Federal judge sentences Islamic charity officials

A US federal judge May 27 sentenced the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and five of its officials pursuant to their convictions of providing material support to Palestinian group Hamas. District Judge Jorge Solis sentenced Shurki Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh to prison terms ranging from 15 to 65 years and reaffirmed the jury’s $12.4 million judgment against the group.

The parties were convicted in November under the “material support” provision of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which provides that money in the hands of a terrorist organization, even if for charitable purposes, supports the organization’s terrorist objectives. Their convictions also included conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to impede and impair the IRS, and filing false tax returns. Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris said that the sentences “should serve as a strong warning to anyone who knowingly provides financial support to terrorists under the guise of humanitarian relief.” Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas’ deputy political leader, claimed the ruling was politically motivated.

HLF, once the largest Muslim charity in the US, was shut down in 2001 by federal prosecutors who accused the group of financing international terrorism by supporting Hamas. The group and officials were originally charged in 2004 on 42 counts of conspiracy, dealing in the property of a specially designated terrorist and various other charges. The group defended themselves on the grounds that the charity’s funds were used solely to help Palestinians in need, but the prosecution maintained that the group was in place only to funnel money used to support Hamas through Palestinian schools and charities. (Jurist, May 28)

Days earlier, District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker took the government to task for failing to obey his prior orders in a related case, Al-Haramain v. Obama (formerly known as Al-Haramain v. Bush), asking the Justice Department to explain why he should not sanction the government by holding that the plaintiffs win the warrantless wiretapping lawsuit.

On January 5, Chief Judge Walker had denied the government’s third motion to dismiss the Al-Haramain litigation and set up a process to allow the plaintiffs to prosecute the case while protecting classified information. On Feb. 28, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s appeal of that order. The government did not seek an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Judge Walker noted the government was “continuing to assert legal positions already specifically rejected by the court in previous orders” and “government officials in one or more defendant agencies, including the NSA Director … are refusing to cooperate with the court’s orders.”

Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, the Oregon chapter of an Islamic charity, sued the Bush Administration for the illegal surveillance of the organization and its attorneys as part of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. The case was based on a secret document that was inadvertently disclosed by the government that, according to the plaintiffs, demonstrates that they were subjected to unlawful electronic surveillance outside the scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). (EFF, May 22)

See our last post on the surveillance state.