In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
ISLAM-OPED: SMEARING U.S. MUSLIM GROUPS IS 'UN-AMERICAN'
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Please consider the following commentary for publication.
Smearing U.S. Muslim Groups is 'Un-American'
By Parvez Ahmed
WORD COUNT: 765
[Parvez Ahmed is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He is also an associate professor at the University of North Florida. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
In December 2001, the Department of the Treasury named the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation (HLF), at that time the nation's largest Muslim charity, as a terrorist organization. The government seized HLF's assets and shut down the organization, thus freezing millions of dollars in religiously-obligated donations offered by American Muslims and others to feed and clothe orphans and the needy.
After three years of investigation, the government "revised" its allegations against HLF and a federal grand jury issued a 42-count indictment against seven individuals associated with the charity. The indictment alleged that those individuals were part of a "conspiracy"
to provide material support to organizations linked to Hamas, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department.
Almost six years later, the HLF officials are finally getting their day in court, as a trial is underway in Dallas.
The government's trial brief argues that HLF gave donations to 12 Israeli-licensed Palestinian charities that were allegedly "associated" with Hamas. This argument is made despite the fact that the U.S. government has not identified the Palestinian charities as supporting terrorism or banned them from receiving American donations. In fact, one of the charities has received aid from the U.S. government.
In an unusual, and some would say un-American, move prosecutors publicly named 306 individuals and organizations as "unindicted co-conspirators" (UCC) relating to the HLF case.
Among those listed are three major American Muslim organizations - the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the North American Islamic Trust and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Collectively, these groups represent the interests and viewpoints of the mainstream American Muslim community.
Listing a person or group as a UCC is not a legal designation of wrongdoing on the part of those named. The UCC designation merely allows for an exception to the hearsay rule, making "co-conspirator"
statements admissible during trial.
A recent article in Newsweek stated: "According to one senior law-enforcement official. . .the listing of ISNA, CAIR and other groups as 'unindicted co-conspirators' was largely a tactical move by the government. By listing the groups, the official said, it makes it easier for prosecutors to introduce documents, tapes and other evidence mentioning them. . ."
This dubious practice, which offers the named parties no legal recourse, is quite controversial. Professor Ira P. Robbins of American University recently wrote in the Federal Courts Law Review:
"[The] practice of naming individuals as unindicted co-conspirators.
. .appears to be an anomaly in United States law, in that it violates the Fifth Amendment guarantee that no person shall. . .be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
Three federal prosecutors asked by the Los Angeles Times about the practice of publicly naming unindicted co-conspirators called it "improper" and "unfair."
This McCarthyite political move violates the Justice Department's own guidelines, which indicate that such lists are to remain sealed to prevent the unfair and un-American labeling of those who are not facing any criminal charges.
The Justice Department's manual for prosecutors says, "In all public filings and proceedings, federal prosecutors should remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of uncharged third-parties."
The guidelines further state that when co-conspirator lists have to be filed in court, prosecutors should seek to file them under seal.
In a recent Washington Post article, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski opined that the "war on terror" has caused America more harm than anything that the terrorists ever imagined. It has created a culture of fear in the U.S. "The atmosphere generated by the 'war on terror' has encouraged legal and political harassment of Arab Americans (generally loyal Americans) for conduct that has not been unique to them."
Given the growing fear of Islam and Muslims among the American public (one-in-four admit to being prejudiced against Muslims), it has become easy to smear Islamic organizations. Without legal recourse to challenge such smears, the constitutional rights of American Muslims suffer through guilt by association and guilt by mere accusation.
This chills the First Amendment rights of American Muslims.
It is our duty as Americans to demand that the due process rights of all citizens be preserved and protected. At a time when most experts are recommending the strengthening of American Muslim institutions to serve as bridges of understanding between America and the Muslim world, smearing these same institutions undermines the very cause that ought to unite us as Americans.
Liberty and justice for all cannot be a mere slogan. In order to reclaim our global leadership, America needs to work with its Muslim citizens to prevent the downward spiral of misunderstanding and hostility that threatens to engulf our world.
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