Verdicts cause confusion, then more deliberation,
finally joy and thanks
By MICHAEL GRABELL and JEFFREY WEISS
Monday, October 22, 2007
The Dallas Morning News
At first, three of the six defendants in the Holy Land Foundation
trial were found not guilty. Then, they weren't. Then, one was found
not guilty. But not on all charges.
Go to link above to listen:
Audio: Sheik Saad Mohamad instructs a crowd of about 200 supporters of
the defendants as to the proper Muslim way to respond to the news (.mp3)
Audio: Khalil Meek, spokesman for the supporters, explains the
Audio: Sahar Ayad of Irving reads the verdict from the RSS feed on
Such was the confusion Monday at the Earle Cabell Federal Building and
Courthouse in downtown Dallas, where jurors rendered their verdict in
the nation's largest terrorism financing case.
After 14 years of investigation, two months of trial, 19 days of
deliberations and four more of waiting, the Holy Land case is
essentially back where it started. The judge declared a mistrial on
nearly all the charges, and prosecutors can retry everyone.
But the confusion quickly turned to jubilation among Holy Land supporters.
"Like Rosa Parks once was persecuted for simply sitting in a front
seat of a bus, my dad was singled out for feeding, clothing and
educating the children of Palestine," said Noor Elashi, daughter of
defendant Ghassan Elashi.
The defendants had arrived Monday morning in a cold rain that seemed
to swirl from every direction.
"We'll be all right," Shukri Abu Baker, the former Holy Land CEO, told
a United Church of Christ minister, there to support him. He then
looked up to the ceiling. "We're in good hands," he said.
More than 200 people, most of them Muslim, eventually assembled in a
sixth-floor cafeteria at the federal courthouse to await the verdicts.
The jury made up its mind Thursday, but the verdict had been sealed
over the weekend because the judge was out of town.
During the early bewildering minutes, an imam instructed the crowd how
"If we hear good news," said Sheik Saad Mohamad, "there is no loud
noise, no laughing like that. ... We need you to act and behave like a
Upstairs in the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Joe Fish read the
verdict from the jury forewoman. The jury had deadlocked on three of
the defendants, he said, unanimously acquitted a fourth and found two
others not guilty on most charges.
He then polled the jurors, as is routine. But three jurors said they
didn't agree with the verdicts.
The jury forewoman was surprised.
"When we voted, there was no issue in the vote," she told the judge.
"No one spoke up any different. I really don't understand where it is
coming from. All 12 made that decision."
With the verdicts no longer unanimous, Judge Fish sent the jurors back
for more deliberations.
When they returned, two of three holdout jurors said they agreed with
the verdicts. But one held out, leading to a mistrial for fundraiser
Mufid Abdulqader and Holy Land's New Jersey representative,
It's unclear why the two jurors initially said they did not agree and
then said they did agree with the verdicts. But one of those two said
that he didn't support a mistrial and wished they could have agreed on
all counts. Adding to the confusion was the response from some holdout
jurors that they "did not disagree" with the not guilty verdicts.
When the news got to the defendants' supporters in the sixth-floor
cafeteria – over RSS feeds on several cellphones – that none of the
defendants had been convicted, many of those in the room knelt briefly
Imam Moujahed Bakhach, a human relations commissioner in Fort Worth,
invoked God a few minutes later at a news conference.
"We thank God almighty first, and we thank the jury for their
patience," he said. Mahdi Bray, executive director of Muslim American
Society Freedom Foundation, said the government's failure to get any
convictions was evidence of the power of religious freedom.
"The American Muslim community is protected under the First
Amendment," he said. "Feeding people is not a crime, and we aren't
going to let the American government make it a crime."
Islam teaches that Muslims are supposed to give money to charity,
particularly during their holy month of Ramadan. The Holy Land
Foundation was one of several charities closed by the U.S. government
that had benefited from those religious charitable contributions.
The government had alleged that the Holy Land Foundation was linked to
Hamas, a Muslim organization responsible for bombings in Israel – and
responsible for running programs to feed and care for needy Palestinians.
At the impromptu news conference, speakers condemned the government
Speaking forcefully before dozens of journalists, Ms. Elashi called
her father "an American hero."
"He's a person who heard a Palestinian orphan's cry for help and chose
not to ignore it," she said.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, drew links to McCarthyism in the 1950s.
"Today's campaign has a different name and a different target," said
Mr. Awad, whose group is an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
"The campaign is anti-terrorism and the target is the American Muslim
Outside the courthouse, supporters braved the drizzle to hug the
defendants. With ear-to-ear smiles and tears in their eyes, they
shouted, "Takbir! Takbir!" (God is great!)
They lifted Mr. Baker, Mr. Odeh and defense lawyer Greg Westfall on
their shoulders to loud cheers and applause from the crowd. One person
passed out orange-and-pink sugar cookies.
Muslim activists raised a long banner reading, "Feeding Children is
Not a Crime" as passing drivers on Commerce Street honked their horns
Muslims attending regular daily prayers at the Dallas Central Mosque
in Richardson also got the news about the end of the trial, said
Mohammed Suleman, a former president of the mosque's board of trustees.
Even for local Muslims who didn't follow the trial as closely as those
who went to the courthouse Monday, the results were a relief, Mr.
"One way or another it was going to reflect on the Muslim community,"
Mixed with the relief for many was pride in the U.S. justice system,
That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Ahmed Basheer, head of the Muslim
Community Center in Fort Worth.
"Everybody who comes to this country as immigrants have a strong trust
in the American judicial system," he said. "This gives all the Muslims
a greater hope that Muslims, although they are the minority, can look
to get justice like everybody else."
Staff writer Steve Thompson contributed to this report.
mgrabell @ dallasnews.com; jweiss @ dallasnews.com
Mistrial for US Muslim charity: The foundation helped Muslim children
who were victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The trial of former leaders of a US-based charity accused of
funnelling aid to "terrorist" organisations has been abandoned, after
three jurors disputed some of the verdicts.
Judge A Joe Fish, who presided over the case, sent the jury back to
resolve their differences, but declared a mistrial on Monday when no
unanimous verdict was returned.
The mistrial was a temporary victory for the former charity leaders,
who said they ran a legitimate organisation that helped Muslim
children made victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The result is also seen as a blow to the legal front of the US
government's so-called "war on terror".
When asked if the government would attempt to retry the case against
what was once the largest Muslim charity in the US, the lead
prosecutor said "yes", but would not comment further because of a gag
Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey, speaking from outside the court house
in Dallas, said: "To the Muslim community this is a very important
case because all of their charities have been shut down and millions
of dollars that was supposed to go to help the needy in the
Palestinian territories are now being held by the government."
She said: "Many Muslims feel that the community has been tainted and
labelled guilty by association because so many mainstream groups and
individuals were associated with this charity."
The mistrial came about an hour after a confusing scene in the courtroom.
The court examined thousands of documents
and heard two months of testimony
Three former leaders of the group were initially found not guilty of
most counts, but when jurors were polled, three of them said those
verdicts were read incorrectly.
The jury were sent back to agree on their verdict and after about an
hour of deliberation, Fish said he received a note from the jury
saying 11 of the 12 felt they could not reach a unanimous decision.
The jury forewoman said she was surprised by the three jurors' actions.
"When we voted, there was no issue in the vote," she said.
"No one spoke up any different. I really don't understand where it is
Two months of testimony
In all, five former leaders of the charity and the Holy Land
Foundation itself had been accused of providing aid to groups
including Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip and has been designated a
"terrorist group" by the US government.
Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006, overturning the
rule of Fatah, and is popular among many Palestinians in Gaza and the
West Bank for its provision of welfare and social services.
Mohammed El-Mezain, the former chairman of the Holy Land Foundation
for Relief and Development, was acquitted of most of the charges
against him, while the cases for two defendants, initially found not
guilty along with El-Mezain, ended in mistrial.
The jurors did not reach verdicts on charges against the foundation
itself or Shukri Abu Baker, the charity's former chief executive, and
Ghassan Elashi, the former chairman, resulting in mistrials for them too.
Jurors had heard two months of testimony, mostly from FBI and Israeli
agents who described thousands of pages of documents and hours of
videotapes seized from the Holy Land Foundation.
They also heard from former associates of the group and from
Palestinian charities that received money from the foundation.
Prosecutors said Hamas controlled the charities that received the
funds, but defence lawyers argued none of the Palestinian charities
aided by the foundation were ever designated "terrorist" by the US
DMN: Juror gets real about the '11-1' hung jury
Throughout his interview with Dallas Morning News reporter Rebecca
Lopez, William Neal reveals the insurmountable task of getting 12
people to unanimously agree on 197 counts against 5 men (and an
Mr. Neal said that much of the evidence was fear-based, and not
relevant to the financial trail the prosecution had to illustrate. The
government would contradict itself by instructing the jurors not to
bother remembering names, then pulling out lists upon lists of foreign
names, but no checks.
"It's a waste," said Mr. Neal. "To come up empty - I feel like I lost
my job and my girlfriend at the same time."
Mr. Neal found all of the defendants innocent of all charges.
Watch the video of his interview here.
THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FOUNDATION
Shawwal 1428 AH (October 22, 2007)
I just received word that The Holy Land Foundation was found NOT
GUILTY of "Funding Terrorism" - charges that represented the heart of
the political indictment leveled by the Israeli-US governments, in a
looong, protracted, very costly and very public trial! (Additional
details will be forthcoming.)
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (and its
leadership) were accused of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas for
"terrorist operations" against Israel. The returned with a verdict on
Oct. 18, after 19 days of deliberation, but it was sealed until today
in order for all of the principles in the case to be present.
The United States designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995
and 1997, making it illegal to have financial dealings with the
organization. Lawyers for the HLF argued that it was a legitimate
humanitarian relief organization that provided urgently needed money
for medical, social service and educational assistance to Palestinian
While this is a long overdue victory for the organization, its
leadership and supporters, it did not come without a HEAVY PRICE!
Important lessons should be extracted from this, because the struggle
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace And Justice Foundation
Mistrial Declared in Muslim Charity Case
Judge Declares Mistrial for Most Defendants in Muslim Charity Trial
By DAVID KOENIG, DALLAS
A judge declared a mistrial Monday for most former leaders of a Muslim
charity accused of funding terrorism, after chaos broke out in the
court when three jurors disputed the verdict that had been announced.
One of the defendants, former Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development Chairman Mohammed El-Mezain, was acquitted of most charges.
