[News] How the FBI blacklisted US’ largest Muslim civil rights group

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 23 12:24:26 EDT 2013


  How the FBI blacklisted US’ largest Muslim civil rights group

Charlotte Silver <http://electronicintifada.net/people/charlotte-silver>
*http://electronicintifada.net/content/how-fbi-blacklisted-us-largest-muslim-civil-rights-group/12867*

22 October 2013

(Rod Veal <http://electronicintifada.net/people/rod-veal> / ZUMA Press 
<http://electronicintifada.net/people/zuma-press>)

Based on flimsy evidence, the FBI 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/fbi> has sabotaged efforts to be on 
good terms with Muslim communities in the US by accusing the Council on 
American-Islamic Relations 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/council-american-islamic-relations> 
(CAIR) of being linked to a “terrorist organization.”

Founded in 1994, CAIR monitors policies that affect Muslim Americans and 
provides legal representation in cases of civil rights violations. The 
largest nationwide organization advocating for Muslims’ rights in the 
US, CAIR says the blacklisting has undermined its work at a time when it 
is needed the most.

The group first became aware of its change of status on 8 October 2008, 
when James Finch, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Oklahoma City 
field office, sent a letter to participants of the state’s Muslim 
Community Outreach Program. In the letter, he informed them that the 
upcoming quarterly meeting between members of the Muslim community and 
local law enforcement would be canceled due to CAIR’s participation.

“It was surprising because up until that point, CAIR in Oklahoma had 
enjoyed a very good relationship with the FBI,” Adam Soltani told The 
Electronic Intifada. Soltani is the third and current executive director 
of the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR.

/** In many cases CAIR accepts the role of cooperating with the FBI to 
'help them' distinguish between good and bad Muslims - a problematic 
aspiration to say the least - CM*/

“They had attended our events, annual banquet, our training functions on 
‘know your rights,’” recalled Soltani, who served on the chapter’s board 
of directors from 2006 until 2008.

That was the first communication that CAIR had received suggesting that 
the organization’s relationship with the FBI was to about to change. Two 
weeks later — on 22 October 2008 — the FBI met with the national 
director of CAIR and informed the organization of the new “parameters 
for any future interaction” with the FBI: as of that point the FBI would 
no longer attend CAIR-sponsored events and CAIR would not be invited to 
attend any FBI-sponsored event.


    “Unindicted co-conspirator”

The events that precipitated the blacklisting of CAIR can be traced back 
to May 2007, when CAIR was listed — along with 246 individuals and 
organizations — as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the federal 
government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/holy-land-foundation>, the largest 
Islamic charity in the US until it was shut down 
<http://electronicintifada.net/content/let-us-not-be-brought-down-last-legal-recourse-holy-land-five/11805> 
by a Bush administration executive order in December 2001.

The sprawling list 
<http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/423.pdf> of 
“unindicted co-conspirators” was divided into 11 categories, identifying 
those included on the list by their alleged membership in or 
participation with Hamas <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/hamas> or 
Muslim Brotherhood 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/muslim-brotherhood>-affiliated 
groups. CAIR, for instance, was listed under “members of the US Muslim 
Brotherhood’s ‘Palestine Committee’ and/or its organizations.”

There is very little precise information available about the Palestine 
Committee. The Investigative Project on Terrorism 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/investigative-project-terrorism>, an 
anti-Muslim website founded by Steven Emerson 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/steven-emerson>, describes 
<http://counterterrorismblog.org/2007/08/cair_identified_by_the_fbi_as.php> 
it as a group formed by leaders of “the Muslim Brotherhood of the 
Levant.” Corey Saylor, the current communications director of CAIR, 
knows only that it was “a group that existed in the early 1990s that 
seemed to have strengthening pro-Palestinian work at its core.”

The Palestine Committee is alleged to have initially spawned four 
US-based organizations, the Holy Land Foundation being one of them.

The government’s first case against the Holy Land Foundation ended in 
mistrial. But the foundation was re-prosecuted in 2008, and found guilty 
by the jury. From 2008 to 2012, the case weaved its way through the 
courts, stopping short of the Supreme Court. For the first time in the 
history of the US court system, prosecutors were allowed to admit 
anonymous expert testimony — by an Israeli intelligence agent — 
significantly limiting the defense’s ability to cross-examine.


    Tenuous

The evidence the FBI used to implicate CAIR as a “co-conspirator” with 
the Holy Land Foundation is tenuous.

