Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Justice Interrupted: Clarity denied in Holy Land Foundation mistrial

What a disappointment yesterday's mistrial in the Holy Land Foundation federal trial was. What the public wanted was clarity and closure in this long-running case, which Dallas first began to learn details of years ago in the groundbreaking reporting of this newspaper's Steve McGonigle. What the jury delivered after 19 days of deliberation – and an additional four-day delay in unsealing the verdicts – was confusion.

So profound was the confusion that Judge Joe A. Fish seemed startled when he opened the sealed verdicts only to discover that the jury had left most counts blank. Even the jury seemed bizarrely unsure of what it had decided. Small wonder Judge Fish declared a mistrial.

Family members of the five defendants in the terror finance case – in which the government accused the defendants of covertly but consciously raising money for the outlawed Islamic terrorist organization Hamas – were jubilant after the judge declared the mistrial. But their joy may be premature. Prosecutors have pledged to retry the case. Four of the five defendants likely will have to return to federal court to begin the entire process over again.
The non-verdict on most of the counts was a serious blow to government prosecutors, who have had a decidedly mixed record in terrorist fundraising cases since Sept. 11, 2001. The Holy Land Foundation case was by far their most important prosecution to date. The feds swung for the fences – and missed. Close observers of the proceedings saw this coming. The government did a poor job making a complicated white-collar case understandable to ordinary citizens who often seemed perplexed and overwhelmed by an avalanche of facts and data. As one trial watcher said, it was like seeing his rural East Texas grandmother struggle through a graduate-level seminar in modern Middle Eastern politics. [emphasis added]

Despite the jury deadlock, the trial wasn't a waste of time. Whether or not a crime was committed, evidence from wiretaps and videotapes – for example, the Hamas fundraising skit in which defendant and former Dallas city engineer Mufid Abdulqader chanted, "Death to Jews is precious" – was morally damning for defendants who claimed to be humanitarians. [emphasis added]. More importantly, the government introduced evidence showing how the infrastructure of many major U.S. Muslim organizations ties together, and how they have their philosophical roots in the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

This newspaper's reporting, as well as the preponderance of the evidence, strongly suggests that the Holy Land Foundation was no mere charity. [emphasis added]. That does not – let's be clear – prove criminality. Going forward, the government must change its flawed strategy if it hopes to prevail.
It doesn't matter how many facts prosecutors marshal if they cannot produce a coherent, persuasive narrative that a jury of 12 regular people can understand – and pass clear judgment on. A hung jury does nothing to satisfy justice.

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