This year I again had the privilege of attending the 16th annual fundraising banquet of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of CAIR. Long time readers may remember last year when I formed my first impressions of CAIR at their 15th annual banquet and my second impression at the 7th annual banquet of their Sacramento chapter. I’m not a shill for CAIR, in fact I’ve been pretty critical of them in the past. But this year they had a speaker who directly addressed the Holy Land Foundation trial. That speaker was attorney Linda Moreno, Esq.
From the Program:
Ms. Moreno has successfully defended clients in a number of high profile cases, both political and controversial. She represented Dr. Sami al-Arian, a Palestinian professor, in the case described as the seminal test of the Patriot Act in United States v. Sami Al-Arian, et. al. After a 6-month trial, which garnered international attention, the jury refused, in a 53-count indictment, to return a single guilty verdict against Dr. al-Arian and acquitted him of several of the most serious charges. Ms. Moreno also represented the chairman of the board of the pre-eminent Muslim charity in America in both federal trials of United States v. Holy Land Foundation, et. al., in Dallas, Texas.
I don’t agree with everything Ms. Moreno said, especially her message that we can make the president do the right thing. But her talk was rich with inside info that you aren’t going to hear from Dave Gaubatz. What follows is a transcript of Ms. Moreno’s speech from a recording I took at the banquet. Enjoy.
Good evening. You know, as a trial lawyer I look at this crowd and I wonder why I never see you in the jury room.
Ok, I have a short period of time and I want to cover the highlights of the cases very quickly that I was privileged to be a part of, and I want to leave you with a message which is one of tremendous hope, and a message on how to make the president do the right things for the Muslim community.
Seven and half years ago, on February 19th 2003 Dr. Sami al-Arian walked into a pair of handcuffs. It would be five years before he could hug his children. He was kept in the special housing unit, special because it didn’t allow for Dr. Al-Arian to have any contact visits with his family. It did not allow for any shred of human dignity for someone who had not yet even been convicted of shoplifting.
Now, when Dr. al-Arian was arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft, we remember John Ashcroft don’t we? John Ashcroft held a press conference and said that this was a North American head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This was on the day of Dr. al-Arian’s arrest. So much for the presumption of innocents.
Now this was the same John Ashcroft who two years earlier, in a recorded interview had said, I’m quoting, “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die. Christianity is a faith where god sent his son to die for you” So, we had to wonder what kind of justice would Dr. al-Arian, as a Muslim, get in court.
When he was arrested of course a massive search took place. And in that search there were thousands of Dr. al-Arian’s books that were seized. There were diaries of his young children that were seized. And there was a page from his eight-year-old daughter’s diary, and on that page his child had written, “I want to defeat the foes of Allah… so I’m going to study Karate.” The government took that page and said to the judge at the detention hearings, “See! See what a danger he is? Look how he raises his children.”
Now, what’s interesting was that after seizing thousands of books and tapes, this person who had been vilified in the press for ten years in Tampa Florida, who had been accused of being part of the Oklahoma City bombing, when the FBI search al-Arian’s home they found a gun. And you know what they did?They left the gun, and what that showed me was that the FBI, and I agree with them, the FBI considered the First Amendment far more dangerous than the Second Amendment. When they left the gun.
When Dr. al-Arian went on trial an editorial in Tampa Florida said, “When Sami al-Arian goes on trial the United States goes on trial with him.” And that was absolutely true. This was an Israeli co-production in an American court room.
There were eighty witnesses, several dozen of whom were Israeli who were flown to America to testify against Dr. al-Arian. The government got so desperate that they used the evidence of someones dream against Dr. al-Arian. They used messages that other people posted on websites that Dr. al-Arian had never seen, downloaded or discussed in the 472,000 calls that were recorded of Dr. al-Arian. The government made a videotape of a Florida bus and blew it up in the everglades to show the jury what happens in bus bombings. Every motion that we filed, and we filed hundreds of motions, we lost. Every single motion.
In order to win in Dr. al-Arian’s case we knew we had to redefine what the government said was terrorism, but what we knew was really the struggle for justice and human rights. And after a six month trial the government finally rested. And we stood up and we rested. We did not call a single witness. Because what we believed, and what the jury agreed, was that First Amendment was on trial. It wasn’t Sami al-Arian. It was Sami al-Arian as an effective advocate for the Palestinian cause. And this jury, which was mostly Christian, Republican and White acquitted Dr. al-Arian in the face of overwhelming odds.
I believe in juries. That’s why I’d like to see you in my jury pools. Juan the Juror was interviewed and he put in the most compelling way, “You know what, jurors have powers that no one else has. They can stop an injustice all by themselves.” And that’s exactly what happened in our case.
