Once a terrorist, always a terrorist — unless you’re an Israeli

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.

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2 thoughts on “Once a terrorist, always a terrorist — unless you’re an Israeli

  1. pabelmont

    Whaddya mean those heroes were terrorists? Is it enough (merely) that GB/UK called them “terrorists”? Talk is cheap. NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT. What matters is wheterh ther group is listed on the US Government’s “Attorney General’s List” (or whatever they call it thee days), I mean the government’s list that says this person or that group is a terrorist.

    I just bet that Begin and Livni were not on that list (in 1948?) because that list didn’t even exist then. Nyah! so there.

    However, those bozos should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (unless, of course, the MEK was taken off the list for the day that they were all communing together).

  2. Aditya

    Don’t forget former Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir, who in 1943 wrote, “Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to disallow terror as a means of war,” and “We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with the national struggle.” “First and foremost, terror is for us a part of the political war appropriate for the circumstances of today, and its task is a major one: it demonstrates in the clearest language, heard throughout the world including by our unfortunate brethren outside the gates of this country, our war against the occupier.”
    Source: http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199112–02.htm

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