Feds not done with alleged terror witness
- Ben Jacklet
- Portland Tribune - News
Hawash detention will continue while grand jury finishes probe
Intel Corp. contract engineer Maher 'Mike' Hawash is expected to remain in federal prison without charges through the end of the month as a grand jury wraps up its investigation into potential links to terrorism in Portland.
Hawash, a Palestinian-born U.S. citizen, has been detained since March 20, when agents from the Portland FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested him outside of Intel headquarters in Hillsboro.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, who is overseeing the terrorism case of the so-called Portland Six, confirmed this week in a ruling that Hawash (pronounced Hah-WASH) is being held in Sheridan Federal Prison, 50 miles southwest of Portland, as a material witness in a secret grand jury investigation.
Law enforcement officials suggested privately this week that the reasons for Hawash's detainment as a key witness should become clear once the grand jury for the Portland Six case wraps up its deliberations this month.
U.S. attorneys have stated several times in court that additional people may be indicted in the case of the six Portland Muslims charged with conspiring to join a holy war against American troops in Afghanistan. A federal grand jury is investigating.
Jones did not specify in his ruling why he considered it necessary to detain Hawash in order to get his testimony. He did state, however, that Hawash requested to be put in solitary confinement upon learning he was to be detained.
Jones ordered that Hawash must either give his deposition or testify before the grand jury by April 25. Hawash's wife, Lisa, testified before the grand jury on Wednesday, friends said.
It's unclear what new leads the prosecution is pursuing and how they may involve Hawash. Grand jury proceedings are always treated with secrecy, and in Hawash's case, the documents are sealed, the hearings are closed, and the attorneys and agents familiar with the case are forbidden from discussing it.
Civil libertarians are watching the case closely. They worry that the government has used the material witness statute disproportionately against Arab-Americans following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the 20-day detention of a Jordanian-born college student in a New York case similar to Hawash's.
Supporters of Hawash, including several former executives from Intel Corp., have organized a spirited campaign on his behalf, saying the government has jailed Hawash in solitary confinement for unstated reasons and denied him due process.
Hawash's supporters say they can't understand why a Hillsboro homeowner with a wife and three children would be considered a flight risk.
Hawash, 38, was born on the West Bank and raised in Kuwait. He has been a U.S. citizen for 15 years. He worked for Intel from 1992 until 2001, when he became sole proprietor of Hawash Consulting.
He also gave more than $10,000 to an Islamic charity that has since been labeled a terrorist group. Tax records from 2000 identify Hawash as a major contributor to the Global Relief Foundation, which advertised itself as helping the needy in regions such as Chechnya, Kashmir and Lebanon.
Global Relief stopped reporting its finances to the government after 2000. Its assets were frozen in December 2001, and the U.S. Treasury Department named it a 'specially designated global terrorist group' last October.
Hawash's supporters say they have no idea if that charitable donation led to Hawash's detention.
'At this point we're just trying to get him out of jail,' said Steven McGeady, a former Intel vice president who has set up a legal defense fund through Bank of America and the Web site www.freemikehawash.org on his friend's behalf.
McGeady said his group also plans to pressure Intel to rehire Hawash as a contractor if he is released without charges. A former high-ranking Intel employee estimated that 5,000 of Intel Oregon's 15,000 employees are foreign-born.
Intel, Oregon's largest employer, has not taken a position on Hawash's arrest.
'We are not involved in the investigation, and the FBI does not give us a status update,' said Intel spokesman Bill MacKenzie. 'This matter is in their hands, and we need to trust that the FBI is doing the right thing.'