Tuesday, January 9, 2007
High Court Will Not Block Anti-Terrorism Trial of Local Residents
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear a challenge to an indictment charging seven Los Angeles residents with aiding an Iranian opposition group that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
The justices, without comment, left standing a 2004 ruling of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that while the government’s order making such a designation may be appealed by the group, it cannot be collaterally attacked by persons charged with a criminal offense of having contributed “material support” to a group so designated.
That ruling overturned a decision by Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi of the Central District of California, who held that the law violates the First Amendment and the right of free association because it does not allow a defendant to contest the government’s determination that the designated organization engages in or furthers terrorism.
The appellate panel reinstated an indictment charging seven Los Angeles residents with raising money for a terror organization with links to Saddam Hussein.
About 30 groups are currently designated as foreign terrorist organizations under the law, part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Prosecutions of individuals under the statute were rare before Sept. 11, 2001, but the administration subsequently has used it to win dozens of terror convictions nationwide, from Lackawanna, N.Y., to Seattle and Portland, Ore.
The defendants whose petition the high court declined to hear— Hossein Afshari, Mohammad Omidvar, Hassan Rezaie, Roya Rahmani, Navid Taj, Mustafa Ahmady, and Alireza Mohamad Moradi—were indicted in 2001 indictment on charges of funneling several hundred thousand dollars to the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK.
According to the indictment, the Los Angeles defendants solicited donations at the Los Angeles International Airport and wired money to an MEK bank account in Turkey.
The group is also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran or the National Council of Resistance for Iran, among other names. It began as a Marxist opposition group to the Shah of Iran, but when the Islamist regime took hold following the Shah’s overthrow, its members fled to France before establishing a base of operations in border areas of Iraq.
The government alleged that the organization was engaged in anti-Iran terrorism with the support of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq between 1997 and 2001. It was designated a terrorist organization in 1997 and has been re-designated as such every two years since.
During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military briefly bombed MEK camps until the group capitulated and agreed to disarm.
Statutory Review Period
The statute allows an organization 30 days to seek review of the designation or re-designation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The State Department is required to file an administrative record to enable the court to determine whether the designation was contrary to law or unsupported by substantial evidence.
The MEK unsuccessfully contested the original designation. Its challenge to the 1999 renewal was initially successful, but the State Department upheld its original decision on remand and the court affirmed on the basis of an expanded administrative record.
The group also lost appeals in 2001 and 2003. Its petition to the Supreme Court was supported by more than 150 members of Congress, led by Reps. Robert Filner, a Democrat from San Diego, and Republican Tom Tancredo of Colorado.
Supporters of the group have argued that the designations by the Clinton and Bush administrations were factually unsupportable and were motivated by a desire to appease Iran.
In his opinion for the Ninth Circuit, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld said the government need only 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 government, he noted, alleges that the defendants were told about the designation before they sent money to the MEK.
He distinguished a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Alabama obscenity conviction because the defendant, a news stand operator, was not allowed to contest a local agency’s conclusion that the material in question was, in fact, obscene.
When the issue is foreign terrorism, the judge said, “the stakes and incentives are far different” than in an obscenity case in which the initial determination is made by a mere local agency. The judgment of the administrative branch in the former case is entitled to great deference, Kleinfeld said in an opinion joined by Judges Kim McLane Wardlaw and William A. Fletcher.
The Fourth Circuit earlier reached a similar conclusion in 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.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company