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After 17 years: Arab American activist removed from terror list

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The U.S. Treasury Department has de-listed Muhammad Salah as a "specially designated terrorist," lifting onerous restrictions on the Palestine-origin American now living in Bridgeview, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The move comes two months after Muhammad Salah filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago challenging the constitutionality of the economic sanctions and on the eve of a deadline for the Treasury Department to file an answer to the lawsuit in court, according to the paper.

In September last, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) joined a lawsuit challenging the federal government's restrictions on their First Amendment rights to engage in "coordinated advocacy" with Salah, whose situation cried out for public attention, advocacy and resolution. 

The lawsuit also asserted that Salah's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights had been violated and requested relief.  Just prior to the government's s November 6 deadline for responding to the legal challenge, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFCA) quietly announced his removal from the list. 

The suit challenged the government's power to impose arbitrary restrictions on the groups' First Amendment rights to follow their conscience and raise public awareness about government actions they believe to be unjust.  

"This is not only a victory for Mr. Salah and his family -- it is a victory for all communities.  A strong message was sent, and that is all Americans are entitled to their due process and essential rights.  Mr. Salah suffered at the hands of the government for nearly two decades, and we are happy to see this matter finally put to rest.  It is our hope that the federal government takes a close look at their designation process and ends or drastically eliminates the process, understanding the ramifications it can have on the innocent, such as Mr. Salah," sais Abed A. Ayoub, the ADC Legal Director.

"AFSC brought this case as a last resort, after OFAC failed to respond to reasoned appeals to a sense of justice and simple humanity. We are pleased to have been a part of a case that forced the government to retreat from this arbitrary use of a demonizing label," Shan Cretin, AFSC's General Secretary said.


"A government must not be allowed to cultivate a climate of fear as justification for denying basic rights to a scapegoated group. Unfortunately, the U.S. has a history of exploiting fears around security as an excuse for selective persecution of Japanese-Americans, Native Americans, Jews, civil rights advocates, political dissidents, and most recently, US citizens and residents of Arab descent," Shan Cretin said and added:  "We are dismayed that it took 17 years, but celebrate this victory with Mr. Salah and his family."

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR):

"The lawsuit stemmed from events in 1995, when Mr. Salah was classified by the Treasury Department as a "specially designated terrorist," under Executive Order 12947, signed by then President Bill Clinton and designed to target groups and individuals considered to be interfering with the Middle East peace process.

" Mr. Salah received no notice of any charges against him, nor any opportunity to defend himself. There was no trial or hearing of any kind. In fact, Mr. Salah and his family only learned of the imposition of the designation when Mr. Salah's wife, Maryam, attempted to withdraw funds from her bank account and was told that the account was frozen at the U.S. government's direction. The designation runs to perpetuity and, but for this litigation, there is no way to overturn the arbitrary restrictions they impose on Mr. Salah's basic life activities.

" At the time of the Treasury designation, Mr. Salah was incarcerated in an Israeli military prison, charged by an Israeli military court with providing support to Hamas in the early 1990s. At the time, no law barred Americans from supporting Hamas. Following 55 days of intense interrogation, including sleep deprivation and physical brutality, Mr. Salah pled guilty to the charge and entered into a plea agreement. He was released in 1997 and returned to his home in the United States.

" When, in 2005, the U.S. government charged Mr. Salah in a criminal trial with supporting Hamas, a jury acquitted him. Despite his acquittal, his designation as a "specially designated terrorist" remained.

" Matthew Piers, who has represented Mr. Salah since shortly after his designation, said, "Since he was released by the Israeli military justice system, Mr. Salah has been made to suffer in a manner that is contrary to our constitutional principles and completely unjustified by anything he has ever been accused of, let alone found to have done. Justice has now been done, but it comes very late in the day.  The government should not be in the business of imposing such draconian penalties on individuals without criminal trial."

The civil advocacy groups, ADC and AFSC, argued that the government's treatment of Salah amounted to unnecessarily sweeping, cruel, and arbitrary punitive actions that were an egregious affront to the basic values of justice. The ADC and AFSC are celebrating with Muhammad Salah and his family after the U.S. this week removed him from the "Specially Designated Terrorist" list after 17 years of  persecution, an ADC press release said.

 

Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 

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