrorism Case: Low Expectations
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Yesterday I spent many hours at the closing moments of the Holy Land
Foundation trial in Dallas, an exercise in the occupied White House
trying to convince twelve jurors from Dallas that Holy Land
Foundation was supporting terrorism. specific charges were brought
against Mufid Abdulqader, Abdulrahman Odeh and Mohammed El-Mezain. As
posted previously, this is part of an ongoing effort by this
government to prosecute charities for support of terrorism, and
effort which has failed in previous cases filed.
I missed Monday, thankfully, a day in which the prosecution played
about 3.5 hours of videotapes of undetermined date showing
performances of dances and skits which protest against the Israeli
occupation. Prosecutor Jonas made the statement, quoted by the Dallas
Morning News report, that Holy Land Foundation was making widows and
orphans rather than supporting them.
Throughout the trial, I have seen the prosecution equate terrorism -
that America is supposed to fear, and use its resources to combat -
with anti-Israel feelings. Defense witnesses have been brought in to
elucidate the jury about the Middle East conflict and the prevalence
of standard songs, dances and skits in festivals where nationalism is
invoked for Palestine.
All of us are learning a great deal about the conditions in
Palestine, where three quarters of the population live on less than
$2 a day, and unemployment has reached 33%. In 1995 Hamas was
designated a terrorist organization, and the Holy Land Foundation
asked for guidance on how to support charitable activities in the
Middle East without violating U.S. law. HLF made overtures to the
Treasury and Department of State, and the Israeli government, to get
solid guidelines. They got mixed messages, and little guidance.
We have also learned that in the predominantly Muslim Middle East,
zakat committees carry out a lot of the charitable organization,
representing the needy and delivering aid. The word zakat refers to
one of the five pillars of Islam, and refers to the practice of
giving 2.5% annually for the poor, which Muslims regard as basic
A crucial contention of our government is that the donations to zakat
committees from HLF constitute support of terrorism. The prosecution
brought in unidentified Israeli agents, one of them an intelligence
specialist "Avi" who insisted that the zakat committees are
controlled by Hamas. As the defense pointed out in closing
statements, this unknown quantity without credentials insisted that
it was common knowledge that Hamas controls the zakat committees,
that he was an expert who could "smell" out Hamas. The defense
witness, former Consul General in Israel Abington, with documented
credentials that include daily briefings from the U.S., dealt with
zakat committees constantly during his several tenures representing
the U.S. and was given free rein to do so from our government. He had
been enjoined from ever dealing with Hamas.
One of the government's witnesses, McBrien, former official in the
terrorism department of Treasury, was questioned about what
organizations were part of the designated terrorist network, and what
information should be relied on by charities to make sure that
charitable donations wouldn't be confused with support of terrorism.
He assured the jury that the list in existence wasn't to be taken as
the only source, that any groups could be included and that the
government didn't need to give specific names. Text he quoted from
the Treasury Department documents sent to advise HLF that they were
liable to charges of supporting terrorism if they supported listed
groups with donations. One section, read aloud in court, stated that
the listed groups were not the only ones that were involved, and the
charity was responsible for terrorism support if they chose other,
wrong, groups and the government thought they, too, were improper
As the defense established in cross-questioning in trial, and
reiterated yesterday, the section that McBrien insisted made HLF
responsible for its choice of certain zakat committees was inserted
after HLF had disbanded, in 2001. The prosecution yesterday in
closing, by attorney Jacks, countered that ... the jury should rely
on its own memory. Stating that he had heard so many details from the
defense that he'd "stopped trying to write it down", Jacks said he
didn't believe much of the defense had ever been presented, and "if
you don't recall, you're probably right". He continued to insist that
just because the designation of Hamas as terrorist hadn't happened
until after proven support by HLF, it was like saying that having
dealt drugs for years was only illegal after the government declared
Jacks entered a prosecution wrap-up that condemned Hamas for
interfering with the Oslo peace accord, and HLF members for
expressing what was construed as hatred for the Israeli occupiers. He
claimed that freedom of speech did not apply, as their speech showed
a state of mind. The U.S., Jacks went on, wants peace in the world
and that is our general nature. "Other countries use that to blame
the U.S. and say 'that's why we're opposed to you'", said Jacks. I
walked out shortly after he claimed that no one was better able to
tell the jury about zakat committees than 'Avi' because as an Israeli
security agent "that's his job."
The prosecution attorney told the twelve citizens chosen to represent
the U.S. in deciding whether Muslim charity constitutes terrorist
support, that juries of citizens decide matters like this all the
time, and that defense reminders of the seriousness of the matter
under consideration should be passed over.
Much of the evidence was gained by FISA wiretapping, which produced
over almost ten years of 24 hours a day, mountains of tapes and
transcripts. As the defense pointed out yesterday, from all that
taxpayer supported effort the government introduced into evidence at
trial some few skimpy pages that it insists support its case against
those men it has charged with intentionally using the charity as a
front to encourage and abet Hamas in terrorism.
It is impossible without making this unmanageable as a post to go
into the amount of evidence I sat through, and I have definitely come
out of the trial disgusted with the government case. The prosecution
made its case to a jury yesterday that I felt had been insulted by
them. The simple-minded claim that evidence presented by defense
attorneys was just too much to register, that their memories should
be relied on instead, reduces a jury to applause generators who vote
for the Idol of the moment because they like a presentation best.
