Back in April I covered efforts by lawyers for the Ashland-based Al Haramain Islamic Foundation to get the Treasury Department to unfreeze its assets. The story was later covered by the New Yorker. In terms of how the government has acted since 911, the story is a massive, Orwellian deal. Yet I think there is something off-putting to most average readers in the complexity of the case...Nevertheless, the decision to pursue this policy by the treasury came about as the result of a Bush executive order. Let's hope this is the last time such a case has to come before the court.
Simply put, the government seized the property of an Islamic charity without justifying why. Yesterday, a federal judge said that's against the fourth amendment of the constitution, unless the government can provide more information to justify the designation.
The government froze the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation's assets in February 2004, and in September 2004, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control designated the group as a "specially designated global terrorist," but gave no reasons for doing so. Later, the Treasury Department alleged that the charity was giving "material support" to certain terrorist groups. The government then forbade the charity from using its frozen assets to pay for attorneys to defend against the claims, and attorneys for the charity have not been able to access the government's classified documents in order to defend against them.
What it boils down to is this: The government said AHIF was a terrorist organization, but never told it why. It refused to allow the AHIF to hire lawyers with its own money to defend against the claims, and it refused to even specify what the claims were.
Judge Garr King ruled in Federal Court yesterday that the government acted unconstitutionally, and that the definition of "material support" was unconstitutionally vague.
"The government gets a great deal of deference from the courts when it comes to national security, but it puts the plaintiffs in the position of challenging information that they can never see, which is inherently unfair," says J.Ashlee Albies of law firm Steenson, Schumann, Tewksbury, Creighton and Rose, who has been co-counsel on the case, and coincidentally, just ran for attorney general, garnering more than 150,000 for the Working Families Party. "This case is about the right to be free from arbitrary government action. Due process should be the baseline constitutional protection, and it should mean something."
Just not if you were a Muslim, under Bush.