[Ppnews] Muhammad Salah - Terrorism in our courts

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 8 11:30:19 EST 2007

Terrorism in our courts

By Tom Durkin
Published February 8, 2007

Something very, very important happened in this town last week.

A federal jury acquitted two Muslims of the most 
serious charges in an alleged "terrorism" case 
that at one time in the government's heralded 
"war on terror" was so important that none other 
than then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft himself saw 
fit to hold a news conference in Washington with 
Chicago U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald announcing 
the indictment's return in 2004. At the time, 
Ashcroft said that these two men "played a 
substantial role in financing and supporting 
international terrorism ... [and] took advantage 
of the freedoms of an open society to foster and finance acts of terror. "

Fitzgerald's office then promptly proceeded to 
announce that it would prove its case by 
attempting to introduce a purported confession 
that defendant Muhammad Salah gave in Israel to 
Israeli authorities after 80 days of 
interrogation in an Israeli prison in 1993.

When Salah's lawyers challenged the use of this 
purported confession as the byproduct of Israeli 
torture tactics, Fitzgerald's office promptly 
asked U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve to close 
her courtroom to the public so that it could 
present the testimony of some of the Israeli 
agents in a secret proceeding. Not only would the 
courtroom be closed, but the Israeli agents would 
be permitted to testify in disguises with code 
names. St. Eve granted the government's request 
and conducted weeks of testimony in her courtroom 
that was completely shut off from the public. 
Black crepe paper was used to cover the windows 
in her courtroom doors and federal agents, along 
with a bomb-sniffing dog, barricaded the hall 
outside her courtroom. Two CIA-looking types in 
suits and headphones sat in the corner of her 
courtroom with a table full of electronic 
equipment, supposedly scrambling any attempt by 
the participants in the hearing to filter information out of the courtroom.

St. Eve also had no problem at the end of the 
hearing permitting the government to introduce 
the confession at trial notwithstanding 
considerable evidence presented in the hearing 
with respect to torture tactics that were in 
place and regularly used by the Israeli secret 
police. She accepted the government's argument 
that the Israeli secret police decided not to use 
their torture tactics against Salah because he was an American.

So much for the "freedoms of an open society" Ashcroft was so concerned about.

Fortunately, and to the surprise of many, the 
jury had the courage to preserve what is left of 
the freedoms of an open society Ashcroft and his 
cronies in the Justice Department and the White 
House have left us with since Sept. 11, 2001. 
This jury had the courage and integrity not to 
fall for the government's much abused "terrorism" 
rhetoric and call this case for what it was 
worth--which was virtually nothing. The 
government was left with minor perjury and 
obstruction charges that Fitzgerald's office is 
now trying to claim with a straight face is a 
victory. This verdict is, indeed, a victory but 
it is a victory for all of us, not the 
government. It is a victory for anyone who cares 
about the freedoms of an open society that 
Ashcroft attempted to dismantle--from the 
expansive use of the USA Patriot Act, the 
National Security Agency illegal wiretapping, 
Guantanamo Bay, foreign extraordinary renditions, 
and a virtual disregard of civil liberties in 
this country in the name of the "war on terror."

What should also not be lost on anyone is the 
extraordinary effort of the Muslim-American 
communities in Chicago and Virginia that rallied 
around the Salah family and his co-defendant, 
Abdelhaleem Ashqar. To fight the government in 
the face of potential life sentences is no small 
effort unto itself. It's even more daunting to 
raise the money it takes to bring in lawyers who 
are talented enough to attempt to level the 
uneven playing field the government gets in its 
federal courts these days. If it takes a village 
to raise a child these days, it truly takes a 
community to stand up to the government. We 
should all take note as a community and pay attention before it is too late.


Tom Durkin, an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago 
from 1978 to 1984, is a federal criminal defense 
lawyer.. He was at one time an attorney for 
Abdelhaleem Ashqar. He did not participate in the trial.

Copyright © 2007, 
<http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion//>Chicago Tribune

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