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Targeting Muslim Charities in America
Targeting Muslim Charities in America
By Stephen Lendman
In a December 2008 article, this writer explained that the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) was the largest American Muslim charity until the Bush administration bogusly declared it an enemy of the state and shut it down.
On December 4, 2001, the Treasury Department declared HLF a terrorist group, froze its assets, and falsely claimed they were being used to funnel millions of dollars to Hamas. HLF's appeal was denied.
It provided vital relief to Palestinian refugees in Occupied Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan as well as aid for the needy in Bosnia, Albania, Chechnya, Turkey, America, and elsewhere.
Its activities included:
- financial aid to needy and impoverished families;
- a sponsorship program for orphaned children;
- numerous social services;
- educational ones;
- medical and other emergency work; and
- community development, including helping Palestinians rebuild homes that Israel maliciously destroyed.
HLF described its work as follows. "We gave:
- books, not bombs;
- bread, not bullets;
- smiles, not scars;
- toys, not tanks;
- liberty, not poverty;
- hope, not despair;
- love, not hate; (and)
- life, not death.
Yet a July 27, 2004 press release accompanying a Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment headlined: "HOLY LAND FOUNDATION, LEADERS, ACCUSED OF PROVIDING MATERIAL SUPPORT TO HAMAS TERRORIST ORGANIZATION."
Hamas IS NOT a terrorist organization. It's the democratically elected Palestinian government that's been maliciously maligned, targeted, sanctioned, isolated, boycotted, attacked, and held under a devastating Gaza siege since mid-2007.
Five HLF leaders were arrested, indicted, tried, and on November 24, 2008 convicted on 108 counts, including supporting a terrorist organization, money laundering, and tax fraud - all bogus charges. On May 27, 2009, sentences ranged from 15 - 65 years for the two main principles, Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker. Their crime - being Muslims at the wrong time in America and providing charity to the most needy.
An ACLU Report on Targeting Muslim Charities
In June 2009, the ACLU published a report titled, "Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity: Chilling Muslim Charitable Giving in the 'War on Terrorism Financing'".
It explained that:
"The government's actions have created a climate of fear that chills American Muslims' free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving, or Zakat, one of the 'five pillars' of Islam and a religious obligation for all observant Muslims."
Since 9/11, fulfilling it in America is a crime.
On September 24, 2001, George Bush announced the following:
"I have signed an Executive Order (EO 13224) that immediately freezes United States financial assets of and prohibits United States' transactions with 27 different entities. They include terrorist organizations, individual terrorist leaders, a corporation that serves as a front for terrorism and several nonprofit organizations."
In early December, the administration seized the assets of the nation's three largest Muslim charities and shut them down - the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), Global Relief Foundation (GRF), and Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). Earlier, HLF principles repeatedly asked government officials for help in complying with the law, but were rebuffed.
To date, the Treasury Department has closed six Muslim charities by designating them terrorist organizations or claiming they provided material support to terrorism. A seventh charity was also closed for being "under investigation." In addition, six others were raided and and have been gravely harmed by the publicity and intrusive surveillance. Two of them have since closed. In total since 9/11, nine Muslims charities have been shuttered on bogus charges in Texas, Michigan, Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York.
According to the ACLU:
"Today, the Treasury Department has virtually unchecked power to designate groups as terrorist organizations. Terrorism financing laws are overly broad and lack procedural safeguards that would protect American charities against government mistake(s) and abuse."
Yet independent counterterrorism policy and court case studies show troublesome flaws in the evidence the Treasury Department uses. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) one, found no accountability for Treasury designations and asset blocking. Treasury officials even acknowledged that:
"some of the evidentiary foundations for the early designations were quite weak (and) might (have) result(ed) in a high level of false designations."
Yet the damage was done, forcing innocent victims into federal prisons. The Bush administration hailed its successes, and effectively "create(d) a general climate in which law-abiding American Muslims fear making charitable donations in accordance with their religious beliefs."
In interviewing Muslim donors, the ACLU:
"documented a pervasive fear that they may be arrested, prosecuted, targeted for law enforcement interviews, subpoenaed, deported, or denied citizenship or a green card because of (legal) charitable donations" they feel obligated to give. Today it's impossible, and nothing under Obama has changed.