The outcome came about an hour after a confusing scene in the
courtroom, in which three former leaders of the group were initially
found not guilty. But then when jurors were polled, three of them said
those verdicts were read incorrectly.
Judge Joe A. Fish sent the jury back to resolve the differences, but
after about an hour, Fish said he received a note from the jury saying
11 of 12 felt further deliberations will not lead them to reach a
The jury forewoman said she was surprised by the three jurors' actions.
"When we voted, there was no issue in the vote," she said. "No one
spoke up any different. I really don't understand where it is coming
In all, five former Holy Land leaders and the group were accused of
providing aid to the Middle Eastern militant group Hamas. The U.S.
government designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1995 and again in
1997, making financial transactions with the group illegal.
DALLAS (AP) A judge declared a mistrial Monday for most former leaders
of a Muslim charity accused of funding terrorism, after chaos broke
out in the court when three jurors disputed the verdict that had been
One of the defendants, former Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development Chairman Mohammed El-Mezain, was acquitted of most charges.
THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FOUNDATION
Shawwal 1428 AH (October 22, 2007)
Re: The Holy Land Foundation Trial
(Greetings of Peace):
A short while ago, I sent out a release that was factually incorrect
and MISLEADING. For this I apologize.
The alert was based on a release that I received from the Dallas TX
chapter of CAIR. Within minutes after I sent out our release, however,
I received a call from my brother in Islam, Dr. Imad ad-Dean Ahmad, of
the Minaret of Freedom Institute, to alert me of the factual
discrepancy. I appreciated this call, as I consider ACCURACY in the
media (including advocacy media) to be very important!
Since then, I have had an opportunity to read two reports on what
actually did happen in that federal courthouse in Dallas,Texas - and
what happened is absolutely shocking!
Last Thursday, the jury reportedly found THREE of the leading
defendants (Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh)
innocent on MOST of the charges in the indictment, and deadlocked on
the remaining counts. That decision was sealed after their
deliberations until this morning's reading by the jury forewoman.
After the verdict was read, the jury was individually polled by U.S.
District Judge Joe Fish. It was at this time that some of the jurors
expressed disagreement with the verdict (exonerating Mufid Abdulqader
and Abdulrahman Odeh). Something happened between Thursday and today.
The question is, what?
It is inconceiveable, in this commentator's estimation, that a jury
forewoman would have made such a mistake - especially in a trial of
this magnitude. What happened? Was the jury sequestered? (If not, why
not?) If it was sequestered, did anything else happen during this four
day period that may have resulted in illegal jury tampering, after the
THESE ARE QUESTIONS THAT MUST BE RAISED!
As expected, the prosecution has already announced its intent to retry
all defendants on any and all counts that the jury could not reach a
unanimous decision on.
The struggle continues... (And as we can see, anything is possible.)
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace And Justice Foundation
Judge declares mistrial in Holy Land Foundation case
Jurors unable to reach unanimous decision on most counts
Monday, October 22, 2007
By JASON TRAHAN and MICHAEL GRABELL / The Dallas Morning News
jtrahan @ dallasnews.com and mgrabell @ dallasnews.com
Shukri Abu Baker, who served as the foundation's CEO, celebrated with
supporters. The Holy Land Foundation terrorism-financing trial ended
in a mistrial Monday after the jurors deadlocked on most of the
counts. One of five defendants was acquitted of all but one charge
Mohammad El-Mezain, the Holy Land's original chairman and endowments
director — was acquitted on most of the counts by a unanimous jury.
The mistrial will not affect his acquittals, but he could still face
prosecution on a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to
A government prosecutor said the Justice Department will retry the
case on the charges where the jury reached no verdict.
Earlier in the day, the jury forewoman told the judge that Mufid
Abdulqader, a top Holy Land fundraiser and former Dallas public works
supervisor, had been found not guilty on all counts. Abdulrahman Odeh,
the foundation's New Jersey representative, was also acquitted on most
of the charges. She also said the jury was unable to reach a decision
on all the other counts.
When polled, some jurors told the judge that they did not agree with
the verdicts on Mr. Abdulqader and Mr. Odeh.
U.S. District Judge Joe Fish then ordered the jury to discuss whether
further deliberations might allow them to reach a decision.
"Your verdict must be unanimous and it's apparent to me from the
answers of three members of the jury in respect to my question that
the verdicts that I read earlier do not represent the unanimous view
of the jury," Judge Fish said.
But after deliberating for another 45 minutes Monday morning, 11 of 12
jurors agreed that further deliberations would not change their
decisions. It was then that the judge declared a mistrial.
The five defendants have had an unexpected four-day wait to learn
their fate after the verdict was sealed on Thursday because the judge
was out of town. This delay came after 19 days of deliberations and a
None of the defendants are accused of committing or directly
sponsoring any violent acts. The government had contended that the
five Holy Land defendants, all but one a U.S. citizen, sent more than
$12 million to Palestinian charity committees that they knew to be
controlled by the outlawed group Hamas, which has targeted Israeli
civilians for more than a decade.
Defense attorneys say their clients ran a legitimate charity and had
no terrorist ties.
The most serious charge would have carried a penalty of up to 20 years
The Holy Land Foundation had been the largest Muslim charity in the
U.S. until it was shut down by President Bush. The case was the
biggest terror finance trial in U.S. history.
