D.C. News & Views: Alternative Voices Left Unheard In Senate Hearing

April 4, 2008

One of the most significant hits to the Muslim American community since 9/11 has been in the charitable sector. A handful of U.S.-based humanitarian and relief organizations were shut down between 2001-2005 amidst charges that donor contributions were being sent overseas supposedly to support terrorist groups. While not a single charity has been found guilty of such charges, Muslim American donors have grown increasingly cautious about fulfilling their religious obligation to give to charity.

The U.S. government's crackdown against charities began just three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, when President Bush announced the war on terror and declared that the Treasury Department would focus on dismantling the financial base of what he called the global terror network. As part of this effort, the Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) formed an intelligence unit to receive, analyze, collect, and disseminate foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information.

Earlier this week, Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, testified before the Senate Committee on Finance for the first time since his appointment four years ago about terrorist financing networks. Levey, as a government official, was the only individual invited to provide testimony on the subject. Excluding witnesses from charities and foundations prohibited the Committee from getting a full picture of the real damage the financial war on terror is causing charities, foundations, donors and aid recipients.

In response to the hearing, OMB Watch released a press statement expressing its disappointment with the hearing's one-sidedness on the issue.

Levey testified to the Committee that the United States has "designated approximately 50 charities worldwide as supporters of terrorism, including several in the United States, putting a strain on Al-Qaeda's financing efforts."

He pointed to the Department's "significant progress in mapping terrorist networks" by "following the money" but was unable, in the subsequent Q&A session, to respond to Committee Chairman Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), when asked why the Treasury Department ceased publishing the financial value of assets seized from Al-Qaeda. Levey admitted to not knowing "the exact reason why" the assets seized are not published, but that looking at this figure is not "a useful metric."

Going after the money which enables terrorists to operate is a necessary and timely objective. In the process to eliminate sources of terrorism financing, however, dozens of charitable groups have been investigated, and a number have been shut down. The effect of this has led to hesitation among members the Muslim American community to contribute to charities for fear of being investigated as a financial supporter of terrorist activity.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, terrorism money is still flowing because "extremist groups have blunted financial anti-terrorism tools by finding new ways to raise, transfer and spend their money." Very few terrorist financiers of significance have been arrested in part because the international sense of urgency over this issue has diminished, in addition to legal difficulties and interagency disagreement here at home.

The discrepancy between Levey's testimony and his responses to the Committee's inquiries did little to clarify how effectively terror networks are being interrupted at their financial source.

When utilized, congressional oversight is a useful tool to keep other branches of government accountable, and without alternative viewpoints and thorough inquiries, Congress will continue to receive a distorted picture, making it difficult to create informed policy. One would hope that the next time the Senate Finance Committee takes up the issue of terrorist financing, it would get a fuller picture than the one offered this week. American donors and taxpayers deserve as much.



View All


    No documents found.

Help us continue our work with a quick
one-time or monthly donation.