The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), a Texas-based charity with a mission of providing humanitarian aid in Palestine, was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until its closure in December of 2001. HLF had been legally operating for over a decade before it was designated and shut down by the Bush administration three months after 9/11. Its former officials were convicted of providing material support for terrorism on retrial in November 2008, and received sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years. The case, the evidence, the procedure, and the convictions all highlight the precarious legal position of U.S. nonprofits trying to carry out humanitarian missions.
The Department of Treasury has made broad statements charging the U.S. charitable sector with being a significant source of terrorist financing and support. But evidence to support these claims has not been forthcoming. As a result, there has been significant disagreement between Treasury and the nonprofit sector on the extent and nature of the relationship between charities and terrorists. The issue is highlighted by the fact that Treasury's Annex to the Guidelines only cites examples of alleged crimnal activity by foreign charities.
The legal authority for the Department of Treasury to designate a person or organization as a Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) (or freeze assets "pending investigation") is based on laws providing for economic sanctions against foreign nations, going back to the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1917 and ending with the Patriot Act.
Below are excerpts from comments written by a diverse range of nonprofits and experts in response to two Federal Register announcements inviting comment on the burdens USAID’s Partner Vetting System (PVS) would impose on its grant applicants; one from the Department of State (Oct. 2011) and USAID (Dec. 2011). PVS would require NGOs receiving USAID funds to collect personal information on local partners for submission to the U.S. government. If implemented, the proposed PVS pilot would create hazards for aid workers and undermine program effectiveness. It will prevent some potential grantees from applying for funds, and will hamper the efforts of others to deliver services and programs that serve the best interests of the United States.
Mediating between warring parties has never been an easy task. History shows that the odds are stacked against such efforts. Academics who study the field of conflict resolution argue about whether more conflicts are ended by military victory or non-violent negotiation (the record is mixed), but the prevalence of prolonged violent conflict across our globe demonstrates that successful peace efforts are still too few in number. Read more....
On Sept. 1, 2011, a searchable archive of over 250,000 unredacted U.S. State Department cables became available on the internet. The publication of the cables expanded a window on American diplomacy that first opened in November 2010 when Wikileaks and several international news organizations started publishing selected cables. The Charity & Security Network has scanned though thousands of the cables for any discussion about issues affecting U.S. charitable activities. Excerpts from cables pertaining to the following topics are below.
For many years, U.S. organizations have paved the way for peace by helping to bring fighting factions together and providing alternatives to violence as a means of redressing grievances. Unfortunately, the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) upheld the law defining prohibited “material support” of terrorism to include conflict prevention and resolution activities aimed at getting terrorist groups to lay down their arms. Without a correction, opportunities to end violence will be lost.
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.
“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.