Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Supreme Court: Peace Activists Challenge US Antiterror Law

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Supreme Court: Peace Activists Challenge US Antiterror Law

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on whether an antiterror law violates the Constitution. The US solicitor general calls it 'a vital weapon.' A lawyer for international peace activists argues it will send his clients to prison.

A lawyer for a group of international peace activists urged the US Supreme Court on Tuesday to strike down a portion of an antiterror law that he says threatens to send his clients to prison for urging terror groups to explore nonviolent solutions.

Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole told the justices that a part of the USA Patriot Act barring material support to terrorist organizations was too vague to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

"The government has spent a decade saying our clients cannot advocate for peace," he said.

The case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, exists at a crossroads between efforts to protect US national security by isolating certain designated terrorist groups and long-established American protections of the rights of free speech and association.

Mr. Cole said instead of threatening to convict peace activists for pushing political solutions on terror groups, the government should focus on prosecuting individuals for conduct that furthers a terrorist organization's violent and illegal activities.

Cole encountered strong pushback from Justice Antonin Scalia, who said the government was within its power to order a blanket ban on any aid or assistance to terrorists.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan defended the government's broad interpretation of the material-support statute, saying that Congress intended to block all assistance to terrorists. She called the measure a "vital weapon" in the US fight against terror.

If the provision of expert advice or political strategies helped a terror organization in any way, it would amount to a form of aid in violation of the material-support law, she said. Teaching political skills to a foreign terrorist organization will help it gain international support, and that will strengthen the organization in everything it does, the solicitor general said.

"Congress decided if you help a foreign terrorist organization in legal activities, you also help the foreign terrorist organization in unlawful activities," Ms. …

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