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The Unending Fight for Justice: From Fred Korematsu to the Holy Land 5

By Masao Suzuki

Santa Clara, CA – On Feb. 22, 200 people came to the Muslim Community Association (MCA) here to hear a panel on the fight against the World War II concentration camps for Japanese Americans and the fight to free the Holy Land Foundation 5. The program was organized by the Muslim Legal Fund of America and presented by the MCA Social Committee.

John Cline of the Holy Land legal team described how the government first shut down the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), the largest Islamic charity in the U.S., in 2001, and then in 2004 charged five of their officers with aiding Hamas, a Palestine Islamic group. These five included the president of the HLF, Shukri Abu Baker, chairman of the board Ghassan Elashi, and Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulraham Odeh.

Despite years of wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping, the government had no convincing evidence that the HLF was funding Hamas. Instead the government argued that the HLF aid to local Zakat (Islamic Charity) Committees in Palestine improved the lives of the people and thus helped Hamas. But these same committees also received aid from the U.S. government, the United Nations and the Red Crescent (Islamic Red Cross) and were not on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Despite the use of an anonymous witness who worked for Israeli intelligence and testimony about Hamas, the jury did not convict any of the defendants and there was a mistrial.

The government came back and charged them again. In the second trial the prosecutors, including the notorious Barry Jonas, had a witness testify that “everybody knew” that the Holy Land Foundation was Hamas – which is hearsay and generally not admissible in trials. Another witness from the U.S. Treasury Department said that the official U.S. terrorist list doesn’t matter. A third witness testified that the HLF charity “could lead to another 911.” Last but not least, an anonymous witness testified who claimed to be a Israeli military officer. This witness further claimed to have documents from the Israeli attack on the Palestinian Authority headquarters, saying that the HLF was the fundraising arm of Hamas. With this, the government was able to win a conviction on material aid to terrorism and sentence the defendants to 15 to 65 years in jail.

While an appeals court found that the four testimonies in the second trial should not have been allowed, it upheld the conviction. A later appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was turned down, ending the legal fight. The Holy Land Foundation 5 are now being held in a Communication Management Unit or CMU, where inmates are not allowed contact with each other and very limited contact with the outside world. About 70% of the CMU inmates are Muslim, reflecting the government’s campaign of harassment and repression against American Muslims.

The next speaker was Ling Wu Lee, director of the Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education. Ms. Lee told the audience how in the days after Pearl Harbor, the government rounded up thousands of Japanese immigrant men who were religious, business and cultural leaders in the community and sent them to prison camps. With the established leadership of the community in prison, President Roosevelt issued executive order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942 that led to the roundup and incarceration into concentration camps of 120,000 Japanese Americans on the west coast.

Fred Korematsu was a young Nisei (second generation American of Japanese descent) who tried to evade the roundup but was caught and convicted. Korematsu appealed his conviction with the help of the Northern California ACLU (the national ACLU leadership refused to help) but in the end the U.S. Supreme Court, on a six to three vote, upheld the concentration camps.

40 years later, a team of lawyers from the San Francisco Asian Law Caucus, along with professor Peter Irons, proved that government prosecutors had lied and withheld evidence that Japanese Americans were not supporting Japan. This led to Fred Korematsu and other concentration camp resistors – Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui – having their convictions overturned.*

Fred Korematsu, before he passed away in 2005, and the Korematsu Institute today, opposed the treatment of American Muslims after 911.

Other speakers on the panel included Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the Bay Area Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) who called for “compassion, inspiration and indignation,” from those there that night. Dan Carpenter of the National Lawyers Guild, and on the legal team for the Irvine 11 (eleven college students who were prosecuted for protesting a speech by the Israeli ambassador), called for people to organize together to make change.

In the question and answer session that followed, John Cline stressed that while the U.S. legal path seemed to be closed for the Holy Land Foundation 5, there is a need to speak out and affect political change in the country.

*[editor’s note: While their convictions were overturned, this was done on procedural grounds, and there was not a judgment that the World War II concentration camps were unconstitutional. Thus, legally, there is not a ban on the U.S. setting up concentration camps again.]

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