Tag Archives: appeal

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.

Noor Elashi, daughter to imprisoned Holy Land Foundation (HLF) co-founder, Ghassan Elashi, and Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights joined supporters for 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.

Yesterday’s press release and rally in-part helped to rekindle public interest in the Holy Land Five case.   Journalists like Natasha Lennard, who penned a thoughtful and detailed piece for Salon.com, Russia Today’s Abby Martin for her in-depth interview with Noor, the producers at Democracy Now! who have provided ongoing coverage, influential supporters like Glenn Greenwald and Mona Eltahawi who showed support on twitter, as well as artists like singer-songwriter David Rovics, who wrote a folk song summarizing the case all helped entice people to show solidarity through multiple events around the country.

The Supreme Court is expected to have conferenced on wether or not to hear the HLF’s petition of cert this afternoon (October 26, 2012).  The court will likely publish their decision sometime on Monday (October 29, 2012).

Below is a portion of Noor Elashi’s statement read aloud yesterday to supporters & the media.  This was first published earlier this week on Electronic Intifada.

“Let us not be brought down”: Last legal recourse for Holy Land Five

This Friday, the US Supreme Court will likely decide on whether to hear the Holy Land Foundation case in which my father is a defendant. The decision will come after 11 tumultuous years of raids, arrests, trials and appeals. This will be the last legal recourse for the Holy Land Five charity leaders, who are now serving sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years.

During this uncertain time, all I have are my father’s words. I grasp them with my heart. “May God bring showers of mercy and comfort onto you,” he writes with his customary cursive, “and spread carpets of patience and perseverance upon you so you may find it easy to reach your hopes in life.”

I want to tell him my hope is to see him out of that prison uniform. My hope is to phone him whenever I want instead of waiting for him to call. My hope is to wrap my arms around him, allowing my shoulders to embrace his, which I have not been able to do in more than three years.

Perhaps that day will come soon. Or not. We’ll know more as the next few days unfold.

Still in shock

My father, Ghassan Elashi, has told me that when he co-founded the Holy Land Foundation in 1989, he knew it would be challenging because American foreign policy has been in favor of Israel, and thus, Palestinian sovereignty has not been a main concern.

Although the Holy Land Foundation’s funds were distributed across the world, a large percentage of their donations went to Palestine. So as the HLF blossomed, becoming the largest American Muslim charity, it came as no surprise that a campaign was launched against it in the 1990s, a campaign led by pro-Israeli politicians and lobby groups that repeatedly attempted to make connections between the HLF and Hamas. But authorities found no reason to close the charity.

That is, until three months after 11 September 2001, when the Bush administration — motivated by the politics of our time — used an executive order to shut down the Holy Land Foundation.

I am still in shock that the case has gone as far as it has because in its essence, the HLF case is about a bold humanitarian endeavor that was put to an end.

Nonetheless, the story has carried on, year after year. Prosecutors used the Material Support Statute, enhanced by the Patriot Act, to charge my father in 2004.

The vague nature of the law made it easy for prosecutors to claim that the Holy Land Five gave “material support” in the form of charity (food, blankets, medicine, etc.) to Palestinian zakat (charity-giving) committees that were allegedly “controlled by or worked on behalf of” Hamas and thereby helped Hamas win the “hearts and minds” of Palestinians.

The jury from the first trial was not convinced of the prosecution’s perplexing narrative, especially because none of the zakat committees are listed as designated terrorists by the Department of Treasury. In fact, these zakat committees, or distribution centers, listed on the Holy Land Foundation’s indictment also received funds from American government agencies, most notably USAID, the United States Agency for International Development.

Although the first jury deadlocked on most counts, the jury from the second trial returned all guilty verdicts. My father received a sentence of 65 years and was moved away from my family in Dallas to a Communications Management Unit in rural Illinois. The CMU, located in the city of Marion, mostly holds Muslim men charged after 11 September 2001. The purpose of this secluded prison, opened during the Bush administration, is to restrict the amount of phone calls and visitations the inmates get, all while monitoring their every move.

For the past couple of years, my father’s lawyers have continued to appeal the case, but the convictions have been reaffirmed at every level, which brings us to now.

Anonymous witness’ testimony violates rights

In their 26 October conference, the Supreme Court is expected to review our petition for writ of certiorari. In this petition, the defense team states that the HLF case “presents the perfect opportunity for the court to determine whether or under what circumstances the prosecution can present anonymous witnesses.” They are referring to the prosecution’s star witness, an Israeli intelligence officer who testified under the false name of “Avi,” making it the first time in American history that an expert witness was allowed to testify using a pseudonym.
Defense lawyers state that Avi’s testimony violated my father’s sixth amendment right to confront his accuser.

In fact, “To forbid this most rudimentary inquiry at the threshold is effectively to emasculate the right of cross-examination itself,” they argue, quoting the Court’s established opinion on the matter.

In the petition, defense lawyers also argue that prosecutors presented hearsay evidence, documents that predated the 1995 designation of Hamas, documents with unknown authors and documents seized from co-conspirators who were not defendants in the HLF case.

Moving onward

As I revisit my father’s words, I realize I’ve already seen them come to life. I was beneath the “showers of comfort” when the judge declared a mistrial following a hung jury precisely five years ago on 22 October 2007. I walked down the “carpet of perseverance” when I heard jurors announce the guilty verdicts nearly four years ago, just weeks after the US presidential elections.

And now, with the upcoming elections less than two weeks away and as the highest court of the land decides on the fate of the Holy Land Five, I want to say to my father: no matter what happens in the next few days, let us not be brought down. Let us hold on to that patience and mercy as we keep moving onward. Remember, baba, we are approaching not the end, but the beginning. And you will remain in the consciousness of many until the day you are exonerated.

A multi-city day of action to free the Holy Land Five is being planned on Thursday, 25 October, across the US. Click here for more information. That day, Noor Elashi will also hold a press conference in New York along with members of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

A writer based in New York City, Noor Elashi holds a Creative Writing MFA from The New School. She is currently working on a father-daughter memoir. To learn more about the HLF case, visit www.freedomtogive.com.

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

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

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