Merchant of Death
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The New Tactic on Terrorism-related Prosecutions
As numerous colleagues have mentioned here, the recent guilty verdicts in the CARE International charity case is an important one for the government.

It is important to highlight the the strategy successfully used by the government in this case-forcing transparency on groups that claim to be charitable.

One of the architects of the government's national strategy in this regard is our colleague Jeffrey Breinholt, on leave from the Department of Justice's terror finance division. He highlighted the tactic in his book Taxing Terrorism From Al Capone to al Qaeda: Fighting Violence Through Financial Regulation.

Islamist groups (and others operating under false pretenses) cannot operate with the required transparency because they are operating in an opaque manner to hide what they do.

Operating in the U.S. system, which has mechanisms for enforcing the transparency requirements, is more difficult to do that it is elsewhere. Hiding the money or its destinations can lead to seemingly mundane charges of readily-recognized crimes.

Just last month at a public event on Capitol Hill, moderated by CTB's Andy Cochran, Breinholt spoke about the strategic opportunities that arise from legal regimes that seek to force transparency on those prone to tradecraft. Tradecraft can be difficult to prove, but white collar crime is less so.

That is the reason for the success of this tactic, and, I believe, why we will see it again in upcoming cases: juries understand white collar crimes, from mis-directing money from charities to tax evasion, far more easily than they do cases that try to tie together a host of facts that led to a specific type of terrorist action.

The strategy is starting to pay off. It not only narrows the cases down to digestible, recognizable and familiar crimes, also imposes a discipline on the prosecutors, so they focus their cases in ways that effectively deprives the defense of their ability to claim the government overcharged or over reached in the case.

My colleague Matt Levitt summed it up nicely:

Despite all of the above evidence tying Care to terrorism, the organization -- like Al Capone -- was ultimately held accountable for mundane charges on which the government could secure criminal convictions.

In fact, the judge barred the word "terrorism" throughout the trial in an effort to keep the jury focused on the specific charges at hand. But the ultimate effect of the tax law conviction was to expose and hold accountable a fundraising network that raised significant amounts of money for al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Detractors may say the lack of a specific terrorism charge proves this was not a terrorism case, but the evidence belies such claims. Sometimes the best strategy for a terrorism prosecution is to focus on the underlying and mundane criminal activity.

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