Now of course we didn’t know at the time that this trial was going to foreshadow things to come. The criminalization of political speech. The criminalization of Islam. The criminalization of Zakat, which is going to bring me to the Holy Land Foundation in minute. I mean, if you can’t raise money for your mosque, you can’t practice your religion. And there were people, and there still are people, who want to see that happen.
Now, the current update on Dr. al-Arian was that because some of those charges were hung, we negotiated the rest of the case. We did not know that there was a United States attorney from the Eastern district of Virginia by the name of Gordon Kromburg who had issued a federal grand jury subpoena for Dr. al-Arian to testify in front of a grand jury in Virginia. He has refused to do it. Will not do it. And so he was indited for criminal contempt. We got him released on home arrest where he’s been for the last nineteen months, and we have motions to dismiss the criminal contempt case.
You should know that the US attorney in the Eastern district of Virginia is documented in court submissions, on the record with incredibly anti-Islamic rhetoric and anti-Arab rhetoric. I wondered, and I said to the court, if this was said about an African American now, could he keep his job? And we’ll see about that.
Let me tell you about the Holy Land Foundation. And I hope… I’m sure most of you know about it. It was the most successful Islamic charity that was shuttered in of December 2001. All of the funds were frozen. I had the privilege of representing the Chairman of the board, Ghassan Elashi, in that case. In that case the government said, and i hope you can follow this, the government said that every penny that the Holy Land Foundation raised, every penny, went to the needy. Not a single nickle went to buy a weapon, a bullet or a bomb. So, “what was the crime?” we asked. Well, they didn’t like how it went to the needy. They didn’t like that the money went through Zakat committees that they said, the government said, was controlled by Hamas.
So, this was another Israeli co-production, which was painfully brought to bear when the government presented its star witness. And it’s star witness was a Shin Bet agent, who’s name was withheld from the defense. We could not know anything about him but that he was a Shin Bet agent. And he is going to tell the jury why he knew that the Zakat committees were controlled by Hamas. Now, that was very interesting, because he admitted in cross examination that he had never read a book on Zakat, that he had visited no Zakat committees, that he had polled no Palestinians who had received Zakat donations. But he had special abilities. Because he said that the Zakat committees were controlled by Hamas because he could smell Hamas. You could smell it!
Now, in the first trial, not withstanding his incredible K9 abilities, ::laughter:: the jury refused to convict. In the second trial we lost. We are up on appeal in that case. I will tell you we just filed that appeal in that matter. We’re going to win this appeal. Every lawyer is committed and dedicated to it
Before I finish Holy Land I have to tell you about sentencing. Where my client received 65 years in prison for feeding Palestinian women and children. And he got up, as is his right in an American court room, and he said, “I don’t apologize. I consider it a badge of honor.” ::a
Which brings me to Guantanamo,I had the privilege of representing Muhammad Salahi, a Mauritanian who has been imprisoned for nine years, tortured. We filed a habeas petition suing the president saying that his detention was unlawful. And we won that petition.
The judge in that case ordered his immediate release. Well the government appealed and we have argued in the circuit court on that appeal and the case is being remanded down to the district court. That’s a whole lot of lawyer language just to basically say, we’re not done yet.
Think about Guantanamo. A little bit of history is important here. 779 detainees. Bush said they were the worst of the worst. 600 were releases with no changes, of the worst of the worst. 4 Guantanamo detainees have been convicted through a variety of means. The most recent one is Omar Khadr, the child soldier who was shot in the back twice. Blinded at the age of 14 and recently plead guilty in the farce called the Military Commissions. In Guantanamo, you should know that Omar Khadr was tortured, rendered, severely wounded, and when he arrived at Guantanamo the guard said, “Welcome to Israel.”
So, hope. How do we make the president do what’s right? Ok. I’m getting to that now. So, a close friend and colleague of mine, a highly respected and renowned attorney was invited to visit the president along with other lawyers when he was newly elected. They were talking about National Security cases, and civil rights. and they were urging the president to change the department of justice and the terrible intensification and secrecy and all of that stuff that we had. It was like a low grade fever for eight years. Remember that? How horrible that was. And, the president looked at my friend and he said, “make me.” Make me, and what he meant by that was, make me in the courts. Make me in the courts. Ok.
So, I’m going to tell you how to do it. I’m going to give you an example. A page out of the NAACP. Funding civil liberties work is in the finest and noblest traditions in this country, and we see when we look at the NAACP just what they’ve done. 70 years ago black people had no equal voting rights. Couldn’t intermarry. No due process. Some of that sound familiar? So, what they did and how that changed is they went to court. That’s how that changed. And I want to tell you that’s how it’s going to change, from my perspective, as a trial lawyer, as an eye witness to what’s going on. The unfinished business of civil liberties is in the court room.
Make the president do the right thing. Give to CAIR.