A federal judge in Ohio has rejected one the government’s key tactics in prosecuting charities suspected of supporting terrorists, The New York Times reports.
In a ruling issued late Tuesday, James G. Carr, the chief federal judge in northern Ohio, said the Treasury Department acted unconstitutionally three years ago when it froze $1 million in assets of KindHearts, a Toledo-based charity that was part of a terrorism investigation.
Under an executive order signed by President Bush two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the government has used the tactic — without warrants and court approval — to freeze tens of millions of dollars in assets held by eight charities within the United States. The method also has been used to hamper the activities of hundreds of groups and individuals outside the United States.
If upheld, Carr’s ruling “could severely undercut the government’s authority and ultimately require it to get a warrant and submit to court review in moving against charities,” according to the Times.
The Treasury has alleged that KindHearts provided financial aid to Hamas and coordinated with its leaders in support of terrorist activities. Carr, a Clinton appointee, said the government “has effectively shut KindHearts down” by freezing its assets and criminalizing its contacts.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control refused to free up money for the charity to pay its own lawyers, a move Carr deemed “arbitrary and capricious.” The judge also ruled that the government violated the charity’s right to due process and to challenge evidence, rejecting the Justice Department’s contention that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to groups suspected of aiding terrorists because of the president’s national security authority.
The charity’s lawyer, Lynne Bernabei of Washington-based Bernabei & Wachtel, told the Times, “The government has been taking action unilaterally and basically destroying these charities on the flimsiest of evidence. We see this as the beginning of the effort to rein in executive authority.”