Three defense witnesses in one day (September 6, 2007)

Prosecutors walked out of the courtroom with their heads down on Thursday, August 6, 2007 after defense attorneys presented to the alert 15-member jury the long-awaited truth of the Holy Land Foundation.

Defense attorneys Greg Westfall (defendant Abdulrahman Odeh’s lawyer) and Nancy Hollander (defendant Shukri Abu-Baker’s lawyer) began the day by briefly redirect examining HLF accountant Mohammad Wafa Yaish. Josh Dratel, defendant Mohammad El-Mezain’s lawyer, cleared up the $20,000 bonus to El-Mezain that prosecutor Barry Jonas discussed in cross-examination. El-Mezain’s status changed when HLF officials wrote him the $20,000 check in 1999, Dratel affirmed. His position changed from a board member to director of endowment and manager of HLF’s California office, Dratel said, after which he continued. He was also in the process of moving his family from New Jersey to California. He never received a salary from the HLF until he moved to California. Jonas then very briefly re-crossed Yaish.

The defense council’s third witness was John Bryant, an ex-HLF attorney and a former congressman. Bryant became HLF’s lawyer in 1997 after there had been a few unattributed news reports that accused the HLF of illegally funding foreign organizations. So Bryant took the following steps to seek answers:

  • Bryant met with an official with the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1998 and asked him if HLF had committed any crimes. He said he would get back to Bryant, but he never did.
  • Bryant along with HLF officers Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu-Baker met with FBI agents twice in the late 1990s and asked them if HLF employees had done anything wrong. They asked for guidance and got none. He then said, the FBI never told them they should not do business with any of the zakat committees in occupied Palestine to which the HLF was later accused of sending money. Bryant had a third meeting with the FBI, but also received no valuable results.
  • Bryant also asked for guidance from the U.S. State Department and was never told not to deal with the zakat committees.
  • Bryant also sought meetings with other government officials, including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. But he did not hear back from any of those individuals.

Jonas then began the cross-examination of Bryant by saying, There was an intelligence investigation of the HLF in the late 1990s. Did you know that it’s the government’s policy not to discuss ongoing investigations. Bryant, who said he was not aware of the intelligence investigation at the time, responded like this: I would expect them to at least give these American citizens guidance on whether they are following the law. Bryant then testified that he knew it was illegal to send money to Hamas after it was designated in 1995.

Natalia Suleiman — once an HLF employee — was the government’s fourth witness. She began by discussing her background. She’s a Muslim convert. She has an associates degree. She did humanitarian relief work in Sudan in the early 1990s. She described her work in Sudan as “extremely humbling.” I felt rewarded by the children’s smiles, she said. She returned to the U.S. in 1995 and was hired by the HLF in 1997 as an administrative assistant. She left the HLF in 1999 after adopting a child.

Suleiman then took the jury on a journey back in time to talk about the charity work of HLF. She discussed the numerous projects, all of which she said were documented though progress reports, photos and videos. Greg Wesfall, defendant Abdulrahman Odeh’s lawyer, displayed more than a dozen photographs that showed the following HLF’s projects:

  • Food packages: The HLF distributed necessities — such as sugar, flour and rice — to those in need in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Albania and the U.S.
  • Eid gifts: During the two Muslim celebrations called Eid, the HLF gave out presents in the Palestinian territories. These included clothes, food and house materials (refrigerators, blankets, mattresses, etc.)
  • Medical projects: The HLF gave wheelchairs to victims of violence and natural diseases. In addition, they built hospitals and purchased ambulances for those in need of medical assistance.
  • Back-to-school programs: Every fall for the HLF was time to give away back-to-school essentials including backpacks, school supplies, uniforms and shoes.
  • Summer camp projects: Every summer, the HLF funded camps in the Palestinian territories. There, youngsters did several activities like create art projects, work on the computer and go on field trips.
  • Orphan sponsorship programs: Through an organized and comprehensive program, the HLF gave donors the option to adopt orphans by sending them a monthly donation and correspondence.

Nancy Hollander then briefly direct examined Suleiman by displaying a group of pictures that depicted HLF’s demolished home projects. The photos showed the distressing results from Israel’s demolishment of Palestinian homes, with some families living in tents and others walking down sewage-filled alleys. Hollander also showed more encouraging images that portray HLF’s donations to help rebuild Palestinians’ lives. These gifts included drawers, stoves, mattresses and rugs.

During his sloppy cross-examination of Suleiman, prosecutor Jim Jacks made clear that defendant Abdulrahman Odeh sponsored the son of Hamas leader and bomb-make Yahya Ayyash. Furthermore, he listed out a few charities — including the Islamic African Relief Agency, Global Relief and Benevolence International Foundation — that the HLF once dealt with. He then gave her a copy of an August 2007 list of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Specially Designated Terrorists and asked, Are all of these charities on the list? Suleiman’s response: Yes.

Hollander ended the day by rebutting Jacks’ argument during re-direct examination. She gave Suleiman a 2001 list of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Specially Designated Terrorists and asked her to find the Islamic African Relief Agency, Global Relief and Benevolence International Foundation. She showed her a 2001 list since that’s the year that the HLF was shut down. Suleiman concluded that none of those charities were listed on the 2001 document.

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