When Is a Terrorist Group Not a Terrorist Group?

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The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, aka MEK, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the State Department. However, it was removed from the EU’s terrorist list in 2009, and there’s considerable controversy over whether MEK should continue to receive that designation from the United States. Today the group claims to be nonviolent and to represent a “parliament-in-exile” opposed to the current Iranian regime.

Nonetheless, it does in fact remain an officially designated terrorist organization in the United States, and providing material support for a designated terrorist group is illegal. As Glenn Greenwald points out today:

In June, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 6-3 ruling in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law. In that case, the Court upheld the Obama DOJ’s very broad interpretation of the statute that criminalizes the providing of “material support” to groups formally designated by the State Department as Terrorist organizations. The five-judge conservative bloc (along with Justice Stevens) held that pure political speech could be permissibly criminalized as “material support for Terrorism” consistent with the First Amendment if the “advocacy [is] performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization” (emphasis added). In other words, pure political advocacy in support of a designated Terrorist group could be prosecuted as a felony—punishable with 15 years in prison—if the advocacy is coordinated with that group.

You may think this was a bad ruling. But a ruling it is, and it’s the law of the land. And yet, a large cast of worthies, including Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Michael Mukasey, Ed Rendell, Andy Card, Lee Hamilton, Tom Ridge, Bill Richardson, Wesley Clark, Michael Hayden, John Bolton, Louis Freeh, and Fran Townsend have actively lobbied for MEK and have apparently done it in coordination with MEK’s leadership.

So shouldn’t this be against the law? Glenn, in particular, calls out Townsend, former Homeland Security Advisor under George Bush, who was a vocal supporter of the Humanitarian Law ruling. She actively supports MEK, yet appears to be under no threat of prosecution from the Obama Justice Department. Glenn again:

An NBC News report from Richard Engel and Robert Windrem in February claimed that it was MEK which perpetrated the string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, and that the Terrorist group “is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service” (MEK denied the report).

….Even the dissenters in Humanitarian Law argued that the First Amendment would allow “material support” prosecution “when the defendant knows or intends that those activities will assist the organization’s unlawful terrorist actions.” A reasonable argument could certainly be advanced that, in light of these recent reports about MEK’s Terrorism, one who takes money from the group and then advocates for its removal from the Terrorist list “knows or intends that those activities will assist the organization’s unlawful terrorist actions”: a prosecutable offense even under the dissent’s far more limited view of the statute.

Discuss! Is support for MEK allowed because (a) their patrons are VIPs, not random Muslim schmoes, (b) MEK’s allegedly lethal activities are aimed at Iran, which everyone thinks is wink-wink-nudge-nudge just fine, or (c) because there’s some legitimate legal issue that distinguishes what Townsend and Rendell are doing from other cases of material support that have been prosecuted in recent years? I’d be genuinely curious to hear the other side of this argument.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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