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Groups, U.S. Battle Over 'Global Terrorist' Label

Charity lawyers and their supporters say that definition is so sweeping and vague that it is virtually meaningless.

"If the category has no definition, then how would a group who challenges the designation know what it is?" asked Georgetown Law Center professor David Cole, who is involved in a California case. "It's whatever the government says it is."


Global Relief attorney Roger Simmons, surrounded by government evidence and correspondence related to the charity's closure, said, "We found ourselves trying to rebut newspaper reports from around the world." (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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Juan Zarate, Treasury's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, said in an interview that the government had used its powers to freeze assets sparingly and been upheld by the courts.

"If they looked at these cases, the American people would certainly support the way we've used it," Zarate said.

Questionable Ties

Six weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act. The legislation broadened presidential authority under the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows a president to determine an "extraordinary threat" from abroad and impose sanctions. The act had been primarily used to take economic measures against "rogue nations" such as Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and Libya.

Designations under the act are formally determined by the secretaries of state or treasury in consultation with a high-level interagency committee. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control compiles the information to support the designations, implements sanctions and forwards names to the United Nations, which marks them as international pariahs.

So far, Treasury has not succeeded in obtaining a terrorist conviction against any of the three charities whose assets were frozen pending investigation -- Global Relief, Benevolence International Foundation and al Haramain Islamic Foundation. Only one charity official has been convicted on any criminal charge -- Enaam Arnaout, executive director of Illinois-based Benevolence. He pleaded guilty in February 2003 to fraudulent diversion of $316,000 in donations to Chechen and Bosnian combatants and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

One cited example in the Sept. 11 terrorism financing report involved the designation in November 2001 of Al Barakaat, a worldwide network of money remitters centered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and used mainly by immigrants from Somalia.

Federal agents raided eight of Al Barakaat's U.S. offices and froze their assets. Then-Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill called Al Barakaat the "quartermasters of terror" and "a principal source of funding, intelligence and money transfers for bin Laden."

In an unprecedented display of cooperation, the UAE central bank gave U.S. investigators unfettered access to Al Barakaat's records, turning over 17,000 pages of documents.

The result: "The FBI could not substantiate any links between al-Barakaat and terrorism," the 9/11 commission stated.

A Look at the Evidence

Global Relief, with its headquarters in Bridgeview, Ill., had raised $5.2 million in 2001 and claimed "over 20,000 contributors" and a mailing list of more than 250,000 people, according to court documents. It had aid programs in 22 countries including hot spots such as Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chechnya. After the charity's assets were frozen on Dec. 14, 2001, it appealed to the courts and Treasury.

In June 2002, an Illinois federal court sided with the government. "As a general principle," wrote U.S. District Judge Wayne R. Andersen, "this court should avoid impairment of decisions made by the Congress or President in matters involving foreign affairs or national security."

Global Relief's lawyers have been fighting for years to obtain all of the evidence against their client, classified and unclassified. In late March 2002, Treasury turned over four large volumes containing unclassified materials seized from Global Relief's U.S. offices and other evidence. A Post reporter who reviewed the materials found that they included 61 newspaper articles dating back to 1999.


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