June 25, 2010; Source: Kansas City Star | When the Bush Administration came up with voluntary guidelines for charitable giving overseas, meant to avoid having charitable and philanthropic dollars end up in the coffers of terrorist groups, several U.S. nonprofits protested the guidelines as overreaching, vague. That all still might be true, but one of the Islamic charities that was raided by federal agents in 2004 for potentially assisting terrorists such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hamas has pleaded guilty to having sent $1 million to Iraq in violation against government sanctions.

The executive director of the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA had contended since the raid that it was an entirely independent organization, not connected to other charities in the Middle East, and that it hadn’t been funneling money to proscribed organizations. But in court, last week, he acknowledged that the organization was part of a network called IARA headquartered in Khartoum, in the Sudan and that he had instructed an IARA spokesperson to lie during a television interview concerning the charity’s connection to the East Africa embassy bombings, and more.

Still to be tried is a former Republican Congressman, Mark Deli Siljander, who allegedly took $75,000 from IARA to have IARA’s name removed from a list of terrorist organizations compiled by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee—$75,000 that prosecutors say IARA diverted from a U.S. AID grant to have been used in aid projects in Mali. What is unfortunate about this story is that there are many charities, including Islamic-based charities, that are trying to provide services and support to people who desperately need them in the Middle East, including in areas that may be under the influence or control of groups like Hamas or the Taliban.

The fact that the IARA-USA’s executive director did a complete 180 degree turn after years of across-the-board denials will serve to inflame critics that all humanitarian assistance to the Middle East, through Islamic charities or through others, is suspect. Donors shouldn’t be stupid about who and what they give to if they’re concerned about that troubled region, but critics shouldn’t ignore the legitimate humanitarian needs of the region that can and should be addressed in part by charitable giving.—Rick Cohen