Monday, February 7, 2011

Ominous Expansion of "Anti-Terrorism" Law

Ominous Expansion of "Anti-Terrorism" Law

By Michael Deutsch

Z Magazine

February 2011


In late September 2010, the FBI carried out a series of

raids of homes and offices of activists in Minneapolis

and Chicago. Following the raids, the Obama Justice

Department subpoenaed 14 activists to a grand jury in

Chicago, as well as the files of several antiwar and

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 Palestine (PFLP) and the

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The

Secretary of State has determined that both PLFP and

FARC "threaten U.S. national security, foreign policy,

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 U.S. to

provide "material support or resources to a foreign

terrorist organization or attempt or conspire to do so."

The present statute defines "material support or

resources" as: "any property, tangible or intangible, 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 Kurdistan PKK,

which seeks an independent Kurdish state, and the

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which sought an

independent state in Sri Lanka, how to use humanitarian

and international law to peacefully resolve disputes and

obtain relief from the United Nations and other

international bodies for human rights abuses by the

governments of Turkey and Sri Lanka. Both organizations

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

support," the U.S. government is going after activists

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

in Lebanon and coordinate with the political parties

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

or the Washington Post, or the filing of amicus briefs

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

apartheid in South Africa." At the time of Obama's First

Amendment advocacy, Mandela and his organization the

African National Congress (ANC) were denounced as

terrorists by the U.S. government. If the "material

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.



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