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Court removes ‘co-conspirator’ tag from Muslim groups

October 22, 2010 | 12:40 pm

In a decision that could inhibit efforts to stigmatize some Islamic groups, a U.S. appeals court ordered that a lower court’s reference to a group’s association with Hamas be expunged.

The New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit released its decision on an appeal from the North American Islamic Trust on Wednesday. It was first reported that day by Politico’s Josh Gerstein.

Last year, Jorge Solis, a U.S. District Court judge in Dallas, ruled that NAIT and 245 other entities and individuals had their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination violated when prosecutors listed them as unindicted co-conspirators in the federal case against the Holy Land Foundation, which had been charged with providing material assistance to Hamas.

Among the other groups vindicated by Solis were the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America.

The government acknowledged that not sealing the list was an oversight, and further said its intent was to list the groups and individuals as “joint venturers,” which suggests a weaker association than “unindicted co-conspirator” and does not imply that the entity had knowledge of the alleged crimes.

NAIT, which owns a number of mosques, nonetheless appealed the decision because Solis ordered the decision sealed—apparently in a bid to protect the reputation of those on the list. CAIR and ISNA did not join this appeal.

The three-judge appeals panel ordered Solis’ decision unsealed and expunged one reference to past NAIT associations with Hamas, but left in another.

By clearing CAIR and ISNA of “unindicted co-conspirator” status, the unsealing of Solis’ decision could have political consequences, as a number of conservative and pro-Israel groups had used the label to tar politicians associated with the groups.

After a 2007 trial ended in a mistrial, a jury in 2008 convicted the Holy Land Foundation and five of its officers of violating U.S. laws banning funding for designated terrorist groups.

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