William & Mary Law Review


Within days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government extended its already existing commitment to combat terrorism. President Bush declared a financial war on terrorism, with the aim of depriving terrorists of their necessary financial support. He issued Executive Order 13,224, which ordered the blocking of assets of specially designated global terrorists.' Congress enacted legislation that not only fortified previously existing criminal and civil laws, but also added new ones for use in combating terrorists and terrorism. The Bush Administration dedicated resources to existing and newly created governmental structures that would be responsible for enforcing these laws and for waging the financial war on terrorism. This enhanced legal and structural arsenal contains multiple means by which the U.S. government, as well as citizens injured by activities of foreign terrorists, can pursue economic or criminal sanctions against terrorists and their private sponsors, including individuals, as well as foreign nongovernmental organizations, domestic charitable organizations, and their governing bodies. Awareness of this greatly expanded potential exposure to liability, and even criminal sanctions, has already engendered unforeseen side effects. Some well-intentioned donors reportedly now are reticent to make charitable contributions to domestic charitable organizations. Law-abiding Muslim charities have documented a decline in contributions received, and charitable organizations are struggling to maintain their pre-September 11 levels of commitment to global philanthropy. As the financial war on terrorism evolves and the arsenal of weapons is strengthened, the government's successes not only may starve terrorists financially, but also may have the unfortunate and unintentional consequence of significantly reducing resources committed to legitimate global philanthropy. Such a result, ironically, would contribute to fundamentalists' and radical terrorists' goal of disrupting globalism, which, if otherwise uninterrupted, could help to foster civil liberties and to achieve social and economic security and prosperity abroad that might diminish the intrinsic potency of terrorist groups and could lessen much of their appeal to outsiders. Preventive measures thus are essential to minimize the potential negative consequences of the government's financial war on terrorism. To guard against exposure to liability, donors and leaders of domestic charitable organizations must undertake adequate due diligence. Moreover, the government must take great care to protect against overzealous legislation and enforcement actions. Absent sufficient safeguards, the government's actions may exacerbate, rather than diminish, the ultimate effects sought by terrorists.