Monday, November 9, 2009
Despite ban, Holder to speak to CAIR-linked group
Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to give a keynote speech next week to a Michigan group which includes the local branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations even though the FBI has formally severed contacts with the controversial Muslim civil rights organization.
On Nov. 19, Holder is scheduled to speak in Detroit to the first annual awards banquet of Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust, a coalition of several dozen law enforcement and community groups. An online registration form for the event includes the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan on a list of “official & participating organizations.”
A spokeswoman for ALPACT confirmed that CAIR is a member of the coalition.
“CAIR has been involved for a while,” said Chandra McMillion, community development facilitator for ALPACT. “CAIR is listed as an official member.”
The executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, Dawud Walid, also confirmed its involvement with ALPACT. “It’s really nothing controversial. We’ve been part of this organization for years,” he said. “We meet every month and included with us is the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI.”
Walid said he is a regular at ALPACT meetings—including one held Friday at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit. “A lot of people are there: the NAACP, the ACLU, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee…the National Lawyers’ Guild,” he said.
The FBI claims it cut “formal contacts” with CAIR after federal prosecutors in the 2007 criminal trial of officers of a Texas-based Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, introduced documents the government said showed links between CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood, which gave rise to Hamas.
“Until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner,” FBI Congressional liaison Richard Powers wrote in an April letter to Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).
The Justice Department referred questions about Holder’s speech and CAIR’s involvement to the FBI’s field office in Detroit which, in turn, referred the questions to FBI headquarters in Washington.
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed that the FBI’s Special Agent-in-Charge in Detroit, Andy Arena, will serve as co-chair for the Nov. 19 dinner.
“We are co-chairing the event. We are not sponsoring the event,” spokeswoman Jennifer Burnside said. She said the FBI “didn’t have any role” in selling tickets for the event or in issuing invitations.
Burnside also stressed the fact that the dinner is not a closed briefing. “It’s a public event and Joe off the street could attend,” she said.
Another factor contributing to federal law enforcement’s prominent role in the event is that the dinner will involve a tribute to Paul Sorce, an FBI agent killed in a traffic accident in March while conducting surveillance. “Honoring a fallen agent is very important to us,” Burnside said.
Asked about the FBI’s limits on contacts with CAIR, Burnside said, “Our policy doesn’t prohibit the FBI participating in meetings where CAIR is going to be involved.”
Former terrorism prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, a CAIR critic, said he was disappointed but not taken aback by the FBI’s parsing of its ban on “formal contacts” with the Muslim group.
“I wish I could say I’m surprised but I’m not remotely surprised,” McCarthy said. “When [the FBI] said they cut off formal ties with them, whenever they say something like that you have to look very carefully at the way it’s worded… The last administration was guilty of it, this administration is guilty of it—they have determined it is more important to have what it can publicly hold out as ties to the Muslim community than it is to be careful about who you have the ties with.”
In the FBI’s letter to Kyl, the agency said the limits on contacts with CAIR stemmed from its status as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case. In 2007, five Holy Land officers were acquitted on some charges, while a mistrial was declared on others after jurors deadlocked. In a retrial in 2008, all the men were convicted.
“During that trial evidence was introduced that demonstrated a relationship among CAIR, individual CAIR founders…and the Palestine Committee,” the FBI’s Powers wrote. “Evidence was also introduced that demonstrated a relationship between the Palestine Committee and HAMAS, which was designated as a terrorist organization in 1995. In light of that evidence the FBI suspended all formal contacts between CAIR and the FBI.”
CAIR officials have denied any connection to terrorism and have complained bitterly about being named as co-conspirators in the Holy Land case. They note that since the group was never charged it had no forum to challenge the documents prosecutors said linked CAIR to the Muslim Brotherhood. CAIR officials have also noted that aspects of the documents are not consistent with CAIR’s activities.
CAIR and two other Islamic groups named as co-conspirators asked a federal judge to nullify the designation, but POLITICO reported recently that the groups’ motion was rejected in a secret ruling. However, the judge faulted prosecutors for publicly filing the conspirators list, a source said.
In March, an array of American Muslim groups threatened to cut ties with the FBI, citing, among other concerns, the agency's treatment of CAIR.
McMillion said the connection ALPACT creates between CAIR and the FBI’s Detroit office has been vetted by top officials in Washington.
“This issue came up,” she said. “We know….of the real tension in terms of the FBI nationally having a very different posture. It actually did have to be approved through national channels not only for the FBI being a member but a co-chair…It ultimately was approved.”
Walid said he was unaware of any problems created by CAIR’s involvement in ALPACT. “It’s never been an issue,” he said.
The relationship between the FBI and Muslim groups in Michigan has been strained in recent days after agents shot and killed a local imam they said was the leader of a radical fundamentalist group. Luqman Abdullah, 53, was killed on Oct. 28 in Detroit after he refused to surrender and opened fire on agents attempting to arrest him and a band of his followers on federal weapons and conspiracy charges, the FBI said. An FBI dog was also killed in the exchange of fire, the agency noted in press released.
Walid has been sharply critical of the FBI for using deadly force in the operation, but the CAIR official said that doesn’t mean the group is at loggerheads with the federal law enforcement agency.
“We all have each other’s cell phone numbers,” Walid said. “There’s not the level of hostility that some people may think…..There are a number of organizations, not just CAIR, raising concerns about that situation with the imam.”
Posted by MK at 10:07 PM