[Ppnews] Echoes of Korematsu: The Holy Land Five Case
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 31 11:00:29 EDT 2011
August 31, 2011
Echoes of Korematsu:
The Holy Land Five Case
by NOOR ELASHI
As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and
my father remains incarcerated in a modern-day
internment camp, the time in which we live begins
to feel less like 2011 and more like 1942. But
this week could determine whether todays justice
system is capable of rewriting the sad chapters
of our history. I say this week because on
Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will
hear the long-awaited oral arguments in the Holy
Land Foundation case, involving what was once our
countrys largest Muslim charitable organization.
Meet my father, Ghassan Elashi. The co-founder of
the HLF. Inmate number 29687-177, sentenced to 65
years in prison for his charity work in
Palestine. He is an American citizen from Gaza
City, who before his imprisonment, took part in
the immigration rally in Downtown Dallas, joining
the half a million people wearing white, chanting
¡Si, se puede! The prison walls have not hindered
his voice, as he writes to me, heartbroken about
the homes destroyed during the earthquake in
Haiti, the young protesters killed
indiscriminately in Syria, the children lost to
the famine in Somalia. Most frequently, he writes
to me about the Japanese-American internment.
Now meet Fred T. Korematsu, who after Peal Harbor
was among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans ordered
to live in internment camps. This was in 1942,
when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order
9066, which authorized the military detainment of
Japanese-Americans to ten concentration camps
during World War II. Mr. Korematsu defied orders
to be interned, because he viewed the forced
removal as unconstitutional. So on May 30, 1942,
Mr. Korematsu was arrested. His case was argued
all the way to the Supreme Court, which
ultimately ruled against him, stating that his
incarnation was justified due to military necessity.
Nearly forty years later, in 1983, Mr.
Korematsus case was reopened, and on Nov. 10,
1983, the conviction was overturned. Judge
Marilyn Hall Patel notably said, It stands as a
caution that, in times of international hostility
and antagonisms, our institutions, legislative,
executive and judicial, must be prepared to
exercise their authority to protect all citizens
from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.
Fast-forward six years. Its already 1989, when
my father co-finds the HLF, which becomes a
prominent American Muslim charity that provides
reliefthrough clothes, food, blankets and
medicineto Palestinians and other populations in
desperate need. Then, in 1996, President Clinton
signs the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act, giving birth to the Material Support
Statute, a law that in time would come under fire
by civil libertarians for profiling and targeting Arab and Muslim Americans.
Two years later, in 1998, Clinton awards Mr.
Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
the highest citizen honor, condemning Mr.
Korematsus persecution as a shameful moment in our history.
Three years later, the towers fall.
And President Bush declares a War on Terror.
In 2001, President Bush signs the Patriot Act,
which strengthens the Material Support Statue.
The laws language is so vague that it gives
prosecutors the authority to argue that
humanitarian aid to designated terrorist
organizations could be indirect, and therefore, a crime.
In my fathers case, he is charged with
conspiring to give Material Support in the form
of humanitarian aid to Palestinian distribution
centers called zakat committees. Prosecutors
admit the zakat committees on the indictment were
not designated terrorist groups, but according to
the indictment released in 2004, these zakat
committees are controlled by or act on behalf
of Hamas, which was designated in 1995. Their
theory is that by providing charity to zakat
committees, the HLF helped Hamas win the hearts
and minds of the Palestinian people.
The HLF case was tried in 2007, lasting three
months, and after 19 days of deliberations, the
jury deadlocked on most counts. The judge
declared a mistrial and the case was tried the following year.
In 2008, after essentially the same arguments,
the retrial ended with the jury returning all
guilty verdicts, and in 2009, my father was
sentenced to 65 years in prison, for essentially
giving humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
In 2010, my father was transferred to a
Communications Management Unit in Marion,
Illinoisthe aforementioned modern-day internment
camp. The CMU received the nickname Guantanamo
North by National Public Radio since two-thirds
of its inmates are Middle Eastern or Muslim. The
purpose of this prisonwhich has another branch
in Terre Haute, Indianais to closely monitor
inmates and limit their communications with their
families, attorneys and the media. Thus, I only
get to hear my fathers voice once every two
weeks, for fifteen minutes. And our visitations
take place behind an obtrusive Plexiglass wall.
My father and his co-defendantsnow called the
Holy Land Fiveare in the final stages of the
appeal as the oral arguments approach on
Thursday. In the Fifth Circuit Court in New
Orleans, defense attorneys will urge the panel of
three justices to reverse the HLF convictions
based on errors that took place in the trial process.
According to the appellate brief, theres a major
fact that undermines the prosecutions claim that
Hamas controlled the zakat committees: The
United States Agency for International
Developmentwhich had strict instructions not to
deal with Hamasprovided funds over many years to
zakat committees named in the indictment,
including the Jenin, Nablus, and Qalqilia
committees, writes my fathers attorney, John
Cline. He continues stating that in 2004, upon
the release of the HLF indictment, USAID
provided $47,000 to the Qalqilia zakat committee.
Furthermore, defense attorneys will argue that the district court:
a) Violated the right to due process by allowing
a key witness to testify without providing his
real name, thereby abusing my fathers right to
confront his witness. They are referring to an
Israeli intelligence officer who became the first
person in U.S. history permitted to testify as an
expert witness using a pseudonym.
b) Abused its discretion by allowing
inflammatory evidence of little or no probative
value, which included multiple scenes of suicide bombings.
c) Deviated from the sentencing guidelines when
they sentenced my father to 65 years.
When putting the lawyerly language aside, human
rights attorneys have deemed the HLF case as
purely political, perpetrated by the Bush
administration. Likewise, the decision to intern
Japanese-Americans was based on race prejudice,
war hysteria and failure of political
leadership, according to a 1982 report by the
Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.
I can only hope that my fathers vindication
wont take 40 years as it did for Mr. Korematsu.
Let us learn from our old wrongs.
Noor Elashi is a writer based in New York City.
She holds a Creative Writing MFA from The New School.
This op-ed was inspired by a forward written by
Karen Korematsu in the upcoming book, Patriot
Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice, which
includes a chapter about my father. You can purchase a copy here:
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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