The ACLU conducted 120 total interviews, including 115 with prominent Muslims and others directly affected. It found that:
"US terrorism financing policies and practices (have) undermin(ed) American Muslims' protected constitutional liberties and violat(ed) their fundamental human rights to freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom from discrimination."
Terrorism Financing Laws Impose Guilt by Association and Punish Legitimate Humanitarian Aid
These laws cover the following:
- alleged schemes letting the government administratively designate organizations as terrorist and shut them down - with or without criminal wrongdoing charges; and
- criminally prosecuting targets on terrorist charges or for providing material support to a terrorist organization.
In both cases, guilt by association is imposed and fundamental due process safeguards are lacking. As a result, Muslim organizations and individuals "are unfairly targeted in violation (of their rights under the) First and Fifth Amendment rights and international law."
America's counterterrorism laws are seriously flawed. They:
"effectively impose guilt by association and do not provide guidance about what is and is not prohibited. (They) punish wholly innocent assistance to arbitrarily blacklisted individuals and organizations, undermine legitimate humanitarian efforts, and can be used to prosecute innocent donors who intend to support only lawful activity through (legitimate) religious practice, humanitarian aid, speech, or association."
The material support statute contains no exemption for humanitarian giving, so providing food, medicines and other vital relief to the wrong recipients can run innocent Muslims afoul of the law with no intent whatever to violate it. The statute provisions are so broad that even the ICRC and other agencies like it can be prosecuted.
Charities Denied Due Process Under the Terrorism Financing Legal Framework
It lets the Treasury Department seize assets "pending investigation" without charges or shutter organizations on the basis of secret evidence unavailable to defense attorneys on grounds of national security, so there's no way to contest it or obtain meaningful judicial review.
Following prosecutions, independent reviews have shown that evidence used to target Muslim charities have included "rank hearsay inadmissible in court, news articles that do not even mention the charity in question, or intelligence that has been inaccurately and prejudicially translated."
Independent reviews in the UK, Canada, Sweden, and Luxembourg cleared some targeted organizations. As a result, government officials and courts in these countries chastened US authorities for failing to show proof in cases under review - to no avail.
Discriminatory Counterterrorism Law Enforcement against Muslim Charities
Of the nine charities shuttered, three so far faced criminal prosecution, only one of which was convicted, HLF. These practices alienated US Muslims, undermined America's standing in the Muslim world, and contributed to charges that this country baselessly targets Muslims and Islam.
Besides the nine charities closed, at least six others were declared "under investigation" or raided. So far, they haven't been charged or had their assets seized, but have suffered measurably as as result. Two of them have closed, Help the Needy in New York and Care International in Massachusetts.
In one case, prosecutors named some of the country's largest, mainstream Muslim organizations as unindicted co-conspirators. Even though no crime was charged, they got no chance to defend themselves or reputations - in clear violation of their constitutional right to presumption of innocence.
Intimidation of Muslim Donors
Many of them said FBI agents came to their workplaces and homes for interrogations about their charitable giving. They also complained that when returning from abroad, Customs and Border Protection agents subjected them to detailed questioning about their legal contributions. Further, they were subpoenaed to testify in more than one charity-related grand jury investigation, contributing more to a climate of fear.
Community members were also asked to be informants at their mosques to monitor donations there. Those refusing risk being suspected of something to hide.
The Impact on Religious Freedom
For observant Muslims, charitable donations are a religious obligation, yet doing it in today's climate risks guilt by association charges or worse. The ACLU documented a pervasive fear of intimidating surveillance, potential arrests, subpoenas to testify in a criminal case against other Muslims, deportation, and being denied their constitutional rights.
The Chilling Effect on Association with Muslim Community and Religious Organizations
Mosques are central in the lives of observant Muslims. Besides places to pray, they serve as hubs for various religious and cultural practices, including schools, charitable giving, and youth centers. Yet in today's climate of fear, ongoing under Obama, Muslims are inhibited from freely practicing their religion, associations, charitable giving, and cultural beliefs.
Collateral Consequences Undermine Counterterrorism Efforts
America's war on Islam fomented enough fear to broadly alienate Muslims, drive charitable giving underground, and fostered a profound distrust of government and law enforcement authorities. Rightfully, they believe fighting terrorism is a war against them.
Since 9/11, the Bush and Obama administrations have violated US and international laws that enshrine freedom of religion, expression, association, and from discrimination. America is a signatory to numerous laws, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Violating them is anathema, yet it's done repeatedly, especially against Muslims and Islam.