It includes the claims that CAIR received money from the foundation in 
1994 — before it was designated a “terrorist organization” — and that 
Omar Ahmad, the former chairperson of CAIR, and Nihad Awad, the founder 
of CAIR, were present at an October 1993 meeting of the Palestine 
Committee in Philadelphia.

Participants in this two-day meeting allegedly expressed support for 
“the Movement,” which the FBI interpreted as Hamas, and opposition to 
the Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation 
Organization that had been formally signed only the month before.

Court transcripts and documents in the FBI’s case available on Emerson’s 
Investigative Project on Terrorism site show that the meeting was bugged 
by the FBI (“Testimony of FBI Agent Lara Burns [and others], 9/29/2008 
<http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/1952.pdf>,” p. 
123-4 [PDF]).

In 1994 Hamas had not yet been criminalized in the US. Hamas was placed 
on the list of terrorist organizations in 1995, when President Bill 
Clinton <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/bill-clinton> signed an 
executive order 
<http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/12947.pdf> 
designating Palestinian groups that rejected the Oslo accords 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/oslo-accords> as “terrorist 
organizations which threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process.”

Prior to this policy, the US government had maintained tepid diplomatic 
relations with Hamas. But in the early 1990s, Israel began making the 
case that Hamas was as much a threat to US national security as it was 
to Israel’s.

In a 2008 article published by the /Journal of Palestine Studies/, 
lawyers Michael E. Deutsch and Erica Thompson document how the Israeli 
government, in the early 1990s, built its campaign to accuse Palestinian 
American Muhammad Salah 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/muhammad-salah> as a terrorist and 
Hamas leader by arguing that Hamas had established its leadership in the US.

As Deutsch and Thomas write: “The [Government of Israel] press office 
released a diagram of Hamas’ operational structure, reproduced in a 
number of publications, which put ‘US leadership’ at the top and drew 
lines that extended to several Middle Eastern states, including Iran” 
(“Secrets and Lies: The Persecution of Muhammad Salah 
<http://www.palestine-studies.org/journals.aspx?id=10022&jid=1&href=fulltext>”).

This doctrine — that the US must abort the germinating “nerve center” of 
Hamas operatives in the US — was eventually codified in Clinton’s 1995 
executive order and exemplified in the government’s case against the 
Holy Land Foundation, which would not reach the courts until May 2007. 
Salah was put on a list of “designated terrorists” following a decision 
by the Clinton administration, and though a federal court acquitted 
Salah of all terrorism charges in 2007, he was not removed from the list 
until 2012 after a legal challenge 
<http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/victory-palestinian-american-muhammad-salah-removed-us-terrorist-list-after>.

At that point, the government filed its first brief charging the Holy 
Land Foundation with conspiracy to provide support to Hamas, now a 
designated terrorist organization. After nearly 13 years of 
investigating the Holy Land Foundation, the government found no evidence 
it supported or incited any violence. Instead, the government’s case 
relied entirely on the fact that Hamas controlled the Palestinian 
charities — known as /zakat/ committees — the foundation assisted.


    Witch hunt

While the government’s brief specified just seven individuals as 
defendants, it announced 
<http://www.politico.com/static/PPM153_nait.html> a political witch hunt 
for Hamas: “The focal point of this case is the designated terrorist 
group Hamas … As noted in the case summary, the defendants were 
operating in concert with a host of individuals and organizations 
dedicated to sustaining and furthering the Hamas movement.”

The list of “unindicted co-conspirators” that was appended to the 2007 
brief sounded an alarm bell for Muslim and Palestinian organizations 
around the country.

“It’s a scary-sounding thing and we now have to labor under this 
designation,” CAIR’s communications director Corey Saylor said.

“Institutions that don’t like us use it as a hammer on us all the time. 
It interferes with our relations with other institutions, interferes 
with our donors. We used to be able to approach the FBI with a problem. 
Now we can’t do that. Now it’s more combative in the media and the 
lawsuits and that doesn’t help anyone.”

Michael German, senior policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties 
Union <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/aclu> (ACLU), said that the 
practice of naming “unindicted co-conspirators” allows prosecutors to 
get around prohibitions against the admission of hearsay evidence in a 
trial. Rather than needing to prove the allegations that CAIR and the 
other 246 individuals and organizations on the list committed a crime — 
or conspired to — with the Holy Land Foundation case, the government is 
able to level an unsubstantiated smear.

