Holy Land Attorneys Ask Appeals Court to Void Convictions

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September 14, 2011

On Sept. 1, 2011, attorneys for the Holy Land Foundation and its leaders argued before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal that they were unfairly convicted of supporting terrorism. Attorneys for the Holy Land leaders argued that they were unfairly convicted based on what one attorney called a “textbook on evidentiary error.” The charity itself, which was unrepresented during the trial, argued for a new trial and federal prosecutors said the charity should not be allowed to appeal because it is on the terrorist list and therefore cannot engage legal representation.  Oral arguments from both the defense and prosecution can be heard here.  A decision is expected in late 2011.

Defense lawyers  asked the appeals court to overturn the convictions of five Holy Land officials that were largely based on testimony by an anonymous Israeli intelligence officer and evidence seized from an office in the West Bank. John Cline, an attorney representing one of the convicted leaders, Ghassan Elashi, argued that the government had a “heavy burden” to show why one exhibit was relevant despite an illegible signature and lack of date. One of the appeals justices called that argument “powerful.”

“The entire trial process was so riddled with errors that the process was not fair,” Cline said.
Federal prosecutors argued the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis, did not abuse his discretion in deciding what evidence jurors could hear. 
On Nov. 24, 2008 HLF and five of its top officials were found guilty on charges of supporting Hamas, despite the prosecution's acknowledgment that all funds went to local charities that are not on government watchlists and were used for humanitarian purposes. In 2001, the Department of the Treasury shut down HLF and seized approximately $5 million in charitable funds.