Middle Eastern Immigrants in Detroit

Unjust Trial in the Age of Ashcroft

Revolutionary Worker #1203, June 15, 2003, posted at rwor.org

On June 3, verdicts were announced in Detroit in the U.S. government's first trial on "terrorism" charges since September 11, 2001. This is a trial that saw Bush's Attorney General, John Ashcroft, intervening personally to boost the prosecution. And the government is using the trial to further justify their wide-ranging and unprecedented assaults on people's rights in the name of "war on terrorism."

On trial were Farouk Ali-Haimoud, Ahmed Hannan, Karim Koubriti, and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi-- all immigrants from Morocco and Algeria. Elmardoudi and Koubriti were convicted on charges of "providing material support or resources to terrorists" and "conspiracy to engage in fraud." Elmardoudi faces up to 20 years in jail; Koubriti faces 10 years. Hannan was convicted of conspiracy involving document fraud. Ali-Haimoudi was acquitted of all charges.

The defendants were charged under the conspiracy statute of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. To prove conspiracy, the government needed only to show that at least two people agreed to commit a federal crime and that one of them carried out an "overt act" to further the agreement, even if that act itself is legal and even if no crime was committed.

The main "evidence" that the prosecutors threw against the defendants were the words of a snitch who made a deal with the government for a reduced sentence on charges of credit-card fraud in return for testifying for the prosecution.

An experienced defense attorney not connected with the case commented that ordinarily no prosecutor would go to trial with such weak evidence--and the fact that this trial still went forward points to the "tenor of the times." The lawyer said that it's not unusual for prosecutors to rely on snitch testimony, but usually such testimony is backed up by other testimony or evidence of actual illegal acts. In this case, there was none of that.

Given the lack of evidence, what the prosecution mainly relied on was the wide latitude given to them by the 1996 law to convict people on slim evidence--and the climate of fear and repression whipped up by the government since 9/11, where all Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants are to be regarded with suspicion as potential "terrorists."

In the introduction to its indictment, the government purported to give some background on several Islamic movements and groups that "became part of the loose transnational network of radical Islamists" led by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. Aside from some uncollaborated claims by the snitch, the government made no serious attempt to actually link the defendants with the groups or movements mentioned in the indictment.

So why was this historical background (or at least the government's version of it) featured so prominently in the indictment? An insidious "logic" is being promoted: There are trends in Islam that advocate terrorism...the defendants are Muslims from Arab countries and were heard speaking about Islamic fundamentalist forces...so, according to the government, the defendants must be guilty.

Throughout the trial, the prosecution freely threw around the term "jihad." The indictment, for example, stated that the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan drew Islamic fundamentalist forces "who were encouraged to engage in jihad as an essential element of their religious duty." But the prosecutors never mentioned a pertinent fact: It was the U.S. that backed and promoted the Islamic fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan, including bin Laden, in a war against the Soviet Union, at the time the U.S.'s main imperialist rival.

The government even accused two defendants of "economic jihad" against the U.S. for allegedly filing a $13,000 false insurance claim. If this is "jihad," then what do you call the multi-billion-dollar scams of Ken Lay and Enron or other major capitalists?


Like many immigrants in the U.S., the defendants worked at various low-paying factory and service jobs. Hannan and Koubriti met while working at a chicken processing plant in Ohio. They also worked at a Big Boy restaurant and as dishwashers for Sky Chef, a food service company at Detroit Metro airport.

Six days after 9/11, FBI agents went to the apartment shared by Hannan, Koubriti, and Ali-Haimoud, looking for a man on the FBI "terrorist watch list." The defendants say they had moved in only two weeks earlier and did not know the man wanted by the FBI, who no longer lived at the apartment.

Koubriti let the agents search the apartment. The agents claim they became suspicious when they noticed expired Sky Chef ID badges. Hannan and Koubriti had the badges from their previous jobs at Sky Chef. But in this era of Ashcroftian madness, being Arab and working at an airport automatically makes you a "suspect"--and the three roommates were arrested. Elmardoudi was arrested later, in November 2001.

Ali-Haimoud was released in October 2001 for lack of evidence. But when the snitch reached his plea agreement, heavily armed SWAT police rearrested Ali-Haimoud at the airport where he worked selling ice cream from a small stand.


The government's case hung on the testimony of Youssef Hmimssa, who faced 81 years in prison before he copped a plea. Hmimssa had been in prison for several months before he began telling his tale to the authorities--when he realized that the government had evidence about his fake ID business and he might face the same charges as the defendants.

