Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Justice, the Department, Does Dallas

Yesterday I visited the trial of a Muslim charitable organization that is being accused of supporting terrorism. I went to the trial of the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Texas.

Thanks to a bit of chance, I met a member of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) trial defense team about a year and a half ago, and since I had been blogging on the trial, she invited me to come sit in on the actual action. Yesterday I did. It was pretty sad.

The government has brought charges against Muslim charities several times now for charitable support that has enabled terrorism. In 1995, Hamas was put on a list that classifies it as a terrorist organization, and since then any support of Hamas activities would constitute a crime. Financial support, from various Muslim charities, has not been shown to have occurred since the listing happened, but the charges persist. The Justice Department charges have been defeated in previous cases, but Dallas looks like the venue that finally is going to work for them.

As I had noted earlier in posts on the HLF trial, the judge in the previous trial here, which was declared a mistrial, allowed the government to use unidentified witnesses who were Israeli government agents. The fact that under our constitution the accused has the right to know who his/her accusers are just got swallowed up. That trial ended in acquittals for all but one of the accused, and a member of the jury who would not agree with the others on the remaining charges against one of them. The judge called for a retrial for all of the accused.

Yesterday I sat in on the actual hearing in the Federal Courthouse in Dallas, though observers were kept out of the courtroom to prevent identification of the agents who were used as witnesses against the defendants.. During the course of the morning, a small piece of paper was passed out cautioning members of the courtroom observers not to laugh, roll their eyes, chew gum, pray in the halls, talk and in other ways influence the jury.

Early on, one of the Israeli agents were testifying about materials the Israeli military picked up during raids on Muslim locations. The institutions included many kinds of operations, including schools and orphanages, and did turn up anti-Israeli materials which included documents of many types,posters, keychains and 'teachings'. During questioning, one agent denied that the operation he was part of, Operation Defense Shield, was part of Army security. That contradicted earlier testimony he had given, testimony that he had consulted with his attorney on at the time, in the earlier trial. Thank heavens I wasn't chewing any gum to distract that jury ... oh, well, we were not allowed in the courtroom in the morning, to keep the unidentified agents from revealing their identities.

In the afternoon I did get to the actual scene of the HLF trial, to hear a government witness who was being given special treatment after being found guilty of defrauding his employer. The defense questioning brought out that although Mr. Shorbagi had been convicted of crimes that could have had severe penalties, he had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison subject to possible shorter sentencing if he provided 'Substantial Assistance' to the government. He was trying really, really hard not to admit that he would like to get out of jail under Defense questioning about that possibility.

Mr. Shorbagi was not nearly so amazing for his fondness of his sentence as the government prosecution questioning. This witness had appeared the previous day, and had given testimony about the accused HLF participants' ties to Hamas. Normally, the 'redirect' which this questioning represented would have followed up on previous testimony.

Yesterday,the prosecution led his witness on a verbal adventure through realms of what Hamas and the entire Gaza community had thought and felt during the exile of more than 400 men from Gaza after an incident there.

The incident was one that the jury would easily connect with terrorism, an Israeli elimination by a well-aimed bomb of a prominent Gaza engineer who the witness identified with origination of suicide bombings. Subsequently a rocket was launched from Gaza, and several Israelis were killed. As a result of the rocket attack, about 70 homes were destroyed on Gaza's border with Israel, and more than 400 residents of the zone exiled into a refugee camp without any resources, in the winter. The HLF was one of many organizations that went to their assistance. The U.N. was one of those who helped.

During prosecution questioning, Mr. Shorbagi was allowed to testify that the Gaza community thought well of the dead engineer, that the refugees were aroused by their mistreatment, that Hamas was supportive of the engineer, and suicide bombings, praised "intifada", martyrdom - and other thoughts and feelings that no effort was made to establish this witness as qualified to speak on.

None of this area of questioning had been brought up before, it was on redirect questioning. So in addition to being new territory, the questioning was out of place because no previous indication or use had been established. For those of you not familiar with court procedure, 'hearsay' evidence is also precluded - evidence involving telling what some other party, not present in the court procedure, said, did or especially thought or believed. All objections to this entire episode were overruled, except for a few objections to 'leading the witness' - trying to prejudice his testimony in a particular direction.

Frankly, I was appalled. As our maladministration now occupying the White House has continually shown during the past eight years, the Justice Department has been infiltrated by politically motivated operatives who have undermined our judicial system. Yesterday I watched it in action. In its attempt to prove that terrorism is rife among Muslim charities, our government is ignoring basic justice, and basic principles that keep our system of law alive.

The Rule of Law is precious. It keeps us all safe, in addition to making our country one that gives access to every citizen to justice he/she can depend on. Under this Justice Department none of us is safe. When our courts are corrupt and maladminister their own laws no one can live securely.

In the Holy Land Foundation case, the government is using the excuse of fighting terrorism, but what I saw in court in Dallas yesterday was what terrorism could never accomplish, a breakdown of our country's laws.

I will go in again tomorrow, there is another episode I want to observe. This isn't easy to watch. I used to be really proud of my country, and I hope that I can be again, soon.

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I noted during the trial that the defense, the judge and some attendees are exhibiting a Us vs. Them attitude toward the defendants and members of the observing public who are obviously Muslim. I felt that a presence of more diverse types in the public might help alleviate that influence. If you're in the Dallas area, you might consider coming by sometimes. But don't cough, roll your eyes or pray in the hall!

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2 Comments:

Anonymous ebw said...

thanks for the coverage. i wrote about the elashi brothers previously, and i hope you'll copy me on everything you've written in the past on HLF as well.

ebw@wampum

3:12 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Put into Wampum email this a.m. Many posts here on the HLF trial - just put Holy Land in the search box.

6:18 AM  

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