Case Study: Life & Relief and Development (LIFE)
On the eve of Ramadan in September 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) conducted a raid on the Detroit area headquarters of Life for Relief and Development (LIFE). Without warning, they seized several computers containing the charity’s files, databases, e-mail correspondence and financial information. LIFE, the largest U.S.-founded Muslim American humanitarian relief and development organization, was told by the FBI that the raid was not related to terrorism and that the charity’s operations could continue as before. Despite the fact that no criminal charges filed, the raid triggered tremendous media scrutiny. This prompted LIFE’s local bank to withdraw its services, interrupting its humanitarian assistance programs.
Case Study: Life & Relief and Development (LIFE)
“It is no longer enough to just provide peacekeepers; that must be accompanied by effective mediation, peacemaking and peacebuilding.” -U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton before the United Nations on Sept. 23, 2010.
On June 21, 2010, the United States Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, et al. struck a blow to the American nonprofit sectors’ commitment to resolving international conflicts through peaceful and nonviolent means. In a 6-3 decision, the Court rejected the Humanitarian Law Project's (HLP) claims challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the material support to terrorism law. As a result, a broad range of interactions with designated terrorist groups, including attempts at peace building and support for non-violence, are prohibited. (See 18 U.S.C. § 2339B). This summary reviews the Court’s majority and dissenting opinions and notes issues to be addressed in developing better procedures.
Released on June 21, 2010, the Supreme Court’s Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) decision will have an adverse impact on the efforts of U.S. groups working on peacebuilding, conflict resolution and other activities in places where listed terrorist groups operate. Below are news articles and editorials from major media publications, press releases and opinions from civil rights and civil liberty experts, including David Cole, the attorney representing HLP in the case. Background about the case is available here.
On May 1, 2012, lawyers for KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, the Ohio-based charity shut down “pending investigation” by the Treasury Department in February 2006, announced a settlement agreement with Treasury ending the litigation on terms favorable to the charity. In 2009 the federal district court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled that the process Treasury used to shut the charity down while investigating alleged ties to terrorism violated the constitution, and ordered further proceedings on what remedy Treasury should provide. The settlement ends the litigation by allowing KindHearts to pay its debts and distribute the remaining funds among a list of approved charities before it dissolves. At that point Treasury will remove KindHearts from its terrorist list and pay its attorneys fees.
This timeline details the issues and procedural history of the case, which illustrates the problems created by using post 9/11 emergency measures for long term regulation of charities in the national security context.
Laws that prohibit "material support" to listed terrorist organizations only exempt religious materials and medicine. That means medical services or non-medicinal necessities such as clean water are prohibited, as are tents, blankets, food and more. In other words, it is legal to give someone a pill, but illegal to provide clean water for swallowing it. There is no justification for this ongoing blockade of humanitarian aid.
On June 21, 2010, a divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal statute that bans support to designated terrorist organizations, even when defined to include conflict mediation, human rights training and peace-building efforts aimed at turning terrorist groups away from violence. That same day the Charity and Security Network (CSN) and the Constitution Project (CP) held a press conference to comment on the ruling. An audio file of the entire teleconference, including reactions to the decision and a question and answer period from national media, is available here.
On June 21, 2010, a divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal statute that bans support to designated terrorist organizations, even when that support involves using international law to resolve disputes through nonviolent means. In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), the court ruled 6-3 that U.S. organizations and citizens teaching nonviolent methods of conflict resolution toward sanctioned terrorist groups could face criminal charges.
In a decision leaving Attorney General Holder and others in the Obama administration scratching their heads for what to do next, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern Federal District of California ruled on March 31, 2010 that the Bush administration illegally wire tapped phone conversations of an Islamic charity and two American lawyers without a warrant.