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Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law
Project, the first case to challenge a portion of the Patriot Act
before the highest court in the land. The case, originally brought in
1998 on behalf of a human rights group, a retired federal
administrative judge, a doctor, and several nonprofit groups,
challenges the constitutionality of the law that makes it a crime to
provide "material support" to groups the administration has designated
as "terrorist." In particular, the plaintiffs charge that the law goes
too far in making speech advocating lawful, nonviolent activity a
crime. The lower courts have unanimously declared several provisions
of the law - including one added by the Patriot Act -
unconstitutionally vague because they encompass speech and force
citizens to guess as to their meaning.
Peace and human rights groups like the Carter Center and Human Rights
Watch, academics and the media, and non-partisan and conservative
groups filed amicus briefs in the case, as did a group of former
McCarthy era blacklist victims who argued that the Court should not
allow the government to repeat the mistakes of the McCarthy era in the
name of cutting off material support to organizations the State
Department has labeled "terrorist." That group, which included
individuals and family members of individuals subjected to the
Hollywood blacklists, argued that the "material support" statute
parallels the McCarthy era laws because it imposes criminal penalties
on speech and association - without requiring any proof that the speech
or association is tied to violent or criminal activity.
The case challenges those aspects of the "material support" statute
that criminalize pure speech - specifically the prohibitions on
providing "training," "personnel," "expert advice or assistance," and
"service." Under the law, any speech that falls within these terms -
no matter how peaceable and nonviolent - is a crime if communicated to,
for, or with the collaboration of any organization placed on a list of
"foreign terrorist organizations" maintained by the State Department.
Convictions can result in sentences of 15 years to life. According to
the government, the statute requires no showing that the individual
intended to further any act of terrorism or violence.
Said CCR Cooperating Attorney David Cole, "This
statute is so sweeping that it treats human rights advocates as
criminal terrorists, and threatens them with 15 years in prison for
advocating nonviolent means to resolve disputes. In our view, the First
Amendment does not permit the government to make advocating human
rights or other lawful, peaceable activity a crime simply because it is
done for the benefit of, or in conjunction with, a group the Secretary
of State has blacklisted."
The lower courts held unconstitutionally vague the law's prohibition on
the provision of "services," "expert advice or assistance," and
"training," reasoning that these terms could easily encompass a wide
range of lawful speech, such as providing training in international
law. The Obama administration sought Supreme Court review of that
Plaintiffs in the case include the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), a
human rights organization in Los Angeles that seeks to provide human
rights advocacy training to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the
main Kurdish political party in Turkey, and a former federal
administrative law judge, Ralph Fertig, who is the president of the
HLP. Once the State Department designated the PKK a terrorist
organization, it became a crime for HLP to continue to train the group
in human rights advocacy, even though that assistance is designed to
reduce violence by encouraging peaceful ways of resolving conflict.
Said plaintiff Ralph D. Fertig, JD, ACSW, retired U.S.
Administrative Judge and Clinical Associate Professor, University of
Southern California School of Social Work, "I have fought
violence and terrorism all my life, but it is my fear that the
vagueness of the statute will inhibit human rights groups from helping
oppressed people to use non-violence to resolve their conflicts simply
because they may be represented by organizations designated as
terrorist. It would be a great loss if we could no longer work toward
peaceful resolution of conflicts because we fear criminal prosecution
by our own government for trying to help. This seems to work exactly
counter to our interests, and I hope the court will see that."
The Patriot Act added a prohibition on the provision of "expert advice
or assistance" to the statute. After earlier court decisions declared
that and other parts of the statute unconstitutional, Congress amended
it in 2004 to try to correct the infirmities. However, the district
court and court of appeals concluded that the prohibitions on
"services," "expert advice and assistance," and "training" remained
unconstitutionally vague. The court of appeals decision the
administration is seeking review of is the sixth ruling from the lower
courts since 1998 finding significant parts of the material support
statute to be unconstitutionally vague.
In a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union which filed
the amicus brief on behalf of the Carter Center, former President Jimmy
"Our work to end violence sometimes requires interacting directly with
groups that have engaged in it. Unfortunately, efforts like ours, and
those of the many other human rights groups who signed onto this brief,
are hindered by the extremely vague 'material support' law that leaves
us guessing whether our work to encourage peace could actually be
considered illegal. Sadly, the law being challenged in court - which is
aimed at putting an end to terrorism - actually threatens the work of
humanitarian groups that share the same goal. We hope the Supreme Court
will overturn this law so that groups like ours can continue the
important work of advancing peace and freedom without concern of
For more information on the case, including briefs and a detailed explanation of material support, visit CCR's legal case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.(212) 614-6464
"I am not asking you to sit here through late nights to vote on these bills that we're dragging out," said state Sen. Megan Hunt as a GOP colleague complained about a missed family event. "I'm asking you to love your family more than you hate mine."
Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt on Thursday made her latest appeal to her Republican colleagues to block the passage of a ban on gender-affirming healthcare, while expressing anger over lawmakers' complaints about how long the bill has taken to make its way through the Legislature.
Hunt, who represents the 8th District and announced earlier this month that she was leaving the Democratic Party to become nonpartisan, addressed her fellow lawmakers after a debate that stretched into the night on Tuesday regarding a proposal to attach an abortion ban to the so-called "Let Them Grow Act" (L.B. 574), the ban on transgender healthcare for youths.
The officially nonpartisan unicameral body—in which Republicans hold 32 seats and Democrats hold 16—ultimately voted in favor of attaching the bill, and Speaker John Arch confirmed to NBC News affiliate WOWT that lawmakers could vote on final passage as soon as Friday.
If passed, the legislation would be one of just a few bills to make it through the Legislature this session, compared to dozens that are generally passed by this point in the year. Hunt has joined state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh (D-6) in a monthslong filibuster to block L.B. 574.
On Thursday, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R-39) complained on the Legislature floor that she had missed her grandchild's preschool graduation due to the prolonged debate over the bill.
Hunt, whose son is transgender, expressed empathy for Linehan over her missed family event, but pointed out that remaining in the Legislature to stop the passage of L.B. 574 is a matter of "taking care of my family."
\u201cNE State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R) complains filibusters of anti-trans bills made her miss her grandson's preschool graduation.\n\nSen. Megan Hunt (I): \u201cYou won't come off this bill that hurts my [trans] son. You hate him more than you love your own family. That's why you're here."\u201d— Heartland Signal (@Heartland Signal) 1684441711
"If you want to see your grandson graduate from preschool you should do that," she continued. "Instead you are here to drag out this session because you won't come off this bill that hurts my son. You hate him more than you love your own family. And that's why you're here... We don't need you here. We need to you vote 'no' or 'present, not voting' on 574 because there's nothing else in this body that's affecting your family."
Critic and journalist Emily St. James called Hunt's comments "an amazing distillation of this whole phenomenon" of the surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, which has now been proposed in all but four states and Washington, D.C. this legislative session. At least 19 states have passed bans and restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare for minors.
"The need to have an out group to endlessly punish is driving people to miss moments in their own lives they'll never get back," said St. James.
The conservatives in the Nebraska Legislature appear to have the votes they need to pass the bill, according to WOWT. The measure would go into effect immediately after Republican Gov. Jim Pillen signs it due to an emergency clause.
"We are an example to the world," wrote one American economist. "An example of what not to do."
Nations around the world are looking on with a mixture of alarm and bafflement as the United States hurtles toward an economy-wrecking default, with the Republican Party refusing to raise the country's globally unique debt limit without massive, harmful spending cuts.
The possibility of a U.S. default—a failure to pay the government's obligations—has already rattled global markets and prompted grave warnings from major institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, which said last week that a default would have "severe repercussions" for a world economy already facing the prospect of a central bank-induced recession.
The Washington Postreported Friday that the finance ministers of G7 nations have privately asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for "updates on the status of negotiations between the White House and House Republicans" as officials from the rich countries gather in Hiroshima for their annual summit.
Finance ministers have also voiced their concerns publicly. German finance chief Christian Lindner said last week that he hopes "an adult decision will be made with regard to the development of American government finances and the associated effects on the global economy."
Kazuo Ueda, governor of the Bank of Japan, cautioned that a U.S. default could become a "big problem" that the Federal Reserve "may not be able to counteract."
"The United States is one among the few polities that have adopted and retained debt limits."
The U.S. debt limit, which currently sits at $31.4 trillion, is a "global outlier," the Atlantic Council's Mrugank Bhusari wrote in March, noting that "the United States is one among the few polities that have adopted and retained debt limits."
"Debt limits like the United States'... are not the norm—and they rarely cause major deadlocks in the few countries that have adopted this tool," Bhusari observed. "Like the United States, Denmark also sets its debt limit as a nominal value. But that’s where the similarity ends. The Danish Parliament intentionally sets the ceiling sufficiently high such that it will not be crossed, rendering it no more than a formality."
"Like the United States and Denmark, Kenya also has a nominal debt limit. However, it is under the process of replacing the nominal limit with a limit as a percentage of GDP at 55%," Bhusari continued. "Australia briefly experimented with a debt limit similar to that of the United States, experienced the political infighting that Washington is familiar with, and abolished it soon after."
Citing one Latin America expert, the Post noted Friday that "a debt ceiling like the one that exists in the U.S. stirred debate" in Brazil, where the Lula government is aiming to loosen existing restraints on government spending.
