By Audrey Hudson, www.WashingtonTimes.com
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says it’s suffering a decline in membership and fundraising and blames the Justice Department for listing it as an unindicted co-conspirator in a Texas case against a charity accused of ties to terrorists.
CAIR asked a U.S. District Court in Dallas to strike it from the list of more than 300 other Muslim groups named as unindicted co-conspirators in the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The case is being tried in Dallas.
“The public naming of CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator has impeded its ability to collect donations as possible donors either do not want to give to them because they think they are a ‘terrorist’ organization or are too scared to give to them because of the possible legal ramifications of donating money to a ‘terrorist’ organization,” CAIR said in an amicus curiae brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
The brief cites reporting by The Washington Times as evidence of the organization’s declining membership. When this account of declining CAIR membership was published in The Times earlier this summer, CAIR denounced it as a “hit piece.”
The Justice Department shut down the Holy Land Foundation and in 2004 indicted several of its top officers, who are accused of raising $36 million from 1995 through 2001 for the benefit of organizations and persons linked with Hamas, designated as a terrorist organization by the Clinton administration in 1995. The foundation raised $12.4 million after the designation that made such fundraising illegal, prosecutors say.
The 42-count federal indictment accuses the foundation’s officers of conspiracy, providing support to terrorists, money-laundering and income-tax evasion.
On May 29, the Justice Department made public a list naming 307 unindicted co-conspirators including CAIR in the case now being tried before U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish.
“The name of CAIR has been smeared by association with a criminal case that ostensibly involves the charitable funding of a ‘terrorist’ group,” the brief, filed last week, sets out. The brief argues that federal prosecutors had no legitimate governmental interest in publicly releasing the names of CAIR and other unindicted co-conspirators. “Instead, the disclosure is the vindictive attempt of the government to smear a group which has been critical of the government’s actions in aggressively and selectively prosecuting Muslim groups or persons,” CAIR told the court.
The Washington Times reported June 12 that IRS documents showed CAIR’s membership declined more than 90 percent from 2001 through 2006, from 29,000 to fewer than 1,700. CAIR called that article “false and misleading” and a “hit piece” in an “action alert” message urging recipients to “show The Washington Times what you think of its biased reporting … by becoming a member of CAIR.”
Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, said in a June 12 statement that “our membership is increasing steadily, as is our donor base, annual budget, and attendance at CAIR events around the country promoting interfaith understanding and respect for civil liberties.”
But in the brief filed in the Dallas trial, CAIR three times cites The Times account as evidence the organization was damaged by its designation as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case.
The CAIR brief says “the amount of donations” to CAIR “has dwindled well below their monthly budget and as their associational activity necessarily relies upon donations from the public, the government’s labeling of them as an unindicted co-conspirator has chilled their associational activity.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Justice Department, CAIR’s brief charges, are part of a “trend of the demonization of all things Muslim” by making the unindicted co-conspirator listing public: “Being publicly labeled as a criminal organization, CAIR does not have any recourse under the law to fight this baseless accusation.”
Naming co-conspirators should be “unconstitutional, because once the government publicizes the names of the unindicted co-conspirators, the damage to their reputations, economic well being and expressive associations is done.”
“The result of the public labeling of CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator has resulted in significant inflammatory retorts from the American media, significantly impairing the main mission of CAIR to foster understanding and acceptance of Muslims in American society.”
The brief was filed by e-mail, and William Moffitt, attorney for CAIR, said the court could rule on his motion without a hearing. Mr. Moffitt said he could not provide any numbers on CAIR’s membership, but “there has been a decline in membership.” Asked whether the numbers continued to decline after publication of The Times account on June 12, Mr. Moffitt said, “yes.”