Wednesday, November 12, 2008

U.S. Terrorism Case: Low Expectations

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 religious observance.

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 recipients.

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 it illegal.

I'm serious.

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 betrayed.


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.

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Blogger VforVirginia said...

Tay good gawd, Ruth.

It's really everything about these evil, dishonest fear-mongers boiled down into one nasty package, isn't it?

It even includes the meme about "if you're uninformed you're probably right" that has served so well in fighting the forces of rationality and education these past years.

You're a stronger woman than I to not get thrown out or held in contempt. They are certainly deserving of it.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

V4Va, the court has passed out notices warning that noise will cause the trial to be closed, and I wouldn't have that happen for the world. But I did 'huff' out before I had to start yelling.

5:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for attending and reporting this! I'll do my wee part and send emails to Glenn Greenwald, Digby, Scott Horton, Jonathan Turley and the boyz at Balkinization.(link at my name to a blog post which mentions your warning)

This suppressed information is in large part directly because of failed journalism.

Thank goodness for citizen journos.

Thank goodness for you, Ruth!

5:22 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Thanks, Annie, it just burned me up to hear this reported as if the gov't was perfectly okay with prosecuting a charity - and important details being ignored.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Koshem Bos said...

It's also cultural ignorance of how the typical Middle Eastern societies operate. Yesterday I heard on NPR the story of Iraqi Chaldeans coming from Iraq and being supported by other Chaldeans who already live in the high unemployment Detroit. That's the society's way there; they are their brother's keepers.

Actually, Irish Americans always supported the Irish as well. Did anyone stand trial for it?

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider it done, Ruth. I hope that it brings some more exposure and support.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


your blogging on the HLF trial is outstanding, informative, and an excellent resource for all of us. Thank you so much for all the time and effort you have put into this.

awesome work at a most depressing and unjust spectacle.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Your appreciation, folks, makes me even more glad I did go to the trouble. Once I saw what was going on it was something I couldn't let happen without at least some real comment. If any good can come of this whole atrocity by our government, it will be help in turning the DOJ back into a functioning arm of justice. I will do what I can, as Diane does regularly, to make the Rule of Law real and working for this country again.

9:33 AM  

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