American Police State
By Chris Hedges
-- -- A Dallas jury, a week ago, deadlocked in its deliberations and caused a
mistrial in the government case against this country's largest Islamic charity.
The action raises a defiant fist on the sinking ship of American democracy.
If we lived in a state where due process and the rule of law could curb the
despotism of the Bush administration, this mistrial might be counted a victory.
But we do not. The jury may have rejected the federal government's claim that
the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development funneled millions of dollars
to Middle Eastern terrorists. It may have acquitted Mohammad el-Mezain, the
former chairman of the foundation, of virtually all criminal charges related to
funding terrorism (the jury deadlocked on one of the 32 charges against el-Mezain),
and it may have deadlocked on the charges that had been lodged against four
other former leaders of the charity, but don't be fooled. This mistrial will do
nothing to impede the administration's ongoing contempt for the rule of law. It
will do nothing to stop the curtailment of our civil liberties and rights. The
grim march toward a police state continues.
Constitutional rights are minor inconveniences, noisome chatter, flies to be
batted away on the steady road to despotism. And no one, not the courts, not the
press, not the gutless Democratic opposition, not a compliant and passive
citizenry hypnotized by tawdry television spectacles and celebrity gossip, seems
capable of stopping the process. Those in power know this. We, too, might as
well know it.
The Bush administration, which froze the foundation's finances three months
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and indicted its officials three
years later on charges that they provided funds for the militant group Hamas,
has ensured that the foundation and all other Palestinian charities will never
reopen in the United States. Any organized support for Palestinians from within
the U.S. has been rendered impossible. The goal of the Israeli government and
the Bush administration—despite the charade of peace negotiations to be held at
Annapolis—is to grind defiant Palestinians into the dirt. Israel, which has
plunged the Gaza Strip into one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, has
now begun to ban fuel supplies and sever electrical service. The severe
deprivation, the Israelis hope, will see the overthrow of the Hamas government
in Gaza and the reinstatement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has
become the Marshal Pétain of the Palestinian people.
The Dallas trial—like all of the major terrorism trials conducted by this
administration, from the Florida case against the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami
al-Arian, which also ended in a mistrial, to the recent decision by a jury in
Chicago to acquit two men of charges of financing Hamas—has been a judicial
failure. William Neal, a juror in the Dallas trial, told the Associated Press
that the case "was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little
Such trials, however, have been politically expedient. The accusations, true or
untrue, serve the aims of the administration. A jury in Tampa, Chicago or Dallas
can dismiss the government's assaults on individual rights, but the draconian
restrictions put in place because of the mendacious charges remain firmly
implanted within the system. It is the charges, not the facts, which matter.
Dr. al-Arian, who was supposed to have been released and deported in April, is
still in a Virginia prison because he will not testify in a separate case before
a grand jury. The professor, broken by the long ordeal of his trial and unable
to raise another million dollars in legal fees for a retrial, pleaded guilty to
a minor charge in the hopes that his persecution would end. It has not. Or take
the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who in 2002 was spirited away by
Homeland Security from JFK Airport to Syria, where he spent 10 months being
tortured in a coffin-like cell. He was, upon his release, exonerated of
terrorism. Arar testified before a House panel this month about how he was
abducted by the U.S. and interrogated, stripped of his legal rights and
tortured. But he couldn't testify in person. He spoke to the House members on a
video link from Canada. He is forbidden by Homeland Security to enter the United
States because he allegedly poses a threat to national security.
Those accused of being involved in conspiracies and terrorism plots, as in all
police states, become nonpersons. There is no rehabilitation. There is no
"He was never given a hearing nor did the Canadian consulate, his lawyer, or his
family know of his fate," Amnesty International wrote of Arar. "Expulsion in
such circumstances, without a fair hearing, and to a country known for regularly
torturing their prisoners, violates the U.S. Government's obligations under
international law, specifically the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."
You can almost hear Dick Cheney yawn.
The Bush administration shut down the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development six years ago and froze its assets. There was no hearing or trial.
It became a crime for anyone to engage in transactions with the foundation. The
administration never produced evidence to support the charges. It did not have
any. In the "war on terror," evidence is unnecessary. An executive order is
enough. The foundation sued the government in a federal court in the District of
Columbia. Behind closed doors, the government presented secret evidence that the
charity had no opportunity to see or rebut. The charity's case was dismissed.
The government has closed seven Muslim charities in the United States and frozen
their assets. Not one of them, or any person associated with them, has been
found guilty of financing terrorism. They will remain shut. George W. Bush can
tar any organization or individual, here or abroad, as being part of a terrorist
conspiracy and by fiat render them powerless. He does not need to make formal
charges. He does not need to wait for a trial verdict. Secret evidence, which
these court cases have exposed as a sham, is enough. The juries in Tampa,
Chicago and Dallas did their duty. They spoke for the rights of citizens. They
spoke for the protection of due process and the rule of law. They threw small
hurdles in front of the emergent police state. But the abuse rolls on. I fear
terrorism. I know it is real. I am sure terrorists will strike again on American
soil. But while terrorists can wound and disrupt our democracy, only we can kill