Homeland Security and Patriots Acts not intended to be used as tools for religious intolerance, with hunts and personal greed

Both the Homeland Security Act and the Patriot Act will perhaps prove to be very important tools in the ongoing international war against terrorism. Contrary to what many people might assume, most Muslims are probably not overly concerned with either, nor collectively opposed or supportive. From the point of contact with Islam in the United States, be that through attendance at a mosque, personal association, whatever, most Muslims probably assume that we have been and are under surveillance. We assume that our telephones are tapped, and we guess that most of the technology that is available to the new and advanced wiretapping and surveillance industry, was tested and tweaked through trial and error use in Muslim and Arab communities. Many of us perhaps also believe that this has nothing to do with September 11th for the most part. Many Muslims, might believe that most of our wiretapping and other surveillance woes are the result of a malicious political campaign carried out over the years aimed at demonizing Islam in the United States, and abroad, and also its adherents.

There is also another myth about Muslims, relevant to the Homeland Security and the Patriot Acts, that should be debunked. This is the idea that Muslims are automatically opposed to any form of Homeland Security, or surveillance, etc., since supposedly we have something to hide, are a fifth column, or are simply overly sensitive to such issues. For the most part, and this is an opinion, many Muslims recognize that in comparison to what other immigrant and newly assimilated groups experienced during times of war in the United States, Muslims have faired extremely well. Many of us also understand that we were spared the fate that some other peoples suffered because of the advanced technology that is available to the wiretapping and surveillance industry and agencies, most notably the FBI and CIA. When the United States went to war against the old Axis Powers, German and Italian aliens were detained, and the Japanese, even Japanese Americans were interned after the attack upon Pear Harbor. Except for the fact that modern surveillance and wiretapping is very effective, and some other important, but not relevant to this article fact, Muslims and Arabs would have perhaps suffered similarly.

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wrote in the article, ” Justice Department rightly given broader powers,’ (Nov. 22,2002), “Most Americans probably would favor a more aggressive and empowered federal government if it lessens the likelihood of further terrorism.” Without doubt this is perhaps the truth. The problem arises when the government uses its new empowerment for purposes that have nothing to do with Homeland Security, or the war on terrorism. Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary hearing, “An Assessment of the Tools Needed to Fight the Financing of Terrorism” is but one example of how the United States shoots itself in the foot while fighting terrorism. This hearing was supposedly convened to garner a better understanding of the Patriot Act. It was supposedly convened in an attempt to extract from this body of legislation, tools to aid our government in its efforts to end money laundering and other illegal financial schemes used to funnel money to al-Qadea, and or other international terror organizations.

The hearing quickly digressed into an indictment of Hamas, which is not an international terrorist group. It also became an indictment of the Muslim charity, Holy Land Foundation. It quickly became clear that the hearing was perhaps a poorly staged attempt to steal approximately 1.4 million dollars in Muslim American contributions made to Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim American charity that provided a significant amount of support to Palestinian refugees. These fees, according to Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Executive director, Salam Al-Mayriati, who testified at the hearing, are being sought to pay lawyers fees. The fees were accumulated as a result of attempts to use the U.S. court system to break the back of the resistance movement in Palestine. These attorneys sued Muslim American organizations headed by Palestinian Americans or organizations that have access to the refugees in the occupied territories, courts, claiming that since they provide financial support to Palestinian refugees, they finance terrorism. It is generally believed that they are doing this, hoping to use our taxpayer-funded courts and judiciary to intimidate and frighten Muslim Americans into relinquishing their constitutionally protected right to participate in, or organize fundraising campaigns, and raise money for Palestinian humanitarian relief. This intimidation is referred to in hearing testimony as “deterrence.” The goal of such deterrence, according to testimony given, is to prevent suicide bombings, and to punish the families and associates of suicide bombers by denying them assistance from such charities.

The truth about all of this might actually be that this so-called deterrence is designed to prevent Muslim American charities, the largest and most well funded of all Muslim charities, from feeding and aiding Palestinian refugees living in the occupied territories. The operating theory might be that Muslim American aid to the Palestinians might offset the effects of an illegal and inhumane economic war that Israel is presently waging against the Palestinian people. According to the UN and other relief organizations Israel has created a humanitarian crisis in the territories that it is not able to manage alone. The UN issued a call for assistance to meet the needs of the Palestinian people. Wednesday’s Senate hearing charade might be an attempt to forever prevent Muslim Americans from responding to such calls. Israel purposely destroyed water and sewage systems, using bulldozers to rip apart the streets and other infrastructure in the occupied territories, leaving the people with little or no clean and sanitary water. There is reportedly very little food available, or medicines.

