June/July 2005


From the U.S. to Palestine...
Free All Political Prisoners!

Arab Political Prisoners in U.S. Jails:

The Case of Sheikh Mohammed Al-Moayad and Mohammed Zayad

From Mumia Abu-Jamal to Leonard Peltier, political prisoners are no strangers to U.S. prisons. The so-called "war on terror" has served as a war of terror against the Arab and Muslim communities within the U.S. and abroad, and, from Guantanamo Bay, to Abu Ghraib, to immigration detention centers and federal prisons, it has meant the political imprisonment of Arabs and Muslims. The cause of Palestine has been specifically targeted for persecution. The case of Sheikh Mohammed al-Moayad and Mohammed Zayad, Yemeni citizens currently imprisoned in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. after being kidnapped to the United States, is one of the most egregious cases of the U.S. government's abuse of the law, human rights and national sovereignty in the name of the "war on terror."

Sheikh al-Moayad and Zayad were humanitarian activists in Yemen. Known as the "Father of the Orphans," Sheikh Moayad established numerous charitable and community institutions, including bakeries that provided food to 9,000 indigent families, schools for boys and girls, medical clinics, computer training centers, and mosques, in his community in Yemen. In addition, he worked tirelessly for the rights of Palestinians, under occupation and in exile, raising funds to support Palestinian charities, funds that went to establish schools and provide food for Palestinian children. Sheikh al-Moayad was well-known and wellrespected in Yemeni society, serving in Parliament and holding various honorary positions; Mohammed Zayad was his assistant. Neither was under any scrutiny by the Yemeni government or, for that matter, the U.S. government, until the appearance in Sheikh Moayad's life of an informant named Mohamed Alanssi.

Mohamed Alanssi was an out-of-status Yemeni immigrant to the United States and a small-scale con man. Fearing deportation after September 11, Alanssi saw an opportunity both to regularize his status and to profit financially. He offered his services as a confidential informant to the FBI, offering the name of a prominent Muslim leader - Sheikh al- Moayad. Making promises of spectacular information concerning millions of dollars in funding to Al-Qaeda, Alanssi was sent to Yemen, where he ingratiated himself with al- Moayad and Zayad, eventually luring them to Germany - telling them that an American convert to Islam wished to provide a $2 million donation for their charitable projects. In Germany, the man they met - a disguised FBI agent - acted oddly. In FBI recordings of their private conversations, al-Moayad and Zayad discussed leaving Germany to return to Yemen. While they were suspicious of their "donor", however, they did not know they had walked into an FBI trap. They were arrested, quickly extradited to the U.S. amid massive publicity and a John Ashcroft press conference heralding the capture of a major funding source for "Al-Qaeda."

Alanssi's network of lies soon began to collapse. He squandered his initial $100,000 FBI payoff, then demanded $5 million for his false testimony about Al-Moayad and Zayad. When the FBI refused, he set himself on fire in front of the White House. Without Alanssi's unsubstantiated and false claims, Ashcroft's charges soon fell apart. In court, the prosecution presented evidence only that Al-Moayad and Zayad had fundraised for Palestinian charities, charities the U.S. labeled "connected to Hamas," a Palestinian resistance organization - the kinds of charges the U.S. government has used to shut down numerous charities working to help Palestinian children survive. Fundraising for Hamas's charitable wing is entirely legal in Yemen, and also in Germany. Al-Moayad and Zayad had never fundraised in the United States at all - and now stood trial under a foreign legal system for supporting Palestinians - no crime at all in their homeland.

In the courtroom, the U.S. government's criminalization of Arabs and Muslims was apparent. One prosecutor, addressing the judge and court reporters, referred to a Qu'ranic verse as "the terrorist verse." A Palestinian American lawyer was delayed entry into the case because she was deemed "risky" as a foreign-born U.S. citizen. The government introduced testimony that Sheikh Moayad's support for the right to return of Palestinian refugees was a sign of his "extremism," and demonized Palestinian resistance in Palestine; a prosecutor cried in court when discussing a Palestinian resistance operation. Moayad and Zayad were eventually acquitted of supporting al-Qaeda, but convicted of supporting Palestinian resistance groups - one of the many charges of "material support" that have been pursued by the U.S. government in its war on the Arab and Muslim communities within the U.S. and abroad, as it attempts to criminalize support for Palestine and terrorize the community into silence.

Sheikh Al-Moayad and Zayad are currently awaiting sentencing. Community support is essential to seeing that justice is done for these men, for all political prisoners, for Arab and Muslim communities under assault, and for Palestine. On May 13, a demonstration was held at the Metropolitan Detention Center, and a demonstration is being planned for the day of their sentencing. A longer discussion of the case, as well as a letter to the judge that can be signed in support of Moayad and Zayad can be found at http://www.alawdany.org/.

