Judge Rules "Unconstitutional" Key Provisions of PATRIOT
Monday, 24 June, 2002
LOS ANGELES - A federal judge has dismissed the Justice Department's case against seven people accused of funneling charitable donations to an Iranian military group deemed partly responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and still labeled a terrorist threat.
After deliberating for months, Judge Robert M. Takasugi of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled on Friday that a 1996 law passed by Congress to classify foreign groups as terrorist organizations is ''unconstitutional on its face,'' and thus cannot be used as the basis of criminal charges.
That antiterrorism law, a cornerstone of the government's case against John Walker Lindh, the American accused of aiding a foreign terrorist group, makes it a crime to provide ''material support'' to any foreign organization that the State Department deems a threat to national security. But the law gives these groups ''no notice and no opportunity'' to contest their designation, a violation of due process, Takasugi ruled.
''I will not abdicate my responsibilities as a district judge and turn a blind eye to the constitutional infirmities'' of the law, Takasugi wrote.
Because the government made its list of terrorist organizations in secret, without giving foreign groups a chance to defend themselves, the defendants ''are deprived of their liberty based on an unconstitutional designation that they could never challenge,'' he said.
The Justice Department said on Sunday that it had not decided whether to appeal.
Wearing badges and flashing pictures of starving children, the seven defendants stopped ''unwitting travelers'' at Los Angeles International Airport for years, filling buckets with donations from passers-by, federal prosecutors charged.
While the group presented itself as a legitimate charity, the government charged that it took orders from the People's Mujahedin, an organization the administration blames for the murder of at least six U.S. citizens in the 1970s.
The government contended that the defendants wired more than $1 million into overseas accounts to sustain People's Mujahedin military camps in Iraq, where the group trains under the protection of Saddam Hussein.
The defendants, some of whom were born in Iran but are now American citizens, denied the charges.
Started in the 1960s by educated, middle-class youths, the People's Mujahedin, much like the Iranian fundamentalism that arose alongside it, sought to expel the shah and purge the country of what it saw as pervasive Western influences.
Shortly after the Iranian revolution, the secular mujahedin movement found itself at odds with a government ruled by clerics.
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