Chicago man designated a terrorist is suing U.S. government

Muhammad Salah is bringing a lawsuit to challenge the Treasury Department's designation of him as a terrorist.

September 6, 2012

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(AP)
Muhammad Salah and his wife leaving federal court

A Chicago-area man designated as a terrorist is suing the federal government so he can do simple things like buy newspapers or gifts for his wife. Muhammad Salah, an American of Palestinian descent, was designated a terrorist in 1995. The designation means Americans are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions with him, which has made living in Chicago’s suburbs difficult.  

Salah’s legal saga began in 1993 when he was arrested by Israeli police in the West Bank. Salah was carrying about $100,000 that he said was for Hamas' humanitarian work helping impoverished Palestinians, but after a 54-day interrogation, Israeli agents said he admitted being a military leader in Hamas. Salah’s American lawyers say the confession was the result of torture.

In 1995 the U.S. government designated Salah a terrorist.  

In 1997 Salah was released from an Israeli prison and returned to the U.S., living in Bridgeview, a suburb southwest of Chicago, with his wife and four children.

In 2005 Salah was charged in Chicago with terrorism based on the same events and allegations he’d done time for in Israel. His Israeli interrogators actually came and testified in the trial, but jurors found Salah not guilty of the main terrorism charge. They did find him guilty of obstruction of justice for lying in a civil suit about his involvement with Hamas. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

He’s served his time for that, but his designation as a terrorist remains. His attorneys say the 17-year-old restrictions prevent him from opening a bank account, or having a job, or engaging in basic financial transactions like buying a ticket for a movie.

In bringing a lawsuit to challenge the terrorist designation Salah’s lawyers say there was no trial, or hearing, no administrative record on which the designation is based, no mechanism for appeal and no end date for the designation. And they say that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control didn’t reconsider the designation in the wake of the jury’s finding that Salah was not guilty of terrorism.

The Treasury Department would not comment for this story because the lawsuit is pending, but a department official speaking on background points out that the department has issued licenses to Salah to allow him to have a bank account, draw a salary and engage in basic financial transactions.

Salah’s attorneys say he did get a license and after an extensive search one bank agreed to open an account for him, but the bank later cut off the account because the reporting requirements to the Treasury Department were too onerous and made Salah's business unprofitable.