ACLU Says Executive Order "Material Support" Provision Sweeps Too Broadly and Will Restrict Humanitarian Efforts in Iraq

July 27, 2007 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today issued a warning about a little noticed presidential Executive Order recently issued by the White House. Although the order is ostensibly aimed at supporters of the insurgency in Iraq, the civil liberties group warned that its sweeping provisions posed risks for residents of the United States and for humanitarian work in Iraq.

The “Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq” authorizes the Treasury Department to freeze and confiscate the assets of anyone determined “to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing” acts of violence with the “purpose or effect” of hindering the Iraqi government or reconstruction efforts. But it also authorizes the freezing of assets of anyone who provides “material support” to such a person or group, whether or not the person’s support was knowing or intentional. Further, many of the Executive Order’s terms are left undefined, creating ambiguity about what kinds of donations and services could be considered to constitute material support.

“This Executive Order reaches far beyond criminal activity to activity that may be entirely innocent,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “A person may find herself inadvertently in violation of this order and there is no provision for judicial review. It is a strangely undemocratic way to go about bringing democracy to the rest of the world.”

The ACLU has raised objections to “material support” provisions in the past. In May of 2006, the ACLU filed an amicus brief on behalf of humanitarian organizations that are concerned with the government’s sweeping interpretation of a law barring “material support” to blacklisted groups. The humanitarian organizations are concerned that the law, as interpreted by the government, will inhibit humanitarian aid to desperate civilian populations living in conflict zones. Organizations that signed onto the brief include Oxfam, Operation USA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The Executive Order recently issued by President Bush raises many of the same concerns as the criminal laws relating to material support.

Another serious problem with the Executive Order is that it expressly prohibits even donations of “food, clothing, and medicine intended to be used to relieve human suffering.” The International Economic and Emergency Powers Act prevents the President from banning such donations unless he determines that the donations would seriously impair his ability to deal with a declared national emergency. The President declared four years ago that the threat to reconstruction in Iraq constituted such an emergency, and the Executive Order specifically invokes this exception.

“This order could have a serious chilling effect on charitable contributions intended to ease the suffering in Iraq,” said Michael German, ACLU national security counsel. “There is no requirement that you even have to know that your assistance is going to a banned person or group before your assets could be blocked. The order makes no exception for humanitarian aid, even if it is necessary to save the lives of people living in the war zone; it is going to tie the hands of legitimate charities that are on the ground trying to do good work in Iraq.”

The Executive Order is available online at:

ACLU testimony before Congress on the crippling effects of “material support” laws on humanitarian efforts is online at:

The ACLU’s amicus brief on behalf of humanitarian organizations regarding the impact of “material support” laws is online at:

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