The lawyers for four men accused of supporting a terrorist organization set out a variety of reasons Wednesday why they think a judge should toss out some of the charges.
The arguments ranged from freedom of speech and association to whether Israel can be considered the victim of extortion.
U.S. District Judge James Moody did not rule on any of the matters. He said he would issue written rulings in the near future.
The judge also asked the lawyers to file any responses they have to the possibility of using an anonymous jury at the trial, scheduled for January 2005. The jurors would be visible in the courtroom but would not be mentioned by name, only by numbers.
Former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz and Ghassan Ballut are accused of supporting, promoting and fundraising for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the U.S. government declared a terrorist group.
Sami Al-Arian's lead attorney, William Moffitt, and the other lawyers were in court Wednesday to argue legal issues involving the charges, not the facts of the case.
During the three-hour hearing, Moffitt presented a multipronged argument that centered on the right to freely support political organizations, whether that be through making speeches or raising money. He argued that much of the indictment outlines alleged activity that took place before the United States declared the Palestinian group a terrorist organization.
The activities, including speeches, attending conferences and raising money, are protected by the Constitution, he said. The fundraising, in particular, was essential to Al-Arian's political opposition to Israel's disputed occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he argued.
"Money is the lubricant of all politics," Moffitt said. "To completely shut off the money shuts off the political speech."
Prosecutor Terry Zitek told the judge that laundering money to fund an organization the defendants knew carried out terrorist attacks does not fall under free speech protection.
"They provided material support to the PIJ," Zitek said.
Moffitt also argued that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was more than just a terrorist group. The group funded and carried out charitable works and used nonviolent methods to promote the idea of a free Palestinian state.
Moffitt said a legal distinction must be made between sending money with the intent that it be used for a group's legal conduct and money sent to be used for the same group's illegal activities.
If Al-Arian raised money for the PIJ, a point that Moffitt did not concede, the indictment fails to state that the money was used to buy "bullets or guns or bombs," he said.
"It could have been used to purchase pamphlets," he said.
Judge Moody asked Zitek whether his 90-year-old mother would be breaking the law if she wrote a $1,000 check to the PIJ knowing the group was a designated terrorist organization but specifically stated that the money must be used for an orphanage.
Zitek said that money sent for charitable activities frees up money the group can spend on terrorist activities.
"Unfortunately, your mother would be at risk," Zitek said. "She would be knowingly providing money to the PIJ, a designated terrorist organization."
Fariz's attorneys from the federal Public Defender's Office argued that their client should be allowed to contest the constitutionality of how the PIJ was designated a terrorist organization. Since much of the indictment is predicated on the PIJ's being a terrorist group, lawyers should be able to question in court whether the designation was constitutional, said assistant public defender Allison Guagliardo.
The lawyers also asked the judge to dismiss an extortion count against Fariz. For extortion to take place, they said, the extorter must be able to take property from the victim. The PIJ cannot take legal title to any of Israel's land. Further, there is a continuing dispute over who should control certain territories within Israel's borders.
Zitek said there was nothing in Florida laws that precluded charging Fariz with extortion.