When Barack Obama signed the continuing resolution this past weekend averting another potential government shutdown, it’s doubtful that he was aware that tucked into the bill, which funds several federal agencies through the fiscal year and extends the continuing resolution for the rest of the government until December 16, is a provision that may dramatically impact what Islamic groups and leaders the FBI and other law enforcement agencies can continue to work with.
Under Division B, Title II of the bill, under the Federal Bureau of Investigation-Salaries and Expenses section, is the following provision:
Liaison partnerships- The conferees support the FBI’s policy prohibiting any formal non-investigative cooperation with unindicted co-conspirators in terrorism cases. The conferees expect the FBI to insist on full compliance with this policy by FBI field offices and to report to the Committees on Appropriations regarding any violation of the policy.
The most obvious group that this will impact is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was named unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case — the largest terrorism-finance trial in American history. During the trial, FBI Dallas Agent Lara Burns testified that CAIR was a front for the terrorist group Hamas.
Following the trial, which resulted in guilty verdicts on all counts and lengthy prison terms for all five Holy Land executives, the FBI was forced to cut ties with CAIR – a decision that CAIR claimed would hurt local communities and that prompted other Muslim groups, like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), to threaten to stop cooperation with the FBI unless CAIR was reinstated. In a February 2010 letter to members of Congress, Assistant Attorney General Robert Weich forwarded evidence submitted by federal prosecutors in the trial and court testimony concerning CAIR’s ties to the Hamas-controlled Palestine Committee and that committee’s role in supporting Hamas.
Stung by their loss of access to federal law enforcement agencies, some of the Islamic organizations named as unindicted co-conspirators in the case unsuccessfully sued to have their names removed from the list. In a 2009 unsealed decision by federal Judge Jorge Solis, the court found that the government should have submitted the unindicted co-conspirators list under seal, and ordered the list resealed (a hollow victory since the list is readily available), but declined to remove the groups and individuals named.
In fact, in his decision Judge Solis recounted the evidence submitted by the government that justified CAIR’s being named unindicted co-conspirator in the case:
The Government identifies four portions of the record from the first trail that purportedly established that CAIR was a “joint venturer and co-conspirator”: (1) a Government exhibit showing the objective of the Palestine Committee is to support Hamas; (2) a Government exhibit showing CAIR founder Omar Ahmad is part of the Palestine Committee and Mousa Abu Marzook is its head; (3) a Government exhibit listing CAIR as part of the Palestine Committee; and (4) the testimony of Special Agent Lara Burns and accompanying exhibits placing the CAIR founder at the 1993 Philadelphia conference and describing the CAIR founder’s mediation of a dispute between HLF and Ashqar over Hamas fundraising . (Resp. at 12-13.) The Government does not mention any occasion where it used the 801(d)(2)(E) hearsay exception to introduce a statement of CAIR. The four pieces of evidence the government relies on, as discussed below, do create at least a prima facie case as to CAIR‘s involvement in a conspiracy to support Hamas. (p. 6-7) (emphasis added)
But it wasn’t just CAIR among the unindicted co-conspirators that Solis focused on, but also the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which bills itself as the largest Muslim umbrella group in the country, and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), which owns the property to more than one-quarter of all mosques in North America. Solis wrote that the government had “produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, ISNA and NAIT with HLF, the Islamic Association for Palestine (‘IAP’), and with Hamas.” He also wrote: “The Muslim Brotherhood supervised the creation of the ‘Palestine Committee,’ which was put in charge of other organizations, such as HLF, IAP, UASR, and ISNA.” And also: “During the [1993 Philadelphia] conference, Palestine Committee members discussed using ISNA as official cover for their activities.”
What impact this new legislation will have remains to be seen, but it is clearly intended to roll back the Obama administration’s penchant for relying on groups identified by government prosecutors as fronts for designated terrorist organizations as partners for “outreach.”