Case Against Largest U.S. Muslim Charity for Supporting Terrorism Results in Mistrial

October 22, 2007 12:00 am

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Outcome Opens Opportunity to Re-Assess Constitutional Flaws of Material Support Statute, Says ACLU


DALLAS — A federal judge declared a mistrial today in the criminal case against the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and five of its former top officials. In 2001, HLF, then the nation’s largest Muslim charity, was shut down when the government accused it of providing “material support” for terrorism. The government later charged it with having provided funds to local “zakat” committees that provide humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, alleging that the committees were run by Hamas.

Despite the government’s contentions, the committees were not designated terrorist organizations. Nor did the U.S. government allege that HLF intended to support terrorism or that its funds were actually used for that purpose. The government nonetheless sought to impose extended criminal sentences on HLF’s leaders.

The HLF case is one of numerous “material support” prosecutions now in courts around the country.

The following can be attributed to Hina Shamsi, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project:

“Today’s outcome is an opportunity to address the deeply troubling Constitutional flaws in the criminal material support statute. Although the need to ensure that humanitarian and charitable aid is not diverted to support terrorism is a real and valid counterterrorism issue, both the statute and the government’s interpretation of it raise due process and free speech concerns. The statute effectively criminalizes guilt by association and does not provide guidance about what is and is not prohibited. It could be used to prosecute innocent donors who intend to support only lawful activity through humanitarian aid, speech or association. If there’s any lesson to be learned from the government’s counterterrorism policies in the last few years, it’s that when we violate rights in the name of security, we lose both.”

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