Media Monitors Network: Holy Land Foundation: When Prosecution turns to Persecution

By: M.T. Akbar

In the most recent episode of the drama surrounding the HLF case we witnessed one of the greatest miscarriages of justice that we’ve seen in a very long time in America. In a relentless hunt to seek victories after the attacks of 9/11 against “terrorism”, the now lame duck government of George W. Bush headed by the “Justice Department” sought convictions at any cost against the HLF.

The politicized nature of this trial is obvious from the outset. Even before any charges or prosecutions, George W. Bush went in front of the American public in a White House press conference in which he declared that HLF was a front organization for Hamas. This was proven false as later the FBI admitted that they never found any evidence connecting HLF to Hamas. Instead what they later claimed was that the HLF was helping charities that were somehow associated with Hamas.

In December of 2007, a federal court of appeals found that HLF was not connected to Hamas and overturned a previous decision awarding money to the Boim family because they failed to prove a link between the death of their son in the West Bank and HLF. This further highlights the fact that HLF was not involved in supporting terrorism or violence and that the allegations were without merit.

In the first HLF trial in October of 2007, the jury, after deliberating for 19 days came back and returned zero guilty verdicts. Nearly 200 counts were read out against the defendants and the jury found that: “Mohammad El-Mezain was acquitted on 31 of 32 counts. The jury deadlocked on the 1st count, which was “conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.” Mufid Abdulqader was acquitted on all 32 counts. Abdulrahman Odeh was acquitted on 30 of 32 counts. The jury deadlocked on the 1st count and the 11th count, which also was the “conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.” Shukri Abu-Baker and Ghassan Elashi were neither acquitted nor convicted on all 36 counts. The jury deadlocked, 6-6, on every single count against them. As for the Holy Land Foundation, the jury was also split on all counts against it. These decisions were quickly altered as the judge polled jurors, three of whom said the verdict did not represent their votes. So the judge sent the jury back to their room to deliberate… When they returned to the courtroom, the judge re-polled them and concluded the following results: Mr. Abdulqader’s not guilty verdicts were changed to a hung jury on all 32 counts because only one juror believed he was guilty. Mr. Odeh’s 30 not guilty verdicts were also changed to a hung jury because a juror changed her mind. The judgments on Mr. Elashi, Mr. Abu-Baker and Mr. El-Mezain did not change from the hour before.”

The judge ruled a mistrial and the prosecutors declared their intention to retry the case. After having spent millions of tax-payers dollars, and countless hours investigating the charity the government was told that the evidence wasn’t sufficient – proving that providing humanitarian aid to those in war torn areas could not be construed as supporting terrorism. The prosecutors while admitting the HLF provided assistance to real charitable organizations still sought to pursue the case as they had invested too much into it.

The retrial of the HLF case was flawed from the beginning and disadvantaged the defense. The prosecutors having had the chance for a rare “do-over” were already familiar with the arguments of the defense (which had shown its cards in the first trial) and were able to streamline their own evidence as well as bring in more witnesses.

Prosecutors based their case on the fact that HLF supported different Zakat committees that the government assumes are controlled by Hamas. However, other aid agencies and charities such as US AID and CARE provided financial help to the same Zakat committees which the government is now saying are affiliated with Hamas; they were never designated by the US as “terrorist fronts.”

The guilty verdicts that came down were based on nothing more than hearsay evidence and the unprecedented use of emotionally charged videos that had absolutely nothing to do with the defendants. The court censored the testimony of the defense witnesses, while allowing uncensored anonymous Israeli agents to testify as “expert” witnesses against the defendants. The court extended every privilege and stretched every boundary to favor the prosecution while it restricted the defendants at every turn to present a meaningful defense. The government’s approach to this re-trial was to win at all costs then let the appellate court sort things.

This trial leaves us with more questions than it does answers: What ramifications will this have for those who seek to deliver aid to war ravaged zones that we claim have some connection to organizations that we declare illegal, are American charity organizations supposed to know that they can be charged for giving money to organizations that haven’t been designated as terrorist fronts, will American Muslim organizations and individuals labeled “maybe alleged un-indicted co-conspirators” going to finally afforded their rightful opportunity to challenge such an unconstitutional designation?

This re-trial was nothing more than the advancement of a government witch-hunt pursued in the atmosphere of Islamophobia and sparing no cost in the so-called “War on Terror.” It has led to a prosecution that when analyzed adds up to nothing more than persecution that relied upon hearsay.

Copyright © 2008 MMN International Inc.