HOLY LAND FOUNDATION TRIAL: "Tolerance" or "Freedom?"
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Even as the jury deliberates the fate of the HLF defendants, a
grotesque hoopla has grown up surrounding a Muslim Family Day at Six
Flags celebrating the end of Ramadan.
Someone needs to get a life, and it's not the Muslim community of
(Most?) non-Muslim Americans, and Americans who are not of Arab
descent have, since 9/11, been unable to think of Muslims and/or
Arab-Americans as persons. Americans seem not be able to think of our
Muslim and Arab-American neighbors as human beings whom Thomas
Jefferson believed to have certain "rights" simply by virtue of their
existence, among those rights (but not, in Jefferson's view, limited
to them) are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The only
specific right Jefferson enumerated in his lifetime was the right to
freedom of conscience (religion).
Jefferson wrote, in his "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in
the State of Virginia," that "…all attempts to influence [one's mind
in matters of religion] by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by
civil incapacitations…are a departure from the plan of the holy author
of our religion… [Therefore,] no man shall be….enforced, restrained,
molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise
suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all
men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their
opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise
diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
Paradoxically, in this time and place, one would probably have to look
very hard to find an American who would not at least give lip-service
to the Jeffersonian ideal of absolute freedom of religion. We salute
the flag with "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all." At the same time, with no evidence except irrational
fear engendered partly by the events of 9/11 (and by a government that
uses fear as a means of control), many Americans act as if they
believe that affording Muslims the rights Jefferson says we all
possess simply by virtue of our being is foolish, if not dangerous.
Muslims, especially Muslims who live next door, are "otherized,"
thought of as a one-dimensional group, and demonized—with no evidence.
This "othering" is not, however, a recent phenomenon. As Nada Elia writes,
The "othering" and rejection of Arabs and Arab Americans is as old as
this country, as is the erroneous homogenization of all Arab Americans
as Muslims…. It is no mere coincidence that the nation's first motto,
E Pluribus Unum, was replaced in 1956 with the more representative "In
God We Trust." After all, the embrace of plurality had to stop
somewhere, and the lines have historically been drawn most clearly
with regards to religion. The confluence of church and state, with the
presidential worldview today embracing Christianity and Zionism, is a
lethal mix for Arabs and Arab Americans, who are perceived as the
quintessential enemy. (1)
We non-Muslim Americans seem, for the most part, to be unable to
distinguish between diversity and violence, between that which is
"unfamiliar" and that which is "evil," between what we don't
understand and what we hate. And because we cannot make distinctions,
we hate difference in a way that Jefferson might well have thought was
"sinful and tyrannical," the description he used for forcing anyone to
support a religion they do not believe.
The idea that one's own religion/culture is not only superior to
"otherness" but under threat from the inferior "other," intensifies
what might be (real or imaginary) concern over some kind of
"terrorist" threat. Flags wave, and confusion about cultural and
religious "otherness" destroys any desire or ability to understand and
accept persons whom one perceives to be dangerously "different." But,
in the simplest Jeffersonian terms, the inability to accept the
humanness of the "other" is a rejection of the "unalienable rights"
that adhere to that person. Shalom Lappin puts it this way:
Acceptance of cultural difference, even when expressed as religiously
based separatism, is not a "concession" to immigrant minorities but
follows directly from the foundational principles of liberal
democracy. Adversaries of multiculturalism threaten those values by
rejecting cultural and religious pluralism. (2)
This inability of non-Muslim Americans to accept what they (we) see as
a dangerous "otherness" is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as the
Republic itself. Interestingly, not much is written currently even in
scholarly circles to try to understand this "othering" of Muslims and
Arab-Americans. Matthew F. Jacobs, in his article "The Perils and
Promise of Islam: The United States and the Muslim Middle East in the
Early Cold War," says he is trying
…to bridge such gaps in the scholarship by exploring the ways in which
particular discourses about Islam influenced how policymakers and
regional specialists comprehended the Middle East from the mid-1940s
through the early 1960s. I begin by investigating how academics,
government officials, and journalists trying to understand the Middle
East …relied on faulty and essentializing assumptions and common
stereotypes about Islam as they focused on it as a dominant feature of
regional culture, society, and politics….They came to view Islam as a
powerful threat to expanding U.S. interests in the region from the
late 1940s through the mid-1950s. (3)
This is not to say that academics and scholars could (or have the
responsibility to) change the way non-Muslim Americans think. That so
little scholarship exists that attempts even to understand non-Muslim
Americans' demonization of Islam indicates that the "[perception of
Muslims] as the quintessential enemy" will not change any time soon.
And so back to Six Flags. Is it so difficult to accept a Muslim family
day at the quintessential American amusement park? Will any of the six
flags that have flown over Texas (shall we talk about "diversity?") be
endangered by Muslim families celebrating the end of the fast days of
Ramadan? Can anyone present one shred of evidence that the North Texas
Muslim community supports "terrorism," either in Arlington or in
Jerusalem (the US attorneys for North Texas have tried, but could make
their case only with evidence that could not be documented)? It is
rhetorically unsound to make one's case by asking questions, so
understand that I am not asking "rhetorical" questions. I challenge
anyone who is afraid of my Muslim friends (or simply wants a scapegoat
for all that is wrong in the world) to answer these questions.