The Los Angeles 8: Fighting for Freedom, 18 Years Later

The United States government has often silenced critics of its domestic and foreign agendas. This silencing campaign is directed most harshly at immigrant dissidents, many of whom have witnessed the brutal impact of U.S. foreign policies in their homelands. Throughout U.S. history, the government has imposed restrictive federal legislation to weed out those immigrants whose political activities challenge U.S. militarism and exploitation.

Michel Shehadeh, one of
the Los Angeles 8. Photo:
Committee for Justice
A prime example is the government’s 1987 attempt to deport seven Palestinian activists and one Kenyan, who were arrested for advocating on behalf of the Palestinian liberation struggle. For almost eighteen years, the case of the Los Angeles Eight—often called the “LA8”—has revealed the political character of federal legislation supposedly aimed at “terrorism.”

Although various courts have established that the LA8 engaged in completely legal acts, the government continues to seek deportation of two defendants, Michel Shehadeh and Khader Hamide. Beginning on July 13, 2005, the prosecution will attempt to retroactively apply the USA Patriot Act to argue that eighteen years ago, by distributing pro- Palestine magazines, the LA8 were in fact providing “material support” to terrorists.

During the 1980s, many of the LA8 were local student activists who devoted themselves to organizing around the Palestinian struggle for justice. Not unlike student activists today, they distributed magazines on Palestinian issues, held educational forums and raised money for charities in their home country of Palestine.

On Jan. 26, 1987, the eight were arrested in their Los Angeles homes. Like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, the FBI surrounded Shehadeh’s home before dawn with armored vehicles and helicopters, sent in armed agents, and arrested him at gunpoint while he was watching over his infant son.

Under the pretext of having volumes of secret evidence that would justify the deportation of the eight, the Immigration and Naturalization Service kept the student activists shackled and in solitary confinement at a maximum-security detention facility for nearly a month. The eight were released in February 1988, however, when the immigration court refused to hear the secret evidence. Those documents were soon made available to the attorneys for the LA8, who found that despite nearly three years of extensive FBI surveillance, there was no evidence of illegal activity.

With the original case in shambles, the eight were then charged with violating the nowrepealed McCarran-Walter Act for possessing literature advocating “worldwide communism.” The government claimed that the LA8 were representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian Marxist organization that was one of the original members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

The government has openly admitted the political nature of the charges. William Webster, the director of the FBI at the time of the arrests, testified before Congress that the eight had not engaged in criminal activity and could not have been legally arrested if they had been U.S. citizens. The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, however, made it a deportable offense for an immigrant or naturalized citizen to engage in activities deemed “subversive” by the government. Used during the McCarthy period as a tool of repression against communists and other political activists, the act was repealed by Congress after a federal court declared it unconstitutional in 1989.

Still, the repeal of the McCarran-Walter Act did not put an end to the government’s harassment. It renewed the campaign to deport Shehadeh and Hamide using “anti-terrorist” laws. On several occasions the federal courts ruled that the LA8 had not been involved in criminal or terrorist activities—instead, the government had violated the First Amendment by selectively targeting the eight for constitutionally protected political activities.

The seesaw legal battle was not over yet. In 1996, Congress denied the federal courts the authority to hear selective enforcement challenges to deportations, effectively legalizing the selective deportation of immigrants. Then, in a major setback for the eight, the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that immigrants are not entitled to basic constitutional rights such as free speech, due process, equal protection and protection against selective prosecution. The shocking decision opened the door for immigrants to be deported on the basis of their political views. The LA8 were called back into immigration court where they were barred from arguing the constitutional deficiencies of the government’s case.

Currently, the government is using the case of the LA8 to test the most repressive provisions of the USA Patriot Act. In September of 2004, the government brought charges against Shehadeh and Hamide for the distribution of Palestinian magazines and for raising funds for humanitarian aid in Los Angeles more than twenty years ago. The United States now claims that even though these activities were clearly legal at the time and protected by the First Amendment, they are deportable offenses under the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act allows the deportation of foreign nationals for providing “material support” to any group of two or more that has threatened to use or has used a weapon with the intent to endanger person or property. Under the Patriot Act, it will be Shehadeh and Hamide, not the government, who will have the burden to prove that they did not know their activities would further terrorist activities. At no point will the government need to prove that the distribution of magazines provided “material support” to terrorist activity.

By making it illegal to raise funds for charities in their home countries or to advocate for any political movement abroad, the Patriot Act essentially bars immigrants from the constitutional right to free speech and association. Although immigrants like Shehadeh and Hamide never forget the suffering endured in their homelands, they are told by the U.S. government that they cannot do anything to bring relief to their people.

The upcoming July immigration hearing could have a large impact on the future of the LA8. The government must prove that the Patriot Act can be applied to the case. Prosecutors must also decide whether they will try to use the ancient McCarran-Walter Act.