Several months ago Israel claimed that it was prepared to release millions of dollars that were taken from Palestinians, who earn less than half of what the average Israeli earns. Israel was supposed to release these so-called “taxes,” to the PA to help relive the crisis, yet to date there is little improvement. The question stands to be answered, “why, if Israel contends that Yasser Arafat is the primary supporter of terrorism in Palestine, would he be given millions, while the meager sums by comparison donated to the Palestinian people by Muslim Americans should go to lawyers in the United States?” What we are witnessing might be what will be later proven, a ridiculous and embarrassing, and possibly criminal scheme, that along with the exploitation of 9/11, and the abuse of our taxpayer funded judiciary and Senate is extremely discomforting.

The Patriot Act was not, in the minds of most Americans, passed to accommodate Israel, or supporters of Israel, and neither was it passed to deny them any support forthcoming from Jewish American or other citizens interested in supporting the cause of Israel, illegal settlements, illegal occupation, etc. Neither was it passed to penalize or prevent Muslims from providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, who, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention have a right to resist the occupation. The Palestinians are being oppressed simply because they find themselves the unwitting victims of a poorly thought out British scheme to establish a Jewish Only homeland in the midst of a centuries old Arab society. They did nothing to contribute to their plight. They are born Palestinian, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, which was right smack in the middle of a dumb and dumber scheme that has resulted in a 50 some odd year bloody conflict. This misbegotten scheme has subsequently taken an immeasurable toll in life, resources, hope, and human kindness and compassion. It has taken this toll, not just from the Israelis and Palestinians, but also from others, including the people of these United States, and our government.

According to the CRS Report to Congress (Congressional Research Service), “Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in response to the terrorists’ attacks of September 11, 2001.” The Act, according to the report, “gives federal officials greater authority to track and intercept communications, both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes.” The report says that the Act ” vests the Secretary of the Treasury with regulatory powers to combat corruption of U.S. financial institutions for foreign money laundering purposes,” and that it “seeks to further close our borders to foreign terrorists and to detain and remove those within our borders.” The CRS Report says that the Patriot Act “creates new crimes, new penalties, and new procedural efficiencies for use against domestic and international terrorists.” There is no mention here of any purpose or intent to deny citizens their constitutionally protected rights. The repeated use of the word” foreign” seems to imply that the bills authors sought to distinguish, or perhaps limit any untoward effect upon the rights of citizens in contrast to the illegal activities of foreigners. Most people will perhaps expect that there will be problems, some abuses, and even some regrettable instances where citizens might be treated unfairly, or rights significantly compromised. What, is almost certainly true, is that no American expects, or would accept that the Act was passed with the intent to deny, or deter citizens from acting legally and in concert with their constitutionally protected rights. Neither would most Americans assume, expect, or perhaps be willing to tolerate that the ACT would be used by special interest groups or lobbies to single out groups, people, individuals nations, or organizations to intimidate, harangue and harass or to extort monies from the same for purely political reasons and purposes.

On page 3 of the report, under the heading ” Money Laundering” the CRS report says the following: ” In federal law, money laundering is the flow of cash or other valuables derived from or intended to facilitate, the commission of a criminal offense. It is the movement of fruits and instruments of crime. Federal authorities attack money laundering through regulations, criminal sanctions, and forfeiture. The Act bolsters federal efforts in each area.” Muslim contributions to Palestinian headed, and/or Muslim charities are not intended to facilitate the commission of criminal offenses, nor are they derived from criminal activity. If that is the case, it should be proven in a court of law through a public trial where there is an opportunity to face accusers, submit evidence, and argue in ones own defense. The Holy Land Foundation was denied all of this, and has never been convicted of aiding, supporting or abetting terrorists.