Or, in the absence of logical answers, Get A Life (fac ut vivas).
(1) Elia, Nada. "Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab-American
Women." NWSA Journal, (National Women's Studies Association) Fall2006,
Vol. 18 Issue 3, p155-161. Nada Elia is Profess of Comparative
Literature, Antioch University. She is co-founder of RAWAN (the
Radical Arab Women's Activist Network). She holds a B.A., Beirut
University College; M.A., American University of Beirut; Ph.D., Purdue
(2)Lappin, Shalom. "Multiculturalism and Democracy." Dissent,
Summer2007, Vol. 54 Issue 3, p14-18. Shalom Lappin is Professor,
Computational Linguistics, King's College, London.
(3) Jacobs, Matthew F. "The Perils and Promise of Islam: The United
States and the Muslim Middle East in the Early Cold War." Diplomatic
History, Sep 2006, Vol. 30 Issue 4, p705-739. Matthew Jacobs is
Professor of History at the University of Florida at Gainesville.
HLF MISTRIAL A 'STUNNING DEFEAT' FOR PROSECUTION
Not a single guilty verdict returned by Texas jury on 197 charges
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 10/22/2007) - The Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR) called today's declaration of a mistrial in the case
against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Muslim charity a
"stunning defeat" for the prosecution.
CAIR also said the absence of a single guilty verdict on 197 charges
brought by the prosecution in the terror financing trial will help
reinforce the Muslim community's faith in America's system of justice.
The jury initially brought back "not guilty" verdicts on the
government's most serious charges of material support for terrorism
against the five HLF officials. However, jurors were deadlocked on
other charges, forcing the judge to declare the mistrial.
SEE: Judge Declares Mistrial in Holy Land Foundation Case (Dallas
In a statement reacting to the declaration of a mistrial, CAIR Board
Chairman Parvez Ahmed applauded the efforts of the jury.
Ahmed's statement said in part:
"After 19 days of deliberation, the jurors did not return even a
single guilty verdict on any of the almost 200 charges against these
men, whose only 'crime' was providing food, clothing and shelter to
Palestinian women and children. It seems clear that the majority of
the jury agreed with many observers of the trial who believe the
charges were built on fear, not facts. This is a stunning defeat for
prosecutors and a victory for America's legal system.
"The American Muslim community will continue to fight for justice and
for the right to help those who are in need, whether in this nation or
overseas. Today's developments in the HLF case send the message that a
hard-working jury of ordinary Americans will weigh the facts
objectively and will resist pressure to convict based on guilt by
association. Charitable giving should be honored, not criminalized."
Ahmed added that this is just the latest defeat for government
prosecutors in such cases. Similar conspiracy charges brought in
Illinois and Florida found little traction with jurors.
CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, has 33 offices
and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the
understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties,
empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice
and mutual understanding.
CAIR: HLF JUROR SAYS 'THERE WAS SO LITTLE EVIDENCE'
David Koenig, Associated Press
A judge declared a mistrial Monday for former leaders of a Muslim
charity accused of funding terrorism after jurors who spent 19 days
deliberating deadlocked on most charges.
Prosecutors said they would probably retry leaders of the Holy Land
Foundation for Relief and Development, which the federal government
shut down in December 2001.
The jury found one former Holy Land leader, Mohammed El-Mezain, not
guilty on 31 of 32 counts. Two other defendants were initially
acquitted on most or all charges, but in a confusing courtroom scene,
three jurors disputed the verdict.
The judge declared a mistrial against those men and two other former
foundation leaders for whom jurors never reached any decisions. . .
A juror told The Associated Press that the panel found little evidence
against three of the defendants and was evenly split on charges
against Baker and former Holy Land chairman Ghassan Elashi, who were
seen as the principal leaders of the charity.
"I thought they were not guilty across the board," said the juror,
William Neal, a 33-year-old art director from Dallas. The case "was
strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence."
Neal said the jury was split about 6-6 on counts against Baker and
Elashi. He said the government should not retry the case — a call
picked up by Holy Land's supporters. . .
The case stirred emotions in the American Muslim community, at least
partly because prosecutors named dozens of Muslim groups as unindicted
The Holy Land case followed terror-financing trials in Chicago and
Florida that also ended without convictions on the major counts.
The government "failed in Chicago, it failed in Florida, it failed in
Texas," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations — one of those unindicted co-conspirators.
"The reason it failed is the government does not have the facts; it
Fair Play over Fear Mongering
Oct 24, 2007
M. Cherif Bassiouni
A prosecution that is likely to go down in the record books as one of
the great abuses of the American legal process ended with a mistrial
yesterday in Dallas, Texas.
The politicized case against the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), an
American charity providing aid to needy families in Palestine, alleged
material support for a terrorist organization.
This was so even while the government conceded that HLF only provided
assistance to real charitable organizations and persons.
Yet the prosecution's "Alice in Wonderland" theory postulates that in
so doing, HLF freed Hamas from its burden to fund charitable
activities in Palestine, thus having more resources to direct toward
The government could only build its case on overstretched assumptions
and associations. It failed to prove any credible conspiratorial
linkage between the Americans who operated HLF in Texas and those who
operate Hamas in Palestine.
