Elaine Cassel, Lawrence Hill Books, 2004 (This piece was taken from a chapter on Islamic Charities)

Help the Needy

In February 2003 federal indictments were handed down against men in Syracuse, New York, and Boise, Idaho, alleging that a charity, Help the Needy, was involved in money laundering to benefit terrorism. As is typical, however, none of the men were actually charged with aiding and abetting terrorism. Four Arab men living near Syracuse were accused of conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iraq (before the United States lifted the sanctions when it invaded Iraq in April 2003) by allegedly raising $2.7 million for unnamed individuals in Baghdad through Help the Needy. This charity, the government alleges, is an affiliate of the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA), which operates out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. IANA is a branch of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a charity that is the Saudi equivalent of the United Way and has branches all over the world. The funds were placed in banks in New York and then laundered through an account in Jordan Islamic Bank in Amman before being distributed to unnamed individuals in Baghdad. Pp 103-104

The Larger Constitutional Issues

Even though the organizations and principals may have done nothing obviously wrong or terror-related, the power of the USA Patriot Act, FISA warrants, and the political climate post-September 11 has allowed the government to shift the burden of proof to the organizations. These organizations must prove their innocence even though, in many cases, there is no allegation of specific wrongdoing waged against them, only a suspicion that funds “must be” reaching terrorists. It is difficult, if not impossible, to prove a negative — the absence of wrongdoing. Moreover they must do this without access to their own documents, computers, records, or other materials that might make their case. By merely suggesting that National Security would be threatened if evidence against the organization is made available to it for defense purposes, the government may present all or part of its evidence to the judge outside the presence of the defendants or their attorneys. Thus, the closure of the charities is based on evidence that the organizations will never see, a procedure approved by the federal courts before whom these cases have been brought.

For now, only Islamic organizations have been shut down, but the Patriot Act puts others at risk of investigation as well. Breaking down the wall between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecution makes it possible for the government to conduct secret wide-ranging surveillance of nonprofit organization. For instance, if a terrorist suspect repeatedly logs on to an organization’s Web site, the organization and other users of its Web site potentially can be investigated, too — without anyone knowing.

Perhaps because of their inability to find a connection to terrorism, in January 2004 the Senate Finance Committee asked the Internal Revenue Service to turn over confidential tax and financial records, including donor lists, of the charities discussed in this chapter and dozens of others, as part of a planned investigation into the alleged ties between the organizations and terrorist groups. Committee chairman Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) signaled that the committee was prepared to find the terrorist connections that had so far eluded the FBI and federal prosecutors. Muslim Principals and attorneys for the charities accused the committee of conducting a fishing expedition to support its presumption of guilt. Inasmuch as the assets of the charities subject to prosecution have been frozen and their operation shut down, there is nothing else that can be done to the charities themselves except revoke their tax exempt status. The Council on American-Islamic Relations suggested a more ominous purpose — targeting donors for prosecution because of their charitable giving. Whatever the committee’s goal, the investigation will likely further restrict and limit giving to Islamic charitable organizations.

I asked Ashfran Nubani, an attorney who has represented several of the principals of Islamic charities, including Haddad, what he makes of the wide-ranging investigation of Islamic charities. His answer? “If you are an Arab in the United States, you don’t get any justice.”

From the looks of things, the government wants to shut down all Islamic charities and charge the officials with any crime at all — enough to put them behind bars for years and if they are not citizens, deport them after serving time for minor offenses. In the words of Attorney Joseph Duffy, who represented Arnaout, “The government is fighting a paranoid war against any Muslim who ever had any contact, no matter how innocent, with a terrorist, a suspected terrorist, or an acquaintance of a suspected terrorist,”

Just how paranoid the government was about Muslims was seen in its post-September 11policy toward Arabs and Muslims living in the United States, as we will see in the next chapter. It locked up hundreds on mere suspicion, holding some for months incommunicado, deporting them on evidence of minor violations of law (some that occurred years earlier), and using secret evidence given in secret trials. The witch hunt was on, and Muslims were the targets. Pp 105-106