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CRS Report Assails Bush Executive Order
Language Blocking Assets Related to Iraq Insurgency Funding Deemed Too Broad
By SPENCER ACKERMAN 11/29/2007 4:40 PM ET
Over the summer, TPMmuckraker reported on an under-the-radar executive order issued by President Bush allowing him to freeze or seize the U.S-based assets of anyone, potentially including U.S. citizens, he deems to threaten "the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq" or who "undermin(e) efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq."

The executive order was written so broadly as to alarm civil libertarians, who feared it was a back-door attempt at criminalizing the antiwar movement -- which Bush could conceivably argue posed a threat to Iraq by seeking to end the U.S. military presence -- or even unwitting donors to insurgent-linked charities. A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, Molly Millerwise, told us not to worry: "Be assured that the individuals and entities we add to this list are in full faith acting in an aggressive, violent and reckless way in financing the insurgency," she said.

Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said: actually, maybe you should worry. It released a report exploring "the contrast between the executive order's broad language and its narrow aim" and questioning why the Treasury Department hasn't released a list of eligible Iraq-related targets for the order.

While CRS credits Millerwise with indicating that the order will cause the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to primarily go after foreigners, it criticizes the order's "piggybacking potential":

The issue is whether the executive order's application to anyone who provides "support" for a designated entity might affect U.S. persons inadvertently involved in some form of assistance, such as arranging transportation for, selling consumer goods to, or providing routine legal assistance to an entity that becomes blocked under the executive order. Could U.S. persons find themselves designated under the authority of the executive order and thereby have all of their assets subject to blocking whether or not the assets have any nexus with the transaction of any blocked entity or with any foreign entity?

The report says we can't answer that question until OFAC releases a set of regulations covering how to implement the order. Nothing so far appears to be forthcoming, despite Millerwise's comments to TPMmuckraker creating what CRS calls an "expectation" that OFAC will document its rules for implementation. It's also not clear whether interest from a particular member of Congress prompted the report -- and, if so, which member.

(Via Steve Aftergood, who observes, "the potential application of the order appears to be technically unlimited since it includes a recursive clause that has no defined endpoint." In other words, you can be targeted under the order even if you're X Degrees of Kevin Bacon away from an insurgent-related financial transaction.)

Executive Order 13,438: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq, CRS, November 16, 2007 RL34254.pdf

Spencer Ackerman is a reporter for TPMmuckraker.com.

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