The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals formally denied an appeal in the ongoing case of the Holy Land Five (HLF), deciding to uphold the convictions of the leaders of the once-largest Muslim charity organization in the US on spurious “terrorism” charges despite irrelevant, prejudicial evidence and unconstitutional precedents used by the federal government.
The Dallas Morning News reported on 7 December that:
Fifth Circuit Judge Carolyn Dineen King, writing on behalf of colleagues Emilio M. Garza and James E. Graves, Jr., noted:
“While no trial is perfect, this one included, we conclude from our review of the record, briefs, and oral argument, that the defendants were fairly convicted. For the reasons explained below, therefore, we affirm the district court’s judgments of conviction of the individual defendants. We dismiss the appeal of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.”
Since the Bush administration dismantled the Holy Land Foundation — which sent direct humanitarian aid to Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation as well as to communities in the US suffering from the effects of natural disasters — under the guise of the draconian Patriot Act, the five defendants have been accused and convicted of providing “material support” to “terrorist organizations” (namely the Hamas political party in Palestine). In September 2009, all five were sentenced to prison terms varying from 15-65 years. The Patriot Act strengthened a Clinton-era “anti-terrorism” legal caveat called the Material Support law which has been used to take down Muslim organizations and individuals in this country for the last ten years.
This past September, as The Electronic Intifada reported, oral arguments began in the appeals process, following last year’s submission of a 149-page appeal by the defense team.
In a press release from the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), it is pointed out that the Federal government violated significant amendments of the US Constitution and basic legalities during this ten-year effort to prosecute the Holy Land Five. Those violations include:
- The fact that the court barred the defense from learning the names of two government witnesses, one of which was the government’s key witness in the trial. According to the brief, this action violated the defendants’ Fifth Amendment right to due process and Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against them.
- The fact that the court admitted unfairly prejudicial evidence with little or no relevance to the charges in the case. This evidence included exhibits about Hamas suicide bombings, testimony about Hamas killing collaborators with Israel, a video of demonstrators stomping on and burning the American flag and other such imagery — none of which had any connection to the defendants.
- The fact that the court denied the defense access to evidence the prosecution had access to. Instead, prosecutors were allowed to cherry-pick what evidence the defense could review.
The Electronic Intifada will provide updates in the HLF case, especially regarding the next steps for the defendants, their families and their legal teams.
The ongoing efforts by the US government to criminalize Palestine solidarity and charity work — see the continuing persecution of Dr. Sami al-Arian, who was never convicted but remains on repressive house arrest following years of imprisonment, including solitary confinement; or the FBI’s grand jury cases against activists in the Midwest — is nothing new, and is not surprising, but as my colleague (and subpoenaed activist in the grand jury trial) Maureen Murphy has written, “it poses a special threat to the growing Palestine solidarity movement in the US, which is increasingly challenging the US government’s military aid to Israel and its diplomatic cover for Israeli war crimes and apartheid.”