Ominous Expansion of "Anti-Terrorism" Law
By Michael Deutsch
In late September 2010, the FBI carried out a series of
raids of homes and offices of activists in
Department subpoenaed 14 activists to a grand jury in
community organizations. In carrying out these
repressive actions, the Justice Department was taking
its lead from the Supreme Court's 6-3 opinion last June
in Holder v. the Humanitarian Law Project, which decided
that nonviolent First Amendment speech and advocacy
"coordinated with" or "under the direction of" a foreign
group listed by the Secretary of State as "terrorist" was a crime.
The search warrants and grand jury subpoenas make it
clear that federal prosecutors are intent on accusing
nonviolent political organizers of providing "material
support" through their public advocacy for the Popular
Front for the Liberation of
Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Secretary of State has determined that both PLFP and
or economic interests"-a finding not reviewable by the
courts-and listed both groups as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs).
In 1996, Congress made it a crime-then punishable by 10
years (later increased to 15)-for anyone in the
provide "material support or resources to a foreign
terrorist organization or attempt or conspire to do so."
The present statute defines "material support or
service, including currency or monetary instruments or
financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or
assistance, safe houses, false documentation or
identification, communications equipment, facilities,
weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel and
transportation except medicine or religious materials."
In the Humanitarian Law Project case, human rights
workers wanted to teach members of the
which seeks an independent Kurdish state, and the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which sought an
independent state in
and international law to peacefully resolve disputes and
obtain relief from the United Nations and other
international bodies for human rights abuses by the
were designated FTOs by the Secretary of State in a
closed hearing, where evidence is heard secretly.
Despite the nonviolent, peacemaking goal of the
Humanitarian Law Project, the majority of the Supreme
Court interpreted the law to make such conduct a crime.
Finding a new exception to the First Amendment, the
Court decided that any support, even if it involves
nonviolent efforts towards peace, is illegal under the
law since it "frees up other resources within the
organization that may be put to violent ends" and also
helps lend "legitimacy" to foreign terrorist groups.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts, despite
the lack of any evidence, further opined that the FTO
could use the human rights law to "intimidate, harass,
or destruct" its adversaries and that even peace talks
themselves could be used as a cover to re-arm for
further attacks. Thus, the Court's opinion criminalizes
efforts by independent groups to work for peace if they
in any way cooperate or coordinate with designated FTOs.
The Court distinguishes what it refers to as
"independent advocacy," which it finds is not prohibited
by the statute from "advocacy performed in coordination
with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist
organization," which is, for the first time, found to be
a crime under the statute. The exact line demarcating
where independent advocacy becomes impermissible is left
open and vague.
Seizing on this overbroad definition of "material
who are clearly exercising First Amendment rights by
vocally opposing the government's branding of foreign
liberation movements as terrorist and supporting their
struggles against U.S.-backed repressive regimes.
Under the new definition of "material support," the
efforts of President Jimmy Carter to monitor elections
there, including the designated FTO Hezbollah, could
well be prosecuted as a crime. Similarly, the
publication of op-ed articles by FTO spokespeople from
Hamas or other designated groups by the New York Times
by human rights attorneys arguing against a group's
terrorist designation or the statute itself, could also
now be prosecuted.
Of course, the first targets of this draconian expansion
of the material support law will not be a former
president, but members of left organizations.
In his foreword to Nelson Mandela's recent autobiography
Conversations with Myself, President Obama wrote that
"Mandela's sacrifice was so great that it called upon
people everywhere to do what they could on behalf of
human progress. The first time I became politically
active was during my college years, when I joined a
campaign on behalf of divestment, and the effort to end
Amendment advocacy, Mandela and his organization the
African National Congress (ANC) were denounced as
terrorists by the
support" law had been in effect back then, Obama would
have been subject to potential criminal prosecution. It
is ironic that the same person who speaks with such
reverence for Mandela now allows the Justice Department
under his presidency to criminalize similar First
Amendment advocacy against Israeli apartheid and
repressive foreign governments.