One of my hobbies here is cataloging all the oddities of the Bush Administration’s anti-terror policies. Today, the NY Times writes about yet another example. The Justice Department trumpeted its case against the Holyland Foundation, a Palestinian charity which supported social projects sponsored by Hamas in the Occupied Territories. According to the government’s case, donors were not giving charity, but rather furthering Hamas’ terror aims against Israel. But let’s examine that assumption a little more closely:
The charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and five of its officers have been on trial here since July 16, charged with conspiracy, money laundering and providing financial support to a foreign terrorist organization. The foundation, which was based in a Dallas suburb, raised more than $57 million before the government closed it in 2001, according to the prosecution, and sent $12.4 million to Palestinian charities the government contends were controlled by Hamas.
Prosecutors did not contend Monday that the foundation directly financed suicide bombings or weapons purchases. Rather, its financial contributions to charities controlled by Hamas helped that group win the hearts and minds of Palestinians, said Barry Jonas, the Justice Department prosecutor who summarized the government’s case for the jury Monday.
The group “specifically targeted the families of martyrs and prisoners” for aid, Mr. Jonas said, adding that the foundation “was helping Hamas take care of its own.”
Since when is it illegal for any political or social organization to “take care of its own?” Who else would it take care of? Israelis? In most societies families of prisoners or slain soldiers are considered deserving of charitable consideration. If during any of the wars this country fought I had donated to support a prisoner-of-war or the family of a slain soldier any citizen would consider this performing a civic duty. But not in the twisted mind of the Bush Administration.
I want to make clear that I have no sympathy for Hamas as a political organization. I don’t support either its military actions or its political agenda. Personally, I wish that Fatah could reform itself and become a truly representative democratic organization capable of leading all Palestinians to freedom (though I see the likelihood of this happening as nil). But to criminalize the type of activity engaged in by Holyland is simply absurd.
Here is a bit more of the government rationale, such as it is, for its case:
Many groups — lawyers, charities, terrorism experts and many Muslims who feel their charities have been unfairly made targets — have been watching this case carefully, in part because the government has given it such a high profile. In December 2001, President Bush announced that he was freezing the Holy Land Foundation’s assets and said Hamas had “obtained much of the money it pays for murder abroad right here in the United States.”
After the foundation and its officers were indicted in 2004, John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, said, “There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks.”
So in George Bush’s mind supporting a wife, husband or children whose spouse/parent dies engaged in terror is the same as making a payment in a murder for hire scheme (“the money it pays for murder…”). Ashcroft’s statement is even more preposterous because it somehow maintains that Holyland actually financed terror attacks, which even the government’s lawyers are NOT claiming in this case as the following makes clear:
But at the trial, the government made a more complex and nuanced argument, contending that Holy Land gave money to charitable groups, known as zakat committees, that were controlled by Hamas. They in turn used the money for charitable purposes, including building hospitals and feeding the hungry, which the government said increased public support for Hamas, spread its ideology and helped it recruit terrorists.
Someone will have to explain to me how building a hospital recruits terrorists. You mean to tell me a guy’s going to look at a new hospital built with Holyland funds and say: “Cool, Hamas builds hospitals–I think I’ll go blow myself on their behalf?”
And lest you wonder where the feds are getting their star witness and evidence you have to look no farther than the Israeli Shin Bet:
Much of the evidence linking the charities to the radical group came from the Israeli government, in particular from an Israeli security analyst who testified using only the name Avi.
But defense witnesses said that Israeli intelligence was biased in such matters. “Not even the United States government will accept Israel’s intelligence at face value,” Ms. Hollander said, adding “and that is really where this all comes from.”
I would hope that the defense was able to cross examine “Avi” intensively to test how sound his claims were. From my experience, claims by Israeli intelligence are full of manipulation and can be quite self-serving.
This section of the article gets to the crux of the problem the government has in which it is attempting to criminalize protected political speech:
Mr. Jonas, the prosecutor, said that in one video clip, a defendant, Mufid Abdulqader, was chanting, “I am Hamas,” adding, “You can’t get much clearer than that.”
But Mr. Jonas acknowledged that expressing support for a group was protected under the First Amendment and that the defendants were not on trial for their political beliefs. The defense has argued that much of this evidence is more than a decade old, from well before Hamas was declared to be a terrorist organization by the United States government.
So get this, the evidence against Holyland comes from the period BEFORE the government designated Hamas as terrorist. Someone please tell me how I can claim that Holyland supports terrorism when the very crimes it is alleged to have committed happened before those crimes could possibly have been conceived of as illegal??
An additional injustice of this case is that CAIR and a number of other Arab-American organizations have been named as unindicted co-conspirators which implies that they have engaged in conduct only slightly less illegal than Holyland. The truth of the matter is that the government will have a hard time proving what Holyland did was illegal, let alone conduct by their alleged co-conspirators. CAIR is no more a tainted organization than any Jewish defense organization like the ADL or AJC is.
The federal government has overreached in this case as it has in so many other terror prosecutions. IF (and that is a very big ‘if’) it wins this case it will only because it got a sympathetic, white, conservative Texas jury. But despite that possibility, I don’t think the government can win. And even if they do win at this level, I have little doubt this case will end up getting thrown out as so many other Justice Departament anti-terror prosecutions have failed before this one.