Friday, July 18, 2008
OMB Watch has published a paper about the impact of the war on terror on charities worldwide. OMB Watch describes itself on its website as "a nonprofit government watchdog organization located in Washington, DC" with a mission "to promote open government, accountability and citizen participation." Here is the OMB Watch July 14, 2008, press release about the paper:
OMB Watch and Grantmakers Without Borders today released a paper that comprehensively documents the impacts that the war on terror is having on charities, foundations, and underserved populations around the globe. Titled Collateral Damage: How the War on Terror Hurts Charities, Foundations, and the People They Serve, the paper makes clear that shortsighted, undemocratic policies are constraining the critical activities of the charitable and philanthropic sectors, stifling free speech, and ultimately impeding the fight against terrorism.
According to OMB Watch and Grantmakers Without Borders, the current U.S. counterterrorism framework is not working well when it comes to U.S. nonprofits. Rather than recognizing the sector as a valuable ally in the war on terror, government unfairly characterizes nonprofits as conduits for terrorist funding and a breeding ground for aggressive dissent.
Kay Guinane, Director of Nonprofit Speech Rights at OMB Watch, noted that the current approach to counterterrorism as it relates to nonprofits and foundations is ultimately counterproductive. Guinane said, "Because of the federal government's outdated policy, U.S. nonprofits operate within a legal regime that harms charitable programs, undermines the independence of the nonprofit sector, and weakens civil society."
Vanessa Dick, Advocacy Coordinator at Grantmakers Without Borders, explained that the government is not targeting its counterterrorism efforts properly. She noted, "The counterterrorism framework set in place after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has unfortunately been abused by the executive branch and some in Congress. Instead of focusing on reducing or eliminating poverty, inequality, oppression, strife, and other root causes of terrorism, the government has lobbed unfounded accusations at the nonprofit sector and has inaccurately claimed that charities are a significant source of terrorist funding."
Among the issues covered in the paper, the authors assert that current counterterrorism policies are based on a flawed legal regime and broad, vague definitions; the policies rely on flawed assumptions about terrorism and nonprofits; and the policies are abused by the government to engage in unconstitutional, political use of surveillance powers. The authors then provide a number of recommendations for how the government can both effectively combat terrorism and protect the ability of the nonprofit sector to carry out its crucial work throughout the world.
Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, said the paper offers valuable insight and perspective. " Terrorism is a strategy designed to elicit self-injurious over-reaction," noted Harper. " Collateral Damage makes the case that it’s having precisely that effect in the area of international charity. For only a remote chance of affecting terrorist activity, the U.S. counterterrorism regime may be interfering with charitable work that would weaken the impetus for terrorist activity in the first place. That’s penny-wise and pound-foolish."
Professor David Cole, a constitutional law expert at the Georgetown University Law Center, added, "The legal regime employed in the name of cutting off terror financing gives the executive branch a "blank check" to blacklist disfavored individuals and groups, imposes guilt by association, and lacks even minimal attributes of fair process. Yet it is probably the least understood of all our anti-terror initiatives. This report does a great service in shedding light on a critically important issue."
Guinane concluded, "In order to preserve the rights of all nonprofit organizations, and indeed, the rights of all people, all levels of government must conduct their counterterrorism activities in a way that consistently protects liberty and civil society. Otherwise, Americans and others lose safeguards that were designed to protect us all from creeping tyranny."
For the text of the paper, see "Collateral Damage: How the War on Terror Hurts Charities, Foundations, and the People They Serve" on the OMB website.