Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Holy Land Foundation trial:
Jury opts for acquittals, maybe

Juries fascinate me. I'm frequently -- yearly -- called for jury duty and remain certain I'll never be seated. But even my short exposure to a succession of jury examinations has convinced me that there is something about the experience that can, sometimes, bring out the best in us as citizens. I've told the story of one such episode here.

On Monday, a federal jury in Dallas reported out numerous acquittals and several failures to reach a verdict in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation and its executives on various charges of funding terrorism. The Texas-based Muslim foundation had been under federal investigation for many years -- some of the charges dated back to before the Palestinian Hamas movement that allegedly benefited from the charithad even been declared a terrorist organization. None of the charges suggested Holy Land's contributions paid for guns and bombs; they paid for clinics and schools, but that propped up "terrorism."

For a few moments in the courtroom, it seemed that the jurors had resoundingly rejected the government's theory of guilt -- and then some jurors protested that they hadn't voted as they indicated on the signed jury statement. The judge declared a mistrial and the feds say they'll try again.

So what came out of this bizarre trial and its aftermath? There are a lot of different points of view. I've compiled some here.

"I think it is a huge defeat for the government," said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor specializing in 1st Amendment cases and terrorism prosecutions.

"They spent almost 15 years investigating this group, seized all their records and had extensive wiretapping and yet could not obtain a single conviction on charges of supporting a terrorist organization."

Los Angeles Times
October 23, 2007

Dennis Lormel, who created the FBI's Terrorist Financing Operations Section and is now a terrorism consultant, said the collapse of the trial is a blow, but far from a death knell for similar cases.

"Obviously, it's a disappointment," he said. "But this should have no effect on the overall war on terror or terrorism financing. Regardless of the guilt or innocence, that charity was used to provide Hamas with funding. The government already won in this case, in that this charity's assets were frozen and that kept them from sending more money. At trial, your standard is different, and they didn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt."

... Counterterrorism expert Fred Burton, vice president for counterterrorism and corporate security at Austin-based Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, said it's best to view the prosecution as part of a disruption strategy. The verdict didn't come out as hoped, but "you have in essence tied this organization up in knots for a long time."

Dallas Morning News
October 23, 2007

The decision is "a stunning setback for the government, there's no other way of looking at it," said Matthew D. Orwig, a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal here who was, until recently, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.

"This is a message, a two-by-four in the middle of the forehead," said Mr. Orwig, who was appointed by President Bush and served on the United States attorney general's advisory subcommittee on terrorism and national security. "If this doesn't get their attention, they are just in complete denial," he said of Justice Department officials, who he said might not have recognized how difficult such cases are to prosecute.

New York Times
October 23, 2007

"This case shows that we have not done our homework," said Karen Greenberg, executive director of New York University's Center for Law and Security. "It's conveying an impression to the American people that we don't know how to do this." ...

Studies by the NYU center over the six years to September 2007 found that of 619 defendants in federal cases potentially involving terrorism, 196 were indicted on actual terrorism charges.

Greenberg said this relatively small share indicated prosecutors were either chasing the wrong suspects or using the wrong laws. ...

Of the 196 terrorism defendants, 62 have been convicted, according to NYU center figures. Only one case, the conviction last year of Pakistani immigrant Shahawar Martin Siraj for planning to bomb a New York subway station, involved the archetypal terrorism scenario of a suspected clandestine cell seeking to carry out an attack on U.S. soil, the center said.

October 23, 2007

The government's case was a sweeping, if ultimately unpersuasive, indictment of a charity organization that had been under scrutiny for about 14 years. It was also a legal stretch from the start. The indictment essentially conceded that the money HLF donated was used to build hospitals and aid the poor, yet it accused the charity and its officers and fund-raisers of aiding a terrorist organization by helping it spread its ideology and recruit members. Translation: Even those who support good works are guilty of terrorism if the good works make the terrorists look good.

... the jury utterly rejected the essence of the government's theory of prosecution. A brief review of similar cases, however, suggests that the case is far from over. The government is unlikely to find in the verdict a reason to question its approach, or to hesitate to bring these sorts of cases in the future. The reality of federal criminal prosecution is that even when juries are deeply skeptical of government overreaching, in the end, the relentless might of the government almost always leaves those it prosecutes bankrupt and incarcerated....

David Feige

All praise to God, this trial is the biggest trial against a Muslim charity in the history of the US, and today I feel that there is hope people are still capable of thinking and utilizing their god gifted talents of analyzing the facts and not playing with the lives of innocent people who are just being wrongfully charged for helping orphans and widows.

Dr. Asma Salam
Texas Civil Rights Review

One Holy Land Foundation case juror told The Associated Press, "I thought they were not guilty across the board. Juror William Neal added that the case "was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence." He said the government "really used fear" to try to sway the jury.

This was a classic case of guilt by association and a political vendetta against American citizens to carry out the agenda of a special interest group -- the Israel lobby.

Parvez Ahmed,
Tracy Press,
October 24, 2007

The United States of America, for all of its current and past ignominious trampling on the rights of the weak (whether or not we want to own up to that truth) still has a paradigm of value hidden in our collective memory (or at least in our deepest desires) to look to for guidance. It is a paradigm of equality and liberty that very few of us ever really experience, equality and liberty whose very names were penned by a man who owned slaves; equality and liberty in the name of which our ancestors drove indigenous peoples from their lands; equality and liberty in the name of which, in our lifetime, we insisted that our brothers and sisters of Japanese ancestry be herded up and sent off to desert camps; equality and liberty in the name of which many now hold Muslim Americans and Arab Americans in suspicion and hatred. But they are equality and liberty that are larger than our weakness, equality and liberty that are stronger than our prejudices, equality and liberty that will last longer than our selfishness, our fear, and our pride.

We are still growing into the equality and liberty that Mr. Jefferson said we hold to be self-evident (if they are so obvious, why are they so amorphous as to disappear when we need them most?). Mr. Jefferson wrote better than he knew or acted, and we read his words better than we understand or fulfill.

But once in awhile, in spite of ourselves, a glimpse of equality and liberty breaks through. It may be in the unsatisfactory verdict of "mistrial." It may appear at a moment when the "system" seems to have broken down. It may be, no, it almost certainly will be, in a situation over which we think control is lost.

Harold Knight
A blog that has followed the trial

I'm neither as encouraged as Mr. Knight nor as pessimistic as Mr. Feige at the trial's outcome. But I am reminded that "it's never over til it is over."

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