"One cannot level one’s moral lance at every evil in the universe. There are just too many of them. But you can do something, and the difference between doing something and doing nothing is everything."
"We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not..? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know.. it now."
Since the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Government has pursued its war on terror on two fronts. The obvious one is the military front, which has taken American soldiers to battle in places like
Thomas Naylor, a
This notion has been used to justify targeting Muslim charities in the U.S. and since September 11, 2001, six major U.S. Muslim charities and several smaller Muslim charities have been shut down.6 Naylor compares this strategy to someone furiously throwing lethal punches in the air and hoping there are not too many innocent bystanders, or at least no independent witnesses, in the general vicinity.7, 8
In Satanic Purses, he explores the reasons that Islamic charities have suffered this fate. Although bigotry and political opportunism play a significant role, Naylor finds this is not the whole story. The problem is compounded by a profound ignorance of Islamic culture and the Quran.
In many ways, the Quran lays out an early blueprint for a welfare state. Prosecuting attorneys and national security experts often have no basis for understanding an economic ideology so contrary to the one prevalent in the West; this in turn leads to both misinterpretation and misrepresentation. According to Naylor:
Part of the West’s confusion over Islamic charities arises because the Quran supports an economic ideology very different from the canons of savage capitalism so beloved of today’s bond brokers and televangelists. Islamic ethic imposes on Muslims as their primary duty the creating of a just society that treats the poor with respect. It favors equity over economic hierarchy, cooperation over unscrupulous competition, and charitable redistribution over selfish accumulation.9
The first wave of attacks on U.S. Muslim charity came in December 2001 when the government closed down the three largest charities, Holy Land Foundation (HLF), Global Relief Foundation (GRF) and Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), accusing each of supporting terrorism. In each of these cases, the charities assets were frozen and their principals imprisoned without bail.10
In its report Muslim Charities and the War on Terror, OMB Watch voices its concerns about the treatment of Muslim charities and the people involved with them, along with the questionable evidence used to shut them down. The closures have resulted in blocking humanitarian assistance to people who desperately need it, denying these charities the right to due process, and holding the individuals associated with their humanitarian work guilty until proven innocent. The report concludes that, despite their expanded investigative powers, the authorities have failed to produce evidence of terror financing by U.S.-based charities.11
The government assault on U.S.-based Muslim charities has left many Muslim communities with some of their most esteemed members behind bars. Associates of charities are often held without bail and subjected to smear campaigns by the government and press long before their cases come anywhere near a court of law.12 They are denied the most basic rights of due process: the right to liberty, to be secure in their persons from unreasonable search and seizure, to a speedy trial by an impartial jury, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations, and to be presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.13 Many Muslims have been virtually forced to accept plea agreements, either because they did not believe they could get fair trials in the post-9/11 climate and the consequences of losing at trial under present draconian federal sentencing laws was too big a gamble to take, or because they were threatened with being declared enemy combatants and stripped of their rights under the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution.
Those few who chose to go to trial, trusting in the integrity of the U.S. legal system, faced gross impediments to achieving even a measure of justice. In addition to being held without bail, they were bankrupted, denied access to their own records and counsel, and subjected to trials that were not really about what they were ostensibly about.14 Where no link to terrorism could be found, the government prosecuted for routine white-collar crimes and then declared successes in the â€œwar on terror.15
When Attorney General John Ashcroft announced his resignation in November of 2004, he gave as evidence of success in the war on terror 211 criminal prosecutions, 478 deportations, and $124 million in frozen assets.16 A 2006 publication, Terrorist Trial Report Cardâ? (NYU School of Lawâs Center on Law and Security) lists many of the cases he cited.17 But what Ashcroft neglected to mention, and the Center on Law and Security failed to address, was that almost none of these cases involved any actual terrorism convictions. Indeed, at the time of Ashcroft’s resignation there had been only one bona fide terrorism conviction, that of the British shoe-bomber, Richard Reid.18
Naylor points out that the government is aware of the discrepancy between what people are convicted of and what they are sentenced for: When reporters queried these oddities, a federal prosecutor responded: Bona fide terrorism is a matter of semantics. I don’t think you can draw conclusions based on what a person is convicted of. Indeed. In a further explanation of the inner workings of the justice system, he noted: We charge them with readily provable offenses rather than what
INNOCENT BYSTANDERS AND SEMANTICS
That the government is set on a terrorist prosecution from the outset in many of these cases is illustrated clearly in a 2003 Terrorist Financing paper by Jeff Breinholt, Deputy Chief of the Department of Justice’s Counterterrorism Section.20 Under a section titled, clean money cases Breinholt listed not only people who had already signed a plea agreement, but many who had yet to have their days in court. In other words, regardless of the defense strategy, whether plea agreement or trial, the result would be heralded as a win for the government in its War on Terror.
