American Muslims: second-class citizens?

Aug 14


Special to the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram

In December 2001, the U.S. Treasury Department 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 it down, effectively freezing millions of dollars in religiously obligated donations made for the purposes of feeding the poor, the orphan and the indigent.

After three years of investigation, the government “revised” its allegations, and a federal grand jury issued a 42-count indictment against seven individuals associated with HLF. The indictment alleges that these individuals were part of a conspiracy to provide material support to organizations linked to Hamas (designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department).

Almost six years later, HLF is finally getting its day in court in a trial under way in a Dallas courthouse.

The government’s trial brief argues that HLF made donations to 12 Israeli-licensed, Palestinian charities that were allegedly “associated” with Hamas. However, the U.S. government has not identified these Palestinian charities as supporting terrorism or banned them from receiving American donations.

In an unusual (and some would say un-American) move, prosecutors publicly named 307 individuals and organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators” (UCCs) relating to the HLF case.
Among those listed are three major American Muslim organizations: the Islamic Society of North America, the North American Islamic Trust and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 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 allows for an exception to the hearsay rule making “co-conspirator” statements admissible during trial.

This practice, in which the named parties have no legal recourse, is controversial and seemingly un-American. 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 who were 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 do so under seal

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 are damaged by guilt by association and guilt by mere accusation. This effectively puts a chill on the First Amendment rights of these Americans.

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, the smearing of these 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 must work with its Muslim citizens to prevent the downward spiral of misunderstanding and hostility that threatens to engulf our world.

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