Terrorism Law Held Constitutional
Founded in 1974, the Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan (PKK) was established as a Marxist-Leninist insurgent group composed of Turkish Kurds who formed to seek Kurdish independence from Turkey. By the late 1990s the group had had morphed from a rural-based insurgent group into a full-fledged terrorist organization, sometimes using suicide bombings on civilian targets.
Founded in 1976, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) became one of the most lethal and well organized terrorist groups in the world that, beginning in 1983, waged an armed campaign in Sri Lanka to establish a separate Tamil homeland before the group was defeated by the Sri Lanka army in May 2009. The LTTE pioneered the use of suicide belts.
Both groups are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S Department of State.
The evidence is clear that the PKK and LTTE have engaged in terrorist activities, including suicide bombings, which have harmed innocent civilians. It was these kinds of international terrorist acts and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that prompted the U.S. Congress to enact the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) which was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in April 1996.
One of the controversial components of AEDPA was codified at 18 U.S.C. 2339B which makes it a federal crime to provide “material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” While Congress has amended the definition of “material support or resources” a number of times since 1996, Subsection 2339A (b) (1) offers the current definition:
“[T]he term ‘material support or resources’ means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials.”
Another component of AEDPA, the authority to designate an entity as a “foreign terrorist organization,” was codified at 8 U.S.C. 1189(a) (1), (d) (4). This authority rests with the Secretary of State who, after consultation with the Secretary of Treasury and Attorney General, must determine whether the organization is foreign, engages in “terrorist activity” or “terrorism,” and “threatens the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States.”
In 1997 former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright designated 30 groups as foreign terrorist organizations. Two of the groups on that list were PKK and LTTE.
The Humanitarian Law Project, which was founded in 1985 and is “dedicated to protecting human rights and promoting the peaceful resolution of conflict by using established international human rights law and humanitarian law,” filed a lawsuit in 1998 challenging the “material support or resources” provisions of AÃ¯Â¿Â½ 2339B. The lawsuit’s long convoluted history found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court and, on June 21, 2010, that court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project upheld the constitutionality of the terrorism statute.
The Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) filed its lawsuit because, according to the group, AÃ¯Â¿Â½ 2339B prevented it from providing support for the humanitarian and political activities of PKK. This included: (1) “training members of PKK on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes”; (2) “engage in political advocacy on behalf of Kurds who live in Turkey”; and (3) “teach PKK members how to petition various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief.” HLP also charged that AÃ¯Â¿Â½ 2339B prevented it from providing monetary contributions, legal training, and political advocacy for the LTTE. This included: (1) “train members of LTTE to present claims for tsunami-related aid to mediators and international bodies”; (2) “offer their legal expertise in negotiating peace agreements between LTTE and the Sri Lankan government;” and (3) “engage in political advocacy on behalf of Tamils who live in Sri Lanka.”
The HLP based its lawsuit on three constitutional challenges to 2339B: 1) it violated their First Amendment freedom of speech; and 2) it violated their First Amendment freedom of association. These two challenges were premised on the theory that 2339B criminalized their support to PKK and LTTE without the Government having to prove that HLP had a specific intent to further the unlawful ends of those groups. Finally, HLP challenged 2339B as being unconstitutionally vague.
A central issue in the case initially focused on exactly what constituted “personnel” and training.” While the lawsuit was pending, and in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, Congress enacted the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (Patriot Act) which amended the “material support or resources” provision of 2339B to include the term “expert advice or assistance.” The HLP filed a second lawsuit, which was ultimately …