The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a report that says US federal laws targeting financing of terrorism have suppressed Muslim charities. But Federal prosecutors say some charities have served as fronts for terror-financing operations.
According to the ACLU report, government efforts to stop terror financing are too vague and are often applied unfairly to Muslim charity organizations.
Post 9/11 policies counterproductive, need to change:
The author of the report, Jennifer Turner, speaking to VOA by telephone from New York, says policies implemented in the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks need to be changed.
"Terrorism finance laws and policies that were developed after 9-11 are impeding Muslim Americans' ability to practice their religion through charitable giving," Turner said.
Turner notes that giving to charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, and that U.S. Muslims are being denied an important part of their religious practice by policies that target their charities. She also argues that such policies are counterproductive.
"They undermine America's reputation in the Muslim world, they alienate American Muslims who are key allies in the war on terror financing, and they kill legitimate humanitarian aid in parts of the world where charities' good works could be most effective in winning hearts and minds," Turner said.
Turner says she interviewed 120 people, including at least two former U.S. government officials, in preparing her report. In the report, she criticizes the US Treasury Department for closing down nine American Muslim charities, only one of which was found guilty of funneling money to a terrorist organization. She says the charities have been denied due process of law and have no way to appeal the government action.
President Obama recognizes the problem:
Jennifer Turner says she hopes President Obama will take action soon to change such policies.
"In his recent remarks in Cairo, President Obama recognized that American Muslims are facing a barrier to giving to charity and fulfilling their religious obligations to give to charity," Turner said. "He also pledged to take action to reform these policies."
But the ACLU allegations are viewed with skepticism by U.S. government agents and prosecutors. Jim Jacks served as the lead prosecutor in the federal government's case against the Holy Land Foundation in Dallas last year. He read the ACLU report and found it wanting.
"There is essentially nothing in there that presents the evidence from the government's point of view," Jacks said. "We were never, obviously, contacted or sought to be contacted by the author, so, in that sense, you have to question the bias of the report and its validity."
The Holy Land Foundation was the biggest U.S. Muslim charity at the time the Treasury Department shut it down in December, 2001. The government had found evidence that foundation money was being sent to Hamas, a Palestinian group the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization. Five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
Jim Jacks says the government targeted men who were members of a terrorist organization and misrepresented their effort as a charitable cause. He says only the leaders of the conspiracy were charged, not the people who gave money, thinking in most cases it would be used for humanitarian projects.
"There was never an instance where a donor has been prosecuted or sanctioned for making donations to the Holy Land Foundation," Jacks said. "The people who were prosecuted and held accountable were the people that set up and ran the Holy Land Foundation and knew what they were doing."
Jacks says he can only speak about the case he prosecuted and cannot comment on U.S. government policies as a whole regarding Muslim charitable groups. But he says in the Dallas case, the government acted only after receiving credible information supplied by a suspect arrested in Israel and then conducted an investigation that produced evidence against the Holy Land Foundation leaders.