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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

U.S. Appeals court finds anti-terror law unconstitutionally vague:

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 12 December ( A law that makes it a crime to help groups that the U.S. government considers terrorist is unconstitutionally vague and could punish Americans for advising organizations about nonviolent methods, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, December 10.

The decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco invalidated portions of a 1996 federal anti-terrorism law and a set of amendments in 2004. The law prohibits knowingly providing "material support or resources" to a foreign organization on the State Department's terrorist list.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of organizations and individuals seeking to provide political and financial aid to two groups on the State Department terrorist list: the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) in Sri Lanka.

Those terms are so unclear, the court said, that they might be used to prosecute and imprison those who trained members of foreign organizations on "how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve ongoing disputes," or on how to lobby the United Nations for disaster relief. Violations of the law are punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

"This statute essentially allows for guilt by association," said Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. Although the court did not overturn the entire law, he said, it struck down portions that would outlaw "humanitarian aid of the sort that we would want to encourage."

Kadidal said some of the plaintiffs want to train members of both organizations (PKK and LTTE) in peaceful conflict resolution and advocacy before the United Nations, and others, including doctors and engineers, have been trying to bring relief to areas of Sri Lanka that have been devastated by a civil war and a December 2004 tsunami. That relief requires working with the Tamil Tigers, who are "effectively functioning as the government" in the northern coastal area, the lawyer said.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said the department was reviewing the ruling.

The Bush administration has used the ban on material support to terrorist organizations in several prominent cases, including the prosecution and guilty plea of John Walker Lindh, the Marin County man who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lindh's case is not affected by Monday's ruling, which focused on support provided through advocacy and nonviolent training.

The law, the court said, "can legitimately be applied to criminalize facilitation of terrorism" in the form of weapons and other military assistance.

The suit challenged provisions in the law that defined material support to include training, expert advice and services. After a federal judge and the appeals court blocked enforcement of those sections in 2003, Congress rewrote the definitions in 2004, specifying that the ban applied only to those who knew an organization was on the terrorist list and provided instruction in specific skills or specialized knowledge.

The appeals court said the law was still so vague that a non-lawyer would have to guess about whether giving certain types of advice would be criminal.

"We find it highly unlikely that a person of ordinary intelligence would know whether, when teaching someone to petition international bodies for tsunami-related aid, one is imparting a 'specific skill' or 'general knowledge,' " Judge Harry Pregerson said in the 3-0 ruling.

- Asian Tribune -

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