Nathan Lewin, a former Justice Department prosecutor, and now private attorney is the bringer of the suit against Holy Land Foundation, and one of the witnesses at the Senate Judiciary hearing Chaired by the Honorable Senator from Pennsylvania Arlen Spector. Lewin, said in Wednesday’s testimony ” I sued (Holy Land Foundation) in federal district court in Chicago, in the Northern District of Illinois because the United States had seized 1.4 million in a civil forfeiture action based on “allegations” (emphasis mine) of money laundering on behalf of Hamas.” Lewin states further, “our complaint was filed on May 12, 2000. On January 11,2001 District Judge George Lindberg denied motions by the Holy Land Foundation and other defendant’s request to dismiss the complaint. ” This denial of the Holy Land Foundation motion to dismiss, becomes, it seems, in attorney Lewin’s mind, a guilty verdict that should entitle himself and others to the 1.4 million dollars of Muslim donations to the Holy Land Foundation being held by the U.S. government. Lewin said:” This brings me to my recommendation for legislative amendments that are essential to make this deterrent to the funding of terrorism work. First, although USC 233 provides for very substantial damage awards-treble damages and attorney’s fees, it does nothing to enable lawyers to pursue the litigation prior to a final judgement. I and the firms I have been with since I began this project have invested approximately one million dollars of attorney’s time in this case. Although 1.4 million of seized funds are sitting in the Clerk’s office in the Federal court in Chicago we have received not one penny for the heretofore-successful prosecution of this action. The law should provide that if a plaintiff is successful in defeating a motion to dismiss, he automatically recovers attorney’s fees and out of pocket expenses from the defendants.” The questions stands to be answered, “What does this have to do with the war on terrorism or September 11th? “

We must also ask why a defendant’s assets would be delivered to the plaintiff’s attorney to pay for fees prior to a final judgement? Wouldn’t this mean that under the Patriots Act, forfeiture, and the delivery of personal assets to complainants could be used to penalize a defendant, even though there is no conviction for a criminal act, or finding of fault? This would mean essentially that a defendant would be forced by the court to pay the plaintiff’s attorney to bring a civil suit against the defendant.

Yet, as troubling as Lewin’s testimony is, it is not more troubling than a statement made by a Mr. Winer. Winer testified on the “administration’s use of the tools provided them to fight terrorism over the past year, and to discuss the findings of the “Report of the Independent Task Force on Terror Financing,” sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and chaired by Maurice Greenberg.” Winer said,” The administration has also in my judgement, made excellent use of its political appointees, some of whom did not have much previous experience in this field, but learned fast. Those of us on the outside who in previous administrations learned how hard it is to effectuate change can, irrespective of limits, failures and mistakes, which are inevitable in government marvel at and admire the work they have done at home and internationally. But there is always room for improvement.” Sounds sinister, right?

Winer goes on to say, ” We need to consider further action on Islamic charities, such as subjecting them to the Bank Secrecy Act. The financial resources of some charities that have been linked to terrorist finance have been very large, and there remains more to do to protect the United States from abuse involving charities.”

Cal Thomas says in his above noted article, ” civil liberties appear to have been lost on the 9/11 hijackers and the countries from which they came. Wartime rules must be different from those in peace time.” There was possibly more than one type of 9/11 hijacker. There were the ones who stole the airplanes and used them as missiles and killed nearly 3000 people, representing 50 different countries, who were of more than one religion, race and ethnicity. And there might be still others. These other hijackers are attempting to hijack the laws, the efforts, and the spirit of unity that united our nation at its darkest hour. These hijackers will perhaps use their hijacked wares to obliterate the laws and traditions of fairness and equity. They might attempt to turn our citizens against one another, ruin our Congress, and rob and extort monies from one group of people, to support the political activities of another. We must be as vigilant against the one type of hijacker, as we are against the other.

There are few Americans who have questioned or challenged or shown any amount of discontent with the Patriot Act, or Homeland Security Act who did so because they distrusted the intentions of the noble bodies of men and women who deliberated, debated, and subsequently passed these laws. Yet, there might be many Americans who are concerned that unless there are checks and balances amended, at least to the Patriots Act, checks and balances that will prevent and protect against exploitation, and greed, the Act might do more harm to U.S. attempts to end terrorism, than good. People, both here and abroad will loose trust in our intent, and our ability to handle the empowerment, handed over by the courts, that Cal Thomas speaks of with such pride. Part of the empowerment we have earned, resulted from the position we took on the moral high ground following the attacks. Remember, when we vowed to the world, that we would seek justice, and not revenge, and that we would be fair, and that we, unlike our attackers, would arrive at justice intelligently, humanely and honestly?

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women. The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.