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American Civil Liberties are in Peril

DALLAS -- One of the most important civil liberties cases in recent times has been underway here since July 26. Each day so far, government prosecutors inundate the jury with evidence of the Holy Land Foundation's involvement in providing assistance to the suffering people of Palestine without any mention of any actual crimes. Their main contention is that some of the aid may have passed through the charitable initiatives of Palestine's main political grouping, Hamas. The United States designated Hamas a "terrorist organization" in 1995, but, so far, prosecutors have only tried to prove that Holy Land Foundation employees and Hamas had connections prior to that time.

Most of what the government has presented was seized by Israeli agents during raids on Hamas in Palestine. The origins of the documents are shrouded in mystery, since the workings of Israeli security forces are being protected. The jury has heard a great deal of testimony from Israeli "Agent X" without knowing his/her identity.

Before 2001, the Holy Land Foundation was headquartered in Richardson, Texas, just outside Dallas. They provided funds to Oklahoma City bombing victims and others in need, but many of their donors are devout Muslims, whose religion and tradition require big charitable contributions. After 9/11/01, virtually everything done by Muslims came under severe U.S. scrutiny. During the hysteria following the destruction of the World Trade Center, executives associated with the Foundation were accused, and eventually convicted, of selling what the government called "American high technology" to customers in the Middle East. Their supporters indicate that all they actually did was sell a few desktop PC's that ended up in Syria.

On trial in Dallas are Ghassan Elashi, the foundation's original treasurer and later board chairman; Mr. Abu Baker; Mohammad El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh. Defense attorneys describe them as men who would like to help overcome the injustice they have been aware of since they left their homeland at early ages. They have worked hard to provide charity for those who need it, and have gone out of their way to cooperate with government agents. Mr. Elashi even met with FBI agents to ask how to comply with the fast-changing U.S. anti-terrorism laws.

Civil libertarians, some of whom have known the defendants for years, are rallying around the case. The Dallas Peace Center's Board of Directors has joined the "Hungry for Justice" coalition to call for justice. Their Executive Director, State Representative Lon Burnam, released this statement: "We are concerned that these are trumped up charges being used to harass a legitimate nonprofit organization. We want to do all we can to make sure that these people receive a fair trial."

Since the Bush rampage began in 2001, civil libertarians have been increasingly concerned about America's rights. They compare today's situation with the persecution of Japanese Americans during World War II; with the heavy-handed 1970 repression, including assassinations, of the Black Panther Party, which was also involved in charitable projects; the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s; and the bizarre twists in the government's case against Brooklyn-born Jose Padilla, which resulted in a big victory for the government on August 16. Recent American civil liberties news coverage might have been written by the great fiction author, Franz Kafka!

On trial days, a group of supporters gathers outside the Earle Cabell Federal Courts Building downtown. Their signs and banners proclaim, "Feeding Children is not a Crime!" Daily trial updates and background information are available on the Hungry for Justice web page. Defendant Elashi's daughter, Noor Elashi, illuminates the situation on www.freedomtogive.com.

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War Costs Protested in Dallas

DALLAS - Responding to a call by www.MoveOn.org on August 16, Dallas activists joined the nation in protesting the incredible financial cost of the war in Iraq. Religious and community leaders announced that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had already cost $456 billion, and another $12 billion is being added every month!

Throughout August, while politicians are in their home areas, activists are called to help pressure U.S. Congresspersons to vote against continuing the war. MoveOn targets August 28th, right before Congress heads back to D.C., as "National Take a Stand Day." Both the corporate media and the Bush Administration are hyping up the "progress report" from General Petraeus as helping Congress decide, but the American people have already indicated, through consistent polling information, that they do not need more reports from government officials nor time to contemplate their decision about getting American troops out of Iraq.

Health Care Reform Demanded

By Jim Lane

MESQUITE, TEXAS - A panel of community leaders heard testimony on the health care situation in North Texas at a municipal building here on August 15. The activity was prompted by the firing of three registered nurses who stood up for patient safety in spite of the Mesquite hospital's insistence that profits come first. Hospital administrators sent Sandra Taylor, Diana Sepeda, and Nancy Friesen home, and fired them later, because they insisted on serving only the number of patients they could safely care for. Supporters unanimously believe that the real reason was that the three nurses are outspoken supporters of an organizing drive by the National Nurse's Organizing Committee (NNOC).

Sandra Taylor told the panel about her extensive experience in other hospitals and in other areas. She concluded that, in her opinion, "Texas is worse" on patient safety. She also stipulated that the only reason that hospital administrators say that a nursing shortage exists is because "Qualified nurses are leaving the bedside because they are discouraged by their work situations."

Diana Sepeda said that hospital administrators in North Texas not only fired the three nurses, but illegally black-listed them as well. Nancy Friesen compared her experiences in Canada with the United States and concluded that patients were far safer in her home country. Even though Canada may have less advanced medical equipment, they have much better staffing ratios, she said.

Nurses rose from the audience to report their own impressions and findings. One of them, Patricia Shiller, said, "A baby born in Ecuador has a better chance of surviving than one in the U.S.." One nursing supervisor and one Human Relations executive from hospitals rose to defend the system, but angry working nurses refuted their claims. The hearing came on the same day that newspapers carried he story that the United States, which spends much more money on health care than any other nation, had fallen to 42nd in life expectancy!

The panel members were: Texas State Representative Roberto Alonzo, community activist Harriet Irby, Reverend C.E. Clark, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans Secretary Gene Lantz, and retired biochemistry professor Morton Traeger. After hearing the discussion and asking questions, they brought four conclusions forward:

Safe staffing ratios need to be encoded into Texas law

Health care professionals should not be forced to work outside their area of expertise

Texas nurses need adequate "whistleblower" protection

Health care professionals should have more input into hospital decisions in Texas

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