October 22, 2007
The Financial War on Terror Loses Another Round
Posted by David Zaring

After 9/11, the government shut down the largest Islamic charities in the United States on the theory that some of their money, even if only indirectly, was going to the Middle East in a way that benefited some terrorists.  The shutdown part was simple.  Treasury regulators could use certain emergency and Patriot Act powers to instantly freeze all the assets of the organizations, and they could use secret evidence to do it.  Getting criminal convictions against anyone involved with these charities, however, has been incredibly difficult - so difficult that in my view, it raises real questions about whether the Treasury program has been administered fairly and effectively.

The latest criminal prosecution to fail is the one against the Holy Land Foundation in Dallas.  The principals behind that charity, the largest Islamic one in the United States, and the first one for the government to act against after 9/11, just got a mistrial (and in the case of one of the five individual defendants, all but an outright acquittal).  The jury stayed out for three weeks, which is forever in Texas time, and the testimony featured an Israeli spy who would not reveal his identity in court.  But if the particulars are exotic, the bottom line is not.  Once again, the government, after regulating a charity essentially out of existence because of its alleged support for terrorism, has been unable to establish that anyone involved in the charity actually did something quite so nefarious, at least not to a jury's satisfaction.  And while there's no doubt that the so-called financial war on terror is rooted in an honest desire to stop bad actors from getting money from Americans naive or worse, the outcomes in these cases raise real questions about the way that war is being waged.

For more on the Holy Land acquittal, see here (the Times) and here (the Post).

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