Bang-Up Job

Can these guys ever get a terrorism conviction?

Defense attorneys declared victory in the three-month trial that the government had described as a major component in its war on terrorism.

“This is a great day for justice,” said defense attorney Michael E. Deutsch, who represented Mohammed Salah.

Salah, 53, of Bridgeview, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, a one-time assistant business professor at Howard University in Washington, had been accused of laundering money for Hamas terrorists fighting to topple the Israeli government.

Defense attorneys portrayed the men as freedom fighters, comparing them to Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Salah was convicted of obstruction of justice for giving false answers to questions he was asked in a civil lawsuit. Ashqar was convicted of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury when he had been given immunity for anything he might say.

The jury delivered the verdict amid heavy security in the courtroom after deliberating for 14 days.

“We’ve convicted them — it’s hard to say that we’re disappointed,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro said.

Salah was accusing of being a high-ranking military operative of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

Fourteen years of suspicion. And now, nothing to show for it.

Ashcroft’s justice department — I’m sorry, President Bush’s justice department — made a lot of accusations of terrorism in the south Chicago suburbs in the months after 9/11. A lot of accusations. His employees closed charities, investigated mosques, hassled immigrants, excluded people from the country without hearings, and generally acted like they wanted to shut the whole area down.

No less august a personage than Judith Miller described Bridgeview, from which Salah hails, as a “hub of militant Islamic activity.”

The Salah case was one of the few that preceded 9/11.

I’ve said it before about other cases (Google Ghassan Ballut, for example), but what we’re continually left with with the gang that can’t shoot straight is two equally horrible possibilities: That there never was any terrorist activity in the first place, or that they’re so incompetent they can’t get a conviction.

Either way, how safe do you feel in Ashcroft’s — Bush’s — America?

A.

(Full disclosure: I was aware of the Salah case when I worked at the Southtown. I don’t believe I ever wrote about it specifically, but you can’t cover the Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant community in the area and not ever mention it, so I probably did write about it at one time. Just in case anybody wants to have a blogger ethics panel about it.)

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