The Muhammad Salah Bottomline

1 February 2007

For many years now, Mr. Muhammad Salah lived life in the infamy of being labeled as the only designated US terrorist. He suffered the repercussions of this judgment, long before he could face an open and fair trial in a US Court of law. His assets were frozen, and his life shattered. His family carried the burden of this label to their schools, workplaces, and to the local supermarket.

Today at the completion of an emotionally tolling trial on Mr. Salah and his family, the final verdict is out.

Though he was found guilty of obstructing justice, he was found not guilty of racketeering — the major charge. The third charge of providing material support to a terrorist organization had been dropped mid-trial.

And so, here’s the final word: Mr. Muhammad Salah is neither a terrorist nor a criminal for having supplied charitable aid to the most vulnerable factions of his occupied and war-ravaged country of origin, Palestine; a jury of his peers understand that to be true.

Our justice system has affirmed what many in his family have long claimed, that Muhammad Salah, a conscientious and upright family man and community member was only guilty of being a bold Palestinian activist. His fate is one that befalls many of his kind. It is to my personal relief, that our justice system is where the buck stops on the political persecution of the embattled Palestinian people.

My sense of pride in our court system, however, comes with reservation. Justice as we know it in America involves more than just an endpoint, it invovles the process of how to get there. And while the verdict vindicates Salah and his name, the process, the trial, raises questions for those of us who are concerned about the rule of law, and the sanctity of our constitutional rights.

As a civil rights organization, our aspiration is to see every American granted his or her full rights under any and all circumstances.

Muhammad Salah’s right to a fair trial was forgone when the court decided to accept statements he made under torture. It is a cause for concern to the American people when a U.S. court endorses foreign interrogation methods and detention practices that would be considered illegal under U.S. law.

Mr. Salah was systematically tortured by the Israeli Secret Service and interrogated for 80 days. In some countries, such brutality is typically used to break down the psychological condition of a suspect. Because the manner in which the confession was extracted would be inadmissible in the United States, it is repugnant to the public policy of American courts.

Muhammad Salah’s 6th Amendment right to a public trial was also violated when the court ruled that portions of the suppression hearings and trial would be closed to the public.

Also, Muhammad Salah’s due process rights were violated when his assets were frozen before he could have the opportunity to defend himself in a public trial.

We hope that the suffering of the Salah family is over. We also hope that the “terrorism” label be reserved in the future for those found guilty of that charge in an open and fair trail administered in a respected court of law.

Ahmed Rehab is the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago’s Executive Director. He can be reached at (847) 971-3963 or (312) 212-1520 or at director@cairchicago.org. This article was originally published by CAIR-Chicago and is republished with permission.