The government I saw in action yesterday is a disgrace, and proof
positive that the Department of Justice has been badly damaged by the
executive branch that has so besmirched this country's good name. If
we can't be represented by dignified, intellectually capable,
attorneys in a trial concerning terrorist activities, we are horribly
Incidentally, the local coverage was this:
Defense attorneys stressed the charity's humanitarian work and
lambasted the government's case as prejudiced.
What I heard was really something different, and went into great
detail on the ways evidence worked against the government's case
Holy Land Five convictions mark sad day for American justice system
BOB RAY SANDERS - bobray@...
Sunday, Nov 30, 2008
On its face, the U.S. government won last week when a federal jury in
Dallas convicted the Richardson-based charity Holy Land Foundation
and five former leaders of providing financial aid to a foreign
terrorist organization Hamas.
But a Fort Worth defense attorney who has been involved in the case
since 2005 called the prosecution shameful and compared the 42-day
trial to some of the darkest days in American history.
Attorney Greg Westfall, one of eight lawyers on the case, sat in his
downtown office Wednesday two days after the guilty verdicts had
been handed down on all 108 counts and looked dejected.
After years of silence because of a gag order in the case, Westfall
was ready to talk.
He began by pointing to a published story in which Richard Roper,
U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, was quoted as
saying, "This is a great day in the United States. We will not
tolerate those who fund terrorism."
"A great day for the United States?" Westfall asked rhetorically and
emphatically. "Yeah, like Dred Scott was a great day for the United
States. Like the 'Red Scare' was a great day in America."
(Dred Scott was the 1857 Supreme Court case that declared no slave or
descendant of a slave was a citizen of the United States and,
therefore, had no right to sue in federal court.)
The case involving what I call "The Holy Land Five" was one in which
the U.S. government spent years and millions of dollars to convict
the charity leaders on conspiracy charges. The first trial ended in a
mistrial last year, but prosecutors vowed to pursue it.
"This was a trial based on fear and prejudice," Westfall said, adding
that President George W. Bush had "set the tone for this day by using
words like " 'Islamic fascists.'
For example, he said, "In the 1940s we rounded up several thousand
Japanese, just because they were Japanese. Ten years later, we had
the 'Red Scare' that ruined lives that killed the Rosenbergs. And
here we go again."
In pandering to racial and religious prejudices, Westfall said, the
prosecution depended on people accepting the stereotype that "Muslim
equals Islamist equals terrorist."
"Do we as Christians want to be judged by Eric Rudolph blowing up
abortion clinics?" he said. "If we as Christians don't want to be
judged by that, then we probably should not judge all Muslims because
of Osama bin Laden."
While avoiding criticizing the jury, Westfall did not hesitate to
condemn "the way the case was presented and allowed to be presented
by the judge and the government to the jury."
It was based mainly on guilt by association, he said, including
associations with groups that have never been proven to
be "terrorists" or supporters of terrorism.
The Holy Land Foundation generally gave to zakat committees that
supported charities, including orphanages, in the Middle East. The
government shut down the organization in 2001 after the Sept. 11
attacks and then began the long crusade to convict its leaders by
trying to tie them to Hamas, which the U.S. declared a terrorist
group in 1995.
Westfall thought it out of line that the government published a list
of about 300 unindicted co-conspirators, groups he said were
considered by many to be mainstream organizations, like the Council
on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"Any statements made by anybody on that list could be held against
our clients," he said.
The attorney said the government also produced items from a search
warrant of someone's home in Virginia, and went so far as to present
documents, seized in a military operation, that the defense was not
allowed to see.
"We were barred from seeing them or an index of what was there, and
[the prosecution] introduced them through an unnamed Israeli soldier
who was not present when the documents were seized," he said.
In addition, there were other "unsigned and unauthored" documents
retrieved in a raid of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and
introduced as evidence, he said.
"It was all tied together by an Israeli secret agent who didn't have
to give his name," Westfall said. "He testified as an expert was
allowed to testify at length without us knowing who he was. Do you
realize what power that is? If you don't have to give your real name,
you can't face perjury you get a free pass."
He added, "If the president of the United States had testified in
this trial, he would have had to give his name. In this trial, we
gave an Israeli secret agent more power than we would give the
president of the United States."
The attorney said prosecutors tried to link the nonprofit
organization to terrorists when in reality it was simply a faith-
based group supporting charities whose leaders often talked about the
occupation of the Palestinian territories.
"The Holy Land Foundation was a faith-based organization that just
happened to be the wrong faith," he said.
The case will be appealed. When asked what chances he thought he had,
"I think it gets reversed hope springs eternal. I think in the end
and it may take way too long America gets it right. We just have to
go through this over and over again."
Because prosecutors argued that the defendants have still been
raising money and, therefore, pose a threat to the country, the judge
ordered them jailed while the case is on appeal.
I'm on record saying that this case was more about religious bigotry
and political pressure than facts. And I believe, like many others,
that the Holy Land Five are political prisoners, not terrorists.
As I left Westfall's office, he repeated sarcastically, "This is a
great day for America."
Yes, indeed, a great, sad day for our country.
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