The U.S. government’s anti-terrorist financing programmes are based on the “guilt by association” tactics of the McCarthy era and have had a widespread negative impact on U.S. charities, critics say.

That is the view of Kay Guinane, director of the Nonprofit Speech Rights Programme for OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Watch, an independent not-for-profit government watchdog group. Guinane told IPS that government actions have resulted in programme cutbacks and increased fear of speaking out on important public issues.

The organisation accused Congress of continuing “an unfortunate pattern of insufficient congressional oversight of anti-terrorist financing programmes, neglecting to address the unnecessarily harsh impacts the programmes have on U.S. charities and philanthropy.”

As an example of insufficient congressional oversight of charities’ alleged support of terrorist organisations, OMB Watch cited a recent hearing before the Senate Finance Committee in which the only witness was a government official. The witness was the under-secretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey, who plays a lead role in identifying charities that the Treasury Department claims are supporting terrorist causes.

OMB Watch asked the committee for an opportunity to testify, but was not invited.

The McCarthy era refers to a 1950s Cold War campaign led by then Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy charged that communist “subversives” had infiltrated the U.S. government and were undermining national security and disclosing secret information. He accused the administration of President Harry S. Truman of sheltering such subversives rather than investigating and ousting them.

Hundreds of citizens were eventually “blacklisted” and lost their jobs. Congress made membership in the Communist Party a criminal offence, in a statute known as the Smith Act.

In his opening statement at the Senate hearing, committee chair Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, referred to failed criminal prosecutions of charities suspected of having ties to terrorism, asking if the prosecutions “were off base” or if the government should “do a better job of monitoring these organisations?”

Baucus was referring to the government’s prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), the largest and best-known organisation supporting Muslim causes.

In December 2001, the group was designated as a supporter of terrorism, shut down and had its assets frozen. At that time, President George W. Bush, accompanied by then Attorney General John Ashcroft and Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, charged that “Hamas has obtained much of the money that it pays for murder abroad right here in the U.S., money originally raised by the Holy Land Foundation.”

But by the time of the trial, in 2007, prosecutors no longer claimed HLF provided support to Hamas or paid for violent acts. Instead, prosecutors admitted all the money went for charitable aid but said the local charities that delivered the aid to Palestinians were controlled by Hamas.

In October 2007, a federal jury in Texas deadlocked on all charges against HLF and most of the charges against five of its leaders. The former board chair and endowment director, Mohammed el-Mezain, was acquitted of 31 of 32 charges against him, with the jury deadlocking on the remaining charge. (MORE)


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