Thanks to some jurors in a Dallas courtroom who refused to bow to religious bigotry and political pressure, a miscarriage of justice was prevented from running its full, destructive course this week.
After years of investigations, weeks of testimony on 197 charges and 19 days of deliberations, the men and women who heard the case against the Holy Land Foundation and five of its leaders proved what many of us had thought from the very beginning: The government's case relied purely on innuendo, guilt by association and widespread prejudice.
A mistrial was declared Monday after jurors found some defendants not guilty on most of the charges and were unable to agree on most of the others.
And then, in one of the most confusing moments ever witnessed during the announcement of a verdict, a couple of jurors changed their minds after a four-day delay in having the verdict read in open court. I'll get back to that in a minute.
Considering that President Bush himself had accused the Richardson-based charitable organization of funding terrorism, this was supposed to be a slam-dunk case for the Justice Department.
In December 2001, in announcing that the Treasury Department was seizing the funds of the Holy Land Foundation, the president said that money raised by the group "is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers."
The attorney general and the secretary of the treasury added their weight to the accusations, and then the full force of the U.S. criminal justice system came down on the foundation and five defendants: Elashi Ghassan, chairman; Mohammed El-Mezain, former chairman; Mufid Abdulqader, fundraiser; Shukri Abu Baker, chief executive; and Abdulrahman Odeh, a New Jersey representative of the organization.
That should have been more than enough to crush these men. Although they saw the disruption of their families and much of their lives, they refused to give in to overreaching prosecution -- and of all things, they continued to have faith in the American system of justice.
Because of the mistrial, the five have not been vindicated in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of many others, this case clearly was a defeat for a government that spent millions of dollars trying to paint the defendants as sponsors of international terrorism. (MORE)