$156M Terrorism Damage Award Thrown Out
By JOHN O’CONNOR
December 28, 2007
A federal appeals court overturned a $156 million award Friday against U.S.-based Muslim activists for their involvement in the terrorist death of an American teenager in the West Bank more than a decade ago.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the judge in the case had failed to require the parents of 17-year-old David Boim to properly show a link between the boy’s death and the fundraising activities of the charities.
Because of that error, it sent the case back for a possible new trial.
Nathan Lewin, an attorney for the parents, Stanley and Joyce Boim, said an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.
“This court of appeals decision is wrong, very wrong,” Lewin said. “It amounts to encouragement of financial contributions to terrorist organizations.”
The Boims had sued the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development; the American Muslim Society, also known as the Islamic Association for Palestine; the Quranic Literacy Institute of suburban Oak Lawn; and an alleged Hamas fundraiser, Muhammed Salah.
Their son, a yeshiva student, was gunned down in 1996 while waiting with other students at a bus stop in Beit El, on the West Bank.
All the defendants denied financing terrorism.
In the 2004 trial, a federal court jury had set damages at $52 million. A U.S. magistrate tripled the amount in accord with U.S. anti-terrorism law. It was the first in which jurors awarded damages from U.S.-based charities accused of bankrolling Hamas, Boim attorney Nathan Lewin said at the time.
The couple, who had moved to Jerusalem in 1985, filed the suit under a federal law permitting American victims of terrorism overseas to seek damages against organizations that raise funds for terrorists in the U.S.
The alleged Hamas fundraiser cited in the suit, Salah, was convicted of obstruction of justice for lying under oath on a questionnaire stemming from the Boims’ lawsuit. The jury, however, acquitted Salah of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at bankrolling Hamas. He was sentenced in July to 21 months in federal prison.
The 2004 ruling in the Boims’ lawsuit came in addition to a crackdown against a group of U.S.-based Islamic charities.
The case against the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Muslim charity in the country when it was shut down in 2001, was the government’s biggest terror-financing case since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Authorities closed it down after accusing it of funneling more than $12 million to Hamas. Several people connected to the group were charged.
But, in a blow to the government, the case ended in a mistrial in October after none of the group’s leaders was convicted, and many acquittals were tossed out after some jurors took the rare step of disputing the verdict.
“All these cases now demonstrate that this is a Middle Eastern political dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis that doesn’t belong in an American courtroom,” said John Beal, lawyer for the Quranic Literacy Institute.
Holy Land attorney John Boyd said he could not comment on the criminal case. But he said the Boim ruling points out that accusations of terrorist ties are not enough to win in court.
When combined with recent government setbacks in criminal terrorism cases, Friday’s ruling represents a swing back from zealous anti-Muslim sentiment in the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Salah’s attorney said.
“This case was a paradigmatic example of the laws being thrown out the window because of the pain and fear and anger that all of us felt after Sept. 11,” said attorney Matthew Piers. “If we break out laws in moments like this, the bad guys win.”