Tag Archives: Michael Ratner

The Enemization of Everything or an American Story of Empathy & Healing?

The Enemization of Everything or an American Story of Empathy & Healing?

As president Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term and announces his cabinet selections The Indypendent has published a special issue titled “The Shadow Term” in which they have selected their own creative roster for cabinet appointments.

Sparrow’s cofounder Andy Stepanian joined the Indypendent’s all-star team of would-be cabinet appointees, Bill McKibben (Dept. of Energy), Michael Ratner (Attorney General), Laura Flanders (Secretary of State), Sarah Jaffe (Dept. of Labor), Remi Kanazi & Alex Kane (Special Envoy to Palestine & Israel), Deborah Small (Director, DEA), Nathan Schneider (Dept. of Defense) and accepted the appointment of “Secretary of Department of Homeland Security.”  The following is his contribution, written as an acceptance letter…

AN AMERICAN STORY OF EMPATHY & HEALING

In the weeks between my appointment and when I entered this office I had the privilege of spending several days alongside former Secretary Janet Napolitano. I found Secretary Napolitano’s leadership to be exemplary as applied to the terms defining her position as DHS secretary. These terms, framed 11 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, provide a foundation for what it means to direct our Department of Homeland Security. However, I regretfully, and respectfully, submit to you today, that these terms upon which we apply the responsibility of securing of our homeland are flawed. I intend to spend my term as secretary redefining these terms, and eventually redefining the position of secretary to the Department of Homeland Security.

With no disrespect intended to Secretary Napolitano, I will share with you a conversation she and I had regarding these aforementioned terms.

When I asked Secretary Napolitano to recall her first days in office, she waxed nostalgic about a conversation she had in 2009 with her predecessor, Secretary Michael Chertoff, about “the cornerstone of our security apparatus.” This “cornerstone” was handed down from Tom Ridge to Chertoff to Napolitano. When I asked her what this “cornerstone” was she simply replied, “the enemization of everything.”

Over the past nine-and-a-half years, this department has grown exponentially to employ more than 240,000 Americans around a principle that in order to innoculate our population against an attack by an invisible enemy we must first “enemize” everything, treating each and every living thing (and at times even non-living electronic entities) as if she, he, they or it were plotting the next attack on our homeland. The private sector has also seen unfettered growth around its ability to monetize “the enemization of everything,” from developing security technologies in response to unforeseen “enemies” to using the specter of terrorism to draft and fast-track model legislation that serves business interests.

While taking a position that everything is an “enemy” can make it harder for an “enemy” to execute his or her plans, it also creates an ugly, fear-driven environment that sows seeds of distrust, from misplaced suspicions about your neighbor’s religious or political affiliations to fears of crowds or airplanes. Moreover, this “enemization of everything” has been observed to have a profound psychological impact on some individuals. For some, being told over and over by peers or media that they are “an enemy” makes them want to react by becoming that enemy. After surviving a decade rife with violent outbursts and mass shootings, we as a nation cannot afford to ignore the psychological impacts of our post-9/11 terror culture and security-industrial complex on the moral fabric of our communities.

I intend to use my directorship here at the Department of Homeland Security to transform this agency into a restorative agency. To do so we must first undo this prerequisite “enemization” model. We then need to reach an understanding that terrorism, whether political or apolitical like a shooting in a movie theater, almost always has an origin. These origins should be treated as wounds that we as an agency have a responsibility to heal. If we as an agency can isolate these origins on various cultural, systematic or personal levels, we can begin to heal the wounds that jeopardize our security.

From deeply personal individual battles with cancer to the global war on terror, human responses to these acute onslaughts are almost always reactionary and seldom preventative.

Amid the immediacy of our tragedies we rarely question what brought us to those malignant moments; instead we desperately reach for quick fixes — surgery, chemotherapy, torture, drones, carpet-bombing. In the global war on terror, preventative medicine is often practiced as pre-emptive military action, rendition, entrapment, torture and sanctions. These means never challenge the cultural roots of the problem and often serve as a tool for terrorist recruitment.

Like flourishing bacterial cultures in a petri dish, terrorism is a symptomatic cultural reflex that can be easily seen growing out of its own hospitable environments. Oppression, poverty, inadequate education, constant subjugation to the accepted institutionalized abuse of animals and a lack of individual autonomy are the stagnant waters in which this global disease of terrorism takes root and grows. As secretary, I intend to use this agency to analyze, isolate and ultimately treat the prerequisite events that give way to future acts of violence.

To make this agency a restorative agency, not only must we speak in a restorative manner, but our actions and our policies must also promote restoration.

Many of my detractors have speculated about my proposed policy changes, some have gone as far as to call them “treasonous.” I will reserve any comments regarding my policy plans for a later date, but can assure those detractors that I fully intend to re-write their script of “enemization” to an American story of empathy and healing.

Sincerely,

Andy Stepanian
Secretary, Department of Homeland Security

stepanianDHS

This beautifully illustrated special edition of The Indypendent is a powerful testimonial of the alternatives we can create. A list of distribution locations are available here, a .pdf download is available here.

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.

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

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