Current law and administration policy on providing "material support" to groups labeled terrorist organizations is leading to perverse results in which "the right to make profits is more sacrosanct than the right to petition for peace," writes Georgetown law professor David Cole in The New York Times.
Just last month, Cole points out, a group of politicians that included former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former attorney general Michael Mukasey, may have committed a crime when they told a group of Iranian exiles in Paris that President Barack Obama should remove the opposition group Mujaheddin-e Khalq from its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
What was once considered free speech may now be criminal, in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision last year in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, holding that it is a crime not only to provide any "material support" to a group labeled a "foreign terrorist organization," but also to engage in speech coordinated with a foreign terrorist group for its benefit, Cole explains.
The government has similarly argued that providing legitimate humanitarian aid to victims of war or natural disasters is a crime if provided to or coordinated with a group labeled as a "foreign terrorist organization" - even if there is no other way to get the aid to the region in need. Yet The Times recently reported that the Treasury Department, under a provision ostensibly intended for humanitarian aid, was secretly granting licenses to American businesses to sell billions of dollars worth of food and goods to the very countries we have blockaded for their support of terrorism. Some of the "humanitarian aid" exempted? Cigarettes, popcorn and chewing gum.
Cole calls for reform of material support laws that would protect the provision of "legitimate" humanitarian aid, and make clear that "advocating only lawful, nonviolent activities" is not a crime and that "corporate interests in making profits from cigarettes are not sufficient to warrant exemptions from sanctions on state sponsors of terrorism."
"Genuine humanitarian aid and free speech can and should be preserved without undermining our interests in security," he writes.
Cole, who is litigating several other cases involving "material support" law, explained in a recent ACSBlog guest post how two other cases pending before federal appeals courts could "dramatically extend the already expansive sweep of the ‘material support' laws."