Hmimssa claimed that the defendants told him their goal was to support Islamist forces in Algeria by raising money to buy weapons from an African-American man in Detroit. Hmimssa alleged that the defendants got fake IDs to bring in "brothers" from overseas and made phone calls as part of their plans. None of this was backed up by other testimony or evidence.

Much of Hmimssa's testimony consisted of descriptions of purported political discussions with the defendants. The snitch said that the defendants spoke out against the cancellation of elections by the Algerian government in 1992 (when it looked like Islamic forces would win) and the prison treatment of Sheik Abdul Rahman, a fundamentalist Muslim cleric imprisoned in the U.S. for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They didn't like the fact that a U.S. base in Turkey was used to attack Iraq and that rich Arabs from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia went to Las Vegas and Monte Carlo to gamble with oil money they felt belonged to all Arabs.

In the eyes of the government, such political discussion is evidence of a terrorist "conspiracy."

The day after the defense raised major questions about Hmimssa's credibility, Ashcroft openly praised the star snitch at a news conference. Ashcroft said, "His testimony has been of value, substantial value. Such cooperation is a critical tool in our war against terrorism." Ashcroft's public remarks violated the judge's gag order banning any discussion of the trial by the defense, prosecutors, and Department of Justice. And Ashcroft spoke on a day the court was not in session, so the jurors were more likely to hear his comments.

Ashcroft clearly knew he was flouting the law when he stepped in to try to bolster the government witness. The defenders of this system say that this is a "country of laws, not men"--but as Ashcroft's blatant actions showed, this is a country where laws are whatever those who hold power say they are.

The government presented three pieces of physical "evidence" from the defendants' apartment. The first was 105 audio cassette tapes of an Egyptian Islamic speaker. The government admits there is no proof that the defendants listened to the tapes. But the prosecution made them a big part of its case, bringing in two expert witnesses to allege that the speaker on the tape--and, by implication, the defendants--advocates "jihad" against Christians, Jews, and unfaithful Muslims. Two experts testifying for the defense contradicted the government's version.

The second "evidence" was a video showing young Arabs apparently on vacation in Disneyland, Las Vegas, and New York--interspersed with footage of the youth having a pillow fight, singing songs, and showing off things they bought. The defendants don't appear in the video, their fingerprints are not on the tape, and the government has not attempted to link the defendants with the people on the video. Still, an FBI "expert" on "terrorist trade craft" claimed the video was done to "case" potential targets for attacks.

The third physical "evidence" was a day planner with crude sketches that the government claimed shows the location of a military hospital in Jordan and the U.S. base in Incirlik, Turkey. The government brought in a military officer from Incirlik and the former head of security at the U.S. embassy in Jordan in an attempt to back up the claim that the sketches represented "threats." The defense said the sketches were drawn by a man unconnected to the defendants and whose name is on the planner. This man had been seen with the planner, according to his brother's testimony. The man's doctors testified that he was a schizophrenic with dellusions of being a general in the Yemen army and the king of Arabia.

Another part of the government's case was testimony by an FBI "expert" about the defendants' alleged "terrorist methods of operation"--such as transfer of money from Europe to the U.S., use of nicknames, and use of pay phones. These alleged actions were not unlawful by themselves- -but the government portrayed them as "evidence" of "conspiracy." And these charges about "terrorist methods of operations" were all (except for the videotape) based solely on allegations by the lone snitch.


The U.S. government's moves in this trial are part of the unjust and intense targeting of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants--including mass registrations and detentions, denial of rights to due legal process, deportations, police spying on students and mosques, and other outrages.

In the name of "war on terrorism" and "homeland security," the ruling-class state is applying extreme repressive measures such as the Patriot Act and the 1996 "Anti- Terrorism" law and carrying out intense assaults on people's rights. Through this trial in Detroit and other cases (such as the targeting of Yemeni immigrants in Lackawanna, New York--see "WOT Witchhunt in Lackawanna," RW #1197 and online at rwor.org), the government is moving to set dangerous precedents in expanded repressive powers--to use against all who oppose the U.S. war moves around the world and against anyone who the government considers a threat.

Immediately after the verdicts were announced in the Detroit trial, Ashcroft declared that "the Department of Justice will continue its aggressive battle in the courts."

The Blue Triangle Network has worked to point out the dangerous precedents being set in this case and to organize protests against the unjust trial. In a press statement, the Blue Triangle Network said, "The stakes for all of us are high. Convictions on these terms are designed to intimidate anyone from expressing opposition to U.S. foreign policies. The federal government is first targeting Muslim, Arab, and South Asian immigrants. However, this trial sets another precedent that can be used in other circumstances against any groups or individuals who oppose U.S. policies."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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