TOLEDO, OH – Several of the nation’s top non-profit humanitarian and philanthropic organizations told a federal court today that the government’s authority and conduct in freezing a charity’s assets undermines critical humanitarian aid and the government’s own anti-terrorism efforts. Grantmakers Without Borders, OMB Watch, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and several other organizations made this argument in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in support of due process rights for KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, Inc. in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio and several civil rights lawyers.
"These absolute powers ultimately hurt those most in need of food, shelter, medicine, economic development and other assistance,” said Kay Guinane, an expert on the impact of national security measures on non-profits and a signatory to the brief. “Furthermore, the idea that any charity can be closed indefinitely with no finding of wrongdoing or procedure to defend itself is contrary to fundamental values of fairness in a democratic society.”
The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) froze KindHearts’ funds and operations three years ago without notice or a hearing, based simply on the assertion that the charity was "under investigation." OFAC then threatened to designate KindHearts as a "specially designated global terrorist" based on classified evidence, again without providing it with a reason or meaningful opportunity to defend itself.
In the brief, the organizations argue that “these actions and policies have created a climate of fear and intimidation among non-profit organizations, discouraging them from doing their critical humanitarian work – particularly in conflict-torn regions that are most in need – for fear of being arbitrarily subjected to these actions and policies themselves…in effect, the government’s actions and policies are counterproductive to its efforts to counter terrorism because they discourage and undermine the vital work of [non-profit organizations].”
“We are gratified to have the support of so many significant humanitarian aid and social justice groups in our effort to provide KindHearts with its day in court,” said Hina Shamsi, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project and lead ACLU attorney on the case. “The government’s unfettered authority to shut down KindHearts based on suspicion alone has not only left the charity unable to fulfill its humanitarian mission, it sends a profoundly negative message to other U.S.-based non-profits that seek to alleviate human suffering. At a time when the United States needs to restore its image in the eyes of the world, the government’s actions do not serve either this country’s security or its commitment to justice.”
The brief was filed by Guinane, Grantmakers Without Borders, OMB Watch, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Appleton Foundation, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Defending Dissent Foundation, the Fund for Nonviolence, Grassroots International, Kinder USA, Muslim Advocates and the Muslim Public Affairs Council in the U.S. District Court For the Northern District of Ohio Western Division. The organizations are represented by the National Security Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.
Attorneys on the KindHearts case are Shamsi and National Security Fellow Alexander Abdo of the ACLU; Fritz Byers of Toledo, Ohio; David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center; Lynne Bernabei and Alan Kabat of Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC in Washington; and Jeffrey Gamso and Carrie Davis of the ACLU of Ohio.