Tuesday, August 21, 2007


The feeling that one is no longer part of the “social contract” of one’s own country in some fundamentally important way is lonely and uncomfortable. It is, of course, a feeling not based in reality: one still pays taxes, shops at Krogers, watches “Gray’s Anatomy,” uses credit cards, and does all of those other small things that makes one an American.

However, sitting in the Holy Land Foundation trial, one thinks—if one thinks at all—that the soul of this nation has become something unrecognizable, some reality of which one is no longer a part.

Yesterday (Monday) a new set of actors appeared on stage for the government. A district attorney who is the first really “type A” personality with a vengeance: loud, fast, organized and articulate in a way that none of the others have been (certainly not the fumbling-type persona of Mr. Jacks). He was onstage to elicit the testimony of a new FBI agent—who is, himself, a “type A personality.”

Before that, however, the government questioned Steve McGonigle, general assignment reporter for the Dallas Morning News. It was during Mr. McGonigle’s testimony that America’s movement away from our “social contract” to a new reality became obvious in a way it had been only hinted at before in the trial. It was apparent from the beginning, but it was unmistakable yesterday.

Previously, FBI Agent Burns’ practiced and studied testimony, her total lack of understanding why there might be an entity called HAMAS in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, and her assurance that she was protecting America laid the foundation for presenting the new reality; and, surely, the admission of testimony from two agents of a foreign government—following not the rules of American jurisprudence (the right to confront the witnesses against oneself, for example) but the rules of jurisprudence of the foreign government—is in itself a movement away from the “social contract” by which we have always lived.

Mr. McGonigle’s testimony presented a new and dangerous movement that had only been hinted at before, movement away from the decency and fairness of the American justice system. He has been, for many years, the main watchdog reporter of the HLF for the Dallas Morning News, slanting his journalism to “prove” (not to discover) a “terrorist” connection for HLF. In that guise he made a trip in 1999 to Israel and the Palestinian Territories under military occupation by Israel.

He went into Gaza from Israel with a Palestinian reporter, whom he had never met, as his guide. This reporter had managed to arrange an appointment with Sheik Yassin, leader of Hamas. Mr. McGonigle testified about his uneasiness in the presence of the Sheik, and of his conviction that Yassin was not telling him the whole truth. Duh! (If this word has become respectable enough for TV commercials, it must be acceptable in serious writing.) He expected Yassin to chat amicably with an American reporter whom he had never met? Even George W. Bush doesn’t do that.

The absurdity of the situation was lost on the government. Mr. McGonigle was in a place that the US regards as enemy territory, speaking with perhaps the most powerful person in that territory, in a meeting arranged by a reporter whom Mr. McGonigle had never met before and later decided he should not have trusted. (If he had wanted to be sure that he was being shown “the truth” as our government and the Israeli government want it to be, surely he could have contacted Linda Gradstein of National Public Radio, for example, to find a reporter who would arrange for him to see the truth he was already determined to find).

After his meeting with the Sheik, the (untrustworthy) reporter took him to HLF headquarters in Gaza where the staff greeted him cordially and openly. He and the Palestinian reporter met other people, but the point of his testimony was to set up his assertion that, when he went back to the HLF the next day, the attitude of the staff was much more reserved and formal.

This was the most important part of his testimony for the government: the change in attitude in the employees of the HLF with its sinister implication that they had called HLF headquarters in Richardson, Texas, to find out who Mr. McGonigle was AND to hatch a conspiracy.

This testimony gave the Government reason to play tapes of the secret wiretap recordings of conversations between some of the defendants and the director of the Gaza office of HLF “proving” that they were covering up a conspiracy of providing funds to Sheik Yassin in the guise of giving humanitarian aid to the most desperate people in the world—the citizens of the militarily Occupied (one might say, the Devastated) Territory of Gaza. One of these taped conversations took place between Mr. McGonigle’s first and second visits to the Gaza office of HLF.

I don’t understand Arabic, (neither do Mr. McGonigle nor any of the DA’s), so I would be hard-pressed to say exactly what the conversations were about. I know, however, that as the tape was stopped time and time again to point out the “conspiratorial” nature of the conversations, not once did the government show that there was anything illegal in the conversations—simply that the two HLF offices were wary of Mr. McGonigle (as well they might have been given previous DMN coverage of their activities written by Mr. McGonigle).

And here is where destruction of the “social compact” of American society began to be patently obvious. Secret wiretapping is, of course, part of our law-enforcement’s arsenal of tools to find and prosecute criminals. Our society functions best when the press does its job thoroughly. But what we witnessed yesterday was the meshing of law enforcement (if HLF was breaking the law in 1999, why had they not been closed down and prosecuted then—is the government so incompetent that they didn’t know how to use the wiretaps?) and the “fourth estate.” That is, the news gatherers—that entity that Thomas Jefferson said was more important than government in securing freedom—capitulating to the government and helping to construct a criminal case by innuendo, by the theater of making events appear to be what they are not, by destroying our confidence in the workings of justice.

All of the theater to which we were spectators yesterday was designed to prove a pre-ordained (erroneous) conclusion, to establish guilt where there is none, and to assist a foreign government in keeping an entire people under subjugation by giving over both our justice system and the press, which—according to our founders—should uncover and report government excess, over to aiding that foreign government.

As one of the defendants said yesterday in an outburst of anger and frustration, it would be an honor (and all of us who understand the early American motto of "Live Free or Die" might well feel this way) to be convicted by a system that has so thoroughly forsaken the decency and fairness that all of us were brought up to believe is the basis of living together as a society. Our social contract has apparently been nullified.