First Amendment, Alternate Theories Highlight HLF Defense Arguments
September 18, 2007
DALLAS - Attorneys for three Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) officers minimized their clients' roles in work prosecutors allege was designed to help Hamas. Any evidence there is against their clients is protected by the First Amendment, they said in closing arguments Tuesday.
Joshua Dratel, attorney for Mohammad El-Mezain, told jurors the evidence against his client cuts off in 1995 and 1996, when support for Hamas became illegal.
The crux of the case is whether a series of Palestinian charities, known as zakat committees, were controlled by Hamas as prosecutors say. Monday, federal prosecutor Barry Jonas argued that those commitees were part of the Hamas social wing and their work helped win Palestinian hearts and minds for the terrorist group.
Defense attorneys argue that point was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt and have repeatedly noted that none of the committees were designated as terrorist fronts by the U.S. government. The Palestinian Authority, which essentially is at war with Hamas, closed 103 charities in the West Bank a few weeks ago, Dratel said. None of the HLF charities were targeted, he said, and all are licensed by the Authority.
Dratel also cast a 1993 gathering of Hamas supporters in Philadelphia, which included defendant Shukri Abu Baker, as a political conversation. "Association, association, association - that's what the government wants you to convict them on," Dratel said.
Transcripts show the participants gathered to discuss ways to "derail" the nascent Oslo peace accord, which they feared would marginalize the Islamist movement and they opposed for its direction toward a peaceful, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was at that meeting that Shukri Abu Baker said "War is deception."
Attorney Marlo Cadeddu told jurors that prosecutors placed a mountain of exhibits into evidence. But the only ones dealing with her client, Mufid Abdulqader amount to a "little teeny tiny stack of documents here."
She acknowledged that part of that "teeny tiny stack" were a dozen videotapes of her client performing in a band singing songs in praise of Hamas and acting in a skit in which he pretends to kill an Israeli.
The performances shouldn't be taken literally she said, any more than an actor playing any role is being literal. The First Amendment means "you can talk and you can sing and you can perform in a skit about anything you like," she said.
Attorney Greg Westfall made a similar argument on behalf of Abdulrahman Odeh.
Where Cadeddu had to explain her client's videotaped praises for Hamas, Westfall had to address the fact that Odeh donated money specifically to benefit Yehya Ayyash's child after Ayyash, a notorious Hamas bomb maker known as "the engineer" was killed by the Israelis.
First, Odeh called Mezain on Jan. 5, 1996 to tell him Ayyash was dead. "May God have mercy on him, my friend," Mezain said.
But that call and the donation for Ayyash's child should not be interpreted as a state of mind by Odeh to help Hamas, Westfall said.
The Ayyash child received the same monthly support as other orphans and was not singled out for special treatment over kids whose fathers weren't significant Hamas members, Westfall said.
To avoid prosecution, the only safe thing "is to not give aid to the Palestinians," Westfall said, "which I'm certain would be Avi's choice but I don't think it would be the right choice." Avi was the pseudonym used to an Israeli security agent who testified for the government about Palestinian charities HLF sent millions of dollars to that allegedly are controlled by Hamas.
Defense attorney Linda Moreno will deliver closing arguments for defendant Ghassan Elashi Wednesday morning. Then, prosecutor Nathan Garret gets the final word in the government's rebuttal argument before federal Judge A. Joe Fish instructs the jury and deliberations begin.
Click here to read about Monday's arguments.