February 2, 2007, - 10:55 am
By Debbie Schlussel
Echoes of the Sami Al-Arian and Zacarias Moussaoui trials.
The Justice Department is touting the fact that a jury in Chicago, yesterday, convicted former grocer Muhammad Salah and former Howard University professor Abdelhaleem Ashqar in a 3-month terror trial. But the fact is, the convictions are minor. The real news is that the jury acquitted both men, who funded HAMAS homicide bombers, of racketeering charges and that the men were only convicted of obstructing justice. (Ashqar was also found guilty of criminal contempt.)
Those charges are minor and for the men–who don’t have criminal records–we’ll see if they do any jailtime at all and how much.
The Justice Department really blew it. The case should have been a slam-dunk. Salah was found with $100,000 cash in Israel and admitted to being a HAMAS commander. Both men admitted they were moving money over there “for the Palestinian cause.” You know what that means.
More from The Washington Post:
The case provides the latest example of the difficulties faced by the Justice Department in its attempts to prosecute supporters of radical Palestinian organizations. In the Chicago case, prosecutors faced the additional challenge of trying to punish activities that occurred before Hamas was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 1995.
Salah, a U.S. citizen, was accused of helping funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza. He was captured by the Israelis with $100,000 cash in 1993 and allegedly confessed to being a Hamas military commander. Ashqar was alleged to have helped launder money and facilitate communications for Hamas.
Neither man denied he helped move money for Palestinian causes.
The problem is that Ashqar and Salah should have been tried long ago, as in before 1995, when the activity at issue occured, NOT 11 and 12 years later. FBI Special Agent Robert Wright investigated them in the early to late-1990s. Like FBI agent Harry Samit who begged the FBI and Justice Department to allow him to search Moussaoui’s hard drive, Wright constantly begged and pleaded with top FBI and Justice brass to go after Salah and Ashqar in court.
But, instead, the agency ignored Wright and disciplined him. Samit was also ignored, and his warnings of a hijacking plot and that American lives would be lost were ignored. We know what happened . . . 9/11. You’d think the FBI and Justice would have learned, but you’d be wrong. Wright warned that lives would be lost because Salah and Ashqar continued to walk free. He was right. Bombs went off in Israeli cafes and buses and bars and pizza shops, some of it as a result of money Salah and Ashqar laundered overseas.
The Justice Department only finally went after the two after Agent Wright and retired Agent John Vincent went on ABC News and ABC’s Primetime to complain. And it was too little, too late.
As time passes, it’s harder to convict. Right after 9/11 was the time to pursue these men, but John Ashcroft–who then headed Justice–hemmed and hawed. And look what we got.
An OJ-style jury–bored for three long months by incompetent USDOJ prosecutors who should know by now that you can’t take a quarter of a year to try a case in front of a post-MTV generation–acquitted terrorists of the most serious charges against them.
Will we ever learn? Will we ever treat terrorists as national security problems instead of OJ-jury fun and games?
Not if the Al-Arian, Moussaoui, and now Salah/Al-Ashqar trials are any indication. And they are. These trials are the rule, NOT the exception.
Tags: ABC, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, All Smiles, Chicago, Commander, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gaza, Hamas, Harry Samit, Howard University, Israel, John Ashcroft, John Vincent, military commander, MTV, Muhammad Salah, Primetime, Professor, Robert Wright, Special Agent, The Washington Post, U.S. government, United States, USD, West Bank, Zacarias Moussaoui