For eighteen years, a people’s defense movement has stood by the LA8, demanding that all charges be dropped. One activist organization, the Committee for Justice, plans to renew its educational campaign and bring about awareness for this important case, including the launching of a website in support of the LA8, http://www.committee4justice.com/, planning of educational forums and organizing support rallies for this important hearing in July.

In a recent interview, Shehadeh described his continued role in the forefront of the solidarity movement for Palestinian national liberation and the movements for peace and justice in the United States. As a key organizer in the mass movement opposing the war and occupation of Iraq, Shehadeh said, “To not do anything ... would have been very dehumanizing … The only way that I have felt empowered and have persevered is to feel that I was part of a movement of struggle for the very rights we are being denied.”

Sami al-Arian: Four Months and No Evidence

Sami al-Arian, Palestinian professor and activist from Tampa, FL, is now on trial, with three co-defendants, in Florida under spurious charges of “material support” to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. After years of harassment of Dr. Al-Arian, and the deportation of his brother-in-law, the U.S. government indicted Al-Arian in 2003. Al-Arian’s family and supporters have kept attention focused on his case. For more information, please see http://www.freesamialarian.com/. The following update is provided by his defense committee:

The trial of Dr. Sami Al-Arian and his co-defendants has entered into a one week recess for the Fourth of July holiday. Court will resume Monday, July 11.The government has presented over 40 witnesses thus far. Over half of the witnesses have been government agents who were involved in the investigation of Dr. Al-Arian and his codefendants.. Prosecutors used these witnesses to introduce evidence derived from the searches....Of the hundreds of boxes of materials seized from the home of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) offices and the Islamic Academy of Florida, the government introduced very little evidence as part of its case. Defense attorney William Moffitt successfully objected to the introduction of some evidence that was deemed prejudicial, irrelevant to the case and potentially unlawfully obtained.

On the other hand, what was largely introduced to jurors were items such as books, videotapes, magazines and brochures. Of Dr. Al-Arian's personal library containing over 5,000 books, three were introduced as evidence. Defense attorneys maintain that the government has brought nothing more than evidence of activities protected under the First Amendment, such as the rights to free speech, association, and assembly. Observers in the courtroom found the government's emphasis on publications and speeches as evidence to be a chilling example of the silencing of free speech activities that have become commonplace under the Bush Administration....

Aside from government agents, prosecution witnesses also included nearly a dozen individuals from Dr. Al-Arian's life and career. Prosecutors attempted to present WISE, the University of South Florida-affiliated think tank, as a front organization with ulterior motives by bringing respected USF professors to discuss their experiences. Instead, professors such as Dr. Mark Orr and Dr. Mohsen Milani spoke glowingly of their experiences with WISE, recalling the numerous academic events, roundtable discussions, and publications that resulted from their years of activity. ...The prosecution's attempts to taint the achievements of WISE fell flatly, as their own witnesses consistently supported the defense's contention that WISE was a scholarly institution that was highly regarded.

Among the hostile witnesses, the government brought an alleged former Imam at a Sarasota mosque, Muneer Arafat, who testified to meeting Dr. Al-Arian on three occasions since 1988. He claimed that on the first occasion, he was recruited to join the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and refused, but that on the second occasion, he helped solicit funds for the organization. Arafat quickly lost face with jurors and outside observers, however, when it was revealed that he had been paid $35,000 by the government for his testimony...Arafat, who claimed to have received Islamic training, also testified that lying was permissible in Islam. An official with the largest U.S. Muslim organization, the Islamic Society of North America, Ahmed El-Hattab testified about ISNA's affiliation with the Islamic Committee for Palestine...Though government documents demonstrated that ICP was authorized as an ISNA affiliate and granted the use of its tax identification number as late as 1992, El-Hattab testified that his organization should not have approved the application because it did not affiliate with political groups or charitable organizations. ISNA's links with numerous international charitable and political causes are welldocumented, however.

The government also presented its expert witness, Matthew Levitt, a researcher with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a notoriously pro-Israel think tank. Levitt has testified in a number of previous cases against Arab and Muslim activists. In this case, however, his testimony about the history of militant groups in Palestine appeared disjointed from the individuals involved in this case—and distorted the Palestinian-Israeli conflict...

Ultimately, many observers, including members of the media, have said that the government has yet to provide a single piece of evidence in support of its case. A month into the trial, prosecutors could only show activities protected under the First Amendment, the establishment of legal organizations that engaged in scholarly functions and activism—consistent with the American tenets of the free expression of ideas and the right to associate and assemble. As Dr. Al-Arian remains in prison and his family continues to suffer in his absence, it's become evident that this trial is wholly politically-motivated and a waste of tax-payer money. Above all, this case is a testament to how a government's unjust policies wrecked havoc on the lives of four men, their wives and 18 children.

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