In June, United Church News reported on an Oregon church that was going to bat for a naturalized Palestinian-American who had run afoul of the U.S. PATRIOT Act. In August, when the defendant, Maher "Mike" Hawash, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to join the Taliban and take up arms against U.S. soldiers, his supporters were upset.
"My husband and I are heartbroken the way it has gone," explains the Rev. Diane Dulin, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Hillsboro, Ore., but "we have no regrets for having stood up for civil liberties."
What troubled the church was the way members thought the federal government had trampled on basic constitutional rights.
Hawash, a successful computer designer, was arrested March 20, held in solitary confinement and not indicted until April 28. "He was denied due process; that's what our argument was about," asserts Robyn Parnell, a church member.
Indeed, the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution forbids detention without an indictment, and there are those who think the PATRIOT Act — the anti-terrorism legislation hastily passed by Congress after the tragedies of September 11, 2001—plays fast and loose with established laws in the name of security.
"I think he was held too long," says the Rev. Charles Hinkle, a UCC minister and attorney who does volunteer work for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon. The ACLU and The Oregonian, Portland's newspaper, had considered going to court to plod the government to action.
"Mike is an American citizen and was denied his rights," says Parnell. "I hope somebody would stick up for me if I was treated that way." Hawash admitted traveling to China with the eventual goal of entering Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. When Pakistan refused visas, the group returned home.
Hawash's trial had been scheduled for October, and if convicted, he faced the possibility of life in prison. Instead, he plea-bargained and received 7-to-10 years in return for testifying against his five companions. Legal experts say Hawash's cooperation strengthens the government's case against the others.
The PATRIOT Act—which is an acronym for "Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"—has come under fi re both from critics on the left and on the right. Attorney General John Ashcroft has been crisscrossing the country this fall defending it.