Feds wrong to designate Al-Haramain as terrorist?

Federal appeals court judges will convene Wednesday in Portland to hear arguments over whether the federal government violated the U.S. Constitution in designating Pete Seda's defunct Ashland-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation chapter as a terrorist organization in 2004.

Al-Haramain's attorneys plan to argue that the designation was illegal because the government declared the designation without providing notice so chapter attorneys could respond, and that seizure of its financial assets for seven years without a warrant or probable cause violated the chapter's due process.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments by chapter attorneys and the government at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Pioneer Courthouse in Portland.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in 2009 that the procedure violated the chapter's due process, but concluded that the error was harmless. Al-Haramain's attorneys appealed, setting up Wednesday's oral arguments.

Tom Nelson, a chapter designate and attorney working on the case, said he believes the chapter has an "even to better-than-even" chance of winning the appeal despite a political climate of fear of Islamic influences in the United States.

"If it were any other age or time, without all the hysteria about Muslims and terrorism, it would be pretty good," Nelson said.

Also listed as an appellant in the case is the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon, which argues its First Amendment rights were violated because its members cannot legally advocate on behalf of the Al-Haramain chapter because of its terrorist designation, said Ashlee Albies, a Portland attorney involved in the case.

Among its many activities, the Ashland chapter of Al-Haramain provided copies of the Quran to U.S. prison inmates, including copies of the Quran with an appendix calling for a Muslim holy war, or jihad, against nonbelievers.

The chapter's lead litigator is David Cole, a professor at the Georgetown University Law School.

The chapter and one of its leaders, a Saudi Arabian national named Soliman Al-Buthe, were both designated as supporters of terrorism in 2004, and the chapter was re-designated in 2008.

Seda, 53, who is fighting his September money-laundering and tax-cheat convictions for helping Al-Buthe smuggle $150,000 out of the country through the charity in 2000, has not been designated a supporter of terrorism, but federal prosecutors have argued such in seeking an eight-year prison term for Seda.

The appeals case is separate from Seda's criminal case as well as an illegal wiretapping case in which a federal judge in December ordered the U.S. government to pay more than $2.5 million in fees and damages to attorneys representing Al-Haramain for illegal wiretaps. The attorneys waged a nearly five-year legal challenge to the Bush administration's so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Al-Buthe, who remains in Saudi Arabia where there is no extradition agreement with the United States, remains wanted here for his role in the money-laundering case.

Nelson said the chapter's frozen assets, which include the sale of Seda's Ashland home that also served as the chapter's headquarters, was anywhere from $400,000 to $600,000. The seizures and land auction were conducted by the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control.

"They won't tell us how much it is," Nelson said. "We don't know where it is and they won't talk to us. It's a problem."

Mark Freeman is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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