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US penalizes provision of humanitarian aid to groups it dubs terrorist

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The U.S. Supreme Court was requested to review the constitutional validity of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

Introduced by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the bill was adopted by an overwhelming majority in response to the Oklahoma City bombing and enthusiastically signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

One of the clauses prescribing that a terrorist suspect can file only one petition for a writ of habeas corpus (a protection against illegal imprisonment) came under heavy fire. In its decision Felker versus Turpin (1997), the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the limitation was not in breach of article 1 Section 9 paragraph 2 of the Constitution. True, in itself, it does not constitute an extension of the temporary detention even if, after a first appeal rejection, there is no mechanism to prevent the temporary detention from becoming permanent.

Another stipulation of the law was subject to further comment. It prohibits the willful provision of support of whatever nature - with the exception of medical assistance or a religious service - to any foreign terrorist organization. Following pleas by successive administrations - those of Clinton, Bush and Obama - in the past 12 years the courts have ruled that this applies to an association that provided legal advice to the PKK and to the Tamil Tigers even though such advice envisaged a peaceful solution to the Kurdish and Tamil conflicts by bringing the cases before the United Nations. In its decision Holder versus Humanitarian Law Project, of 21 June 2010, the Court held:

- That the terms of the law are sufficiently clear to ensure that a person awaiting trial is in no doubt as to what is prohibited;

- That this interdiction does not infringe a person’s freedom of speech, as nothing prevents a subject from expressing his support for causes defended by terrorists;

- That neither does this interdiction violate his freedom of assembly as it does not prohibit meeting with terrorists or conversing with them.

Traditionally, the US Supreme Court takes a puritanical view of mankind. Just as puritans prohibit assisting a sinner in distress as long as he has not specifically renounced sin, the Court prohibits providing assistance to terrorists as long as they have not repudiated armed activity. In its view, those who assist them legally, educationally, culturally, socially or in any other manner, enable them to conserve their energy for the commitment of Evil.

Moreover, in United States law a terrorist organization is not an organization that has been sentenced for precise criminal acts but a group designated as such on political grounds by the State Department.

In consequence, all types of activity may be punished as "terrorist" by US courts. This is the case, for example, with the provision of UN food aid to Gaza if it is distributed by local councillors who are members of Hamas.

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