Update: "Right-wing" Report Still Accumulating Critics and Supporters

A controversial DHS report that warned of "right-wing extremism" refuses to surrender its place in the public spotlight. Immediately condemned by veterans' groups and Republican lawmakers after its release in April 2009, the report is now being heralded by some as a timely warning in the wake of several acts of domestic violence that attracted national attention. The initial criticism of the report led to its withdrawal and triggered a House resolution exploring its creation. 

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Report: Red Cross Task Force Defines "Direct Participation in Hostilities" and Protected Civilian Status

As warfare moves away from the battlefield and armed forces of nation-states and is often conducted in densely populated cities and regions by organized armed groups, including terrorist organizations, the line between combatants and civilians has become increasingly blurred. To address the pertinent distinction, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released Interpretive Guidance on June 2, 2009 that clarifies the meaning of "direct participation in hostilities."  

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Obama's Cairo Pledge on Charitable Giving Rules Opens Door to Reform

President Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo had encouraging words for nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and around the world, as he recognized that U.S. charitable giving rules have made charitable donations difficult for Muslims and committed himself to working with American Muslims to resolve the problem. The Charity Security Network and Muslim Advocates each responded with statements pledging cooperation in developing new rules that protect and promote legitimate charitable programs and their donors, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

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President's Cairo Statement on Charitable Giving Rules Welcome

U.S. Charities, both Muslim and non-Muslim, Affected by Outdated Rules, are Ready to Work to Protect Zakat and Humanitarian Programs

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Amendment to State Secrets Bill Would Expand Ban on Humanitarian Aid and Other Programs

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) proposed an amendment to the State Secrets Protection Act (S. 417) on May 21, 2009 when the bill was scheduled for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was one of several amendments offered, but the committee took no action. However, Kyl's proposal, rejected by the Senate in 2007, would amend the prohibition on providing "material support" to terrorists to include aid to members of their families or those "otherwise associated" with them, subject to a broadly defined intent standard. The proposal contravenes accepted standards of nondiscrimination in humanitarian aid developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and would criminalize aid based on a subjective and undefined intent standard.

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PVS Update: Vetting System May Include Contractors; House Bill Abandoned

There has been a flurry of activity on USAID's Partner Vetting System (PVS) in the aftermath of the 90 day delay for implementing the final rule, now scheduled to take effect on Aug. 4, 2009. It would require USAID grant applicants to submit detailed personal information on key individuals to the government to be checked against secret watchlists. In May 2009, a State Department official indicated the rule may be expanded to include contractors, the sponsor of legislation to mandate PVS will not pursue her bill and a GAO report found vetting in current USAID programs in Gaza and the West Bank has improved.

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Heavy Sentences Handed out in Holy Land Trial Send Chilling Message to U.S. NGOs

On May 27, 2009, U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis handed out sentences for five Arab Americans associated with Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) who had been convicted in November 2008 on charges ranging from supporting a terrorist organization to money laundering and tax fraud.  Two of the men, Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi were each sentenced to 65 years in a federal prison and the others each received between 15 and 20 years.  Two of the defendants filed appeals within hours of the sentencing, and the others are expected to appeal shortly.

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GAO Report on Public Diplomacy Creates Opportunity for Nonprofits to Show Benefits of International Programs

The General Accountability Office released U.S. Public Diplomacy: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight on May 27, 2009. It finds weaknesses in U.S. international communications efforts and notes that the President must issue a new comprehensive communications and public diplomacy strategy by December 2009. Recommendations call for a "clear definition of the problem, desired results, and a delineation of agency roles and responsibilities." Development of a new strategy creates an opportunity for the U.S. nonprofit sector to urge greater recognition of the role of philanthropy and aid and development programs in countering violent extremism, and development of policies that encourage and facilitate that work.

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Administration's Upcoming Shift on Counterterrorism Strategy Should Include Fairness for Charities

Commentary by Kay Guinane: FBI planning a bigger role in terrorism fight

A May 28 story in the Los Angeles Times, reports that the Obama administration is in the process of overhauling  U.S. counterterrorism strategy by shifting primary responsibility to law enforcement rather than intelligence agencies and the military. This could lead to fairer treatment of charities accused of terrorism by the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which operates under the same principles of secrecy and absolute power as the CIA when it comes to shutting down charities. 

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More Revelations of FBI Infiltration of Protest Groups at 2008 Republican Convention

On May 17, 2009, the Des Moines Register reported that they obtained confidential documents that show an FBI informant infiltrated an anti-war group that met in Iowa City before the September 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC). Additionally, an undercover sheriff's deputy from Minnesota travelled to Iowa to attend an anti-war conference and collect information on a group planning to protest at the RNC in St. Paul. The documents raise concerns about whether the FBI was attempting to suppress political dissent and activism. 

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