As far-fetched as the theory itself was, the evidence presented by the
government to support that theory failed to connect the dots. And on
Thursday, October 18, the jury returned a sealed verdict that - not
surprisingly - did not include a single guilty verdict on any of the
However, the judge was out of town and the verdict could not be read
until Monday, October 22. By then, some members of the jury apparently
had misgivings, and after the verdict was read and the jury polled,
three jurors contested the unanimous nature of the verdict.
The judged ordered further deliberations after which 11 of the 12
jurors concurred with the original verdict and one did not, thus
causing the judge to declare a mistrial.
What is additionally outrageous in this case is the fact that the
Department of Justice named 306 individuals and organizations as
un-indicted co-conspirators in the case. The exhaustive list includes
several major American Muslim organizations in this country.
Such intimidation and harassment leveled against American Muslims and
their religious, civic and charitable organizations by this
administration is yet another manifestation of the recent erosion of
American constitutional freedoms.
The fear-mongering campaign opted for by many in this administration –
and supported by avowedly anti-Muslim groups - has created a climate
of Islamophobia that is contrary to the basic values of this otherwise
But it is the assault upon constitutional freedoms under the guise of
terrorist-related prosecutions that is most shocking.
Since 2002, an estimated 500 cases have been brought against Muslims
in America. Half of these have been dismissed as being without merit.
The rest have all resulted in either acquittals or negotiated pleas on
minor charges which are unrelated to the original indictment. Of the
500 cases, it is estimated that some 30 of them may have had some
reasonable foundation in law.
In no other area of prosecution has the Department of Justice produced
such an extraordinarily high percentage of dismissed cases and cases
resulting in guilty pleas on unrelated charges. This, in itself,
raises concerns that these prosecutions were informed by the
fear-mongering claims of the current administration that terrorism
à-la 9/11 may become an indigenous product and that American Muslims
may be a new clear and present danger.
Not only is this outrageously wrong, it is un-American in every respect.
These overreaches and abuses by the Department of Justice, not the
least of which is the case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian - who continues to
linger in jail because of a vindictive prosecutorial approach against
someone who was never proven to have been guilty of any
terrorist-related charges – weakens our democracy rather than protects it.
The inclusion of 306 un-indicted co-conspirators as mentioned above is
intended to put these organizations and individuals on notice that
they should not stand up for their rights under the Constitution.
Obviously, these charges are also intended to dry up contributions and
support for these organizations and eventually open them up to
frivolous lawsuits for damages by those who have been victims of
The perverse nature of the un-indicted co-conspirator designation made
public in the HLF case is that those so-designated cannot challenge
the designation in a court of law and thus have no way to restore
their reputation to its earlier standing. This is a unique situation
where any person or organization can be designated "guilty by
association" and stigmatized as such without legal redress.
There is no doubt that the Department of Justice in selecting that
list of 306 organizations and individuals intended to accomplish such
results, especially for three of the largest and most effective
American Muslim organizations: The Islamic Society of North America,
the North American Islamic Trust and the Council on American-Islamic
The situation described above requires action by Congress and by those
American organizations and individuals who cherish their constitution
and who believe in the American way of democracy and freedom for all.
If the present tactics of the Department of Justice continue, it will
not be long before American Muslims suffer the same fate
Japanese-Americans did in World War II.
Demonizing an entire minority group based on suspicion and
fear-mongering was wrong then, and it is wrong now. We cannot allow
such a blot on our history to be repeated.
I am confident that America's sense of decency and fair play will
M. Cherif Bassiouni is the Distinguished Research Professor of Law,
DePaul University and President Emeritus,
International Human Rights Law Institute
AS MUSLIM GROUP GOES ON TRIAL, OTHER CHARITIES WATCH WARILY
New York Times
The strained argument between the United States government and nonprofit groups over how to deal with charities suspected of supporting terrorism is expected to play out in federal court here with the trial of the largest Muslim charity in this country, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.
[Jury selection in the trial began on Monday, and was expected to take most of the week.]
The government, in the lengthy indictment and other court documents, accuses the foundation of being an integral part of Hamas, which much of the West condemns as a terrorist organization. The prosecution maintains that the main officers of the Holy Land foundation started the organization to generate charitable donations from the United States that ultimately helped Hamas thrive.
The defense argues that the government, lacking proof, has simply conjured up a vast conspiracy by claiming that the foundation channeled money through public charity committees in the occupied territories that it knew Hamas controlled. The federal government, the defense says, has never designated these committees as terrorist organizations.
The defense is expected to liken a donation to the Holy Land foundation to one to a Roman Catholic charity in Northern Ireland that ends up helping poor Irish Republican Army sympathizers.
The case is being closely watched by a large number of charitable organizations, as well as Muslim-Americans, because its outcome might well help determine the line separating legitimate giving from the financing of banned organizations.
Critics of government policy say the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department has gone too far in using often secret evidence to condemn charities. The process unfairly destroys them, the critics say, though not one American charity itself has been convicted of supporting terrorism since the practice started in 2001. Some individual officers have gone to jail.
These critics say that in its zeal to prosecute, the government has lost sight of the fact that the charities were delivering millions of dollars to the poor and to victims of disasters.
They also say that undermining charities on the basis of little or no public evidence tarnishes the United States' reputation among Muslims globally, effectively helping the very groups the policy is supposed to subvert. . .
