Appeals court reinstates terror indictments

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A federal appeals court reinstated indictments against seven Los Angeles residents accused of raising money for a terror organization with links to ousted Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.

In a victory for the Bush administration’s war on terror, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday reversed a Los Angeles federal judge who declared the 1996 terror financing law unconstitutional.

The law makes it illegal to funnel money – "material support" – to organizations the State Department says are linked to terrorism, about 30 groups in all.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the government rarely used the terror law. The administration subsequently has used that law to win dozens of terror convictions nationwide, from Lackawanna, N.Y., to Seattle and Portland, Ore.

One legal expert criticized the decision.

"This is a troubling result for a nation that believes in freedom of association," said David Cole, an expert on the law in question at the Georgetown University Law Center.

The case stems from a 2001 indictment against the seven defendants for allegedly providing several hundred thousand dollars to the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which the appeals court said "participated in various terrorist activities against the Iranian regime" and "carried out terrorist activities with the support of Saddam Hussein’s regime."

U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi invalidated the law, saying it did not provide the groups a proper forum to contest their terror designations.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court overruled that decision and went a step further, saying individuals accused of supporting the listed groups cannot challenge whether the groups should be listed.

The government, the court said, must prove the "fact that a particular organization was designated at the time the material support was given, not whether the government made a correct designation." The decision mirrors a ruling this year by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upholding the conviction of a man who funneled money to the militant Hezbollah organization while insisting he had a right to challenge that group’s listing.

"The Justice Department is pleased that yet another court has upheld the constitutionality of the material support statute, a key weapon in our arsenal of legal remedies in the war on terror," spokesman John Nowacki said. "Stopping the flow of money and other resources to terrorists is critical to our success, and the department will continue to pursue those who provide material support for terrorist objectives."

The seven Los Angeles defendants said it was a violation of their First Amendment rights to be prohibited from contributing money to groups they say are not terror organizations, and they should be afforded the right to prove the group in question should not be on the State Department’s list.

Writing for the majority, Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld said the First Amendment did not provide unlimited speech, and even allows limits on campaign contributions.

"It would be anomalous indeed if Congress could prohibit the contribution of money for television commercials saying why a candidate would be a good or bad choice for political office, yet could not prohibit contribution of money to a group designated a terrorist organization," Kleinfeld wrote.

Joining Kleinfeld were Kim McLane Wardlaw and William A. Fletcher.

According to the indictment, the Los Angeles defendants solicited donations at the Los Angeles International Airport and wired money to a Mujahedin-e Khalq bank account in Turkey. The group had unsuccessfully tried to get removed from the terror list.

No court date has been set for the seven.

The case is United States v. Afshari, 02-50355.

By DAVID KRAVETS, AP Legal Affairs Writer – Bakersfield. Com  – December 21st, 2004

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