PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Attorneys argued the terror status of the Islamic charity Al-Haramain before the 9th Circuit on Wednesday. The government said it would be too burdensome to notify all of the estimated 10,000 people and groups designated as terrorist organizations of the reasons for the government's designation.
The Treasury Department designated the organization as a global terrorist group in 2004, saying it had ties to Osama bin Laden and Chechnyan rebels. Al-Haramain co-founder Pete Seda was found guilty in 2010 of having smuggled $150,000 to Saudi Arabia in 2000 for the alleged purpose of funding mujahedeen in the Chechnya conflict.
On Wednesday, David Cole, attorney for the Ashland, Ore. branch of Al-Haramain and Georgetown University law professor, and argued that the court should reject the government's designation of Al-Haramain as a global terrorist group because the government has refused to explain why the assets of the Oregon charity were frozen.
"All we're seeking is a fair shot," he told the three-judge panel, asking it to remand the case.
Cole claimed the primary purpose of the Oregon branch of Al-Haramain was the distribution of Islamic literature. The charity responded to government requests for literature, and was designated as a terrorist group in 2004. Cole said the group was "forced to guess" that the religious literature was the reason for the designation.
Because the Saudi branch of Al-Haramain had its assets frozen in 2004, Cole maintained that the two branches were independent of each other.
Cole claimed the money Seda sent to Chechnya was through a legitimate source recognized by the Russian government.
Cole also criticized the Treasury Department for releasing an announcement that falsely claimed Al-Haramain had direct links to bin Laden and said the group wants an opportunity to address these issues.
Attorney David Letter of the Justice Department argued that remanding on those grounds would be "totally inappropriate."
He said the evidence is "absolutely clear" that Al-Haramain was a "key financial supporter" of al-Qaida in the past and rejected the idea that the U.S. branch had no ties to the Saudi branch. Three of the U.S. group's key members, Letter said, were also members of Al-Haramain's global organization.
Judge Susan Graber questioned Letter about the Justice Department's secrecy regarding its reasons for the designating Al-Haramain as a terrorist organization.
"Why should I have to guess?" asked Judge Sidney Thomas.
Letter said the lack of reasons was harmless error, and noted that the Justice Department and State Department have designated thousands of people and organizations as terrorists. He said that remanding this designation could lead to the remand of others, which would burden the government.
During Cole's rebuttal, he noted that the "vast majority" of the approximately 10,000 people and groups the government has designated as terror-based have no ties to the U.S. and thus are not subject to due process. He rejected Letter's assertion that the government would be burdened by remanding this case.
Cole emphasized that while services to designated terror organizations are forbidden, advocacy is not. He noted that even though the U.S. government once recognized a worldwide communist enterprise, the Supreme Court has supported citizen's right to join the Communist Party.
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