What is widely viewed as the flagship case for the US government’s assault on financing terrorism resulted in an embarrassing first act and illustrates the disingenuous practices of the Bush administration. The persecution of the Holy Land Foundation, previously the largest Islamic charitable organization in the United States, highlights the unrelenting efforts of the Bush administration to secure any conviction justifying their crusade against terrorism.
The trial began in July 2007 as prosecutors pulled together weak evidence and bold accusations that Hamas ran the zakat committees to which the organization distributed over 12 million dollars. Even with the defendants’ civil liberties hobbled by recent legislation, the government could not secure a single conviction. Now the government prepares for a second round of trials, once again focusing on vilification rather than finding the truth.
Evidence remains the main element of securing convictions in the United States and the key component often lacking in government cases against terrorism-finance. Despite “197 counts, years of investigation and preparation, almost two months of testimony and more than 1,000 exhibits, including documents, wiretaps, transcripts and videotapes dug up in a backyard in Virginia,” jurors issued only acquittals and deadlocked on the other charges. Additionally, the government’s key witness, testifying under the pseudonym “Avi”, did little to sway jurors. In Court, Mr. Avi appeared to lack a basic understanding of zakat fund distribution, which discredited his testimony.
The Bush administration repeatedly has targeted Muslim charity organizations with the intention of showing progress in the “war on terrorism,” but with only feigned success, depending on plea bargains to technical offenses. Although lacking substance, the case portrays the immediate dangers in the government’s ability to forgo civil rights and seek false convictions.
Rarely accepting defeat, even at their most inept, the government began the retrial of the Holy Land Foundation on September 22. Once again speculation, not evidence, is the highlight of the government’s case. Simply put, the government’s case is predicated on the assertion that charity sent to Palestine must be assumed to fund terrorism through Hamas. To the contrary, evidence indicates the committees which received money from the Holy Land Foundation were licensed by the Palestinian Authority, and any success in establishing underground cooperation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority would certainly be groundbreaking. With little creditability left to lose, the government has orchestrated another effort to convict a Muslim organization of terrorism; hoping that emotions and ignorance will prevail.
While the damage this trial has had on the defendants is devastating, the real victims are the Palestinian people. Serious improvements to the plight and livelihood of many Palestinians would have transpired except for the government’s intervention. However, that interpretation does not uphold the image of “democracy’s beacon” the Bush administration attempts to sell the people of America. Apparently, fighting the “war on terror” requires the distortion of truth, and the infringement of justice and freedom.
Minaret of Freedom Institute