Lawyer: Bridgeview man a prisoner in his own home
By DONNA VICKROY email@example.com September 7, 2012 11:02PM
Muhammad Salah is shown in this July 2007 file photo.
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:24AM
He’s suffering from cancer, but someone else must pay for his medical care.
His son recently graduated from medical school, but he had to have his wife drive him to the ceremony.
He can’t get a job because no bank will let him open an account in which to deposit his paycheck.
Muhammad Salah is essentially a prisoner living outside of prison, his attorney Matthew Piers says.
“He can’t have any semblance of normal life,” said Piers, who filed a federal lawsuit last week on Salah’s behalf, challenging the U.S. Treasury Department’s “specially designated terrorist” label that he claims has blocked the Bridgeview resident’s assets and prevents him from purchasing basic necessities, including his own legal representation.
Salah, in his early 60s, is a U.S. citizen who has lived in the south suburbs for most of his adult life. He is married, has four children and is an active member of the Bridgeview mosque.
He was given the unusual designation by U.S. officials while he was incarcerated for five years in an Israeli prison in the 1990s on charges he provided financial support to Hamas. Afterward, he returned to the United States.
In 1995, U.S. officials imposed an unprecedented embargo on him without a trial or administrative hearing, Piers said.
Other offenders do their time and maybe they can’t buy a gun or vote afterward, Piers said. Salah can’t even get a job without a special license.
And because the licensing process has no standards, no time periods for processing and is completely discretionary, Piers said, “he has basically been stripped of his rights.”
“Rehabilitated murderers have more rights than this guy who was never charged and never convicted. It’s completely unconstitutional,” said Piers, who has been working pro bono on Salah’s case since the late 1990s.
“He is a very devoted father and is active in mosque activities. He basically spends his time tutoring his kids,” Piers said. In addition to the recent medical school graduate, Salah has a child currently working as a doctor, another who is a student at Northwestern University and another who is still in high school.
Salah is able to maintain an unpaid job transporting dialysis patients for a business his wife owns, Piers said. But he cannot be paid unless he has a bank account and several attempts to open one have failed.
The banks say the reporting requirements are too onerous and costly, Piers said, so the one bank that did let him open an account quickly closed it.
“The overall burden of this designation makes him a pariah,” Piers said. “He basically lives on the generosity of his family.”
Salah would have to apply for a special license before he could give or receive any goods or services, including something as seemingly innocuous as buying a gift for his wife.
No other U.S. citizen has ever been labeled with this designation, Piers said.
Salah’s troubles began back in the early 1990s when it was not considered illegal to give money to Hamas. An international incident between Israel and his native Palestine in 1992 changed that. After Israel started rounding up and deporting Palestinians, relatives in the United States began raising money to aid the displaced families. Salah openly brought money and distributed it to a hospital and other service organizations, Piers said.
He was arrested by the Israelis and after what Piers described as 55 days of intense interrogation and physical abuse, he pleaded.
In 1996, while Salah was already doing time, Hamas was designated a terrorist organization.
“It’s political hypocrisy,” Piers said. If applied to the problems in Northern Ireland, half the Irish Catholic politicians in America would be considered terrorists, he said.
Despite all the restrictions, Piers said Salah remains optimistic.
“You may find this hard to believe, but he’s very patriotic,” he said.