David Cole challenges the Supreme Court’s idiotic ruling on the definition of “material support” offered to designated terrorist organizations.
Did former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Tom Ridge, a former homeland security secretary, and Frances Townsend, a former national security adviser, all commit a federal crime last month in Paris when they spoke in support of the Mujahedeen Khalq at a conference organized by the Iranian opposition group’s advocates? Free speech, right? Not necessarily.
The problem is that the United States government has labeled the Mujahedeen Khalq a “foreign terrorist organization,” making it a crime to provide it, directly or indirectly, with any material support. And, according to the Justice Department under Mr. Mukasey himself, as well as under the current attorney general, Eric Holder, material support includes not only cash and other tangible aid, but also speech coordinated with a “foreign terrorist organization” for its benefit. It is therefore a felony, the government has argued, to file an amicus brief on behalf of a “terrorist” group, to engage in public advocacy to challenge a group’s “terrorist” designation or even to encourage peaceful avenues for redress of grievances.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe Mr. Mukasey and his compatriots had every right to say what they did. Indeed, I argued just that in the Supreme Court, on behalf of the Los Angeles-based Humanitarian Law Project, which fought for more than a decade in American courts for its right to teach the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey how to bring human rights claims before the United Nations, and to assist them in peace overtures to the Turkish government.
But in June, the Supreme Court ruled against us, stating that all such speech could be prohibited, because it might indirectly support the group’s terrorist activity. Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that a terrorist group might use human rights advocacy training to file harassing claims, that it might use peacemaking assistance as a cover while re-arming itself, and that such speech could contribute to the group’s “legitimacy,” and thus increase its ability to obtain support elsewhere that could be turned to terrorist ends. Under the court’s decision, former President Jimmy Carter’s election monitoring team could be prosecuted for meeting with and advising Hezbollah during the 2009 Lebanese elections.
At the heart of the Supreme Court justices view of terrorism is that it can be defined more in terms of who terrorists are than in what they do. In essence, it declares: once a terrorist, always a terrorist (unless the US government decides otherwise).
This view has become almost a religious orthodoxy in the United States over the last decade. Hence, it is only among hardcore advocates of human rights that the fact that men now being imprisoned primarily because of fears about what they might do in the future, is seriously being challenged.
But if this once-a-terrorist-alway-a-terrorist view was actually applied with rigor, how could the United States justify its support for Israel? Former prime minister Menachim Begin was a terrorist. Tzipi Livni’s parents were terrorists. Terrorism played a vital role in the creation of Israel. And yet material support from the US government to Israel flows in abundance. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.