For American Muslims, whose religion stipulates that they give 2.5 percent of their annual income to charity, the shuttering of so many of their organizations without a hearing smacks of discrimination.
HLF TRIAL UPDATE: FOUR WITNESSES IN ONE DAY
The Holy Land Foundation Trial: The Family's Perspective
Freedom to Give
His face was cherry red. He was outraged at this mockery of a trial. Defendant Ghassan Elashi's voice was loud and clear. As U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish and jurors exited the courtroom after a mid-morning break Monday, August 20, 2007, Elashi let out his frustration toward the unjust judge. This is an extension of the Zionist occupation. We can't win the case with this judge because he is a bigot, Elashi said. The judge later replied, We can't have outbursts like that. I'm warning you that a further outburst wont be tolerated. If another outburst occurs, you will waive your right to be present in the courtroom. The jurors followed closely as four witnesses were put on the stand. The jury box was exceptionally colorful as the 15-member jury wore bright red, green, yellow, purple and blue shirts. Maybe they were in a jubilant mood. Or maybe they were eager to learn.
Defendant Mohammad El-Mezain's attorney, Josh Dratel, continued the cross-examination of Avi by displaying several posters that the prosecutors showed the jury. He pointed out that most of the posters that the Israeli government seized from the zakat committees in occupied Palestine were created after the U.S. government shut down the Holy Land Foundation in 2001. He specifically talked about a poster announcing the death of Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin. He made clear that Israeli forces assassinated Yassin with a missile in 2004 as he was being pushed in his wheelchair on his way back from a mosque in Gaza. Dratel wanted to conclude by showing the jury a 1993 document that would prove that the Israeli government permit the construction of a Jenin hospital, which was a zakat committee project partially funded by the HLF. The government objected to the document on the grounds of hearsay and the judge sustained their objection, thereby not allowing Dratel to discuss the document. This frustrated many people, including Elashi.
Nancy Hollander, defendant Shukri Abu-Baker's lawyer, began cross-examining Avi by making it clear that some zakat committees are large and operate hospitals while others are small and send livestock to family and friends. She also pointed out that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — a U.S. government organization — provided aid to the same zakat committees to which the HLF is accused of sending humanitarian aid. USAID provided Palestinians with food, water and urgently-needed medical supplies, the document read. She also mentioned a few other American charities — such as CARE International and ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid) — that supported the Palestinian zakat committees. She concluded by stating that the U.S. has financially supported four individuals from the Islamic University of Gaza, an institution that Avi said is Hamas controlled. I'm not surprised, Avi said. The U.S. didn't support the institution, just the individuals.
Prosecutor Elisabeth Shapiro then redirected Avi. She began by stating that the Palestinian Authority is aware that some zakat committee board members are affiliated with Hamas. She also played a video showing the Palestinian detainees that Israel dropped in the middle of a desert in southern Lebanon in 1992. She said some of the detainees shown in the video are leaders in many zakat committees. Shapiro also asked Avi about the photo in his office that Dratel asked him about during cross-examination. Does it have a suicide belt? Is blood dripping from anyone's hands? Does the image include a Hamas symbol?, she asked. No, he replied. Shaprio then said the HLF was created by design to support Hamas. She then asked, Was USAID created for the purpose of supporting Hamas? Avi's response: No.
Dratel then re-crossed Avi by making it clear that none of the detainees deported to Lebanon were charged of any crime.
Dawn Goldberg, an agent for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), was the government's next witness. Prosecutor Barry Jonas began by saying that the HLF was a 501(c)(3) charity, a tax-exempt organization. HLF employees filled out annual information returns — not tax returns — that became a public document, Goldberg explained. Jonas then said the U.S. designated Hamas in 1995. So it would be illegal to deal with Hamas financially after they were designated, correct? That's even if they were sending money for charitable purposes, Jonas asked. Yes, it would be illegal. The charity, like other businesses, must assume the responsibility of knowing what the law is, Goldberg answered.
During the short cross-examination Goldberg, Hollander asked her if the IRS ever audited the HLF. Never, Goldberg said.
The next witness was Steve McGonigle, a reporter that covered the HLF for the Dallas Morning News since 1996. He was subpoenaed to testify about his 1999 trip to the occupied Palestinian territories, where he interviewed a couple Hamas leaders and paid a surprise visit to the HLF office in Gaza. With his salt-and-pepper hair and mustache, McGonigle said he went to find connections between Hamas and the HLF. He interviewed Hamas affiliate Mahmoud al-Zahar and Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin. During Yassin's interview, McGonigle asked him if the HLF had any connections to Hamas. McGonigle told the jury that Yassin said Hamas had no connections with the HLF. After his two interviews, McGonigle stopped by HLF's Gaza office. There, McGonigle asked office manager Mohammad Muharram if he could meet some HLF clients, or poor people who received funds from the foundation.
Prosecutor Jonas then played two tapped conversations between Muharram, HLF employee Haitham Maghawri and defendant Abu-Baker. Part of one conversation went like this: The office manager in Gaza just informed me that Steve McGonigle will be interviewing our clients. Do you want to cancel the meeting?, Maghawri asked in Arabic. Abu-Baker replied, No. But make sure he doesn't interview the family of a martyr or a prisoner. Maghawri then said, Yeah, because if half a percent of an interview did not impress him, then McGonigle will focus on that half a percent. Abu-Baker said, This journalist is a Zionist. He's not a friend. He's in cooperation with the Jewish lobby in the U.S. For the last few years, he's been trying to connect the HLF with terrorism. If he messes up this interview, that is what we'll need to finally sue the Dallas Morning News.
