The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) says it is suffering from a decline in membership and fundraising and blames the Justice Department for listing it as an unindicted co-conspirator in a case involving a charity accused of terrorist ties.
CAIR is asking a federal judge to strike it as one of the more than 300 Muslim groups listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which is currently on trial 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 about the organization’s declining membership coverage that CAIR had previously denounced 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 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 accused 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 in the Dallas courtroom of 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,” said the brief filed last week.
The brief says 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 in a June 11 online exclusive 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 that urged recipients to “show The Washington Times what you think of its biased reporting … by becoming a member” of the group.
“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,” Nihad Awad, CAIR executive director said in a June 12 statement.
However, in the brief filed in Dallas, CAIR three times cites The Washington Times article as evidence the organization was damaged by its designation as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case although the article covered membership losses before prosecutors publicly made that designation.
“This negative reaction by the American public can be seen in the decline of membership rates and donations resulting from the government’s publicizing of CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator,” reads a sentence on page 10 of the brief.
The article is again cited in support of CAIR’s assertion on page 38 of the brief that the group’s fundraising had suffered, and a sentence on pages 51 and 52 that 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 brief says that the U.S. Attorney’s office and Justice Department 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 brief said.
“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 said.
CAIR’s motion was filed electronically last week, said the group’s attorney William Moffitt, who 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 said “there has been a decline in membership.” Asked if the numbers continued to decline after the June 12 article, Mr. Moffitt said “yes.”