At the time the article was published, July 2003, Enaam Arnaout, of Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), had been held without bail for more than a year and had already accepted a plea agreement to a charge that had nothing to do with supporting terrorism.21
Others named in the 2003 report, more recently arrested, included: Dr. Rafil Dhafir, of Help the Needy (HTN); Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, associated with the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA); and Dr. Sami al-Arian, a Palestinian professor from Florida,22 who had been held without bail for four months. They had not accepted plea agreements and none of the cases had come to court.23 Arnaout accepted a plea deal after being held for 16 months of solitary confinement in 23-hour lockdown. He and his lawyer believed this was his best option, given the political climate. Furthermore, going to trial would have been very costly and carried the risk of a 90-year prison term.24 For pleading guilty to a single count of racketeering conspiracy,? in which he admitted using BIF donations to provide boots, tents, uniforms, and an ambulance to units of the Bosnian army at a time when Muslims in Bosnia were attempting to defend themselves against Serbian atrocities, he received a sentence of more than 11 years over and above the 16 months he had already spent in solitary confinement.25
Dr. Rafil Dhafir, founder of the charity Help the Needy, was arrested along with other HTN associates in a high-profile operation on February 26, 2003.26 His charity had a history of collecting donations and sending aid to starving Iraqi civilians during the brutal embargo on that country. The government exerted great pressure on Dhafir, including its refusal to release HTN money to pay for wheelchairs for handicapped Iraqis, to persuade him to accept a plea bargain.27 Despite all the pressure and the possibility of a 250-year prison sentence, Dhafir chose to go to trial. He was subjected to a show trial that lasted four months and resulted in his conviction for conspiring to violate the embargo on trade with Iraq and for money laundering (forwarding the charitable contributions), as well as multiple counts of submitting inaccurate Medicare billings and of tax evasion (deducting his own generous contributions to HTN). Any mention that the government had prosecuted on these charges only after trying unsuccessfully to tie him to terrorist groups was strictly forbidden. After being held without bail for 31 months, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison. His appeal to the Second Circuit is pending.
