Published in the Florida Sun-Sentinel, Nov 24, 2007
Against heavy odds, the American justice system has prevailed once again. After a record 19 days of deliberation, a jury in Dallas did not return even one guilty verdict on almost 200 charges brought against officials of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Muslim charity.
This marked the third time that government prosecutors failed to win a conviction in a high profile case related to charges of support for terrorism by members of the American Muslim community.
Earlier this year, an Illinois jury acquitted Mohammed Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar on charges that they aided terrorists in Palestine. Two years ago, Dr. Sami Al Arian also was found not guilty of similar charges.
Matthew D. Orwig, a former United States Attorney, described the HLF mistrial as, "A stunning setback for the government."
Professor David Cole, one of America's leading Constitutional scholars, said, "It suggests the government is really pushing beyond where the law justifies them going."
One HLF 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.
To view an interview with William Neal, click here.
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.
HLF officials were never accused of any acts of violence. The prosecution laid out a bizarre theory that HLF, by sending money to feed orphans in Palestine, was freeing up funds that were then used to pay for acts of terror.
Missing from this argument was the fact that the 12 charities HLF funded have not been designated as terrorist organizations by either the U.S. or Israeli governments. Moreover, some of the same charities also received money from the U.S. government-funded USAID.
The case against HLF was a political witch-hunt that had nothing to do with America's security. The closure of HLF appears to be an attempt to block humanitarian assistance to some of the most impoverished people in the world - Palestinians living under Israel's Apartheid-like occupation.
Most Americans did not get to hear how their hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted to counter non-existent "Muslim conspiracies" to overthrow the American Constitution and impose Shariah laws. Yes, believe it or not, the prosecution in the HLF case laid out such preposterous theories to support their flimsy case.
In addition, the prosecution resorted to the apparently unconstitutional tactic of not allowing the defendants to confront their accusers, an unprecedented step in the history of the American judicial system.
The government also violated its own guidelines by publicly naming mainstream American Muslim groups such as CAIR, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) as 'un-indicted co-conspirators."
The National Association of Muslim Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys sent a letter to then Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales objecting to the list and saying it could lead to increased discrimination against American Muslims. CAIR filed an amicus brief challenging the prosecution's actions.
Throughout this ordeal one thing has stood out - the American Muslim community's principled stand in favor of justice. The community had placed its trust in HLF by making it the number one Muslim charity in America. Despite the smear campaign conducted against HLF, the community's faith in that charity never wavered.
Muslims raised funds to pay for the defense of HLF and will continue to do so until the zakat that
they gave to help people in need is either spent for that purpose or returned to the original donors so that they can fulfill their God-given obligation.
Islam teaches us to be compassionate and merciful. We carry out the principles of our faith when we send our money to feed, clothe and shelter the least fortunate among us. Those who cast doubt about our intentions and our commitment to carry out our religious obligations are promoting a form of Islamophobia.
"O you who believe, Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do." Holy Quran, 4:135
The defendants in the HLF trial and their families have endured much. We pray that justice continues to prevail.
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