American Muslim Perspective: Three Muslim charities ordered to pay $156 million to parents of teenager killed in Jerusalem bombing Verdict described a travesty of Justice

CHICAGO, Dec. 8, 2004: An unfortunate, but expected, decision was rendered today by a jury who heard one side of the story, the Muslim Civil Rights Committee (MCRC), said. The Quranic Literacy Institute (QLI) has been found guilty on evidence that is vague and poorly contextualized without having a realistic chance of addressing the evidence cited against it, the MCRC statement said.

The American Muslim Voice, a California-based civil rights group, also described the judgment unfair and without due process.

Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Chicago described the verdict was a travesty of justice.

A federal jury deliberated for one day before awarding $52 million in damages to the parents of David Boim, shot down at a bus stop eight years ago. U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys then tripled the damages.

But it is uncertain whether the family can collect much money from the defendants, some of whom have had their assets frozen by the government.

Before the trial started, the judge had found the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Islamic Association for Palestine and alleged Hamas fund-raiser Mohammed Salah liable in Boim’s death. The jury found that the Quranic Literacy Institute of suburban Oak Lawn, a group that translates Islamic religious texts, was also responsible for the shooting.

The Boims, Americans who moved to Israel in 1985, sued under a U.S. law that allows victims of terrorism abroad to collect damages in American courts from organizations that furnish money to terrorist groups.

The weeklong trial focused on the Quranic Literacy Institute and its relationship with Salah, who claimed to be an employee.

The institute’s attorney, John Beal, refused to take any active part in the trial. He said the judge didn’t provide enough time to prepare a defense. Beal repeatedly insisted there was an innocent explanation for each of the allegations.

Stephen J. Landes, an attorney for the parents of the slain David Boim, said it was the first time a court had held U.S.-based organizations liable for terrorism abroad.

Keys ordered a Dec. 1 jury trial to decide how much must be paid by Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Islamic Association for Palestine and alleged Hamas fund-raiser Mohammed Salah of Chicago.

Holy Land Foundation attorney John Boyd said the charity had been unfairly singled out and called it “an enormous disappointment” that the judge found it liable before the case could go to a jury.

Attorney Brendan Shiller, representing the Islamic Association for Palestine, said the judge’s decision “dangerously stretches theories of liabilities so you no longer have to prove cause and effect.”

The defendants deny any ties to Hamas and argue that there was no evidence to show that money they sent to charities on the West Bank was tied to the Boim killing.

Keys, however, said the Boims didn’t need to show that.

“Rather, the Boims need only show that the defendants were involved in an agreement to accomplish an unlawful act and that the attack that killed David Boim was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy,” Keys said.

Keys made his decision without a trial – a “summary judgment” – that Salah and the two groups were liable based on evidence presented in court papers. He said the evidence was clear.

Quranic Literacy attorney John Beal said his clients “have maintained all along that they have absolutely nothing to do with the funding of Hamas.”

Meanwhile, an officer of one defendant, the Oak Lawn-based Quranic Literacy Institute, lodged a protest in court over the judge’s refusal to issue a continuance in the trial. In a possibly unprecedented move, John Beal, the institute’s lawyer, announced he would attend but not participate in the trial mostly because he said he hadn’t had time to prepare a competent defense. Beal contended that put the burden on him alone to defend the entire case just three weeks before the trial.

At the request of Keys, Amer Haleem, the institute’s secretary, came to court on Dec. 2 to voice the organization’s support for Beal’s decision, not to participate in questioning witnesses or putting on evidence. Registering a protest, Haleem contended that Keys had rushed the case to trial, putting the institute “in an untenable position.”

The larger issue before the court is whether Muslims can get a fair trial, Haleem maintained. “The answer that has been coming from many courts is no,” he said. “You’ve predetermined what this jury is going to do.”

“This trial will continue,” Keys responded. “I’m satisfied you know what you are doing.”

Outside the courtroom, Haleem described the institute as a scholarly organization toiling for years producing an English interpretation of the Koran.

Haleem sympathizes with the Boim family over its loss, he said, “but if someone is victimized, does it give them the right to victimize others?”

Verdict a travesty of Justice

Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Chicago described the verdict was a travesty of justice.

Yaser Tabbara said the jury only heard one side of the case because the defendants instructed their attorney to remain silent in protest at the judge’s decision not to give them extra time to prepare.

“We feel that the decision is unfortunate but expected. I think this will only serve to discourage American Muslims from giving to charity,” he said.

“Not only did the judge originally find that the charities had funneled money to Hamas but he found that Hamas had actually carried out the killing, which to my knowledge they have never claimed.”

Tabbara also acknowledged the perception among American Muslims that there is redress for Israeli victims of Palestinian “terrorism” but no redress for Palestinian victims of Israeli “terrorism”.

“By the same logic, it should be possible for a Palestinian American to sue a US organization like the Friends of the Israeli Defense Force for the unlawful killings they perpetrate,” he said.

On Dec. 6, Chicago Muslim groups said that they have doubts that any Muslim can get a fair trial. “I think what we saw in court today was a definite attack on Islam,” said Seema Imam of the Muslim Civil Rights Center.

Another protester said that he felt Judge Keyes’ ruling had “predetermined the outcome of this trial ahead of time.” “At the end of the day,” said Yaser Tabbara, with the Council on American Islamic Relations, “what we are witnessing is a modern day lynching and a mockery of justice.”

Source: Media reports

copyright © 2004, American Muslim Perspective