Abetting Terrorism = “Free Speech”?

The Supreme Court rejects the Left's claim that aid to terror groups should be permitted if it's intended for “peaceful” purposes.

In a 6 to 3 decision last week, the Supreme Court upheld a federal law that makes it a crime for Americans to provide “material support” of any kind – be it in the form of cash, weaponry, training, personnel, services, or “expert advice or assistance” – to a foreign terrorist organization, even if that support is for ostensibly peaceful purposes. At issue in the case, known as Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, was the question of whether this restriction violates Americans' First Amendment rights of free speech and association. Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said that “even seemingly benign support” for such an entity “bolsters the terrorist activities of that organization”; “frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends”; “helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups”; and strains “the United States’ relationships with its allies.” As to the specific issue of free speech, Roberts pointed out that people “may say anything they wish on any topic”; that they “may speak and write freely about” any organization of their choice; and that they are even free to become members of whatever group they wish to join. Roberts was backed in his decision by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and the soon-to-be-retiring John Paul Stevens. Dissenting from the majority decision were Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor, who saw the “material support” restriction as a violation of the First Amendment.

A lead plaintiff in the case was the longtime civil-rights attorney Ralph Fertig, whose professed desire is to help the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) find peaceful ways of advancing its goal: the creation of an independent Kurdish state in southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, and parts of Iran and Syria. Because PKK's history is replete with bombings, kidnappings, and a violent insurgency responsible for some 22,000 deaths, the U.S. government has designated it as a terrorist organization. Notwithstanding this bloody track record, Fertig and his fellow plaintiffs maintained that with a proper blend of persuasion and education, PKK could be convinced to renounce its violent tactics and to work, instead, within the framework of “various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief.” By Fertig's reckoning, the ban against giving aid to PKK and other terrorist groups is “more dangerous than McCarthyism” ever was. After the Court announced its decision last week, a dejected Fertig said: “This is a very dark day in the history of the human rights struggle to assist groups overseas that are being oppressed.”

A look at Fertig's background and affiliations will help place his disappointment in proper perspective. First and foremost, Fertig is president of the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), an organization created by Los Angeles real estate magnate Aris Anagnos, who since the early 1970s has bankrolled Marxist causes around the globe -- including the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the Marxist rebels in Chiapas, and the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Over the years, HLP has consistently sided with America's Marxist adversaries in international disputes; has accused the U.S. of committing “atrocities” in both Iraq wars; has called for the United States to be prosecuted for its alleged war crimes by the World Court; and has identified American disarmament as a chief prerequisite for peace around the world.

Fertig also serves as a supporting member of the Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities (CACC), which complains that the war on terror was concocted by warmongering conservatives to “promot[e] a racist culture of suspicion towards migrant and Muslim communities”; to “generat[e] and manipulat[e] public fears [that will] justify a perpetual state of war”; to plac[e] entire communities under suspicion of associating with such 'terrorism'”; to “us[e] 'intelligence' obtained by torturing detainees abroad”; and to “wag[e] psychological warfare through disinformation and mass-media scares about 'al Qaeda cells.'” (All scare quotes were in CACC's original literature.)

Fertig also endorsed World Can’t Wait (WCW), a project of the Revolutionary Communist Party – a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist group calling for the overthrow of the U.S. government and its replacement with a Communist dictatorship. WCW sought to “halt” the Bush administration's alleged pursuit of “endless wars,” its routine use of “torture,” its indifference to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and its quest to transform the United States into a Christian “theocracy.”

In 2000, Fertig made a monetary contribution to anti-war activist Medea Benjamin's unsuccessful run as the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate in California. Benjamin, who co-founded both Global Exchange and Code Pink, aligns her politics closely with those of Fidel Castro. She was a principal architect of the violent 1999 protests in Seattle, where rampaging anti-globalization activists burned cars, smashed windows, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. She spearheaded a 2004 effort to donate $600,000 in medical supplies and cash to the families of the terrorist insurgents who were fighting American troops in Fallujah, Iraq. And in 2006, she and Cindy Sheehan together traveled to South Korea to publicly condemn a U.S. plan for expanding an American military base near Seoul. According to Ms. Benjamin, the “innovative” economic policies of Venezuela's communist president Hugo Chavez have placed his country at “the center of a new, progressive model of socioeconomic development that is shaping Latin America's future.”

It should be noted that Fertig's support for far leftists and Marxists does not end with Benjamin, Castro, and Chavez. In 2008 he donated money to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and was, for awhile, in contention to be selected as a delegate for Obama in California’s 30th Congressional District.

Representing Fertig and his fellow plaintiffs in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project was David Cole, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). In Cole's estimation, the Court's ruling “basically says the First Amendment allows making peacemaking and human rights advocacy a crime.” Since 9/11, Cole and CCR have focused their efforts heavily on derailing the U.S. government's newly implemented anti-terrorism measures, which the Center depicts as having “seriously undermined civil liberties, the checks and balances that are essential to the structure of our democratic government, and indeed, democracy itself.” In December 2006, CCR and the Humanitarian Law Project jointly petitioned a federal judge to dismiss charges that had been brought against the Hamas-linked Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which in 2001 was shut down by the U.S. government because of its terrorist ties.

In 2002 Cole wrote, “It appears that the greatest threat to our freedoms is posed not by the terrorists themselves but by our own government’s response” to 9/11. That same year, Cole was a signatory to a “Statement of Conscience” drafted by Not In Our Name (NION), a self-described “peace movement” initiated by C. Clark Kissinger of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The NION Statement condemned not only the Bush administration's “stark new measures of repression,” but also its “unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world.” According to NION, it was the American government – and not that of any other nation – that posed the most “grave dangers to the people of the world.”

Also in 2002, Cole came to the defense of Sami Al-Arian, the University of San Francisco professor arrested for his involvement with the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. “People cannot be punished for advocating criminal activity unless the Supreme Court has said their speech is intended and likely to incite imminent lawless actions,” Cole maintained. That said, he claimed that Al-Arian’s infamous remark wishing “Death to Israel” was protected speech.

Cole and CCR garnered considerable media coverage in 2005 when representing the self-described radical attorney Lynne Stewart during her trial for having abetted the terrorist ambitions of Islamic Group leader Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. When Stewart was found guilty in February of 2005, Cole lamented that “this case illustrates how out-of-hand things have gotten in the ‘war on terrorism’” (scare quotes in original).

In the calculus of leftists like Ralph Fertig and David Cole, there is nary a pro-terrorist word or act that cannot ultimately be defended under the rubric of “free speech.” Thus continues the Left's quest to interpret the United States Constitution as a national suicide pact.


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