In a 2004 article 
<http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1245&context=facsch_lawrev&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fq%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fdigitalcommons.wcl.american.edu%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D1245%2526context%253Dfacsch_lawrev%26sa%3DD%26sntz%3D1%26usg%3DAFQjCNE9JJrHjCCNMtswSNR3QIN7Ge1TsA#search=%22http%3A%2F%2Fdigitalcommons.wcl.american.edu%2Fcgi%2Fviewcontent.cgi%3Farticle%3D1245%26context%3Dfacsch_lawrev%22>, 
Professor Ira Robbins of American University Washington College of Law 
argues that the process of naming “unindicted co-conspirators” 
unavoidably violates individuals’ Fifth Amendment rights because by not 
criminally indicting them, those listed “have neither the right to 
present evidence nor the opportunity to clear their names.”

Robbins presciently forewarns that while the government had not employed 
“unindicted co-conspirators” for some time, the domestic terrorism 
trials occurring in the wake of the 11 September attacks presented 
“fertile ground” for the reintroduction the legal tactic.

In fact, the manual for US attorneys instructs prosecutors not to make 
public “unindicted co-conspirators.” On why the US attorneys failed to 
comply with that rule, the ACLU’s German said: “That’s a good question.”

Before joining the ACLU, German worked in the FBI for 16 years, 12 of 
which he spent working on domestic terrorism cases. He left the FBI in 
2004 after becoming increasingly disturbed by the agency’s methods after 
the 11 September 2001 atrocities.

“After spending 12 years trying to change it from the inside, I decided 
I would be a better advocate for civil rights on the outside,” he said.


    Damage already done

In 2010, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals did indeed find that the 
publication of the list of “unindicted co-conspirators” violated the 
individuals’ and groups’ Fifth Amendment rights.

But the damage was already done. “You can’t put toothpaste back in the 
tube,” as German noted.

Further corroborating claims that the allegations against CAIR were 
baseless, Attorney General Eric Holder 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/eric-holder> stated in 2011 that 
after reviewing the facts of the case his Justice Department had reached 
the same conclusion as that of the Bush administration not to prosecute 
CAIR (“Holder: DOJ nixed CAIR leader’s prosecution 
<http://www.politico.com/blogs/joshgerstein/0411/Holder_DOJ_nixed_CAIR_leaders_prosecution.html>,” 
Salon, 26 April 2011).

Moreover, after Representative Peter King criticized Holder’s decision, 
Jim Jacks, lead prosecutor of the Holy Land Foundation, announced his 
approval of the decision not to prosecute CAIR (“US attorney in Dallas 
says Obama’s White House didn’t meddle in case 
<http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/dallas/headlines/20110429-u.s.-attorney-in-dallas-says-obamas-white-house-didnt-meddle-in-case.ece>,” 
/The Dallas Morning News/, 29 April 2011).

“Considering that the government has broad powers to prosecute 
organizations that have provided material support to terrorism, the fact 
that they haven’t brought more cases is evidence that they don’t have 
any evidence against them,” German said.

But while the government never charged CAIR with criminal activity, its 
lingering status as an “unindicted co-conspirator” remains the bedrock 
for the FBI’s blacklisting of the organization until this day.

In 2008, a year after the government sued the Holy Land Foundation, a 
still-unknown entity within the FBI instructed all field offices to 
sever official relations with CAIR. Up until that point, FBI field 
offices throughout the country had cultivated relationships with local 
CAIR chapters in order to engage cooperatively with Muslim communities.

“We don’t always see eye to eye, but there used to be a healthy 
relationship,” Saylor explained.

“For example, there was a meeting between the FBI and CAIR in 2004 
regarding a ‘know your rights’ pocket book CAIR distributed,” Saylor 
added. “The FBI was concerned about some of the language in that and 
asked us to change it. So we agreed to add, ‘If you know of any criminal 
activity taking place in your community, it is both your religious and 
civic duty to immediately report such activity to local and federal law 
enforcement agencies.’”


    Devastating

Adam Soltani from CAIR’s Oklahoma office said that for many states, 
including his, CAIR is the only organization representing Muslims’ civil 
rights. Eliminating CAIR’s role as a mediator between Muslim communities 
and the FBI has been devastating.

The new policy received praise from certain members of Congress. In 
February 2009, Senators Jon Kyl, Charles Schumer and Tom Coburn wrote to 
FBI Director Robert Mueller applauding the agency’s decision 
<http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/misc/242.pdf> to cut ties 
with CAIR, and suggested the entire government adopt a similar policy.

