Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy raises some important questions about a part of President Obama's speech in Cairo last week that has drawn little attention.
Obama claimed rules on charitable giving were making it difficult for American Muslims to satisfy the religious obligation of charity known as zakat and he promised to work "with American Muslims to ensure that they can." This simply isn't true.
American law, enacted in 1995 by an executive order by President Clinton and further entrenched by Congress a year later, makes it illegal to provide support to any entity designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government. The laws do nothing to restrict donations to relief agencies that haven't been so designated.
To be convicted of a criminal violation, McCarthy notes, prosecutors must prove that the defendant knew the money would go to the terrorist organization's benefit. That's what happened in the case of five former officials at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). A week before the Obama speech, a federal judge in Dallas sentenced two former directors 65-year prison terms for routing $12 million to Hamas through a series of charities controlled by the terrorist group.
HLF had been considered the nation's largest Muslim charity before being shut down in 2001 for its Hamas support. It is one of the examples some Muslim activists cite of the government interfering with zakat.
But those laws, McCarthy says, merely stop American dollars from flowing to those who work against American interests and restrict no donations to groups which do not support terrorists:
"Do we really have 'rules on charitable giving' that, as the president claims, make it especially difficult for Muslims — as opposed to others — to give? No. What we have are federal laws against material support for terrorism. These were enacted by Congress in 1996. They have been the bedrock of the DOJ's anti-terrorism enforcement ever since.
The purpose of these laws is obvious, as has been the stepped-up effort to use them since 9/11. If we are going to prevent terrorist strikes from happening, rather than content ourselves with prosecuting any surviving terrorists after our fellow citizens have been murdered and maimed, we have to identify cells and choke off their resources before attacks can be planned and executed. Thus, a donor who gives to an organization, including an ostensible charity, that he knows to have been formally designated as a terrorist entity under U.S. law, or that he knows facilitates terrorist activity, is liable."
Those laws were enacted for a reason. Terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad engaged in vicious bombing campaigns to thwart American-led peace efforts. Clinton's order called it "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States."
As this administration starts a new push to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, anything that facilitates sending money to charities tied to terrorists would be beyond counter productive. It would be inviting the next wave of terror.