Tag Archives: ghassan elashi

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.”

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

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

Activist Repression & Secretive Prisons Make International Headlines

Activist Repression & Secretive Prisons Make International Headlines

In the past few weeks the prosecution and incarceration of activists, direct-actionists and philanthropists as terrorists has seen a resurgence in media attention. It’s never too little or too late…

Last week The Wall Street Journal took a critical look at the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) citing that the law was both irresponsible and redundant in the way it prosecutes activists as terrorists for combined legal and illegal actions, noting that the illegal actions prosecuted under the act (liberating animals, destroying property, etc) are already crimes under state and federal law. You can read a non-subscription version of the article HERE.

The Paris-based Arte Television and CAPA Presse TV aired the segment ‘Qui sont les éco-terroristes?‘ (who are the ecoterrorists?) as part of their Global Magazine series, broadcasted across France, Germany, and Switzerland. The segment highlighted the case against the SHAC7 and Operation Backfire defendant Daniel McGowan and featured interviews with Green is the New Red author Will Potter, Jenny Synan, Andy Stepanian of the Sparrow Media Project and Alexi Agathocleous of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The segment took a critical view of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, FBI scaremongering, and highlighted animal industries influence on designer legislation like the AETA. The segment also drew attention to Stepanian’s and McGowan’s incarceration within Federal Communication Management Units (CMUs) and showed McGowan’s “Notice of Transfer” as well as an elaborate computer generated model of the Federal Penitentiary in Marion, IL where the CMU is located. You can view the segment below.

The stories surrounding CMU programs in Marion Illinois, and Terre Haute Indiana were revisited by NPR’s Justice Department correspondents who noted that the transfer of 5 high-profile inmates to the unit further called into question the constitutionality of the CMU and it’s overwhelming Muslim population.

Will Potter also revisited the issue of CMUs in a look at the now defunct Lexington High Security Unit. Highlighted in Potter’s book Green is the New Red the Lexington High Security Unit was a federal political prison program strikingly similar to the that of the CMU and the lesser known ADMAX Unit at The Federal Medical Center at Carswell, TX. Potter writes —

“The government has reason to be secretive about this program [Communications Management Units], because similar experiments have not been well received by civil rights and human rights organizations. The Bureau of Prisons has a history of operating pilot programs outside the confines of the Constitution.

For example, the High Security Unit in the federal women’s prison in Lexington, Kentucky, was created in the 1980s to house political prisoners belonging to an organization that, according to the Bureau of Prisons, “attempts to disrupt or overthrow the government of the U.S.” The Lexington HSU existed below ground, in total isolation from the outside world and with radically restricted prisoner communications and visitations. The women were subjected to constant fluorescent lighting, almost daily strip searches, and sensory deprivation. The purpose of these conditions, according to a report by Dr. Richard Korn for the ACLU, was to “reduce prisoners to a state of submission essential for ideological conversion.” The Lexington HSU was closed in 1988 after an outcry by Amnesty International, the ACLU and religious groups.”

 

The Southern Illinoisian, a daily paper published out Carbondale, IL featured two articles and a cover shot highlighting the CMU program. Although the photographs provided by the officials at the Marion, Penitentiary were misleading (the CMU does not have a gymnasium or any similar open spaces for recreation) the papers editors went to great lengths to challenge the legality of the unit and to question who is actually housed within the controversial program. Within the paper’s cover article lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights blasted the unit for its lack of due process and grossly disproportionate population of Muslim detainees. A second, more personal article featured interviews with Noor Elashi, Jenny Synan, and Andy Stepanian about their experiences with the CMU. Noor’s father, Ghassan Elashi’s, only crime is providing charitable aide to hospitals in the Israeli-Occupied Palestinian territories. You can read The Southern’s articles HERE and HERE.

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