Group Obtains Sept. 11 Charity Funds, Then Sues Government

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - With its stated goal of fighting "hate violence" and "workplace discrimination," an Asian-American civil rights group obtained grant money from a charity established to help victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That group, however, is now accused of obstructing the federal government's investigation of the attacks.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) received a $30,000 grant from the September 11th Fund, ostensibly to fight "hate violence" and "workplace discrimination." But, AALDEF is also suing the Justice Department for its detention of immigrants rounded up in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

AALDEF joined a coalition of 19 groups that have signed on to the lawsuit, including the ACLU, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American Islamic Relations, People for the American Way, and Nation Magazine. The lawsuit was filed Dec. 5 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Peter Flaherty of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Washington D.C. based legal watchdog group, criticized the September 11th fund for issuing the grant to AALDEF.

"Americans who have generously given to help the victims of September 11 and their families will be shocked and outraged to learn their money is going to a group that is trying to obstruct the federal government's investigation of the terrorist attacks," he said in an interview with

"Money collected for the victims has been distributed to a group that is actively working against the terror victims," Flaherty added.

The lawsuit, which lists the U.S. Department of Justice as the defendant, attempts to force the government to publish information on people detained since the terror attacks.

The groups are suing under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) "for injunctive and appropriate relief, and seeking the expedited processing and immediate release of agency records requested by plaintiffs from defendant Department of Justice (DOJ) and [Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).]"

The suit was filed after the government refused to respond to an Oct. 29 FOIA request seeking information on the detainees. According to the lawsuit, "the manner in which the government is conducting its investigation also raises issues of the utmost public importance."

Federal law enforcement officials have detained more than 1,000 people since the terror attacks in September.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has refused to divulge the information about the detainees, citing national security issues.

"We might as well mail this list to the Osama bin Laden al-Qaeda network as to release it," Ashcroft said previously in response to repeated requests to make the names public.

"The al-Qaeda network may be able to get information about which terrorists we have in our custody," Ashcroft said. "But, they'll have to get it on their own and get it from someone other than me."

AALDEF did not reply to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Hate Crimes and Workplace Discrimination?

The September 11th Fund, a project of the United Way and the New York Community Trust, had already been under scrutiny by critics for its $30,000 grant to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Margaret Fung, executive director of AALDEF, told last month, that the $30,000 grant was "to hire community organizers to assist in providing information and legal assistance to victims of hate violence, especially in the South Asian community here in New York City" and to fight "workplace discrimination."

AALDEF's web site states the mission of the group is to "achieve social and economic justice for Asian Americans and all Americans."

The group's goals include stopping "racial profiling based on... race, religion or national origin" and defending affirmative action programs.

AALDEF is also a member of the Alliance for Justice, a consortium of left-of-center groups including the National Organization for Women Legal Defense Fund, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Planned Parenthood, and the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund.

John Carlisle of the Capital Research Center, a conservative charity watchdog group, said the grant to fight hate crimes was an "abuse of trust on the part of the September 11th Fund."

"The public expects that the money that is given to these organizations goes to help the families, and clearly a lot of these organizations are politically controversial organizations which are doing little or no relief work on behalf of those victims' families," Carlisle added.

Fung last month defended the use of the grant from the September 11th Fund for hate crime and workplace discrimination programs. "They are victims of the tragedy because the kinds of incidents that occurred had a direct impact on individuals. It would not have occurred but for the attacks on the WTC," she explained.

Jeanine Moss, spokeswoman for the September 11th Fund, told last month that the ideology of the non-profit groups receiving the grants is irrelevant.

"People are concerned with the victims of the crimes. That is why millions of people opened their hearts and wallets to this cause. I don't think people are saying, 'Oh gosh, I don't want to help them if the person who is helping them might not have all the same values I have,'" she said.

"Our job is not to judge what an organization's opinions are. Our job is to help victims of the September 11th attack," Moss added.