But some FBI field offices had trouble implementing the policy. Mongi 
Dhaouadi, the executive director of CAIR’s Connecticut chapter, told The 
Electronic Intifada, “The policy has very clearly frustrated agents 
because it has hindered their efforts to reach out to the Islamic 
community in Connecticut.”

That the policy has disrupted the practices of local FBI offices is 
clear in a Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General report 
published last month (“Review of FBI interactions with the Council on 
American-Islamic Relations 
<http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/2013/e0707r.pdf>,” 19 September 2013 
[PDF]).

In response to a request by Representative Frank Wolf from Virginia, the 
Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into the handful 
of instances in which field offices were non-compliant with the 
guidelines established in late 2008. Despite the absence of criminal 
charges or incriminating evidence against CAIR, the Office of Inspector 
General has still failed to conduct a review of the policy itself.

“One of the troubling things for me as a former FBI agent is that the 
FBI should be responsible for enforcing civil rights laws. That the FBI 
would be a part of violating civil rights and the Inspector General 
would fail to investigate it at all, and instead investigate a violation 
of internal policy is problematic,” the ACLU’s German said.

In a scathing letter 
<https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/2013-10-07_-_aclu_letter_to_oig_re_general_review_of_fbi_interactions_with_cair.pdf> 
sent to Inspector General Michael Horowitz on 7 October, the ACLU 
writes: “Rather than criticize the FBI officials who resisted this 
policy, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] should have applauded them 
for honoring their oaths to defend the constitutional rights of all 
Americans, and reprimanded instead the FBI officials who formulated and 
implemented the policy.”


    Secrecy

In the Office of Inspector General’s review of the program, much 
pertinent information is redacted, including what entity instructed the 
FBI to alter its relationship with CAIR; the full explanation for why 
this policy was implemented; and the precise language of the policy.

“That’s very troubling because the only thing that should be redacted is 
information that should not be disclosed for national security purposes. 
I’m not aware of any division within the FBI that is itself classified, 
so that strikes me as an inappropriate redaction, and perhaps designed 
more to evade public accountability, than protect security in any way.” 
German said.

The information that is not redacted states that the policy was 
developed in part because of CAIR’s listing as an “unindicted 
co-conspirator.”

“The OIG [Office of Inspector General] compounds the original 
constitutional error by continuing to reference this list as evidence of 
guilt when there has been no opportunity for CAIR to defend itself and 
in fact no charge,” German said. “The government continues to use it in 
a way that is inappropriate and misleading.”

Likewise, the report provides only a partial explanation for why the 
policy was deemed necessary: “in order to stop CAIR senior leadership 
from exploiting any contact with the FBI, it is critical to control and 
limit any contact with CAIR.” A second reason is redacted.

While the Office of Inspector General’s report is intended to reinforce 
the FBI’s ban on relating to CAIR, it only, albeit unintentionally, 
reveals the senselessness of the policy.

In his conclusion, the Inspector General Michael Horowitz writes: “It 
appears that the common mission of OPA [the Office of Public Affairs] 
and the field divisions to foster interactions with the Muslim community 
ran counter to and some cases, effectively undermined the intent of the 
FBI’s [redacted — likely a policy title] to sever such non-investigative 
community relations with CAIR.”

This admission seems only to have emboldened CAIR’s political enemies. 
Following the publication of the Inspector General’s report, Rep. Frank 
Wolf demanded the OIG “immediately remove 
<http://wolf.house.gov/press-releases/wolf-statement-on-ig-report-on-fbicair/>” 
all non-compliant FBI agents.

When phoned for comment, a spokesperson for the FBI directed all 
questions The Electronic Intifada put to him to a letter the FBI sent to 
Horowitz in response to his report (see Appendix I). In the letter, the 
FBI assures Inspector General Horowitz that they will incorporate his 
recommendations and implement safeguards against breaches of the policy 
from occurring again.

On whether the Office of Inspector General should review the 2008 
policy, spokesperson Chris Allen said, “I would not presume to know what 
the IG [Inspector General] should do.”

Despite all that it has encountered, CAIR has kept on working to 
advocate for the rights of Muslims in the US. As Saylor said, “We’ve 
continued being effective without going to the FBI’s roundtables. The 
attacks still continue but you don’t attack non-effective groups.”

/Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco. Follow her on 
Twitter: @CharESilver <https://twitter.com/CharESilver>./

-- 
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