CONCERN OVER FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE IN AMERICAN TRIALS

MPAC EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE IN AMERICAN TRIALS

(Los Angeles - 2/1/07)—In a blow to the government’s latest high profile terrorism case, a Chicago jury today acquitted two Muslim American men of racketeering charges related to money they sent to Palestinians. They were found guilty of lesser charges of obstructing justice. While the verdict represents yet another blow to the government’s high-profile “war on terrorism” cases, it is also indicative of a troubling trend of foreign intelligence being admissable in domestic cases.

The trial of Muhammad Salah, a Chicago businessman, and Abdelhallen Ashqar, a Virginia professor, marked the first time an American court allowed the testimony of two Israeli security agents in a U.S. courtroom. Despite petitions filed by the Chicago Tribune and civil rights groups, Judge Amy St. Eve allowed the agents to testify in a closed hearing that amounted to secret evidence. (In the case of Salah, the prosecution sought to prove he provided aid to Hamas terror activities based on an admission obtained under torture in a foreign country and in a language the defendant does not understand.)

SEE: “U.S. Jury Acquits Two Men of Hamas Conspiracy” (Reuters, 2/1/07)

The Salah trial was the latest in a handful of post-9/11 high level terrorism cases which have included the use of foreign intelligence. Months before the Salah indictment was announced three years ago, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down amidst similar allegations of providing material support to Hamas terror activities. As detailed in a June 2006 Los Angeles Times report, “Israel’s prominent investigative role appears to be unprecedented in post-Sept. 11 terrorism cases”, including in the HLF over 8,000 pages of Israeli intelligence. And more recently, the terrorism trial of South Florida professor Dr. Sami Al-Arian also included Israeli intelligence prominently as evidence, but resulted in acquittal on eight of 17 charges and the jury deadlocked on the rest. In each of these cases, the use of Israeli evidence failed to convince American jurors.

Earlier this week, deportation proceedings against two Palestinian activists from a group coined the “the LA 8”—Michel Shehadeh and Khader Hamide – were terminated two decades after they were targeted for having distributed magazines and raised humanitarian aid for Palestinians, and falsely accused of supporting terrorism. In his ruling, a Los Angeles immigration judge characterized the government’s efforts not only as a violation of the men’s Constitutional rights, but a “gross failure” and “an embarrassment to the rule of law”.

Such events feed a growing perception within the Muslim American community of deliberate targeting against Palestinians and sympathizers of the Palestinian cause, where they are stripped of Constitutional guarantees even in the court of law. Gone unchecked, such a perception hinders the execution of an effective campaign against terrorism and extremism.

MPAC supports the assertion of Amnesty International, which said today that it “is deeply concerned that evidence likely obtained by the use of torture even entered the courtroom. The U.S. government’s case against Salah was mainly based on statements he made while in Israeli custody 14 years ago when interrogation techniques that amount to torture were considered legal by the authorities… The jury’s rejection of the confessions in this case will hopefully deter government prosecutors from trying to obtain convictions based on questionable evidence. From the cages of Guantanamo to a Chicago courtroom, the use of torture to persecute and prosecute is intolerable.”


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