Victory! Arab American Activist Removed from "OFAC Terror List"
Arab American, Quaker groups mark end of Salah case, restrictions of their rights to advocate
Washington, DC | www.adc.org | November 8, 2012 -- The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the American Friends Service Committee (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.
In September, AFSC and ADC joined a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s restrictions on their First Amendment rights to engage in “coordinated advocacy” with Mr. Salah, a U.S. citizen living in Chicago 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.
FSC, a Quaker peace and social justice organization, and ADC, a grassroots Arab-American civil rights and civil liberties organization, were represented in the case by attorneys from Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick, & Dym; the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Peoples Law Office. 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.
ADC and AFSC believed 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. Now both organizations, and all other concerned citizens and groups, are no longer restricted in their ability to advocate in coordination with Salah.
“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,” says Abed A. Ayoub, 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,” says Shan Cretin, AFSC’s General Secretary (chief executive).
“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,” says Shan Cretin. “We are dismayed that it took 17 years, but celebrate this victory with Mr. Salah and his family.”
For more specifics on Muhammad Salah’s case, see below.
NOTE TO EDITORS:
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which is non-profit, non-sectarian and non-partisan, is the largest grassroots Arab-American civil rights and civil liberties organization in the United States. It was founded in 1980 by former Senator James Abourezk. ADC has a national network of chapters and members in all 50 states.
Throughout its 95 year history, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has worked for peace by addressing the root causes of violence – discrimination, disenfranchisement, and lack of economic opportunities. AFSC has promoted dialogue between Christians and Muslims and provided programs to combat the Islamophobia and anti-Arab discrimination that has spread through our country and influenced our nation’s policies since 9/11.
Summary of case, from press release of the Center for Constitutional Rights:
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.”
For court filings and documents on Muhammad Salah’s case, visit http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/salah-v.-u.s.-department-of-treasury