[Ppnews] Jury acquits target of Feds’ witch-hunt

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 7 17:31:20 EST 2007


Jury acquits target of Feds' witch-hunt
http://www.socialistworker.org/2007-1/618/618_12_Salah.shtml

The frame-up that fell apart

By Nicole Colson | February 9, 2007 | Page 12

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.

As Socialist Worker went to press, Al-Arian was on his 15th day 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."


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