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| A US federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the convictions of five leaders of an Islamic charity on charges of funneling money and supplies to Hamas, which the United States designates as a terrorist group. |
The organizers of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation argued they were denied a fair trial in 2008 when the government used secret Israeli witnesses to testify against them. The organizers also raised a host of constitutional challenges to the evidence presented against them at trial.
The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those challenges, concluding that "while no trial is perfect," Holy Land and its leaders were fairly convicted. The court pointed to "voluminous evidence" that the foundation, which was started in the late 1980s, had long-running financial ties to Hamas.
Once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, Holy Land was closed by the administration of former President George W. Bush soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Holy Land argued that the millions of dollars it raised went to charities in the West Bank and Gaza known as zakat committees. Although those committees performed legitimate charitable functions, they were also Hamas social institutions, the court found.
Federal law makes it a crime to provide material aid and support to a designated terrorist organization like Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and does not recognize Israel's existence.
"By supporting such entities, the defendants facilitated Hamas' activity by furthering its popularity among Palestinians and by providing a funding resource. This, in turn, allowed Hamas to concentrate its efforts on violent activity," Judge Carolyn King wrote on behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel.
Federal prosecutors indicted the foundation and its leaders in 2004 for providing material support to a designated terrorist group.
While the first trial in 2007 ended in a mistrial, a federal jury convicted the five individuals in 2008 on charges that included money laundering, tax fraud and conspiracy. The charity organizers received prison sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years.
On appeal, the leaders argued the trial judge should not have allowed two Israeli witnesses to testify without revealing their real names. Pseudonyms prevented their lawyers from examining the witnesses' credentials and backgrounds, they contended.
"The Confrontation Clause of the US Constitution basically didn't apply to these experts," said Gregory Westfall, a lawyer for defendant Abdulrahman Odeh. He said his client would likely appeal and predicted the case would eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.