Last month’s 6-3 Supreme Court decision in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project found that humanitarian groups can be judged guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism merely by holding peaceful dialog and engaging in political discussions with proscribed organizations. Those convicted may be sentenced to up 15 years in prison.
On its face, this is an infringement of the constitutional right of free speech. It means that people engaged in such contacts can be jailed for meeting with, providing humanitarian aid to or discussing political goals and activities with groups that are on the terror list. The decision also affects Americans’ rights of freedom of travel, association, conscience and religion when dealing with banned or so-called “terrorist” organizations. This ruling disallows such contacts, even if the intent is peaceful. Blessed are the peacemakers, but not in America!
The law as interpreted specifically limits the freedom of action of humanitarian aid and peacemaking dialog groups such as the ones I head. Conscience International has delivered humanitarian aid in Iraq under the Ba’athist regime, Iran under the Ayatollahs and Afghanistan under the Taliban, as well as elsewhere. Conscience International’s peacemaking affiliate, US Academics for Peace, has met for dialog on “Deconstructing the Clash of Civilizations” with Iraq’s Ba’ath Party leaders, with Hamas in Gaza and Damascus, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and even with Janjaweed tribal leaders in Sudan.
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Because of the court’s decision, however, lower courts may soon hold that American citizens with constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, conscience and religion can no longer freely walk down the street and meet with or talk to people of all persuasions in the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia any more, much less meet formally with proscribed governments, rebel tribes and Islamist religious parties as we have done in the past.
The decision is a serious infringement on the Bill of Rights. But so is torture – and so is the court’s decision some time ago that money equals speech, awarding those with monumental wealth permanent domination over the political process. It tramples freedom of speech, of conscience, of religion and of the right to travel. As such, it is in conflict with other Supreme Court decisions. Only three Justices dissented, led by Stephen Breyer and joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader-Ginsberg.
It now appears that the Obama neocon “Justice” Department is worse than the Bush-Cheney one because it is less obvious, but follows the same track – while Obama himself in his rhetoric and troop deployments imitates every aspect of the specious war on terror.
This is change, all right – but not in the direction we had hoped. The question is, what to do about it.