The ACLU wants it stopped and recommends policy changes to the President, Treasury Department, Justice Department, FBI, State Department, Congress, and against proposals to create a "white list" of approved charities. Some include:
- repealing Executive Order (EO) 13224 - "Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions with Persons Who Commit, Threaten to Commit, or Support Terrorism;"
- a new EO requiring watch list name verification by credible evidence of terrorist ties and quarterly reviews to keep current;
- setting time limits on frozen funds, after which beneficiaries must receive them;
- prohibiting racial profiling;
- ending public raids on charities under investigation and intimidating Muslims;
- ceasing intrusive investigations without substantive cause to conduct them;
- assuring the rule of law is scrupulously followed at all times; and
- avoid "white lists" of approved charities that could be biased in favor of some at the expense of others, based on religion, political affiliation, or other factors.
The ACLU also says that current laws:
"prohibiting material support for terrorism are in desperate need of re-evaluation and reform. (They) punish wholly innocent assistance to arbitrarily blacklisted individuals and organizations, undermine legitimate humanitarian efforts, and can be used to prosecute innocent donors who intend to support only lawful activity through religious practice, humanitarian aid, speech, or association."
Federal Prosecutors Seize Four US Mosques and a Fifth Avenue Office Tower
On November 12, the AP headlined, "US Moves to Seize 4 Mosques and Skyscraper Tied to Iran," saying, but not proving, they're "owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization long suspected of being secretly controlled by the Iranian government."
In its ongoing war against Islam and hostility toward Iran, federal prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court against the Alavi Foundation seeking forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets that include bank accounts, Islamic center schools and mosques in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston, over 100 acres in Virginia, and a 36-story New York office tower.
On November 12, a Justice Department (DOJ) press release headlined, "Manhattan US Attorney Files Civil Action Seeking Forfeiture of Alavi Foundation's Interest in Fifth Avenue Office Tower Controlled by Iran." It continued saying:
"The Building is owned by 650 Fifth Avenue Company, a partnership between the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corporation." An earlier December 2008 complaint was filed. Today's amended it seeking forfeiture of Assa's interest in the building.
"The amended Complaint alleges that the Alavi Foundation has been providing numerous services to the Iranian Government and transferring funds from 650 Fifth Avenue Company to Bank Melli, a bank wholly owned and controlled by (Iran)."
The property forfeitures mentioned above were also listed "as the proceeds of violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)....together with Executive Orders (12957, 12959, 13059, 12938, and 13382, Treasury) regulations, and as property involved in and the proceeds of money laundering offenses."
Alavi was charged with managing the building for Iran and running a charitable organization for its government. Assa was accused of "providing numerous services to Bank Melli in contravention of IEEPA and the Iranian Transactions Regulations promulgated thereunder...."
For 36 years, the Alavi Foundation has been an independent charitable organization promoting better understanding of Islamic culture "by financially supporting charitable and philanthropic causes through educational, religious, and cultural programs."
Its eight core programs include:
- "grants to colleges and universities;
- donations to Persian schools;
- donations and loans to Islamic organizations;
- free distribution of Islamic books;
- donations for disaster relief funds;
- support of the arts;
- scholarly research; (and)
- student loans."
It's no accident that the Obama administration renewed Iranian sanctions on the same day Alavi was targeted, just days after the Fort Hood tragedy, and two weeks after Iran rejected a proposal to hand over up to 80% of its low-enriched uranium in return for a promise for 120 km of highly-enriched fissionable material more than a year later.
Iran's Press TV reported the announcement as follows:
"The seizure of the places of worship is seen as a blow to the very first amendment to the United States Constitution in which freedom of worship is enshrined and guaranteed as an inalienable right of all its citizens. On (November 12), US President, Barack Obama, renewed Washington's economic sanctions against Iran for another year despite talks of trying to seek a 'new beginning' with the Islamic Republic....Iran has been under US sanction since the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the country US-backed monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi."
On November 15, AP headlined that "Iran Condemns US Mosque Seizure" calling the act "disgraceful." Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said it showed Obama is the same as George Bush. He told parliament:
"Extension of sanctions and restrictions against Iran for another year by the American president and the blocking the accounts and assets of the Alavi Foundation in America is a real disgrace."
