Washington’s high-powered terrorist supporters

Glenn Greenwald writes: We now have an extraordinary situation that reveals the impunity with which political elites commit the most egregious crimes, as well as the special privileges to which they explicitly believe they — and they alone — are entitled. That a large bipartisan cast of Washington officials got caught being paid substantial sums of money by an Iranian dissident group that is legally designated by the U.S. Government as a Terrorist organization, and then meeting with and advocating on behalf of that Terrorist group, is very significant for several reasons. New developments over the last week make it all the more telling. Just behold the truly amazing set of facts that have arisen:

In June, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 6-3 ruling in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law. In that case, the Court upheld the Obama DOJ’s very broad interpretation of the statute that criminalizes the providing of “material support” to groups formally designated by the State Department as Terrorist organizations. The five-judge conservative bloc (along with Justice Stevens) held that pure political speech could be permissibly criminalized as “material support for Terrorism” consistent with the First Amendment if the “advocacy [is] performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization” (emphasis added). In other words, pure political advocacy in support of a designated Terrorist group could be prosecuted as a felony — punishable with 15 years in prison — if the advocacy is coordinated with that group.

This ruling was one of the most severe erosions of free speech rights in decades because, as Justice Breyer (joined by Ginsberg and Sotomayor) pointed out in dissent, “all the activities” at issue, which the DOJ’s interpretation would criminalize, “involve the communication and advocacy of political ideas and lawful means of achieving political ends.” The dissent added that the DOJ’s broad interpretation of the statute “gravely and without adequate justification injure[s] interests of the kind the First Amendment protects.” As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole, who represented the plaintiffs, explained, this was literally “the first time ever” that “the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment permits the criminalization of pure speech advocating lawful, nonviolent activity.” Thus, “the court rule[d] that speech advocating only lawful, nonviolent activity can be made a crime, and that any coordination with a blacklisted group can land a citizen in prison for 15 years.” Then-Solicitor-General Elena Kagan argued the winning Obama DOJ position before the Court.

Whatever one’s views are on this ruling, it is now binding law. To advocate on behalf of a designated Terrorist group constitutes the felony of “providing material support” if that advocacy is coordinated with the group. [Continue reading...]

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