It seems hard to fathom but the evidence is now overwhelming: if someone repeats the word “terrorist” often enough their brain will become functionally useless.
Consider the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday in support of the Obama administration’s sweeping definition of “material support” as applied to so-called Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) — a designation applied by the State Department.
If an NGO such as the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) wants to train a group such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes, then the HLP risks criminal prosecution. Why? Such training could help legitimize the PKK and also free up resources that it can dedicate to its terrorist activities.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan (who is nominated to become a Supreme Court Justice) argued the case for the Obama administration.
The Court ruled that even though pure speech is entitled to a high level of constitutional scrutiny, it would forgo such scrutiny and defer to Congress and the executive branch, which asserted unsupported, theoretical findings that support aimed at countering violence can somehow indirectly support violence. The Court’s reasoning was that the matter involves national security.
With its overly deferential approach, the Court failed to fulfill its responsibilities in the checks-and-balances system that keeps our democracy healthy. If it had looked behind the broad generalizations cited by the government, it would have seen there are no facts either in the Congressional Record or elsewhere that support the Congressional or State Department “findings.” And even if there are some circumstances where conflict mediation and human rights training can be co-opted to support violence, it is not inevitable that it will happen in all cases.
For an obvious example of the fault in the findings, one need look no further than the Good Friday Accords that brought a lasting peace to Northern Ireland for the first time in more than eight centuries. For years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had worked to bring violent factions of Catholics and Protestants to the bargaining table. Their work behind the scenes was instrumental in persuading those groups — “terrorists” in the eyes of most of their captive civilian populations, as well as the governments seeking to disarm them — to put down their weapons and negotiate a peaceful resolution to 850 years of violence.
If the “material support” law had been in place, as authorized by the Supreme Court today, those organizations would have been criminals. And the people of Northern Ireland would likely still be victims of sectarian violence that only a very few supported.
“Orwellian” doesn’t begin to describe a law that makes it a crime to promote peaceful conflict resolution.
If the administration actually intends to uphold the law in the way they argue it should be applied, then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be expected to continue forever.
There is a rather broad consensus among foreign policy analysts in the US and Europe, that Hamas, a designated FTO, has far too much grassroots political support among ordinary Palestinians for the organization to be destroyed. Neither Israel’s war on Gaza nor it’s internationally supported siege of Gaza, succeeded in bringing the Islamist organization and democratically-elected government to its knees.
If the Obama administration wants to revive the Middle East peace process, sooner or later Hamas will have to be involved. It’s hard if not impossible to anticipate that those involved in the initial efforts to open dialogue with Hamas can avoid falling foul of the broad definition of “material support” that the Supreme Court has just upheld.
The Obama administration told the Supreme Court that the United States is engaged in an effort to “delegitimize and weaken” groups such as Hamas, yet it would behoove Washington and democratic governments everywhere to remember where political legitimacy springs from: not idiotic Supreme Court rulings, but the will of the people — and that includes the Palestinians.