Note: Defending Rights & Dissent is a founding member of the Charity & Security Network. Read more about the coalition and its powerful work here.
The Charity & Security Network (C&SN) responded to misinformation in statements about nonprofit organizations (NPOs) made in a July 11 hearing in the National Security Committee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in an Aug. 14 letter, saying such statements “inaccurately and unfairly portray the U.S. charitable sector as a source of terrorist financing. Such statements undermine the important work U.S. NPOs do around the world and fail to recognize the high levels of transparency, oversight and good governance they employ.” The letter addressed three main problematic themes from the hearing in detail:
- Asserting that, because Treasury has not designated any U.S. NPOs as supporters of terrorism since January 2009, there is a problem of lax enforcement. This ignores the vigilance of law enforcement as well as the charitable sector’s due diligence and good governance practices.
- Citing the criminal prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation as a model for government action against NPOs, despite the numerous and serious legal issues that render that case an outlier.
- Uncritically citing conclusions in the Middle East Forum’s June 2018 report on Islamic Relief USA as fact, when assessment of key allegations demonstrate that the report is based on inadequate background research and uses faulty logic.
In addition, Islamic Relief USA, which was a special target of misinformation and mischaracterization of facts, published a rebuttal on its website. The C&SN letter noted that, “Overall, the hearing gave the impression that Muslim NPOs are to be targeted based on their ethnic and/or religious associations, rather than on conduct that threatens national security.”
Law enforcement and NPOs have been successful in protecting the charitable sector from terrorist financing abuse.
C&SN’s letter noted that witnesses disagreed about what conclusions can be drawn from the fact that no U.S. NPOs have been shut down by the Treasury Department since January 2009. Johnathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies called for a “reinvigoration” of the designation system, while Amb. Daniel Benjamin, former Counterterrorism Coordinator at the State Department in the Obama administration, noted that DOJ “is watching” and would prosecute if violations were taking place.
The letter strongly supported Benjamin’s interpretation, noting the strong good governance measures employed by NPOs, the high degree of transparency and government oversight. It also cited Treasury’s 2015 National Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment, which found that sham charities and fraud, not legitimate NPOs recognized by the U.S. government, are the main threat relative to the nonprofit sector.
The Holy Land Foundation prosecution is an outlier, not a model for law enforcement.
In the hearing Schanzer suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood be listed as a terrorist organization so that “insert quote.” The letter pointed out unique and serious problems with the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, pointing out that it was tried and convicted without representation, making the case “an inappropriate model for future law enforcement.”
Another major misrepresentation of fact in the testimony relates to the “unindicted co-conspirator list” from the Holy Land case as a credible source of information on U.S. NPOs that may support terrorism. The letter points out that prosecutors admitted the list was created solely for technical legal reasons and that there would be no prosecution. Because prosecutors did not seal the list as required by Department of Justice policy, it became public and is repeatedly used by Isamophobic groups to create a false impression that the list is based on evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the list should not have been published, that the groups on the list were denied due process when it was, since it was “unaccompanied by any facts providing a context for evaluating the basis for the United States Attorney’s opinion.”
The Middle East Forum’s study on Islamic Relief USA is not a reliable source of information.
The letter concluded by cautioning the subcommittee members not to accept conclusions from the Middle East Forum’s June 2018 study on Islamic Relief USA as fact, given MEF’s reputation for misinformation about Muslim charities. As an example, the letter noted that the MEF report cited the fact that Islamic Relief Worldwide had its bank account closed by HSBC as evidence of terrorist financing. The letter pointed out that between 2/3 (U.S.) and 80% (UK) of international NPOs have experienced problems with banking services as a result of the larger trend of bank derisking. The letter stated that “MEF’s failure to take this wider context into account in its report indicates that, rather than basing conclusions on solid evidence, it is distorting facts to fit its agenda.”