[Ppnews] Defense says Muhammad Salah was victim of Israeli plot

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 11 08:32:18 EST 2007


Hamas suspects defended

Defense lawyer says Bridgeview man was victim of Israeli plot

By Rudolph Bush and Azam Ahmed
Ttibune staff reporters

January 10, 2007, 8:23 PM CST

Muhammad Salah was trying to provide humanitarian 
aid to the Palestinian people when he became a 
pawn of Israeli officials seeking to influence 
U.S. policy, his lawyer argued Wednesday.

Firing back after two days of prosecution 
arguments, Salah's lawyer, Michael Deutsch, 
attacked the case against his client, a 
Bridgeview businessman accused of being a leading 
member of the radical Palestinian group Hamas.

An attorney for Salah's co-defendant, Abdelhaleem 
Ashqar, also gave his final argument, telling 
jurors that Ashqar resisted Israel's occupation 
of Palestinian territories but insisted on following the law.

Deutsch's argument focused on the heart of the 
government's case: a handwritten confession and 
statements that Salah allegedly provided while in Israeli custody in 1993.

To accept Salah's guilt, jurors must accept a 
confession extracted through torture, Deutsch said.

"You can say we're not going to have a case in an 
American courtroom that's based on a foreign 
government's systematic use of torture," Deutsch said.

Prosecutors charge Salah, a U.S. citizen, and 
Ashqar, a longtime resident, with using the safe 
haven of this country to transfer funds, 
coordinate operations and provide other aid to 
Hamas, an organization responsible for many terrorist attacks.

Arrested by Israeli police in Gaza in January 
1993, Salah confessed to being a Hamas military 
commander during 54 days of interrogation that 
included physical and psychological torments, Deutsch said.

Jurors should reject the testimony of two Israeli 
interrogators, "Nadav" and "Benny," that Salah 
confessed voluntarily, Deutsch said.

The interrogators, who testified under official 
aliases, lied constantly on the stand, Deutsch said.

Prosecutors acknowledged in court that Israeli 
interrogators were permitted to use coercive 
tactics such as hooding prisoners and forcing 
them to sit handcuffed in a small chair. Nadav 
and Benny denied Salah was subjected to such treatment.

"They want you to believe he was a military 
commander who cooperated without any coercion or torture," Deutsch said.

He told jurors that it was the other way 
around­Salah had no militant background but was tortured into saying he did.

The purpose of his arrest, torture and confession 
was an intrigue developed at the highest levels 
of the Israeli government to convince the FBI 
that Hamas was developing cells in the U.S., Deutsch said.

While access to Israeli interrogation facilities 
is extremely limited, a New York Times reporter, 
through the intervention of Israeli Prime 
Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was permitted to view an 
interrogation session of Salah.

The reporter, Judith Miller, testified that as a 
result she wrote a front-page story stating that 
Hamas was developing cells in the U.S.

"No one in the U.S. government really believed 
the U.S. was an important haven for Hamas," 
Deutsch said. Miller testified that her article 
began to change that skepticism.

Wednesday's arguments by the defense attorneys 
were steeped in the history of the 
Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the hardships 
they say the Palestinians have endured.

Palestinians often lack access to basic services 
such as medical care, fresh water, sewage systems 
and schools, both defense attorneys said.

Humanitarian issues became a major focus in the 
trial, as Deutsch argued that Salah carried funds 
to the territories to ease the suffering of his 
people, not for militant operations.

Salah was captured in 1993 with $100,000 in cash. 
Bank records show Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook 
had transferred him nearly $1 million, which 
prosecutors said was intended to fund violence.

But the money transfers were completely 
transparent, and they went through Salah's 
personal bank account, Deutsch said. That is not 
the practice of someone funding illicit operations, he said.

Ashqar's attorney, William Moffitt, compared the 
struggle of Palestinians to historic fights 
against repression, from the American Revolution 
to the civil rights movement. He showed jurors a 
mock "wanted" poster charging George Washington with terrorism.

Ashqar is accused of coordinating communication 
for Hamas and archiving key documents.

Moffitt argued that creating a historical archive 
was Ashqar's right as a Palestinian.

"They have every right to be the first authors of their history," he said.

Moffitt briefly addressed a series of secretly 
recorded conversations in which Ashqar discussed 
violent operations by Hamas. He said that despite 
the disturbing nature of the calls, Ashqar is 
never heard planning any militant attacks or 
recruiting anyone to perform such acts.

Moffitt pointed to a secretly recorded statement 
by Ashqar in which he told alleged fellow Hamas 
members, "Anything we undertake must be a studied legal work."

Both defense lawyers questioned the timeliness of 
the government's 2004 indictment, pointing out 
that nearly all of the charges in the case stem 
from events that occurred in the early 1990s.

After Salah was released from Israeli custody in 
1997, he returned home to Bridgeview under strict 
government scrutiny. Yet prosecutors produced no 
evidence that Salah did anything on behalf of 
Hamas from the time of his return to the U.S. to the present, Deutsch said.

"This is not a case about terrorism but about fairness and justice," he said.

<mailto:rrbush at tribune.com>rrbush at tribune.com

<mailto:aahmed at tribune.com>aahmed at tribune.com

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<http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/custom/newsroom//>Chicago Tribune

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