Char­ity’s li­bel suit tar­gets for­mer Bush of­fi­cial

The or­ga­ni­za­tion says his book wrongly links it to Mideast ter­ror­ists.

Los Angeles Times - - The State - By Greg Kriko­rian

A for­mer Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial has been sued for li­bel by a U.S.-based Is­lamic char­ity for al­leg­ing in a book that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has helped fund Mid­dle East ter­ror­ists.

The law­suit — filed in Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court by Kids in Need of De­vel­op­ment, Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­lief and its chair­woman, Dr. Laila Al-Maray­ati of Los An­ge­les — ac­cuses Matthew Le­vitt of falsely link­ing the char­ity to ex­trem­ists. It also names Yale Univer­sity Press and the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy as de­fen­dants for their role in pub­lish­ing the book last year.

Le­vitt, deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for intelligence and anal­y­sis at the U.S. Trea­sury De­part­ment un­til ear­lier this year, has been a gov­ern­ment wit­ness in sev­eral fed­eral ter­ror­ism cases and is a se­nior fel­low at the in­sti­tute.

Spokes­peo­ple for the de­fen­dants said the al­le­ga­tions were with­out merit.

The Dal­las-based char­ity, known as Kin­derUSA, was founded five years ago by a group of physi­cians and hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief work­ers with the goal of bring­ing ed­u­ca­tional, health and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams into war zones and ar­eas of dis­as­ter, ac­cord­ing to its law­suit and web­site. To date, it has re­ceived and dis­trib­uted about $4 mil­lion to $5 mil­lion over­seas.

The law­suit, filed April 26, con­tends that Le­vitt’s book, “Ha­mas: Pol­i­tics, Char­ity and Ter­ror­ism in the Ser­vice of Ji­had,” in­ac­cu­rately por­trays the or­ga­ni­za­tion as an ac­com­plice to ter­ror­ism, sug­gest­ing that it has funded Ha­mas and has con­nec­tions to Al Qaeda.

In one pas­sage cited in the law­suit, Le­vitt links Kin­derUSA to an­other Texas-based char­ity, the Holy Land Foun­da­tion for Re­lief and De­vel­op­ment, which has been closed by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and is now fight­ing gov­ern­ment al­le­ga­tions in Dal­las that it is con­nected to Ha­mas.

“Even af­ter the clo­sure of the Holy Land Foun­da­tion in 2001, other U.S.-based char­i­ties con­tinue to fund Ha­mas,” the book says. “One or­ga­ni­za­tion that has ap­peared to rise out of the ashes of the [Holy Land Foun­da­tion] is Kin­derUSA.”

In court doc­u­ments, Le­vitt has been listed as a po­ten­tial gov­ern­ment wit­ness in the Holy Land trial, which is to be­gin in July.

Le­vitt’s book also states — falsely, the law­suit al­leges — that “the for­ma­tion of Kin­derUSA high­lights an in­creas­ingly com­mon trend: banned char­i­ties con­tin­u­ing to op­er­ate by in­cor­po­rat­ing un­der new names in re­sponse to des­ig­na­tion as ter­ror­ist en­ti­ties or in an ef­fort to evade at­ten­tion. This trend is also seen with groups rais­ing money for Al Qaeda.”

Al-Maray­ati could not be reached for com­ment. Her at­tor­ney al­leged that Le­vitt’s book makes “spu­ri­ous and un­sub­stan­ti­ated” sug­ges­tions that the char­ity funds ter­ror­ism.

At­tor­ney John P. Kil­roy said Kin­derUSA not only has been des­ig­nated as a law­ful char­ity by the IRS but has twice been a guest of the Trea­sury De­part­ment’s counter-ter­ror­ism unit to par­tic­i­pate in con­fer­ences. He also noted that Al-Maray­ati has been hon­ored by the gov­ern­ment for her work on an in­ter­na­tional health panel.

“This [book] is all part of the witch hunt against Mus­lim char- ities in this coun­try . . . where all Mus­lim char­i­ties that do in­ter­na­tional work are con­sid­ered sus­pect,” Kil­roy said.

A spokes­woman for Le­vitt and the Wash­ing­ton in­sti­tute called the law­suit “mer­it­less” and ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the ac­cu­sa­tions of li­bel would be dis­missed.

“The book was care­fully re­searched and ad­dresses mat­ters of crit­i­cal im­por­tance to this coun­try,” Ali­cia Gansz, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the in­sti­tute, said in a state­ment.

“We are deeply con­cerned about the chill­ing ef­fect law­suits like this may have on other schol­ars who are re­search­ing sim­i­lar top­ics, and we hope that by pre- vail­ing in lit­i­ga­tion, we will help to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment more con­ducive to an open and hon­est dis­cus­sion about top­ics of cur­rent in­ter­est,” she said.

In a let­ter last Novem­ber, Yale Univer­sity wrote to the char­ity’s at­tor­ney and said it had not been in­volved in fact-check­ing Le­vitt’s book but had spo­ken to him and had been as­sured the state­ments made in the book could be sub­stan­ti­ated.

On Fri­day, re­spond­ing to the suit, Yale Univer­sity spokesman Tom Conroy said all books it pub­lishes are vet­ted through a peer re­view pro­gram.

“We rely on our au­thors to ac­cu­rately present ma­te­rial sub­mit­ted for pub­li­ca­tion,” Conroy said, adding that Le­vitt and the Wash­ing­ton in­sti­tute have of­fered as­sur­ances that their ma­te­rial is ac­cu­rate.

Kin­derUSA’s at­tor­ney, how­ever, al­leged that in­ac­cu­ra­cies in the book have dam­aged the char­ity’s work. “Kin­derUSA can­not let un­sub­stan­ti­ated charges like those in Le­vitt’s book stand with­out be­ing chal­lenged,” Kil­roy said.

The law­suit seeks an in­junc­tion to halt the book’s dis­tri­bu­tion and $500,000 in puni­tive dam­ages. “Any­thing less would not be suf­fi­cient to pe­nal­ize this reck­less jour­nal­ism, this reck­less schol­ar­ship,” Kil­roy said.

greg.kriko­rian@la­times.com

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