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Meaning of Court Cases on Muslims Open to Interpretation

Posted Feb 19, 2008 2:25 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An analyst with a Washington research group has scoured 888 court decisions involving Muslims and discerned the trends. The United States is winning many terrorism-related prosecutions against religiously inspired defendants. And Muslims frequently lose civil lawsuits. What’s not clear is what the numbers mean.

Jeffrey Breinholt, who is on leave from a counterterrorism post at the Justice Department, is the director of national security law for the International Assessment and Strategy Center. He says his analysis shows the department wins terrorism cases 10 times more often than it loses them, Adam Liptak writes in his Sidebar column for the New York Times. Breinholt points to 11 successful prosecutions last year, including that of Jose Padilla, convicted of conspiring to aid terrorism; Yassin Aref, convicted of supporting terrorism; and John Muhammad, one of two convicted Washington, D.C., area snipers.

Some critics don’t agree with Breinholt’s assessment. One of them is Georgetown law professor David Cole. He says most of the victories cited by Breinholt did not involve actual terrorists. Many of them involve people who gave material support to terrorists, often in the form of money. “When you have a broad guilt-by-association statute,” Cole told the Times, “it’s very easy to get convictions.”

Cole maintains the only person convicted of trying to commit a terrorist act linked to Islam after Sept. 11 was Richard Reid, the so-caled shoe bomber.

Breinholt looks at civil as well as criminal cases, and concludes that lawsuits brought by Muslims are often frivolous. Liptak agrees that “the number of civil cases brought by Muslim plaintiffs is growing fast, and the plaintiffs almost always lose.” But Liptak suggests the reason for the losses may be the legal system’s hostility to Muslim plaintiffs rather than what Breinholt describes as the "frivolous" nature of their claims.

Out of 69 employment discrimination cases last year, a Muslim won only one of them. Abdul Azimi won a finding that his employer violated the law based on evidence that someone placed pork in his jacket, a bin Laden poster in his locker and his shoes in the toilet. He received no damages.

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