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Judge rejects request by Muslim charity

March 01, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge in Dallas has denied a request to declassify thousands of pages of FBI evidence in the prosecution of a Muslim charity, but said it was disturbing that a recently unsealed document falsely accused charity officials of anti-Jewish slurs.

In his ruling against lawyers for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish concluded there was insufficient evidence to show the inaccuracies were part of a "widespread problem" with the government's evidence.

At the same time, Fish advised defense lawyers to return to court if they found more government summaries that were "significantly inaccurate or misleading."

The now-defunct Muslim charity and seven former officials face criminal charges alleging financial ties to the Islamic militant group Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.

Fish, agreeing with the government, said there was no justification for a defense request to declassify about 10 years' worth of surveillance based on the apparent fabrications found in the government's April 15, 1996, surveillance summary.

The document claimed that two Holy Land officials now facing trial made anti-Jewish remarks. But their supposed comments are not in the transcripts.

The alleged remarks included one Holy Land official calling Israel "the government of the demons" and telling a colleague, "Even Jesus Christ had called the Jews and their high priests ... the sons of snakes and scorpions."

The judge said he found it disturbing that the government's summary included inflammatory language not found in the transcripts.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors had no comment Wednesday on the ruling.

In their motion, defense lawyers said they had recently received declassified summaries representing about 10% of the conversations recorded by the government in court-authorized surveillance. They worried that additional discrepancies could exist in the documents.

"During the limited period that [we have] had access to declassified transcripts, we have discovered other errors both technical and contextual," defense lawyers wrote in their motion.

They said additional errors included a document that was "summarized inaccurately" and misled them in assessing whether potential witnesses were likely to help or hurt the defense.

The Holy Land Foundation, once the nation's largest Muslim charity, was closed by the government five years ago. Its former officials are accused of providing money to overseas charities controlled by Hamas.

The defendants deny any links to terrorism or knowledge that charities they funded had ties to Hamas.

The defendants also noted that some of the overseas charities linked in the indictment to terrorists had been supported by numerous groups, including the U.S. Agency for International Development.


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