The Supreme Court is set to decide if it will consider two important terror-financing cases centering on the ability of Americans who have been harmed in terrorist attacks to seek redress against financial institutions that knowingly funnel money to fronts for terrorist organizations such as Hamas.
But the Biden administration has urged the justices to let lower court rulings stand in Weiss v. National Westminster Bank and Strauss v. Credit Lyonnais — and so undercut 25 years of bipartisan consensus that Americans must be able to seek redress against those who knowingly facilitate terrorism.
Terrorism, its reach and its sources of funding constitute a central security issue of our times. Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups seek to alter the geopolitical calculus of target nations through intimidation, extortion and carnage to rain destruction on the innocent.
They also use purported charities to finance their networks and to recruit personnel to carry out terror operations. Why is the Biden administration intent on accommodating this deceit?
Knowingly giving support to a foreign terrorist organization has been a federal crime since 1996. More, Congress has recognized that terror groups often hide their intent, using charitable fundraising to help finance slaughter, so such “charities” are inexorably entwined with their terrorist elements. Four successive administrations have worked to expose these schemes.
Yet the US solicitor general’s brief calls this principle into question by suggesting that some support to terrorist groups might back “legitimate activities.” This would set an appalling precedent that will help Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other hostile entities that use front charities, and so endanger the safety of Americans abroad.
These cases are not the first time the Supreme Court has addressed these issues. In 2010, in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the justices affirmed Congress’ findings that terrorist groups “are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct.”
Elena Kagan, then the US solicitor general, stated emphatically in her oral argument before the court: “Hezbollah builds bombs. Hezbollah also builds homes. What Congress decided [in crafting the law] was when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs.”
In these two new cases, the petitioners — 54 American families who have been victims of foreign terrorism — have fought for 16 years to reach a jury. The Biden administration, however, seeks to terminate their quest for justice.
It seems the administration believes this course will confer more latitude to its overtures to belligerent entities bound to terrorism — including Iran, its leading sponsor.
In the first case, a British bank reported suspicions of terrorist financing to UK regulators, who took no action, thus permitting the bank to continue providing financial services even after the charity in question was designated by the US Treasury Department as a terrorist front. In the second, a French bank held accounts for CBSP, a French charity that the US government found collected large sums that “it then transfers to sub-organizations of Hamas.”
Implicit in the Biden administration’s brief to the Supremes is that our courts should defer to other countries’ judgments instead of our own. This would set a horrendous precedent. Are we also to rely on such judgments made by the governments of Russia or China?
Great Britain is a staunch ally, but our own government’s factual determinations must not be rejected, as a matter of law, in favor of a foreign state’s policy choices. This, however, is the logical endpoint of the Biden administration’s stance.
Should the decisions of the lower courts stand, it will not only impact the safety of Americans abroad, but also compromise our nation’s ability to prosecute multidimensional wars in the future.
Terrorism derives a part of its power by encasing itself within a hall of mirrors. This complicates our reactions, which are difficult enough without the Bidenite attempt to remove a core element of our countervailing response ─ the attainment of civil remedies against those who knowingly facilitate terrorism. This will cost precious lives.
It is imperative that the high court hear these cases and reverse the lower-court rulings. The deceit that involves the misuse of charities must be crushed.
Michael R. Pompeo served as secretary of state, 2018 to 2021.