- LOS ANGELES -- A federal
judge has ruled that a portion of the USA Patriot Act which bars giving
expert advice or assistance to groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations
is unconstitutional and the government may not enforce it.
- David Cole, an attorney and Georgetown University law
professor who argued the case on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project,
said the ruling marks the first court decision to declare a part of the
Patriot Act unconstitutional.
- In a 36-page ruling handed down late Friday and made
available Monday, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said the ban on providing
"expert advice or assistance" is impermissibly vague in violation
of the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.
- The U.S. Justice Department was reviewing the judge's
ruling, spokesman Mark Corallo said in a statement from Washington, D.C.
- Corallo called the Patriot Act "an essential tool
in the war on terror" and asserted that the portion at issue in the
ruling was only a modest amendment to a pre-existing anti-terrorism law.
- "By targeting those who provide material support
by providing 'expert advice or assistance,' the law made clear that Americans
are threatened as much by the person who teaches a terrorist to build a
bomb as by the one who pushes the button," he said.
- A civil rights attorney applauded the decision.
- "We're thrilled that the first judge to look at
the free-speech implications of the Patriot Act has ruled properly,"
said ACLU attorney Ann Beeson. "She recognized that the Patriot Act
was written so vaguely that it is suppressing legitimate political speech."
- The case before the court involved five groups and two
U.S. citizens seeking to provide support for lawful, nonviolent activities
on behalf of Kurdish refugees in Turkey.
- The Humanitarian Law Project, which brought the suit,
said the plaintiffs were threatened with 15 years in prison if they advised
groups on seeking a peaceful resolution of the Kurds' campaign for self-determination
- The judge's ruling said the law, as written, does not
differentiate between impermissible advice on violence and encouraging
the use of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals.
- "The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the
type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans
the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature,"
the judge's ruling said.
- "This is a victory for everyone who believes the
war on terrorism ought to be fought consistent with constitutional principles,"
said Cole, the attorney who argued the case.
- "It is the first federal decision declaring any
part of the Patriot Act unconstitutional," he said.
- The ruling specified that the plaintiffs seek to provide
support to "the lawful, nonviolent activities" of the Kurdistan
Workers' Party, known as the PKK, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,
known as the LTTE, which advocates for the rights of the Tamil people in
Sri Lanka. Both groups are on a list issued by former Secretary of State
Madeline Albright in 1997 designating them as "foreign terrorist organizations."
- In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger rebels have been engaged
in a two-decade civil war that has killed more than 65,000 people.
- Turkey's military has been battling Kurdish rebels seeking
autonomy since 1984, a fight that has left some 37,000 people dead.
- Since the "foreign terrorist organizations"
designation, the judge said, the Humanitarian Law Project and other plaintiffs
including Ralph Fertig, the HLP president "have not provided such
support, fearing criminal investigation, prosecution and conviction."
- The ruling noted that with enactment of the Patriot Act,
the prohibition on providing "material support" or "resources"
to such groups was expanded to include "expert advice or assistance."
- The judge did reject one portion of the lawsuit which
claimed that one section of the Patriot Act was "substantially overbroad."
- Lawyers for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft opposed
the lawsuit on grounds that there is not "a genuine threat of imminent
prosecution" of those who would assist the groups in question. They
also argued that the advice they sought to offer on international human
rights, peacemaking and advocacy is "not even arguably expert."
- The judge disagreed, citing the plaintiffs' long history
of work in the field of human rights.
- The HLP is a nonprofit organization headquartered in
Los Angeles which has consultative status to the United Nations, the ruling
said. It is dedicated to furthering international compliance with humanitarian
law and human rights law and peaceful resolution of armed conflicts.
- Fertig, who has a record of over 50 years in human rights
work, has conducted fact-finding missions to Turkey and published reports
on his findings which support the struggle for Kurdish liberation. The
reports assert human rights violations against the Kurds including execution
of more than 18,000 Kurds, arbitrary detentions and torture of those who
speak out for them and destruction of 2,400 Kurdish villages.
- The ruling noted that Fertig and others associated with
the HLP have provided training to PKK and Kurds "in using humanitarian
law and international human rights law and in seeking a peaceful resolution
of the conflict in Turkey."
- Collins' ruling follows a December decision by the 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn portions of a sweeping 1996 anti-terror
law which preceded the Patriot Act. A three-judge panel found the law's
reference to financial assistance or "material support" to terrorist
organizations was overbroad.
- That case also was brought by the Humanitarian Law Project
and involved work being done on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers Party.
- In that decision, appeals court Judge Harry Pregerson
wrote that the "material support" section of that law "blurs
the line on protected speech." The government has asked for a rehearing
of the three-judge decision by the entire circuit court.
- Another challenge to the Patriot Act is pending in Detroit
where the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the act gives federal
agents unlimited and unconstitutional authority to secretly seize library
reading lists and other personal records.
- Previous Stories:
- January 22, 2004: <http://www.nbc4.tv/news/2784152/detail.html>LA
City Council Asks Congress To Throw Out Parts Of Patriot Act
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