Tag holy land foundation

Supreme Court Denies Imprisoned Holy Land Foundation Members Appeal

[Washington, DC] After 11 years of raids, seized assets, arrests, a hung jury, a retrial, and the eventual conviction of the Holy Land Foundation and it’s leaders under the material support to terrorists statute, the case ended today with a 9-word notice from the Supreme Court notifying counsel that the appellants case would not be heard. No further explanation was given to the attorneys as to why their Writ of Certiorari would not be heard.

The news came at 10:30am this morning despite an announcement that Federal buildings in the Capitol would be closed in anticipation of hurricane Sandy. Attorney John Cline immediately notified Noor Elashi, daughter to HLF defendant Ghassan Elashi, that “the Supreme Court entered an order a few minutes ago declining to take the case. That order—which comes with no explanation—marks the end of the judicial process. It is not, of course, the end of the effort to achieve justice for your father. …Our federal judicial system is a national disgrace, but I retain some hope that fairness can ultimately be achieved if we persist.”

Nancy Hollander attorney for the appealants issued this statement to MondoWeiss.net, “This is [a] travesty of American criminal justice. I don’t think American citizens understand that this effects all of us and the world that believes in the American criminal justice system. Anyone in any court in America now risks being convicted based on the opinion of someone who claims to be an expert without any opportunity to cross examine that person because everything about that so-called expert can remain secret. The right to Confrontation, so long enshrined in our justice system, died today.”  Hollander was specifically referring to the prosecution’s use of an Israeli intelligence officer who used the pseudonym “Avi” when giving testimony that the Zakat (charity giving) committee to which the Holy Land Defendants provided charitable aide were (in his eyes) fronts for Hamas.  Avi was also shielded from cross examination.  The prosecution’s unfettered use of Avi became a central tenant to the appellant’s petition, as they specifically state that his testimony was in direct violation of the appellant’s 6th amendment rights (see page 14 in the appealant’s Writ of Certiorari.)

Today’s Supreme Court ruling was not only was a major blow to our 1st, 5th, and 6th amendment protections, it was also a grotesque miscarriage of justice. The Holy Land Five led with a charitable example that all Americans should follow …not prosecute. Michael Ratner underscored this when he spoke at Thursday’s press conference, “We will look back on this period, not just the Holy Land Five, but the cases from the NYPD, down here with the Third Jihad, all they way to drone killings in Pakistan, we will look on this as probably one of the darkest, if not the darkest, periods of our history. And sadly, sadly, Noor’s father is paying the price of 65 years in jail.”

Michael Ratner & Noor Elashi Address Press on Eve of Supreme Court Conference to Re-Hear Holy Land Foundation Conviction

[NEW YORK, NY] On October 25, 2012 activists, lawyers, and family members of defendants in the controversial Holy Land Five trial held a press conference and rally outside the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in Manhattan.  Read Thurday’s press release here*

Daughter of Jailed Charity Leader, Activists & Attorneys Rally on Eve of Supreme Court Conference on Fate of Holy Land Foundation

[New York, NY] At 5pm tomorrow (Thursday, October 25, 2012) activists, lawyers, and family members of defendants in the controversial Holy Land Five trial will hold a press conference and rally outside the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building (26 Federal Plaza, New York, NY 10013).

Noor Elashi, daughter to imprisoned Holy Land Foundation co-founder, Ghassan Elashi, and Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, will address the large assembly of activist supporters at 5:30pm in what may be the last public showing of solidarity for the Holy Land Five defendants before the Supreme Court is scheduled to conference on whether they will rule on the group’s 2008 conviction for alleged crimes under the Material Support to Terrorists statute.  The Supreme Court calendar indicates that should they conference on the Holy Land Five case it will likely happen on Friday, October 26, 2012.  This will be the last legal remedy for the defendants outside of a Presidential pardon.

The Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until three months after 9/11 when the Bush administration shut it down following a claim that the group had donated a portion of their foundation funds to schools and hospitals in Gaza through a Zakat Committee that allegedly had connections to Hamas (designated by the US in 1995 as a terrorist group).  After subsequent raids on their homes and offices, arrests, and two trials (the first ending in a hung jury), the Holy Land Five was convicted of conspiracy under the Material Support to Terrorists statute and received sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years in Federal Prison.

Edward Abington, a diplomat who served as U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem during the 1990s, when called to testify on behalf of the HLF defense in 2007, said Israel had provided “selective information to try to influence U.S. thinking.”  Also introduced into the court record by Abington was the little known fact that in the same year the HLF defendants were indicted the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had given $47,00 to the same Zakat Committee alleged in the indictment to have ties to Hamas (see DX1074 or pg.12 in writ). Moreover, USAID has periodically contributed to the same Zakat committees named in the indictments, from before the time of the HLF indictment until today.   This double standard is circuitous because it implies that either USAID is using taxpayer money to “finance Hamas” or that the allegations made against the HLF were baseless from the beginning.

After the 2007 deadlock, juror Nanette Scroggins, a retired claims adjuster, said in her only interview about the case, “I kept expecting the government to come up with something, and it never did… From what I saw, this was about Muslims raising money to support Muslims, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Noor Elashi, whose father Ghassan Elashi is now imprisoned, is speaking out, “I am heartened by the solidarity of those who are standing by my father during this critical time. I hope to see this momentum keep building until the Holy Land Five are exonerated.”

Ghassan Elashi is currently serving 65 years at the Federal Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion Illinois.  The CMU is a designer penal program that focuses specifically on isolating and silencing inmates.  The demographic of the CMU’s designees is made up of an overwhelming 79% Muslim majority with a smaller minority group of non-Muslim designees that have highly politicized cases.  This glaring racial disparity as well as the political nature of these prisons was the focus of a two-part investigation by National Public Radio titled “Guantanamo North.”  The Center for Constitutional Rights is currently suing the Department of Justice over the legality of CMU’s.

The American Civil Liberties Union in a 2009 report sharply criticized the government’s prosecution of the HLF, saying it “…violated the fundamental rights of American Muslim Charities and has chilled American Muslims’ charitable giving in accordance with their faith, seriously undermining American values of due process and commitment to First Amendment freedoms.”

Tomorrow’s rally and press conference is part of a national day of action in solidarity with the Holy Land Five.  The groups participating in tomorrow’s actions include:

• The Committee to Stop FBI Repression
• The Center for Constitutional Rights
• The Muslim Defense Project of the National Lawyers Guild
• Free the Holy Land Five / Freedom to Give
• United National Anti-war Coalition
• Defending Dissent Foundation
• International Action Center
• National Lawyers Guild of Washington DC
• Students for a Democratic Society
• Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims)
• Labor for Palestine
• New York City Labor Against the War
• Al-Awda New York: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
• US Palestinian Community Network

A copy of the indictment against the HLF is available HERE
A copy of the HLF Petition of Cert is available HERE

For more information on the HLF visit http://freedomtogive.com
You can RSVP to tomorrow’s rally on facebook HERE

To request an interview with Noor Elashi, or for raw video footage of tomorrow’s events please contact Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010

My Father Will Not be Forgotten: Noor Elashi on The Holy Land Five Appeal Ruling

What has happened to Noor’s father and the other defendants in the Holy Land Foundation case is a threat to our constitutional freedoms, a glaring example of prosecutorial bias towards Muslim communities, and an example of the judicial over-reach that has come to define the decade following 9/11.  Below is Noor’s comment about the superior court ruling to uphold the conviction of the Holy Land defendants.

Exactly three days following the tenth anniversary of the Bush administration shutting down the largest Muslim charity in the United States, the Fifth Circuit Court dismissed the appeal for the Holy Land Foundation case, affirming the conviction of my father, the co-founder of the HLF who’s serving a 65-year sentence for his humanitarian work.

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the three-judge panel, based in New Orleans, filed their opinion, concluding that “the district court did not clearly err.”

Upon hearing this news, it initially all rushed back to me at once, nostalgia on overdrive. I saw the relentless accusations by pro-Israeli lobby groups, the pressure by pro-Israeli politicians and the defamatory news reports in the 1990’s. I saw the raid on the HLF in 2001, the pre-sunrise arrests and “material support” charges in 2004, the first trial and hung jury in 2007, the second trial and guilty verdicts in 2008, the sentencing in 2009. I saw the plethora of prison phone calls and visitations. And finally, I saw my father being transferred in 2010 to the Southern Illinois city of Marion’s Communications Management Unit—what The Nation has called “Gitmo in the Heartland”—and where my father’s significantly diminished phone calls and visitations are scheduled in advance and live-monitored from Washington D.C.

The case of the Holy Land Five comes down to this: American foreign policy has long been openly favorable towards Israel, and therefore, an American charity established primarily for easing the plight of the Palestinians became an ultimate target. As my father said during our 15-minute phone call on Thursday, “The politics of this country are not on our side. If we had been anywhere else, we would’ve been honored for our work.”

This month could have marked a milestone. The leaders of our country could have learned from our past. The day the towers fell could have been a time to stop fear from dominating reason instead of a basis to prosecute. The HLF would have continued to triumph, providing relief to Palestinians and other populations worldwide in the form of food, clothing, wheelchairs, ambulances, furniture for destroyed homes, back-to-school projects and orphan sponsorship programs. And more notably, my father would not have been incarcerated. My family and I would have been able to call him freely and embrace him without a plexiglass wall.

Yet my father was charged under the ambiguous Material Support Statute with sending humanitarian aid to Palestinian distribution centers known as zakat committees that prosecutors claimed were fronts for Hamas. He was prosecuted despite the fact that USAID—an American government agency—and many other NGO’s were providing charity to the very same zakat committees. Instead of the Fifth Circuit Court taking this fact into account and transcending the politics of our time, the language used in the opinion, drafted by Judge Carolyn King, echoed that of the prosecutors:

“The social wing is crucial to Hamas’s success because, through its operation of schools, hospitals, and sporting facilities, it helps Hamas win the ‘hearts and minds’ of Palestinians while promoting its anti-Israel agenda and indoctrinating the populace in its ideology.”

Even more disappointing is the Fifth Circuit Court’s opinion regarding one of the main issues in the appeal: The testimony of the prosecution’s expert witness, an Israeli intelligence officer who, for the first time in U.S. history, was permitted to testify under a pseudonym. The opinion states:

“When the national security and safety concerns are balanced against the defendants’ ability to conduct meaningful cross-examination, the scale tips in favor of maintaining the secrecy of the witnesses’ names.”

I refuse to let this language bring me down, especially knowing that the battle for justice continues. In the next few weeks, defense attorneys plan to ask the entire panel of appellate judges to re-hear the case, and if that petition is denied, they will take it to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, my father waits in prison. This Thursday, when I spoke to him, it had been the first time in several weeks since he received a phone call ban for writing his name on a yoga mat, which prison officials saw as “destruction of government property.” I told him that during the tenth anniversary of the HLF shutting down, the name of the charity is still alive and that he will not be forgotten. My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights. In fact, when I asked him about the first thing he’ll do when he’s released, my father said, “I would walk all the way to Richardson, Texas carrying a sign that says, ‘End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.’ ”

» “My Father Will Not be Forgotten”, was first published on Counterpunch

Echoes of Korematsu; The Holy Land Five Case by Noor Elashi

Lawyers for the Holy Land Foundation defendants address supporters outside the court on 9/1/2011.



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 jailing 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 relief—through clothes, food, blankets and medicine—to 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.”

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 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.

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, Illinois—the 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 prison—which has another branch in Terre Haute, Indiana—is 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-defendants—now called the Holy Land Five—are 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 Development—which had strict instructions not to deal with Hamas—provided 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 Noor’s father. You can purchase a copy from McSweenys HERE

Echoes of Korematsu; The Holy Land Five Case by Noor Elashi was originally published on Counterpunch