[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


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 today’s 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 
country’s 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. 
Korematsu’s 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. It’s 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. 
Korematsu’s 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 law’s 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 father’s 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 father’s 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, there’s a major 
fact that undermines the prosecution’s 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 father’s 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 father’s 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 father’s vindication 
won’t 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:

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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