De/Listed: U.S. Lacks Review Process for Terror Designations

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Date: 
February 22, 2013
Author: 
Nathaniel J Turner

After years of being listed as a terrorist on the UN’s Al-Qaeda Sanctions List, Soliman Al-Buthi has been removed. On Feb. 10, 2013, the UN Security Council Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee struck his name from the list at the recommendation of its ombudsperson, Kimberly Prost. After a year-long investigation, Prost found Al-Buthi’s designation to be no longer warranted, but his listing woes are not over. He remains a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT) according to the U.S., a designation that makes any financial transaction with him a serious crime.      

Unlike the UN, the U.S. does not have a formal process for removing individuals or groups from the terrorism lists maintained by the State and Treasury Departments. Such a process could bring the U.S. to the same conclusion as the UN, and remove the economic sanctions that impact Al-Buthi. The effect of his delisting in the U.S. could reach even farther, as the charity Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation- Oregon (AHIF-O) was also listed as a terrorist group and had their funds frozen, in large part, because Al-Buthi was a member of the board of directors.

Even without a formal process, it is not unheard of for the U.S. to decide that an individual or organization be removed from one of its terrorist lists. Headlines were made at the end of 2012 as the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK) was removed from the U.S. Foreign terrorist Organization (FTO) list maintained by the State Department, citing “MEK’s public renunciation of violence, [and] the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade...” The move came after intense media scrutiny, thousands of dollars in lobbying efforts by the MEK and allegations that public officials violated U.S. law by accepting payment to speak on behalf of the group while it was still listed. 

Mohammed Salah was removed from SDGT list recently, after having been on it for almost 17 years. Salah was imprisoned in Israel in 1993 for assisting Hamas, and his name was added to the U.S. list in 1995. After serving his prison sentence, Saleh returned to the U.S. where he was subjected to further punishment for his crime, this time in the form of economic sanctions. According to a statement by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Salah “lived under incredibly onerous restrictions, which bar virtually all economic transactions” and was unable to “get a job, pay rent, obtain medical care, or even buy a loaf of bread—without first obtaining approval from the Treasury Department.” Salah’s name was only removed after he filed suit against the government in September 2012.

The cases of the MEK and Salah depict a system where politicking, legal wrangling and blind luck are prerequisite skills for getting delisted. Being delisted by the UN was a start for Al-Buthi, but it remains to be seen if the U.S. will follow suit and delist him or the charity that was listed alongside him. Regardless of the outcome, it is an opportunity for the U.S. to reevaluate its listing procedures and implement a review process similar to that of the UN. With the serious impacts that come with being listed as a terrorist, there must be serious opportunities for review.