Monday, November 24, 2008

Season of sharing

Did they or didn't they? Today's subject, of course, is a federal jury's conviction of five former leaders of an Islamic charity who were accused of conspiring to support terrorism and launder money for Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization considered a terrorist group by the United States. Two of the five, Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi, face sentences as long as life in prison for their participation in the Dallas area-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which was said to have supplied more than $12 million to Hamas from 1997-2001. The three other foundation leaders, Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh, face up to 15 years in prison for supporting Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority last year and set up an independent government in the territory. The foundation was closed by the U.S. government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. But lawyers for the convicted men denounced the verdict as "a great injustice" and promised to appeal, according to Cable News Network (CNN). John Boyd, a lawyer for Abu Baker, said there was "no evidence that any of Holy Land Foundation's funds went to anything but charity." Bush administration officials applauded the verdict as a victory in the war on terror, CNN said, even though the federal government took 15 years to investigate the foundation and an earlier prosecution ended in a mistrial. "For many years, the Holy Land Foundation used the guise of charity to raise and funnel millions of dollars to the infrastructure of the Hamas terror organization," said Patrick Rowan, an assistant attorney general for national security, told CNN. "This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts are not used as a mechanism to disguise and enable support for terrorist groups." But if the case was such a slam dunk, what took so long? Sure, if the foundation was funneling money to Hamas terror operations, its leaders belong in prison. But it seems far more likely that Holy Land actually was offering humanitarian aid in Hamas-controlled areas and this was a technical -- but hardly egregious -- violation of U.S. law. Constitutional law experts critical of the prosecution probably have it right. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a Bush administration critic, called the case an "example of excessive and vexatious prosecution," CNN said. "Many Muslims believe the intention was to chill Muslim charities in the U.S., and that is exactly what happened," Turley said. "Areas of Palestine are controlled by Hamas and if you want charities to go in, you will give money to outlets that are probably somehow associated with Hamas.", a Web site for defendants' families, said Holy Land did not fund violence, according to CNN. "It simply provided food, clothes, shelter, medical supplies and education to the suffering people in Palestine and other countries," the site said. It would be nice to know what the truth is.

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