Brief in US v El Mazain Argues Material Support Conviction Should Require Knowledge of Terror Connection

On Oct. 26, 2010, a diverse group of U.S. organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit arguing that individuals may not be convicted under a statute barring “material support” to “designated terrorist groups” if they have not knowingly supported any designated terrorist group. Under the lower court’s ruling, a charity that carefully checks all government lists of “designated terrorists” and avoids supporting any of them may still be convicted, if the government later shows that, unbeknownst to the donor, its grantee was connected to another designated group. The case, U.S. v el Mezain et al, involves the 2008 convictions of leaders of the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation (HLF) on a variety of charges. 

The brief limited its arguments to the charges involving support to non-designated groups, because if upheld, the lower court’s decision would render thousands of foundations and charities in the United States vulnerable to criminal prosecution. It was filed by 20 foundations, charities, peace groups and constitutional rights organizations, including the 1750-member Council on Foundations, The Carter Center (founded by former President Jimmy Carter), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and Grassroots International. The Dallas-based HLF and its leaders were convicted of aiding five local charities in the West Bank and Gaza that are not on any government lists of terrorist organizations, but which the prosecution said were controlled by Hamas, which is listed. The full list of signatories is here. The current appeal involves the leaders, while the Holy Land Foundation, which was unrepresented at trial, is pursuing a separate appeal.       

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