In a later radio broadcast he added:
"After a year of empty speeches and slogans, the behavior and conduct of this president in practice is no better than the actions of his predecessor. The recent actions of this country (America), presenting unimportant and irrational proposals in the nuclear issue which they have called just and fair, all indicate that the alleged change was nothing but a deceitful symbol aimed at deceiving naive politicians."
John Winter, Alavi lawyer, said he'll contest the seizure and expects to prevail because it's blatantly illegal. He explained that the foundation has been cooperating with the government's investigation for nearly a year and added:
"Obviously the foundation is disappointed that the government has decided to bring this action." Doing so will further alienate Muslims globally and fuel more anti-American sentiment.
On November 13, Houston Chronicle writers Moises Mendoza, Mary Flood and Lindsay Wise headlined, "Muslims decry move to seize Houston mosque," referring to the Islamic Education Center (IEC) of Houston where the city's Shia Muslims worship and send their children to an Islamic school.
Board chairman Faheem Kazimi said IEC leases the building from the Alavi Foundation, but has no other connection. "The Islamic Education Center is a nonprofit independent organization, not affiliated with any other (one)." John Floyd, IEC's lawyer, said he spoke to New York prosecutors who apologized for the timing so close to the Fort Hood tragedy. He added that:
"The government said they are not interested in any of the leaseholders or tenants and they see the (IEC) as another lease holder."
Nonetheless, distraught worshippers milled around the Center on November 12 avoiding reporters and guarding the gated entrance. Others were concerned about a community backlash and possibility they'll lose their mosque and school. And according to Hussein Abdi who's worshipped at IEC for two decades:
"It makes me furious. We're under attack" for being Muslims.
IEC's web site says the following:
It "serves the community as a center for the Friday congregation, Islamic celebrations, community programs, and above all - a center for imparting knowledge about Islam and promoting Islamic values. (It tries) to inform and educate non-Muslims and Muslims about Islam, and to provide information about Islam on varying levels of inquiry...." It preaches love, not hate, and is has no connection to terrorism.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group, Council on American Islamic Relation (CAIR), told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales that seizing four mosques and other US properties has First Amendment and religious freedom implications. With special concern for the mosques he said:
"And whenever you're having the government seize houses of worship, whether it's mosques or churches or synagogues, I think that has a chilling effect on the First Amendment freedom of religion, and I think it'll send a very negative message to the Muslim world....I'm already seeing (online) headlines in Muslim media around the world, in the Arab world (saying): "US Government Seizes Mosques in America."
He expressed concern about US headlines like a Sacramento, CA one saying: "Local Mosque Tied to Terror." It has about 50 families that "have nothing to do with terrorism....they just go to the mosque (to) pray."
We've also "seen charity after charity shut down, the assets seized. You know, there's really not a lot left in terms of institutions for charitable giving in the United States, given the eight years of the Bush administration. And, you know, quite frankly, we haven't seen a great improvement under the Obama administration."
After Fort Hood, Muslims have felt a backlash nationwide. "We had the police at our headquarters last night taking a report about death threats we've received." They've been many other reports about intimidation, Muslims called terrorists, and a "lot of hate emails, a lot of threats around the country," and anti-Muslim rhetoric on right-wing talk radio, what's been ongoing since 9/11.
9/11 Suspects to Get New York Civil Court Trial with No Prospect for Due Process or Judicial Fairness
On November 13, Reuters reported that:
"The accused mastermind of the September 11 attacks and four co-conspirators will be sent to New York for trial in a court near the site of the World Trade Centre. (Civil liberties) advocates hailed the decision....but Republicans lashed out, arguing that bringing them to US soil could make New York a magnet for new attacks and that the men deserved military trials." Senator John McCain condemned the decision saying they're "war criminals, who committed acts of war against our citizens and those of dozens of other nations."
Some New Yorkers were also "angry at the prospect of the men coming to a city traumatized by the hijacked-plane attacks eight years ago, but others voiced relief that justice may soon be done." They'll arrive in January, be held at a federal detention facility, and be tried on confessions obtained under torture that the Supreme Court ruled constitutionally inadmissible in Brown v. Mississippi (February 1936), saying:
"The rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the witness stand."
