Civil Group advocates changes to US Terrorism Laws

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 11 May 2005, 14:48 GMT]
Drawing from the experience gained in watching victims of tsunami suffer without adequate help in the east of Sri Lanka, Staff Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr Ahilan Arulanantham, during a testimony 10 May 2005 before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security, argued for amending material support laws in USA PATRIOT Act and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act to allow vital humanitarian work to go unimpeded without undermining US's safety.

Supreme Court
US Supreme Court
Section 805 of the USA PATRIOT Act and Section 6603 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 criminalize material support of terrorism. "Material support" is defined very broadly,and consequences for violating the law are severe. Non-citizens face deportation, while citizens and non-citizens alike face civil forfeiture and criminal penalties up to twenty years in prison.

"Unlike our material support laws, the tsunami did not differentiate between areas under the LTTE’s control and those controlled by the Sri Lankan government. Thousands of people living in LTTE-held territory died, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced into camps, many having lost some or all of their family members and in urgent need of food, shelter, and medical care. In fact, because the LTTE controls large segments of the eastern seaboard of the island, which was most directly hit by the tsunami, people in LTTE territory were some of the most severely affected," the attorney said during the Testimony at the Oversight Hearing on Amendments to the Material Support for Terrorism Laws.

"Sadly, though, our material support laws contain no exception for support even if it is necessary to save the lives of people who happen to live in LTTE-held territory. In fact there is no exception for humanitarian assistance at all, except for “medicine and religious materials.” While this exception is important, it is sorely inadequate to meet the needs of people caught in humanitarian crises," he added.

"The statute also criminalizes the provision of expert advice or assistance. Thus, a public health expert who wants to advise the LTTE -- and the LTTE is the government for all practical purposes in the areas it controls -- about how to set up camps so as to minimize the spread of diseases, such as dysentery or cholera, probably cannot do so under the statute.

"As a result, qualified people who have the willingness and ability to help those affected by the disaster are scared to do so," Mr Arulanantham said.

"...We do not have to choose between national security and our commitment to help those who are suffering around the globe. Amending our material support laws to allow vital humanitarian work to go unimpeded would allow us to fulfill those ideals without undermining our safety. The victims of the tsunami deserve nothing less," he concluded.

ACLU's website described its mission as: "The ACLU is United States' guardian of liberty. ACLU works daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Our job is to conserve America's original civic values - the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

External Links:
US: Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
US:  Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004
US: American Civil Liberties Union
EPIC: USA Patriot Act


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