Hollander then started cross-examining McGonigle by asking him how long he stayed in the Middle East during the 1999 visit. Two weeks, he replied. She then asked him if the Ramallah Zakat Committee that he visited had posters or political messages. No, he replied. He thought that the Richardson office of the HLF did not know that he was visiting the Gaza office, he said. He concluded by saying he was very affected by what he saw in occupied Palestine. The Palestinian people lived in desperate conditions. They were in great need of services — including food, school and medical, McGonigle said.
Linda Moreno, defendant Ghassan Elashi's attorney, cross-examined McGonigle next. She made it clear that McGonigle wrote about 10 articles on the HLF since 1996 and many thought the stories targeted and defamed the foundation. She asked him if HLF employees and area Muslims thought the reporting was unfair. Yes, he admit. Moreno went on: And some picketed and rallied in front of the Dallas Morning News, is that right? His response: Yes. She also made it clear that HLF employees contacted the president of the paper, wrote letters to the editor about the unfairness and even filed a lawsuit against the newspaper.
During the redirect examination, Jonas made it clear that the lawsuit was dismissed by the HLF.
As she re-crossed McGonigle, Moreno asked if the lawsuit was dismissed shortly after the closure of the HLF. Yes, McGonigle replied.
The fourth witness of the day was Robert Miranda, an FBI agent who has worked in the Hamas squad of the counter-terrorism department for the past decade. He received his Bachelor's degree from the Air Force Academy. He ended the day by briefly discussing the speaker's list of the HLF.
ISRAELI AGENT TESTIFIES AGAINST MUSLIM CHARITY
The Dallas Morning News
Identity concealed as he testifies about evidence from Palestinian groups
The federal judge presiding over the Holy Land Foundation terror finance trial ordered his courtroom cleared of spectators Thursday as a secret agent for the Israeli Defense Forces took the stand.
The agent, referred to only by the pseudonym Major Lior, testified through a translator about a cache of documents, videos and posters that his team of commandos seized during raids on several charity committees in the Palestinian territories between 2002 and 2004.
Prosecutors say these zakat, or charity, committees are controlled by Hamas and contend that Holy Land's support of them amounts to illegal support of terrorists.
No one was allowed to see the agent's face except the judge, the jurors, the attorneys, the five defendants who helped organize Holy Land, and their immediate family members, who were allowed to remain in the courtroom. Everyone else went to an overflow courtroom with an audio-only feed.
Jurors were not shown the evidence, and the agent's testimony was mostly limited to confirming the legitimacy of documents and tapes that the Israelis seized during the raids. He wasn't questioned on their contents.
U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish said he would have to review before allowing the testimony into the record.
Even defense attorneys did not know the man's true identity. The Israeli government allowed him to testify in an American courtroom only if his name and face were not made public.
The witness, one of two Israeli agents set to testify under similar security conditions, drew the ire of defense attorneys, who had complained to Judge Fish before the trial began that hiding the agents' identities violates their clients' Sixth Amendment rights to confront their accusers.
"The circumstances are rarer than a unicorn," said Thomas Melsheimer, a former Dallas federal prosecutor.
"It is highly unusual for a witness to take the stand under these circumstances," he said. "The closest analogy I could make would be to some of the Mafia trials where a witness might have a shielded identity. It makes it extraordinarily difficult for the defense to cross-examine him in any meaningful way."
This is only the second trial in which Justice Department prosecutors have put Israeli secret agents on the stand. The other was a similar terrorism-support trial of an Illinois used-car dealer and a co-defendant. That case ended in acquittals.
Defense frustration seemed to spill over into the cross-examination of the Israeli agent. Attorney Linda Moreno grilled him and his translator about whether his team got any kind of court order, or warrant, before seizing the documents.
"You're not contending the Fourth Amendment applies outside the U.S., are you?" Judge Fish asked her at one point.
Later, as Ms. Moreno questioned the major about a school where his team seized evidence, she asked whether his "soldiers knock on the door of the places they are about to invade."
Prosecutors are expected to get into the details of what is in the evidence later, when an agent with the Israeli Security Agency is to testify in the case.
It's unclear how the jurors will interpret testimony of a foreign government witness requiring such security measures, experts say.
The heavy security could "alter the calculus of the process," said Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University who studies terrorism prosecutions. He said that some jurors may view anonymous testimony with suspicion, but that having such security measures may favor the government.
"Typically, if there's doubt about a case, jurors should acquit," he said. "But when you have a case with a witness that requires all this security, jurors tend to read that into the charges. If they have doubt, they reason, it's better to be safe than sorry and lock them up."
The government argued in a brief that there is no other way to get such evidence, as the Palestinian government is now ruled by Hamas, which won a majority of parliamentary seats in election last year. And under U.S. law, what's classified by the Israeli government is classified here.
"You can see why some level of protection is necessary," Mr. Margulies said. "Outing people like this could have a significant impact on national security. We fought that battle with respect to the Valerie Plame affair."
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