The strained argument between the United States government and nonprofit groups over how to deal with charities suspected of supporting terrorism is expected to play out in federal court here with the trial of the largest Muslim charity in this country, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.

[Jury selection in the trial began on Monday, and was expected to take most of the week.]

The government, in the lengthy indictment and other court documents, accuses the foundation of being an integral part of Hamas, which much of the West condemns as a terrorist organization. The prosecution maintains that the main officers of the Holy Land foundation started the organization to generate charitable donations from the United States that ultimately helped Hamas thrive.

The defense argues that the government, lacking proof, has simply conjured up a vast conspiracy by claiming that the foundation channeled money through public charity committees in the occupied territories that it knew Hamas controlled. The federal government, the defense says, has never designated these committees as terrorist organizations.

The defense is expected to liken a donation to the Holy Land foundation to one to a Roman Catholic charity in Northern Ireland that ends up helping poor Irish Republican Army sympathizers.

The case is being closely watched by a large number of charitable organizations, as well as Muslim-Americans, because its outcome might well help determine the line separating legitimate giving from the financing of banned organizations.

Critics of government policy say the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department has gone too far in using often secret evidence to condemn charities. The process unfairly destroys them, the critics say, though not one American charity itself has been convicted of supporting terrorism since the practice started in 2001. Some individual officers have gone to jail.

These critics say that in its zeal to prosecute, the government has lost sight of the fact that the charities were delivering millions of dollars to the poor and to victims of disasters.

They also say that undermining charities on the basis of little or no public evidence tarnishes the United States’ reputation among Muslims globally, effectively helping the very groups the policy is supposed to subvert. . .

For American Muslims, whose religion stipulates that they give 2.5 percent of their annual income to charity, the shuttering of so many of their organizations without a hearing smacks of discrimination.


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