Holy Land charity takes seizure fight to court: Richardson group wants U.S. to return assets, denies terror link
Holy Land charity takes seizure fight to court
Richardson group wants U.S. to return assets, denies terror link
By MICHELLE MITTELSTADT / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON Attorneys for a Texas-based Muslim charity accused of
bankrolling international terrorism head to court Thursday to demand the
return of millions of dollars seized by the U.S. government.
Lawyers for the now-dormant Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development, which was based in Richardson, contend that the government's
freeze was predicated on the false claim that the organization funneled
money to the Palestinian terror group Hamas.
"The government has branded Holy Land a terrorist, seized the foundation's
assets and put its employees out of work on the basis of an administrative
record that is false in material respects," the organization's lawyers
wrote in a legal filing this month.
They insist that the charity was solely dedicated to charitable and
humanitarian aid in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Saying Holy Land's constitutional, religious and administrative rights
were violated, they sued in March, asking a federal judge to force the
Bush administration to unblock financial assets and return other property
seized in a Dec. 4 raid on its offices in Texas, California, Illinois and
The raids and seizures followed an FBI investigation of nearly nine years.
Justice Department lawyers have argued that the seizures were appropriate.
In court papers, they cited a "vast majority of documentary evidence"
showing that Holy Land "raised money on behalf of Hamas, received funding
from Hamas, took direction from Hamas leadership and from its beginnings
until its designation [as a terrorist organization] distributed money to
Hamas, a militant Islamic organization dedicated to Israel's destruction,
has claimed responsibility for a rash of lethal suicide bombings.
The Bush administration last year froze millions of dollars held by Holy
Land and two Chicago-area Islamic charities Global Relief Foundation and
Benevolence International Foundation charging that all three funded
Representatives of the organizations have vigorously disputed the
allegations, each going to court to challenge the seizures as
If the results in the Global Relief litigation so far offer any road map,
attorneys for Holy Land may have a hard time prevailing in court.
A federal judge in Chicago refused last month to lift the order freezing
Global Relief's assets, saying the organization probably wouldn't be able
to prove that its constitutional rights had been violated.
Attorneys for the Justice Department have raised the same point in the
Holy Land case, which comes before U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in
Washington on Thursday.
"Plaintiff cannot meet its burden of showing that the designation of Holy
Land Foundation and the blocking of its assets had no rational basis," the
government lawyers wrote recently.
'Without probable cause'
Holy Land contends, however, that the government overreached by seizing
its assets "without notice, without a hearing, without a warrant, without
probable cause, without statutory authority and without any rational
The actions by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control
were predicated on a biased, faulty administrative record, Holy Land
lawyers contend. They're asking the judge to consider additional evidence
"A rational and impartial agency, confronted with evidence that its
decision to brand an American charity a terrorist and put it out of
business rested on flawed information, would welcome [indeed demand] a
full airing of the facts," they wrote. "But the government has taken the
opposite tack here.
" ... Despite powerful evidence that the administrative record is
incomplete and skewed, the government demands that the court blinder
itself and adhere to that record, regardless of its flaws and outright
Justice lawyers defend the accuracy of the record. They are battling the
foundation's attempt to have the judge consider outside information,
saying Holy Land rejected an opportunity to provide additional evidence
during the administrative process. They also contend it's outside the
judge's purview to consider such evidence.
"Courts in this circuit and elsewhere have routinely rejected attempts by
those challenging agency action to proffer evidence beyond the
administrative record," the Justice attorneys wrote in a recent filing.
The government insists that the judiciary has only a limited right of
review, arguing that its decision to freeze Holy Land's assets constituted
an administrative act.
"This court should also accord deference to the executive branch when
considering plaintiff's claims," the Justice Department said.
"Whether or not courts afford such deference in the nonemergency domestic
context, there is a well-established practice of deferring to the
executive branch's actions in the area of national security and foreign
policy even when adjudicating constitutional claims."
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