Secrets and Lies: The Persecution of Muhammad Salah (Part I)
The case of Muhammad Salah, a Palestinian-American grocer and Chicago resident, is the longest-running terrorism case in the United States. He was brought to trial on terrorism funding charges in October 2006 after a thirteen-year saga that began with his January 1993 arrest in Israel as the “world commander of Hamas” and that continued in the United States following his release from Israeli prison in late 1997. Though acquitted of all terrorism-related charges by a U.S. federal jury in Chicago in February 2007, Salah was convicted on a single count of obstruction of justice.
In this exclusive report for JPS, Salah’s lawyers recount the unfolding of this landmark and labyrinthine case, analyzing its legal underpinnings and implications. His prosecution served to advance new standards governing the admissibility of coerced confessions at trial and the use of secret evidence, while at the same time establishing new procedures for preventing the cross-examination of key witnesses and closing the courtroom to the press and public during crucial testimony. Even before his U.S. trial, his taped confession extracted under Shin Bet torture served as the linchpin of the U.S. government’s investigation and prosecution of persons it suspected of providing material support for Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. More broadly, the years covered by the case show the erosion of the rule of law in the United States, as well as the melding of the discourses, strategies, tactics, and aims of U.S. and Israeli law enforcement and intelligence bodies long before the post-9/11 launch of the “global war on terror.”
Part I of this two-part account lays the ground for the 2006–7 Chicago trial, covering the period of Salah’s arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment in Israel and the investigations and legal proceedings against him upon his return. Part II will focus on the crafting of the case by the Justice Department under Pres. George W. Bush and the trial itself.
As Muhammad Salah’s lawyers, we felt compelled to write this article because the true story of the Salah case has never been told. Instead, many books and articles have repeated and spun mistruths about it built upon a foundation of lies and a confession extracted under Shin Bet torture. It is not without trepidation that we exercise our First Amendment right to present these facts to the public, however. Given the history of this case, not to mention the U.S. government’s relentless persecution of Sami al-Arian, Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, and the officers of the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in the United States, it seems clear that the government will try again and again to punish those it sees as enemies of Israel. This demonstrated abuse of power by the government has created a profoundly “chilling effect” on the right of Palestinians living in this country to support the struggle against the illegal occupation of their homeland. Even the publication of this article could put Muhammad Salah and his family at risk of government retaliation.
MICHAEL E. DEUTSCH AND ERICA THOMPSON are lawyers with the People’s Law Office in Chicago, which has been representing political activists, political prisoners, and victims of government repression and police misconduct and brutality since 1969.