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U.S. Terrorist List System Constrains Peacebuilding Efforts

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Supreme Court's recent ruling on Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project tightens the straightjacket that our current terrorist list system has placed on American diplomats and social scientists. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect groups or individuals who provide "expert advice or assistance" or "training" for pacific means to proscribed terrorist groups. For non-governmental peacebuilding groups that conduct workshops and promote dialogue as critical elements of their work, this decision is catastrophic. Now, even individuals who, through direct communication, urge proscribed terrorist groups to disarm and participate in negotiations are vulnerable to prosecution in a U.S. court.

Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the 2001 Patriot Act's broad definition of material support to terrorism was necessary to block "aid that makes the attacks more likely to occur." However, this betrays a misunderstanding of what practitioners of peacebuilding actually do. Unlike humanitarian support, which could potentially free up resources for military spending by providing free food and social services, the services provided by peacebuilding groups cannot be diverted. ...

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