The idea of imposing a strict debt limit "was shot down vehemently, thanks to the U.S. example," the Post reported.
"We are an example to the world," Stephanie Kelton, an American economist, wrote on Twitter. "An example of what not to do."
\u201cWe are an example to the world. An example of what not to do. https://t.co/K4ISWXTgkI\u201d— Stephanie Kelton (@Stephanie Kelton) 1684507808
The international community's reaction to the perilous U.S. debt ceiling standoff comes as President Joe Biden is facing growing pressure from lawmakers at home to end the crisis unilaterally if necessary by invoking the 14th Amendment, which states that "the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."
Progressives and legal scholars have long argued that the debt limit, first imposed by Congress in 1917, is unconstitutional and should be abolished—an argument that the National Association of Government Employees makes in a lawsuit filed in federal court 10 days ago.
But as The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote Friday, the plaintiffs "didn’t file a motion for immediate relief," so "the case has sat dormant."
Family members and people who knew Lotfi Hassan Misto described him as "a kind, hard-working man whose 'whole life was spent poor,'" The Washington Post reported.
The Pentagon said earlier this month, without providing evidence, that a U.S. drone strike in northwest Syria killed a "senior al-Qaeda leader."
But U.S. military officials are now beginning to walk back the claim as the victim's family insists the father of 10 had no connections to terrorist organizations and was herding his sheep when he was slain by a Hellfire missile on the morning of May 3.
Lotfi Hassan Misto, a 56-year-old former bricklayer, has been identified by his family as the victim of the drone strike, The Washington Postreported Thursday, citing interviews with the man's brother, son, and several people who knew him.
"They described a kind, hard-working man whose 'whole life was spent poor,'" the Post noted.
The operation that killed Misto, the Post reported, "was overseen by U.S. Central Command, which claimed hours after the strike, without citing evidence or naming a suspect, that the Predator drone strike had targeted a 'senior al-Qaeda leader.' But now there is doubt inside the Pentagon about who was killed."
One unnamed U.S. military official told the newspaper that the Pentagon is "no longer confident" that the strike killed an al-Qaeda leader. Another official said that "though we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda."
The entire U.S. drone program, including the process by which officials choose their assassination targets, is shrouded in secrecy, and activists argue the program should be shuttered in its entirety.
Often described by the Pentagon as "precision" attacks, U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands of civilians in recent years—deaths that U.S. officials typically refuse to even acknowledge, let alone apologize for.
The Biden administration did apologize after killing 10 members of an Afghan family—including seven children—in a 2021 drone strike in Kabul, but the U.S. has yet to uphold its pledge to compensate the survivors. A U.S. Central Command report on the strike indicated that military officials knew the attack likely killed civilians but initially lied about it in public.
The aftermath of the May 3 drone strike in northwest Syria appears to be following a similar trajectory.
On the day of the deadly strike, the watchdog Airwars published an initial assessment noting that a "60-year-old male civilian was killed by a declared U.S. drone strike on the outskirts of Qurqaniya," immediately disputing the Pentagon narrative.
Airwars pointed to a tweet from a Syrian journalist who said that contrary to CENTCOM's statement, the man killed was a civilian with "no connection with any organization, neither now nor previously."
Video footage given to the Post shows "a dozen people standing nearby" as aid workers arrived at the scene of the drone strike earlier this month, the newspaper reported.
"Most stare in shock," the Post observed. "Some cry."
Nearly a week after the strike, a CENTCOM spokesperson said the U.S. military was "aware of the allegations of a civilian casualty" and determining whether "further investigation is necessary and how it should proceed."
Misto's brother told the Associated Press at the time that the U.S. military's claims that Misto had terrorist connections were "absolute lies," decrying his killing as "an injustice and an aggression."
"If they claim that he's a terrorist, or that they got someone from al-Qaeda, they're all liars," Misto's brother told the Post.
Analysts told the Post that the family's insistence that Misto had no terrorist ties appears highly credible.
"Very quickly after this strike, the White Helmets came out and identified the individual with his name and his profession," said Charles Lister, the director of Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism at the Middle East Institute.
"Locals came forward to say, this guy's always been a farmer. He's never had any political activities; he's never had any affiliation with armed groups," Lister added. "The pace and breadth of such pushback was actually quite unusual."
Citing Jerome Drevon, a senior analyst on jihad and modern conflict with the International Crisis Group, the Post noted that "typically, when al-Qaeda leaders are killed, sympathizers announce their deaths online as a celebration of martyrdom."
"If the victim was a lower-level member of the organization, groups may not announce their death, he said, but people close to them will, often saying how they were connected to the group," the newspaper reported. "In this case, Drevon said 'there was nothing.'"