An Ohio Muslim organization that fought the U.S. government for six years over the seizure of its assets due to suspected ties to militant Islam has settled its case and will be removed from the federal terrorism watch list.
Toledo-based KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, which formally disbanded earlier this year, will remain closed under the agreementt, in which neither side acknowledged wrongdoing.
The charity was placed on the Treasury Department's watch list and its assets frozen in 2006 over alleged ties to entities linked to Hamas and Al Qaida. KindHearts sued and won a federal court ruling that the government violated the Constitution in seizing the charity's funds without detailing why or giving it a chance to respond.
KindHearts, which denied any ties to terror groups, will be paid legal fees and given back nearly $1-million in assets to distribute for humanitarian causes.
More than four years later and after a series of legal wins for the nonprofit organization, KindHearts attorneys called the agreement a victory.
"This resolution has been a long time coming, but it is a tremendous victory for KindHearts and the essential principles of constitutional rule," said Toledo attorney Fritz Byers, who represented KindHearts.
Back in August 2009, federal Judge James Carr, who has since moved to senior status, ruled that the government violated KindHearts' constitutional rights and agreed with the organization's assertions that it was denied due process and subjected to the unlawful seizure of its property.
Judge Carr's decision was lauded by KindHearts' attorneys, including those from the American Civil Liberties Union, who said the ruling stated clearly that the government could not circumvent the Constitution.
Mr. Byers said it was that ruling that eventually led to the settlement.
"Judge Carr's landmark ruling in 2009 established that the government's shutdown of KindHearts violated the charity's rights in the most fundamental ways," Mr. Byers said.
Jihad Smaili, a KindHearts board member and attorney who since has relocated to California, noted in a telephone interview that as part of the settlement, the government agreed to pay $330,000 as reasonable attorneys' fees to the organization.
He said this provision shows that "they pretty much admit doing something wrong."
"It's a bittersweet moment for the KindHearts organization. KindHearts is effectively dead because the government has forced it to languish for six years," he said, noting that the name has been tarnished by what turned out to be nothing more than an unproven allegation.
"There is a sense of closure because now we know that the government threw its hands up and said, You're right, we shouldn't have done this.'?"
Mr. Smaili recounted how in the days and weeks after the organization's shutdown, he repeatedly tried to learn what evidence had been collected about the group's alleged affiliation with a militant-terrorist group.
He said KindHearts was not allowed access to any information, including the group's own seized documents or its funds to hire attorneys.
Instead, he said, the KindHearts name was stained by government officials who accused it of terrorist allegiances without offering any proof. And what had become among the nation's largest Muslim charities was put out of business.
Mr. Smaili said that the settlement does allow the organization to fulfill its obligations to donate money where it was intended.
Although initially collected for Pakistan earthquake relief, the money will be used to help provide food, school supplies, and medicines to those in need in Pakistan, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, he said.
"Ohio Charity Removed From Terror List in Suit Settlement" Philanthropy Today May 2, 2012
Erica Blake, "Charity removed from terror list"Toledo Blade May 2, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today