US penalizes provision of humanitarian aid to groups it dubs terrorist

Published on, July 13, 2010.

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.

… (full text).


Text of the Act;

Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, a Summary;

Timeline of the Passage;

Federation of American Scientists: on wikipedia, last modified on 13 July 2010, and on our blogs on March 6, 2010 as Federation of American Scientists FAS;

See about the Act also on wikipedia.

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