On Aug. 3, 2011 Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder expressing “deep concern that the current interpretation of the law governing material support for terrorism is prohibiting organizations from delivering essential humanitarian relief in the Horn of Africa.” The letter also expressed concern that peacebuilding groups “are unduly constricted” in their efforts. The letter urges Holder and Clinton to facilitate a dialog between the administration and affected organization to produce “a set of guidelines that remove the uncertainty with the scope of the material support law, and the establishment of a process by which actors may seek exemptions.”
Leahy notes that relief organizations are “desperately trying to meet the need for food and medical care” in the Horn of Africa, but that fear their staff could be prosecuted if aid some aid unintentionally is diverted to al-Shabaab, a listed terrorist organization. While acknowledging that the State Department took steps to address these concerns, Leahy notes that “the Department declined to explain publicly what those steps include.” He urges State to grant exemptions to relief organizations focused on this crisis.
The letter closes by noting that “the humanitarian needs of the world and the security of the United States are both served by enabling non-governmental actors to fulfill their missions.”