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Sangam's Challenge to US Anti-Terrorism Law
|St. Petersburg Times - Editorial
PUNISHED FOR YOUR SUPPORT
By Robyn E. Blumner
Guilt by association has made a comeback. What was discredited and repudiated after America's flirtation with McCarthyism in the 1950s is once again national policy. Today, as before, if you support the non-violent activities of a group our government believes is even a vague threat to its national security, you can go to jail for up to 10 years.
Congress decided to go down this unconstitutional road when it passed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The law criminalizes the activity of many human rights activists who wish to support struggles for liberty abroad. In the name of some speculative increase in safety, we have once again sacrificed our liberty.
Under the new law, Secretary of State Madeline Albright in October designated 30 groups as "foreign terrorist organizations." Anyone who provides "material support or resources" to the groups is subject to prosecution, a 10 year prison term and a substantial fine. This taboo support is not limited to money for guns and bombs. No, it applies to any support, including money for hospitals and schools these groups operate.
Albright decided that organisations such as the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers' Party known as the PKK, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka qualified as groups that pose a threat to U.S. security because they use violence to achieve political goals. Although organizations can appeal their inclusion on the list, the law expressly makes non-reviewable Albright's "threat to national security" determination. Which makes the process a farce.
Interestingly, she failed to include the Irish Republican Army, which over the years has engaged in notorious acts of international terrorism. Some are calling this viewpoint discrimination.
Disfavored armed nationalist movements and civil rights rebellions are labeled terrorist, whereas the causes with which we (or, in this case, President Clinton) sympathize are not. In other words, one man's terrorist is another's revolutionary. Everything depends on one's perspective. Britain during the 18th century would have called Massachusetts Bay colonists who participated in the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution terrorists. We, of course, see it differently.
Ralph Fertig sees the PKK differently than Secretary Albright. Fertig is president of the Los Angeles-based Humanitarian Law Project and has worked for human rights and dignity causes for more than 50 years. Since 1992, he has labored to better the lot of the oppressed Kurdish minority in Turkey. He has published reports helping to document the extensive use of torture against the Kurds and the deaths of more than 18,000 Kurds by the Turkish government as well as the destruction of more than 2,400 Kurdish villages. Fertig believes the PKK is not a terrorist organization but is fighting a battle for the civil rights and self-determination of the Kurdish people within the protocols of the Geneva Convention. In his activism he has given political and humanitarian aid to members and supporters of the PKK, and that, under the anti-terrorism law, puts him at risk of arrest.
With the help of the New York based Center for Constitutional Rights, Fertig and seven other groups and individuals are suing to regain their First Amendment rights to associate with non-violent elements within international political movements. In addition to Fertig, five Tamil-American organizations argue in the suit that they have the right to support humanitarian and political activities of the Tamil Tigers, including donating clothes, food, basic supplies to the organization's orphanages and refugee camps.
They filed a suit on March 19, in a Los Angeles federal court, hoping the court will follow a recent ruling by the 9th Circuit, which found that a group of Palestinians couldn't be deported for fund-raising activities on behalf of a Middle Eastern terrorist organization. The court said that Immigration and Naturalization Service had to show the men intended to further the violence of the group in order to deport them.
This is a fundamental aspect of American justice. No individual can be punished for the crimes of group just because he's is a supporter. There has to be specific showing that he intended to further the illegal acts of the group, not just its political goals.
American courts eventually recognized that, just because a stated goal of Communism was to overthrow the U.S. government, not everyone associated with the political party was guilty of treason. That lesson was either forgotten or ignored by Congress when it passed the anti-terrorism bill in a flourish of demagoguery.
Fertig argues that giving money to the PKK's Kurdish Red Crescent, which provides medical support to Kurds wounded in battle, is not the same as buying guns for its militant faction. He says that organizing and agitating to free Leyla Zana, a former Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament, who was arrested for wearing the Kurdish national colors of red, yellow and green, should not subject him to 10 years in prison in the United States. He is right.
Good guys and bad guys are often not so easy to parse on the international stage. Sometimes revolution, self-defense, nationalism, civil liberties, humanitarianism and terrorism are all part of the same movement, with overarching emphasis depending on one's vantage point.
Americans have the constitutional right to look beyond parochial concerns and get involved in extraterritorial political and humanitarian activities. Our government shouldn't get to dictate to us whose ideas and interests we are allowed to support abroad any more than it could do so here.
April 5, 1998
Courtesy - St. Petersburgh Times