- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

A U.S. law authorizing the State Department to designate groups as "terrorist" and which allows those who support them to be prosecuted has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge, throwing U.S. anti-terrorism strategies into disarray.
A U.S. official who has been dealing with the issue said yesterday there will be "serious problems" if the decision stands on appeal. The U.S. government could no longer use the existing law to prosecute those who give "material support" to groups on the list such as Hamas, al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi in Los Angeles ruled against the Justice Department in the little-noticed decision last week, declaring the 1996 law "unconstitutional on its face" since it does not allow the suspect groups to challenge the terrorist designation.
"We obviously disagree with this particular ruling," said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra in Washington. "We have not yet decided if we will appeal."
While the groups may be based abroad entirely and formed by foreign citizens, the judge said the terrorist designation without a hearing makes it unconstitutional to prosecute Americans for aiding them.
The judge threw out a Justice Department case against seven American supporters of an Iranian exile group, the People's Mujahedin. The People's Mujahedin is one of 33 groups listed as Foreign Terrorist Organizations in the May 2001 State Department report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism."
While the People's Mujahedin has persuaded many in the Congress that its members are legitimate freedom fighters opposed to clerical rule in Iran, the State Department said the group's army based in Iraq killed Americans in the 1970s and still conducts terror attacks inside Iran.
The group, also calling itself the National Council of Resistance, has collected money in U.S. airports by showing pictures of injured and starving Iranians. The U.S. government has said the money went for the military units in Iraq rather than humanitarian needs.
The case against American Taliban John Walker Lindh, captured in northern Afghanistan, is one of several cases based on the 1996 law held unconstitutional.
On Friday, a court in Charlotte, N.C., convicted two Lebanese brothers on charges of violating the law by helping to channel funds from tobacco smuggling to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Muhammad Hammoud and his brother, Chawki Hammoud, face life in prison under the law.
State Department officials declined to comment on the effect of the ruling, referring calls to the Justice Department.
Mr. Sierra said: "I'm not aware of an immediate effect of the ruling or of any stay of cases or delaying cases." He said "district court rulings are not applied to other cases immediately and would not have the effect of shutting down other cases right now."
Even if the ruling is upheld, the U.S. government has other instruments to block funds from terrorist groups and prevent them from using the United States as a base, said one State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Executive Order 13224, issued by President Bush after September 11, freezes assets of some 200 individuals and entities in concurrence with the attorney general and the Treasury Department.
The Terrorist Exclusion List, which is designated by the secretary of state under the Patriot Act , allows the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to block entry to the United States.
However, there was some concern those orders could also prove unconstitutional for the same reason Judge Takasugi found fault with the 1996 anti-terrorism law they fail to give the groups notice or to allow them the right to challenge the designation in a hearing.
"It's not entirely clear what will be the effects [of the ruling] on other designations," said the State Department official.
Ralph Martin, a former federal prosecutor and former State Department adviser, said the 1996 law "can be fixed by having some sort of notice given to the groups and a hearing."
To prevent a hearing process from delaying action against terrorist groups, the law could be amended to allow the designations "to be imposed on an emergency basis pending the hearings," said Mr. Martin.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide