USA Makes Muslim Citizen Hero of His Own Kafka Novel
CHICAGO (CN) - A naturalized citizen sued the United States, claiming he is the only U.S. citizen in the country labeled a "Specially Designated Terrorist," which prohibits him from working or even buying food without government consent.
Muhammad Salah sued the U.S. Treasury Department, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Adam Szubin, the Director of the Office of Foreign Asset Control, in Federal Court.
Joining him as plaintiffs are the American Friends Service Committee and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Salah, a native Palestinian, was registered as a "Specially Designated Terrorist" in 1995 while he was incarcerated in Israel, accused of materially aiding Hamas. He says he pleaded guilty to the charges after undergoing 2 months of interrogation. He returned to the United States in 1997 after serving a 5-year sentence.
As a Specially Designated Terrorist, Salah may not work, accept donations, or buy anything without approval by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
In addition, "it is a crime for any United States citizen, permanent resident, entity organized under U.S. law, or any other person in the United States or its territories to engage in virtually any transaction with Salah, including providing him with food, shelter, clothing, or many medical services," the complaint states.
Salah claims he is the "only U.S. citizen residing in the United States subject to such a designation."
When Salah returned to the United States, the government granted him a license to "(1) obtain employment; (2) pay for 'graduate education;' (3) pay for 'normal living and employment related expenses of himself and his immediate family;' and (4) 'engage in all transactions necessary and incidental to the foregoing activities,'" according to the complaint. (22)
Salah says he "made many attempts to find employment, but the fact that he had to inform prospective employers that he was a 'Specially Designated Terrorist' made finding a job difficult. Eventually in August 2000, he was able to find employment, but without having been able to open a bank account, could not cash his checks."
Salah says he eventually found a bank that would open an account for him, but it closed the account in 2004 because of the government's onerous reporting requirements, and he has been unable to find another bank.
The United States indicted him in 2005, accusing him of conspiring to support Hamas. The jury acquitted him, but convicted him of obstruction of justice for statements he made in a separate civil case. Salah served 21 months in prison and was released in 2009, according to the complaint.
In September 2009, Salah says, he was issued a new license authorizing him to "(1) 'purchase, make payments for, and receive goods and services essential to the basic maintenance of the Licensee, including rent, food, clothing, medical care, transportation, insurance and utilities;' (2) make payments for legal services; (3) seek employment; and (4) open a bank account. However, it provided that even as to these limited authorized expenses, payment could not 'originate from a source in the United States,' and therefore Salah's family, friends, and any other supporters in the United States were barred from helping him subsist.
"Thus, Salah was and is prohibited from engaging in a wide range of economic transactions, including, for example, any transaction incident to: purchasing a book or newspaper; attending a lecture, concert, or sporting event; donating to or volunteering his services to a political candidate; buying his wife flowers or other gifts; or any activity other than 'basic maintenance.' The license further required him to keep records demonstrating that each and every transaction fell within the 'basic maintenance' contours authorized. This would require him to maintain records of every item of food or clothing that he purchased, every bus or other public transportation trip he took, every gallon of gas that he purchased, etc. These requirements are so sweeping that they are for all practical purposes impossible to comply with."
Salah says he cannot make charitable donations or make a pilgrimage to Mecca, as his Muslim faith requires, because of the restrictions placed upon him.
"Nothing in the statutes, executive order, or regulations requires defendants to review or reconsider Salah's status on any regular basis, or to justify his treatment to a court," the complaint states. "Upon information and belief, defendants have never reviewed Salah's designation since its initial imposition in 1995. Even if Salah were to seek reconsideration, the regulations do not require defendants to rule on such requests in any reasonable period of time, or to offer any reasons for their actions."
He seeks an injunction requiring the government to lift the Specially Designated Terrorist designation and a declaration that the designation violates his constitutional rights.
Salah's lead counsel is Matthew Piers, with Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, assisted by David Cole with the Center for Constitutional Rights at Georgetown University, and Michael Deutsch with the People's Law Office, of Chicago.