It cited an earlier Fisher v. State (November 1926) High Court decision, stating:
"Coercing the supposed state's criminals into confessions and using such confessions so coerced from them against them in trials has been the curse of all countries. It was the chief iniquity, the crowning infamy of the Star Chamber (the nororious 15th - 17th century English court), and the Inquisition, and other similar institutions. The Constitution recognized the evils that lay behind these practices and prohibited them in this country....wherever the court is clearly satisfied that such violations exist, it will refuse to sanction such violation and will apply the corrective."
The alleged guilt of these men is very suspect given that they confessed under torture. More evidence also raises doubts. According to Mark Denebeaux and other Seton Hall University Law professors, unclassified government data obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests revealed evidentiary summaries from 2004 military hearings on whether 517 Guantanamo detainees were enemy combatants. They showed that:
- at most, few Afghan Guantanamo prisoners committed violent acts;
- 95% were seized by bounty hunters paid $5,000 per claimed Taliban and $25,000 for alleged Al Queda members; and
- 20 were children, some as young as 13, but all were brutally tortured as later revealed.
Serious questions thus remain regarding the claimed guilt of these suspects, including the alleged mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He had:
- no lawyer;
- was isolated at black sites for over two years, including the secret "Dark Prison" near Kabul International Airport, infamous for its absolute lack of light combined with brutalizing torture;
- another north of Kabul called the "Salt Pit," where in 2002, a detainee was stripped naked and left chained to the floor in freezing temperatures until he died;
- while in Afghanistan, Mohammed was hog-tied, stripped naked, hooded, and abused repeatedly in numerous ways, including being:
- kept in a prolonged state of sensory deprivation for months;
- waterboarded numerous times;
- chained naked to a metal ring in his cell in a painful crouch in intense heat and extreme cold;
- bombarded with deafening sounds round the clock for weeks;
- thrown against walls forcefully, a procedure called walling;
- suspended from the ceiling by his arms so his toes barely touched the ground;
- beaten with electric cables;
- given electric shocks; and
- forced to endure a variety of stress positions for extended periods, causing excruciating pain until;
- in 2006, he was sent to Guantanamo where his torture continued, included being waterboarded over 180 times. The other four suspects received similar treatment.
An ICRC report said high-level Al Queda prisoners were repeatedly tortured, especially Mohammed for his alleged mastermind role. To exact a confession he was told: "We're not going to kill you. But we're going to take you to the brink of your death and back."
Whether he and the others plotted 9/11 must seriously be questioned given that international law is clear and unequivocal. Torture is prohibited at all times, under all circumstances, with no allowed exceptions. Evidence so obtained is unreliable and inadmissible as explained above. Yet, it will be used making a proper defense impossible, especially from court-appointed lawyers, picked to give prosecutors an open field to convict.
What chance then have these men (or Major Malik Nadal Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter) for due process and judicial fairness when prosecutors have pre-determined their guilt. The media-driven court of public opinion already convicted them, and responsible attorneys are now intimidated by the incarceration of human rights lawyer Lynne Stewart for defending an unpopular client, at the request of former US Attorney General Ramzy Clark.
Yet due process is enshrined in US constitutional law. The Fifth Amendment (applied to the federal government) says:
"No person shall....be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law....;" and
The Fourteenth Amendment (applied to the states) reads:
No "State (may) deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
In 1770, a future US president, John Adams, applied the principle by defending eight British soldiers charged with killing five Americans on March 5, 1770, the so-called Boston Massacre, even though he knew it might jeopardize his law practice. Initially it suffered, but over time his reputation grew enough to make him George Washington's Vice President, then the second President of the United States.
Adams later called his effort "one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country." The jury acquitted six of the eight soldiers, convicting the other two for manslaughter. Juries today are intimidated to convict anyone charged with terrorism or conspiracy to commit it. It means no one so charged has a chance, even with expert counsel these suspects won't have.
They'll get subservient court-appointed ones, but either way, who'll put their careers on the line for them, try explaining why they're defending "jidahists," be willing to deal with the torrent of media abuse, besides risk possible future targeting and incarceration like Lynne Stewart.
Who'll take on the government full-force, demand due process and judicial fairness, that witch-hunt prosecutions stop, and that no one be pre-determined guilty like these men. Who understands that, in a climate of fear and intimidation, we're all as vulnerable as they are for being Muslims at the wrong time in America.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.