The value of the right of trial by jury once again became apparent yesterday. A jury in Dallas, Texas, acquitted defendants of most charges in a war-on-terrorism federal criminal prosecution and deadlocked on a few remaining charges.
The feds were prosecuting the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development along with several people involved in the organization. Absolutely convinced in his own mind that the charity was supporting terrorism, three months after 9/11 President Bush ordered that the assets of the organization be frozen. Just as convinced as the president, the Justice Department then secured criminal indictments against the organization and the people involved in it.
Fortunately, President Bush and the Pentagon did not choose to go the “enemy-combatant” route. If they had, the defendants could have been whisked away to Guantanamo Bay or some secret CIA site for waterboarding, sex abuse, or others forms of torture and humiliation as well as indefinite detention.
When it came time to present its evidence, the government’s case fell apart because its witnesses failed to show any evidence that the organization had funded suicide bombers. Instead, the government’s theory was that the organization supported terrorism by sending more than $12 million to charitable groups, which used the money to build hospitals and to feed the poor.
So, why is building hospitals and feeding the poor a bad thing, especially for a government that gets a large amount of tax revenue from the American people through the IRS under the same rationale?
Well, the government’s theory was that since the charities were controlled by Hamas, sending the money supported terrorism by helping Hamas spread its ideology. The government used Israeli agents to testify as to this theory.
Despite 197 counts in the indictment, years of preparation, almost two months of testimony, and 1,000 exhibits, the jury didn’t buy the government’s case. The federal prosecutors, who obviously aren’t very happy with the jury’s verdict, are promising to re-prosecute on the few remaining charges on which the jury deadlocked.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of trial by jury. The reason for the amendment was that our American ancestors trusted the citizenry, not the military or even judges, to decide the guilt or innocent of people accused of crimes. No doubt the defendants in the Dallas prosecution are feeling a deep sense of gratitude for that Amendment. No doubt they’re also grateful that the feds didn’t choose to go the enemy-combatant route, a power the feds acquired unilaterally and without a constitutional amendment after 9/11.