Getting Justice in the HLF Case

by AHMAD AL-AKHRAS

After years of investigations and wiretaps, after three months of court arguments and a record 19 straight days of jury deliberations, the jury could not return a single guilty verdict on the nearly 200 charges in a case against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation (HLF) an American-Muslim charity.

The prosecution asked the jury for justice and sure enough, they got it.

This jury’s decision is a victory for the American people and a stunning defeat for the prosecution. At the end people chose facts over fear despite attempts by the prosecution to play into people’s justifiable fear of terrorism. The jurors sent a clear message that helping the orphans must not be criminalized.

The American Muslim community, along with others in this country, will continue to fight for justice and for the right to help those who are in need, whether in this nation or overseas. Hard working Americans, when presented with the facts will objectively resist the pressure to convict based on guilt by association. In this case, and s! imilar ones before this, the prosecution unsuccessfully tried to cloud the jurors’ judgment by presenting irrelevant evidence and playing on their emotions.

Many observers in this country and abroad viewed these charges as an attempt to block humanitarian aid to Palestinians suffering under a brutal Israeli occupation. They were also seen as a means to chill the First Amendment rights and charitable giving of American Muslims and other people opposed to our nation’s one-sided policies in the Middle East. In essence, this was an Israeli trial tried on American soil in which guilt by association was used as a substitute for actual evidence.

The use! of surv eillance gathered by illegal means and by spying on citizens, guilt by association, and anonymous foreign witnesses and evidence threatens the foundation of our rule of law.

Edward Abington, the U.S. Consult General to Jerusalem, former ambassador and the second ranking intelligence officer for the U.S. State Department during the mid-1990s said that the evidence presented by the prosecutions in this case was a "propaganda exercise by the Israelis." Describing the thousands of pages presented in this trial, he testified that "you don’t know where they came from, how they are related to each other. If you are an American analyst, you can’t rely on those documents as showing a true picture."

This trial has been a waste of taxpayers dollars. In some estimates, over $20 million have been spent on this case so far. It behooves the government to be responsible and drop the case. A retrial will only waste the legal system’s time and American people’s money on what is a fundamentally unjust charges. According to the AP, William Neal, a juror on the case, eloquently said, "I thought they were not guilty across the board. " The case "was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence." He called on the government not retry the case.

What we observed throughout this trial was similar in many ways to what happened in the fifties, a political witch hunt. Senator McCarthy targeted anyone who he disagreed with. Today, the witch hunt is targeting the American Muslims. It was wrong then and it is wrong today. Joseph Welch, then Secretary of the Army, addressed the strong senator in a manner that will continue to echo through the history of this nation: "You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" Just before this remarkable moment, he told the Senator, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness."

It is my hope that the prosecutors learn the lessons from the past and return our justice system to be one that is based on facts not emotions. The jurors in Dallas lead the way showing that despite a climate of fear they were able to sort fact from fiction. The professionals at the Department of Justice should take a cue from these ordinary citizens who embodied the true spirit of American justice.

Ahmad Al-Akhras is the Vice Chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Over the years, he observed the concerted efforts to marginalize the Muslim community and criminalize their basic rights. The outcome of this case affirmed his faith in his fellow Americans’ fairness. Dr. Al-Akhras resides in Columbus, Ohio and can be reached at ahmad@alakhras.org

 

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