Writing about Dhafir’s case and the money-laundering charges in Satanic Purses, Professor Naylor says: Yet all the money he had sent went not in cash but first by check to a local bank, then by cashiers check to Jordan, where it was used to buy emergency supplies. Not only was it completely open, but Dhafir kept a careful ledger, which the government seized and used as evidence. This is strange behavior for a dedicated money-launderer.?28
Meanwhile, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a graduate student from Saudi Arabia, was arrested on an unrelated matter in Boise, Idaho, on February 26, 2003, the same morning that associates of the Help the Needy (HTN) charity were arrested in Syracuse, New York. Yet his name appears on the same press release in which the DOJ announced â€œfunders of terrorismâ€? had been arrested.29 After being held without bail under 23-hour lockdown for 17 months, Al-Hussayen was cleared of all charges at trial which focused on his maintenance of the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA)30 website — and deported to Saudi Arabia on July 21, 2004.31
Regarding the case of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, Naylor writes, On the surface that might seem another embarrassing failure [for the government]. But it succeeded in demonstrating to Muslim males that the Justice Department had the power to destroy lives. Prior to his legal vindication, al-Hussayenâ’s wife and children were deported; his friends were scared off; his reputation was ruined; and of course, he had spent eighteen months under lock and key. Ultimately the government agreed to drop the immigration charge, too, if he in turn agreed not to appeal his deportation order.?32
Professor Sami al-Arian, a Palestinian, was arrested on February 20, 2003, and held without bail for 28 months prior to a 6-month trial that included 80 government witnesses. The verdict, on December 7, 2005, was not guilty on the most serious charges of abetting terrorism, and the jury was hung on other lesser charges because the judge interrupted deliberations.33 The government refused to release him. Last year, believing it was the only way he could secure his release, Al-Arian accepted a plea agreement that included a few extra months in jail and his deportation upon release. Despite this agreement he was given a maximum 57-month sentence. He is currently being held in contempt of court for refusal to testify in front of a Grand Jury. While he is held on contempt charges his original criminal sentence is not running.34
Unfortunately these four cases are not unique; rather, they are just a sampling of how these prosecutions even when unsuccessful have wrecked so many people’s lives.35
THE COSTS TO ONE MUSLIM COMMUNITY
The assault on Muslim charities and their principals has had enormous detrimental psychological and financial impact on Muslim communities. Not only do many Muslims live in fear of a knock at the door, but their communities are also burdened with the financial support of those families with breadwinners in prison and with colossal legal bills for defending their members against a government with unlimited finances, a government unwilling to let facts get in the way of its pursuit of success stories in the war on terror.?36
Dr. Dhafir, mentioned above, is a founding member of the mosque in Syracuse, New York, and an esteemed member of that community. An Iraqi-born oncologist, he had been a U.S. citizen for almost 30 years when he was indicted. He and his American wife were very active in the local community and Dhafir often spoke at events and on local TV and radio about cancer care. In the early 1990s, in direct response to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the U.S. and U.K.-sponsored UN sanctions on Iraq, he founded the charity HTN and for 13 years openly sent food and aid to starving civilians who were the sanctions victims.37,38
A devout man, he devoted much of his life to prayer and charity and, according to the government, donated half his income to charity each year. In his oncology practice he treated those without medical insurance for free, paying for expensive chemotherapy medicine out of his own pocket and telling patients to pay whatever they could whenever they could.39,
As he was arrested on his way to work, just weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq,40 other agents broke down the door of his home and held guns to Mrs. Dhafir’s head. Both Ayman Jarwan, Executive Director of HTN, and Osameh Al-Wahaidy, were arrested the same morning, agents having awakened their families, including young children.41 At the same time, between the hours of 6:00 and 10:00 a.m., 150 Muslim families who had donated to the HTN were interrogated.42, 43 It was later that same day that Attorney General Ashcroft made his announcement about funders of terrorism having been arrested.44
In a statement handed to the press on the day of his sentencing, Dhafir said: What was the result of Feb 26, 2003 besides imprisoning of innocent people? Scores of innocent elderly American cancer patients died needlessly, innumerable tens of thousands of Iraqi needy (children, women and men) died, and more than that suffered malnutrition and the humiliation of poverty. An entire segment of our society here was treated as criminals, intimidated, interrogated and threatened. Never in the history of the Islamic Society of Central New York had we had so many cases of depression and suicide that the mosque had to engage the services of a psychiatrist to help out. The dream of this Republic being a sanctuary for the oppressed was shattered on that day and a new sad reality was erected in its place.45 Although not under arrest, Mrs. Dhafir spent much of the day in her nightclothes and was not allowed to go to the bathroom without an escort. Meanwhile, approximately 85 agents collected evidence at the Dhafir home.46
After his arrest, Al-Wahaidy was taken to the Justice Center in Syracuse and spent all day in his pajamas handcuffed to a wall bar.47 Jarwan was held without bail for two weeks and then released when the judge granted him bail. Prosecutors tried to deny bail to Jarwan because he had a degree in nuclear physics and suggested that he was capable of making a dirty bomb,â€? but the judge, fortunately, agreed with Jarwanâ’s lawyer that this was a ludicrous suggestion.48