Thursday, November 11, 2010

Justice Department Prepares for Expansion of Law Prohibiting “Material Support” for Terrorism Nov. 10, 2010

In late September the FBI carried out a series of raids of homes and
anti-war offices of public activists in Minneapolis and
Chicago. Following the raids the Obama Justice Department subpoenaed
14 activists to a grand jury in Chicago and also subpoenaed the files
of several anti-war 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 non-violent 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 quite clear that
the federal prosecutors are intent on accusing public non-violent
political organizers, many affiliated with Freedom Road Socialist
Organization (FRSO), 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 the PFLP and
the FARC "threaten US national security, foreign policy or economic
interests," a finding not reviewable by the Courts, and listed both
groups as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO).

In 1996, Congress made it a crime then punishable by 10 years, later
increased to 15 years, to anyone in the U.S. who provides "material
support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization or attempts
or conspires 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 to 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 as FTOs by the Secretary of State in a
closed hearing, in which the evidence is heard secretly. Despite the
non-violent, peacemaking goal of this speech and training, the
majority of the Supreme Court nonetheless interpreted the law to make
such conduct a crime. Finding a whole new exception to the First
Amendment, the Court decided that any support, even if it involves
non-violent 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 anyway cooperate or coordinate with designated FTOs.

The Court distinguishes what it refers to "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 as to where independent
advocacy becomes impermissible coordination is left open and vague.

Seizing on this over broad definition of "material support," the U.S.
government is now moving on political groups and activists who are
clearly exercising fundamental First Amendment rights in vocally
opposing the government's branding of foreign liberation movements as
terrorist and support their struggles against U.S. backed repressive
regimes and illegal occupations.

Under the new definition of "material support," the efforts of
President Jimmy Carter to monitor the 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 spokesmen from Hamas or other
designated groups by the New York Times or Washington Post, or the
filing by human rights attorneys of amicus briefs 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 or the
establishment media, but members of a Marxist organization and vocal
opponents of the governments of Israel and Colombia and the U.S.
policies supporting these repressive governments.

President Obama in his foreword to the recent autobiography of Nelson
Mandela, Conversations with Myself, wrote that "Mandela's sacrifice
was so great that it called upon people everywhere to do what they
could on behalf of human progress. [and] . . . [t]he 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 Mr. Obama's First Amendment
advocacy, Mr. Mandela and his organization the African National
Congress (ANC) were denounced as terrorist by the U.S. government.
The "material support" law, if in effect back then, would have opened
Mr. Obama up to potential criminal prosecution. It is ironic, and
the height of hypocrisy that this same man who speaks with such
reverence for Mr. Mandela and recalls his own support for the
struggle against apartheid, now allows the Justice Department under
his command to criminalize similar First Amendment advocacy against
Israeli apartheid and repressive foreign governments.

To provide financial support for the legal expenses those under
attack contact: tax deductible checks can be sent to the

National Lawyers Guild Foundation. c/o National Lawyers Guild, 132
Nassau St. Room 922, New York, N.Y. 10038

Michael Deutsch
People's Law Office
Chicago, Nov., 2010

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