For fifteen years the U.S. government has claimed that the U.S. located Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, was a terrorist organization that funded Hamas.
Hoping to nail down evidence of their nefarious deeds, the feds wire-tapped the Holy Land folks, seized the group’s files, and eventually succeeded in shutting down the organization itself in 2001—all without filing a single charge. Finally, in 2004, the feds arrested five of Holy Land’s top officials, and charged them with a combined 200 criminal counts—ranging from tax violations to materially helping terrorists. (Oh, and by the way, four of the men charged were American citizens.)
The problem was, after fifteen years and a whole lot of American taxpayer money, the government lawyers and investigators couldn’t seem to prove wrongdoing—at least not so far as jury could figure it.
So, on Monday, the trial against those five Holy Land officers collapsed in a mistrial. According to a nicely-reported story by the LA Times’ Greg Krikorian, the whole thing was made stranger by the fact that the two jury holdouts at first failed to vote for conviction, if the jury foreperson is accurate. Or possibly they didn’t vote at all. Things still aren’t clear. Furthermore, the the two holdouts were observed to be sleeping throughout most of the trial and the later deliberations.
But whatever. After a two-month trial and nineteen days of deliberations, the government’s “landmark” terrorism finance case fell in on itself in a smoking pile of awful.
For the record, the Holy Land Officials maintained that the organization had only ever raised money to help the poor of Palestine, particularly children.
The prosecution claimed the Holy Land’s money was sent to “zakats”—charity committees—which were really fronts for terrorist activity.
Key defense testimony came from career diplomat Edward Abington, the former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and the second-highest ranking intelligence officer in the State Department before his retirement. He told jurors he was briefed daily by the CIA and was never told that any of the zakat committees were under Hamas’ control.
Abington also recalled how he had personally visited each of the zakat charity committees named in the indictment and did not believe they were linked to terrorism.
Last year, one of my Irvine students reported on the arrest and two-year incarceration of another of the Holy Land’s officers, which brought the larger case to my attention. (As it happens, my student did an excellent job researching and writing.)
The case sounded like egregious overreaching then, and even more so now.