Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Frame-Up That Fell Apart

Despite the best efforts of federal prosecutors, a Chicago jury refused to convict Palestinian activist Muhammad Salah on racketeering charges in one of the highest-profile cases of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

Salah and co-defendant Abdelhaleem Ashqar were acquitted on charges that they engaged in a “racketeering conspiracy” to provide money and other aid to the Palestinian organization Hamas in the early 1990s. The two were convicted of several lesser charges unrelated to terrorism.

“It is better than we thought,” Salah told reporters after the verdict was read, as dozens of supporters, many from the local Muslim community, gathered in celebration. “We are good people, not terrorists.”

When the case against the men was announced by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004, government officials made it clear that they viewed a conviction against Salah and Ashqar as a major part of the “war on terror.”

Ashcroft painted Salah and Ashqar as among the worst of the worst, telling reporters that between 1988 and 1993, the men “ran a U.S.-based terrorist-recruiting and financing cell” that “financed the activities of a terrorist organization that was murdering innocent victims abroad, including American citizens.”

Salah and Ashqar joined a growing list of Muslim and Arab activists that the government has prosecuted for “materially aiding” terrorism–a list that includes former charity organizers like Rabih Haddad and Enaam Arnaout, as well as University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who remains to this day imprisoned by the government on minor charges in extremely harsh conditions.

* * *

THE GOVERNMENT claimed Salah and Ashqar used U.S. bank accounts to funnel money to Hamas, thereby making them directly responsible for supposed crimes carried out by Hamas in Israel. But the case against Salah, in particular, was riddled with inconsistencies.

Weeks before the trial began last fall, prosecutors were forced to drop a key charge against Salah–that he had sent a recruit to scout terrorist targets in Israel in 1999–after it came to light that the FBI didn’t trust the credibility of the “recruit,” who was an undercover government informant.

The rest of the supposed crimes committed by the men took place before 1997, when Hamas was first classified by the government as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

In addition, the key piece of evidence against Salah was a confession obtained in 1993 while he was in the custody of Israeli secret police–who are known for using torture in interrogations.

Salah had been arrested at a checkpoint in Gaza with money that the Israeli authorities claimed was for Hamas operations, but which he said was for humanitarian purposes.

Salah says he was then tortured by Israeli police. In court papers, he described being “hooded, bound, deprived of sleep, housed in a refrigerator cell, threatened, physically abused, held incommunicado and denied access to a lawyer until he made oral statements and signed written statements in Hebrew, a language he did not speak or understand.”

Salah spent nearly five years in an Israeli prison before being allowed to return to his home and family in the U.S.

But U.S. prosecutors glossed over the well-documented record of torture techniques used by Israeli police, and the judge let Salah’s “confession” be considered as evidence–with the two Israeli interrogators who allegedly questioned Salah allowed to testify under aliases and with their faces concealed.

During the trial, U.S. Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt, a government witness, was allowed to detail acts of terrorism allegedly committed by Hamas against Israel between 1992 and 2004–even during the years when Salah was stuck in an Israeli prison. But as Salah’s lawyer, Michael Deutsch, pointed out on cross-examination, Levitt’s emphasis on Israeli casualties obscured the reality of daily life for Palestinians.

According to one study Deutsch referred to, approximately 1,400 Israeli soldiers and civilians have been killed since 1987, compared to more than 5,500 Palestinians killed. “Are you not interested in the fact that Palestinians, unarmed Palestinian people, are killed at a rate of five times the number of Israelis killed?” Deutsch asked Levitt.

* * *

PROSECUTORS ARE now claiming that any conviction against Salah and Ashqar is a “victory.” But the failure to convict the two on the most serious charges is widely seen as a serious setback for the home front of the U.S. “war on terror.”

“This rejects the idea we can criminalize someone for resisting an illegal occupation in another country,” attorney Michael Deutsch told the Washington Post.

Many in the Muslim community see the acquittals as a sign of hope. As Salah told reporters as he left the courtroom, “The terrorism theory is defeated. We are not terrorists, and everyone can see it.” Amira Daoud, who worships at the same mosque as Salah, told the Chicago Tribune, “Our community will no longer have to be afraid. I’m so glad that American people–his peers–gave a verdict that shows he couldn’t have done this.”

Unfortunately, the lesser charges that Salah and Ashqar were convicted of could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. And there’s every indication the government will try to make sure they’re given the maximum.

After all, the U.S. Justice Department continued its witch-hunt against Sami Al-Arian even after a jury last year acquitted him of, or deadlocked on, 17 major terrorism charges. Al-Arian later pled guilty to a single count of a relatively minor charge in order to avoid a retrial and end his ordeal.

Yet he remains in prison today, having twice been found guilty of contempt after refusing to testify in another case–despite the fact that his original plea agreement exempted him from further testimony.

Al-Arian is in his third week of a hunger strike to protest the brutal conditions he’s facing in prison–including solitary confinement, physical and verbal abuse from guards, and prison cells infested with rats and roaches.

As lawyer William Moffitt, who has represented both Ashqar and Al-Arian, told the New York Times, the government wants to use these cases to turn the fight for Palestinian rights in the Middle East “into a battle of criminal law in an American courtroom.” “The Bush administration cannot win this war by trying to make criminals out of people who are fighting for their freedom,” he told reporters. “And two American juries have said that.”

NICOLE COLSON writes for the Socialist Worker.

 

More articles by:

NICOLE COLSON writes for the Socialist Worker.

October 18, 2018
Erik Molvar
The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lockheed and Loaded: How the Maker of Junk Fighters Like the F-22 and F-35 Came to Have Full-Spectrum Dominance Over the Defense Industry
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s “Psychological Obstacles to Peace”
Brian Platt – Brynn Roth
Black-Eyed Kids and Other Nightmares From the Suburbs
John W. Whitehead
You Want to Make America Great Again? Start by Making America Free Again
Zhivko Illeieff
Why Can’t the Democrats Reach the Millennials?
Steve Kelly
Quiet, Please! The Latest Threat to the Big Wild
Manuel García, Jr.
The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ Over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Adam Parsons
A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash
Binoy Kampmark
The Tyranny of Fashion: Shredding Banksy
Dean Baker
How Big is Big? Trump, the NYT and Foreign Aid
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail