Over a year later, after continuing to live and work near Portland, Hawash was arrested outside his office at Intel, setting off a heated debate about material witness arrest and detention, the USA Patriot Act and galvanizing a movement to free Hawash. Hawash eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid the Taliban in exchange for a reduced, seven-year sentence.
Hawash immigrated to the United States in 1984, and attended the University of Texas at Arlington where he obtained degrees in computer science and engineering. He was employed by Compaq as an engineer from 1989 through 1992, when he was hired by Intel and moved to Portland, Oregon. Hawash worked at Intel’s Israel plant from 1994 to 1996, and continued working for Intel until 2001. He was co-author (in 1997) of the book DirectX, RDX, RSX, and MMX Technology. In 1995, he married a Christian woman from rural Oregon, and together they had two children (Hawash's wife having had a child from a previous marriage).
He grew a beard and covered his head with a prayer cap. He asked those who had known him for years as Mike to, please, call him Maher. He paid off the mortgage on his house, because Islam forbids paying interest on loans. And he became a regular attendee at Masjed as-Saber, the Islamic Center of Portland, a more fundamentalist place of worship than the Bilal Mosque, which he previously attended and which was closer to his home.
Masjed as-Saber was a major donor to the Global Relief Foundation, a Muslim charity "shut down in late 2001 over allegations of fund-raising and money-laundering for terrorist groups," and a charity to which Hawash had contributed $10,000.
After the 9/11 attacks, according to neighbors, Hawash became increasingly withdrawn and unfriendly. Hawash believed that Muslims could not have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and that "retaliation against the Taliban for harboring al Qaeda in Afghanistan was wrong."
I suggest that [Reinhard]… imagine his neighbor barging into his house, killing his child, raping his wife and daughter and declaring Reinhard's home as his. What would he do? My mother, brother, sisters and their children have witnessed the work of the Israeli Defense Forces for the past two weeks, with a tank outside their house in Nablus pounding shells nonstop. They are terrified; the kids are terrorized. How would you feel? (Oregonian, April 14, 2002)
Hawash traveled alone to China, meeting up with the other five men. After numerous unsuccessful attempts by the group to obtain visas to gain entry into Afghanistan, Hawash returned to the United States, where he arranged to get $2,000 to al Saoub in China.
In October 2002 the six members of the group other than Hawash were indicted and four were arrested. Ahmed Bilal and Al Saoub remained fugitives.
In March 2003, Hawash was also arrested as a material witness, and after a five-week detention, was charged. In September 2003 the group, now dubbed "The Portland Seven" "were all named in the 15-count superseding indictment that included charges of conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda, conspiracy to contribute services to al Qaeda and the Taliban, conspiracy to possess and discharge firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence, possessing firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence and money laundering."
As Hawash was arrested, his house was searched by armed FBI agents, in the presence of his wife and their three children. Hawash's wife later told authorities that her husband had told her that he had been in China on business.
Hawash's former boss, Intel Vice-President Steven McGeady, led a group of former Intel employees who protested Hawash's detention without charge and demanded his release. They staged protests and set up a defense fund and (now defunct) website. The New York Times quoted McGeady describing Hawash's pre-trial detention as "Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka."
After Hawash was formally charged, McGeady, acting as spokesman for Hawash's family, said "People who know Mike believe the idea that Mike would have fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan is completely absurd and that he ultimately will be cleared" and “We hope that once a jury hears what happened, they’ll realize that a mistake was made.”
Hawash's attorney, Stephen Houze said “It’s our intention to shed the light of day on what has been a dark cloud of secrecy,” stating that he would use his pre-trial discovery powers to compel the United States to declassify any evidence it plans to use in the case. “This is America,” he added. “We have an open court system.”
Hawash's supporters were criticized by conservative opinion columnist Reinhard for misrepresenting Hawash, using an older photograph in place of a more current one:
The dated, clean-shaven photo atop the "Free Mike Hawash" Web site created a false impression of Hawash to cultivate sympathy for his case. In fact, the "Free Mike Hawash" Web site's very name adds to this misimpression, since Hawash has gone by "Maher" for about three years.
Mustafa's wire picked up details of the group's trip to China, as well as some of the most chilling detail in the indictment -- Battle talking about retaliating against Jews in Portland. "So if every time they hurt or harm a Muslim over there, you go into that synagogue and hurt one over here," Battle said on tape.
The most significant evidence against Hawash and the Portland Seven was gathered (under provisions from the USA Patriot Act) from emails the men had sent each other.
According to Fox News, Hawash pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide services to the Taliban. Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of conspiring to levy war against the United States and conspiring to provide material support for terrorism. U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones asked Hawash during the hearing "You and the others in the group were prepared to take up arms, and die as martyrs if necessary, to defend the Taliban. Is this true?" Hawash replied "Yes, your honor."
In his allocution at sentencing he noted he had misgivings on the way and come home shortly afterward. "It's something that I have done that is completely out of my character," Hawash said. "It's not something ingrained in me or something that I do. It was just a diversion in my life, and I clearly know that it's an unlawful act that I have done. Hawash also noted that the federal government had treated him fairly and with dignity.
Hawash received a seven-year sentence (as opposed to a potential twenty-year sentence) in exchange for testifying against some of his co-conspirators. Sentencing Judge Jones commented to Hawash at his sentencing that "you hurt your religion very deeply," and that Hawash had offered to cooperate with the government only after being indicted. The judge went on to say "I'm convinced that you will never again commit a criminal act."
The other living members of the Portland Seven were also sentenced in separate trials: Habis al Saoub was never captured and has been confirmed dead by authorities in Afghanistan. Ford and Battle are each serving eighteen-year sentences. Lewis, who did not travel with the group, was sentenced to three years in a federal prison camp. Muhammad Bilal received an eight-year sentence, while Ahmed Bilal got ten years.
Reactions among Hawash's supporters were mixed. "The group offered to refund any of the $25,000 that had been collected earlier, and a few donors took them up on it."
Hawash's supporters were criticized by David Reinhard in the Oregonian on August 7, 2003 for allegedly comparing the US government to Nazis (by quoting the Pastor Martin Niemöller poem First they came...) and for refusing to accept responsibility for their mistakes. McGeady denied these criticisms in a letter to Reinhard, defending himself and Hawash's supporters, saying they protested only his five-week "material witness" detention and asked "for nothing other for him than the same justice that any American would receive".