Saturday, September 10, 2011

What is "Material Support"?

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

As we gear up for the tenth anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, there has been no shortage of coverage from every imaginable information source. From CNN to Al-Jazeera, FOX News to Twitter, and everything in between, the deluge of drivel pouring through hyperspace is staggering to say the least. Here's an interesting piece I stumbled across today.

From The criminalization of speech since 9/11

In this article by Justin Elliot, he discusses the impact that blind patriotism has had on the right to free speech in the decade after 9/11. Elliot gives the example of a 24-year old Virginia man who was arrested last week for posting a YouTube video of a propaganda tape from a known Pakistani terrorist organization named Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT. Officially, the man who posted the video, Jubair Ahmad, is being charged with providing "Material Support" to an officially designated terrorist group.

The immediate question is, what constitutes "Material Support"? If you had asked me outside of the context of this article, I would have guessed that material support would be supplying money or weapons to a terrorist group, or providing them with safe haven. I certainly wouldn't imagine that something as benign as posting a YouTube video could result in such a dramatic response. Of course, I haven't seen the offending video myself, but it would seem to me that one would be better served pursuing those perpetrating the acts committed on the film rather than those distributing them.

It all comes back to this elusive legal term, "Material Support." Jeremy Elliot provides the following definition in his article:
What does the material-support law say, exactly?

It gives the government the power to designate non-U.S. groups as foreign terrorist organizations based on very broad criteria. That includes whether the group has used or threatened to use a weapon against personal property; whether the group's activities undermine our national defense, foreign relations or economic interests. What is most problematic about the law, though, is "material support" has been interpreted so broadly. It is used regardless of whether the provider has the intent to support terrorism, or whether any specific act of terrorism has taken place or is being planned, and even to include pure speech and advocacy.
Of course, you can see how such a wide definition can easily be interpreted to fit the needs of the controlling political body, as nearly every act of protest, even peaceful acts, can be seen to have an adverse effect on at least one of the described targets; be it national defense, foreign relations, economic interests, or some combination therein.

Now, I'm not arguing that supporting violent terrorist groups by distributing their propaganda should be encouraged. In fact, I find it to be down right tasteless. But setting the precedent for arresting citizens for posting content to public websites like YouTube is a frightening concept. Why not simply take the video down, like they do with so many clips that are guilty of copy-right infringement? Why lock a man in a cage when he has himself committed no act of violence?

Surprisingly enough, this "Material Support" law has been in place since long before 9/11. Back in 1969 the Supreme Court held that First Amendment rights took precedence in such cases regarding the distribution of propaganda, saying that "even advocacy of violence can be criminalized only when it is intended to result in imminent criminal conduct and if it is likely to produce imminent criminal conduct." Yet, with the ever expanding usage of political rhetoric to fit the needs of the governing machine, this definition has been scrapped in favor of one that allows for more government control on free speech. In the Supreme Court case last year of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, it was ruled that "the government can in fact criminalize speech, including speech that advocates only lawful activity, in part on the theory that speech might legitimize a terrorist group." How's that for hypocrisy in the land of the free??

So be careful the next time you post a video supporting the acts of fringe groups like Anonymous. Certainly their recent crusade against the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authority of San Francisco can be seen as damaging to economic interests by disrupting the traffic of workers on their commute. How long until the caveat of the designated terrorist groups being foreign is discarded, and every group that sets their voice against the government is considered an enemy of the state? Call me misanthropic, but in my eyes this is only a stone's throw away from the stories out of China of peaceful bloggers disappearing in the night. To the FEMA camps with you, peaceful dissenters!

Hope that gave you something to chew on, kids.

Enjoy The Ride.

All thought-crimes will be persecuted to the full extent of the law.

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