The Laws on Providing Material Support to Terrorist Organizations: The Erosion of Constitutional Rights or a Legitimate Tool for Preventing Terrorism?

Article excerpt


On December 4, 2001, federal agents raided the offices of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, arrested the organization's officers, and froze $5 million worth of assets.1 Ten days later on December 14, 2001, the Global Relief Fund suffered the same fate when its assets were seized, and its co-founder Rabih Haddad was arrested.2 That same day Benevolence International's assets were also frozen, and its U.S. citizen president, Enaam Arnaout, was arrested and taken into custody on charges of providing material support to terrorism.3 Prior to their effective closure, the three organizations were the largest Islamic charities in the United States.4 Although each charitable organization had been operating for more than a decade,5 all three were systematically raided and shut down soon after the federal government's post-9/11 official declaration of its war on terrorism-a war that includes prosecuting anyone who provides material support to designated terrorist organizations.6 By February 2003, the Department of justice proudly announced its completion of 70 similar investigations into terrorism financing, designating 36 entities as terrorist organizations, and freezing over $113 million in financial assets of 62 organizations allegedly supporting terrorism.7 The fact that almost every criminal terrorism case filed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks has included a charge of providing material support to a terrorist organization reveals the significance of material support laws as the linchpin of the ongoing war on terrorism.8

To many unsuspecting Americans, these events represent success stories on the part of the United States government with respect to the legitimate goal of terrorism prevention. To others, they raise red flags concerning fundamental constitutional rights.9 Although critics of antiterrorism laws generally accept the objective of terrorism prevention, the means currently utilized by the federal government in pursuing these legitimate ends are highly questionable from a legal as well as a normative perspective. For example, are these laws imposing guilt by association on individuals that support legitimate humanitarian aid projects? Do these laws provide adequate opportunity for defendants to face their accusers, the United States government in this case, and provide evidence in defense of their proclaimed innocence? Are these laws being used as a smoke screen to persecute politically unpopular individuals and groups affiliated with Islam and/or the Middle East rather than to eliminate bona fide criminal activity?

This Article attempts to answer these questions by illustrating how the current laws on designating foreign terrorist organizations and providing material support to terrorist organizations may violate organizations' and individuals' constitutional Due Process and First Amendment rights. Two specific fact patterns are the focus of this Article with respect to the constitutional analysis.

First, individuals in the United States who have knowingly donated large sums of money to the three Islamic charities previously mentioned are finding themselves under investigation for providing material support to terrorist organization. These investigations are taking place despite the individuals' original intent for their money to be spent on humanitarian projects in the Middle East or Central Asia. These donors not only lacked any specific intent to support terrorism, but they may have considered their donations to be a form of political expression and association.10 The donations, for instance, may have represented their belief in the rights of the children in war-torn areas, such as the West Bank and Gaza, to have food, shelter, and clothing despite the prevalent acts of violence committed against their communities as well as by members of their communities.11 In the context of pre-war, Saddam-run Iraq, U.S. donors may have given their money to Global Relief Fund to sponsor an Iraqi orphan as a form of political protest against the United States' sanctions on Iraq12 and against Saddam's starvation of his people through the misallocation of state funds. …


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