Among the handful of high-profile terrorism cases in which the U.S. government has failed to win convictions in jury trials, that of Muhammad Salah stands out. Like the cases against Sami Al-Arian, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, and the Holy Land Foundation, the case against Salah was built on the criminalization of political support for the Palestinian resistance. But while the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the core of all four cases, Salah's, unlike the others, was primarily about Israel: the case was manufactured in Israel, the evidence on which it was based was generated in Israel, and its prosecution depended on close U.S.-Israeli cooperation at every turn.
Salah, a Palestinian-American Chicago resident and former grocer, was arrested in Israel in January 1993 while on a mission to distribute money to poverty-stricken Palestinians in the occupied territories. Accused of being a U.S.-based Hamas terrorist commander, he was interrogated by Shin Bet, tried before a military tribunal, and spent almost five years in prison in Israel. While the U.S. initially supported Salah and rejected Israel's accusations against him, in January 1995 he became (while still in prison) the first and (to date) only U.S. citizen to be branded a ““specially designated terrorist”” by his government. Upon his return home in November 1997, he was one of the main targets of an intensive terrorism funding investigation, dropped in 2000 for lack of evidence but reactivated in 2002 in the wake of 9/11.
In this two-part exclusive report, Salah's lawyers recount for the first time the details of their client's labyrinthine case. Part I focused on the Israeli phase of the story, including the political context of Salah's arrest, and the investigations and legal proceedings launched against him in the United States when he returned. In essence, part I laid the foundation for the trial to come, emphasizing in particular its complex legal underpinnings and implications as well as its importance as a ““test case.”” Part II focuses on the post-9/11 period that unfolded under the George W. Bush Justice Department, starting with Salah's indictment in November 2004, continuing with the two years of contentious pretrial preparations and hearings, and ending with the trial itself. As in part I, the legal dimensions of the case are emphasized, as are the government's maneuvers to advance new standards governing the admissibility of coerced confessions and secret evidence at trial and to manipulate other established principles of the U.S. criminal justice system.
This article deals solely with Muhammad Salah, but Abdelhaleem Ashqar, a former professor of business administration in Virginia, was his codefendant at trial. Both were indicted, along with twenty other coconspirators, for participation in a fifteen-year ““racketeering conspiracy”” to ““illegally finance terrorist activities”” in Israel and the occupied territories, as well as for several lesser charges. The two men had never met before the trial opened in October 2006. Despite the common charge, their cases were very different and went forward in parallel fashion, with different lawyers, witnesses, arguments, and entirely separate pretrial proceedings. When the jury trial ended in February 2007, both men were acquitted of all terrorism-related charges.