Dictating Terms: The U.S. Anti-Terrorist List

Revolutionary Worker #933, November 23, 1997

There is an old saying: "The emperor is allowed to burn down a thousand villages, but the people are forbidden to light even a candle."

On October 8, the U.S. State Department published a new official list designating 30 foreign groups as "terrorist organizations." This was a step called for by the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. According to this so-called Anti-Terrorism Act it is now a federal crime for people in the U.S. to provide material support for any of the groups on this new State Department list.

When he announced the new State Department list, President Clinton said: "Today's action sends a clear message: The path to change is through dialogue and open deliberations, not violence and hatred."

Such words make human logic cry out in revolt.

"Dialogue, not violence"--how can such words even be pronounced by a leader of the U.S. government when the history of this whole century is carved by U.S. violence unleashed against whole peoples? Their armies invaded Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Cuba and dozens of other countries throughout the world. A bloody 1973 CIA coup overthrew Chile's elected government and murdered more than 30,000 people. It is the U.S. government that financed murderous Contra mercenaries in Central America using cocaine sales, and that backs the counterinsurgency war of rape and massacre conducted today by Peru's Fujimori dictatorship.

The U.S. government imposed an embargo on Iraq for years--causing the death of almost 600,000 Iraqi children by depriving them of food and medicine. Clinton's own administration maintains this embargo and daily threatens to unleash even more military violence on Iraq.

Carpet bombings, nuclear bombings, napalm, warships and cruise missiles--these are the ways the U.S. traditionally "sends a clear message."

Now, with this law, the U.S. government is insisting that they can do anything no matter how bloody and oppressive, then they can turn around and decide what is legitimate opposition to all that, and they can enforce that verdict on people living in the U.S.

Every year, they send billions to finance the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land--and now they want to make it a federal crime for Arabs in the U.S. to finance resistance schools in the West Bank. The U.S. backed and trained murderous thugs like the government death squads of Peru and Turkey--and now they want to make it a crime to send radio equipment or money to resistance forces fighting the oppressive regimes in those countries. The U.S. government sent billions to build up and arm Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan--and now insists that similar groups in Palestine are "terrorists" whose U.S. supporters should be imprisoned!

Does the U.S. government think they can get away with declaring which armed struggles in the world are "legitimate" and which are not? Do they really expect that people in those countries will abide by U.S. decisions about how to rebel? Do they think they can get away with dictating to people in the U.S. what forces in the world they can support?


The National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF) is a newly formed group opposed to key elements of the Anti-Terrorism Act. On October 8, it condemned the State Department list, saying: "The U.S. government is about to implement one of the most significant assaults on the First Amendment in recent history.... The practical effect of the publication of this list, and the criminal prosecutions that will follow it, will be devastating to the huge number of groups and individuals in the U.S. who are concerned about their or their forebears' countries of origin, or about the welfare and human rights of people around the world."

The newly published State Department list includes the Communist Party of Peru (listed as the "Shining Path"), which is leading a Maoist people's war in Peru.

The list also includes many Palestinian organizations, the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Khmer Rouge movement in Cambodia, and the Colombian FARC guerrilla movement.

According to the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act, several things happen once a group has been officially designated a "terrorist organization":

First, it becomes a crime for anyone in the U.S. to contribute money or other material support to the group, including to its social, political and humanitarian activities--even if those activities are legal. For example, giving blankets to a clinic, books to a school, clothes to an orphanage, or money to help political prisoners would all be federal crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison--if the State Department claims that the aid is going to groups linked with "terrorists." Shipments of religious materials and medicine are not affected.

Second, members of so-called "terrorist organizations" are now forbidden from entering the U.S.--even if there is no evidence that the individuals ever did anything illegal. This law brings back the rules of the hated McCarran-Walter Act of the McCarthy era--which prevented communists and revolutionaries from entering the United States for speaking tours, fundraising or even academic conferences.

Third, the U.S. government will now be allowed to deport alleged members of such "terrorist groups" in an "expeditious and confidential" way. This means that the U.S. government could decide to deport immigrants in secret hearings that the defendants may not attend. A section of this law says "Federal Rules of Evidence shall not apply in a removal hearing." People can be condemned and deported based on secret evidence and testimony--all kinds of lies, including false allegations by the political police in their home countries, can be accepted without challenge. The deportees would only see a "summary" of evidence that contains whatever information the U.S. government might choose to show them. The deportees can be held in jail while these hearings are held without them.

Fourth, the law requires U.S. financial institutions to freeze the assets of a designated group or its U.S. "agents." Banks that don't comply would face a $50,000 fine--without any mechanism for appeal.

Fifth, the law allows the FBI to investigate U.S. groups based solely on their political support activities--like political writings or public protests. Since 1994, the so-called Edwards Amendment barred the FBI from opening investigations based on so-called "first amendment activities." This means that the FBI could supposedly not legally start an investigation of someone simply because of something they said or wrote about foreign groups. Now, this Edwards Amendment has been repealed, and the FBI will be legally allowed to treat political speech, writings and protest that support the designated "terrorist" organizations as a basis for starting investigations.

The Anti-Terrorism law did not openly criminalize political support for designated movements. But it gave the FBI and other government agencies much broader powers to spy on, infiltrate and therefore also disrupt organizations that politically support various anti-U.S. movements abroad. Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism Act provided $400,000,000 in new funding for FBI "anti-terrorist" investigations, and 500 more FBI agents have been assigned to domestic investigations dealing with so-called "terrorism."

In short, the new regulations of this Anti-Terrorism Act, which was so strongly supported by President Clinton, are designed to greatly restrict the ability of people in the U.S. to support movements that fight against U.S. imperialism.

These regulations represent a major new attack on legal "due process" in the U.S.--including on the right of accused to face their accusers and the right to appeal unjust decisions. The Anti-Terrorism Act also contains many other assaults on the people's rights--by restricting prisoners' appeals, speeding up executions, and slashing immigrants' rights.

Under the Cover of
"Fighting Terrorism"

Official U.S. propaganda portrays "terrorism" as a major, sinister threat to the current world order--and many international operations are conducted in the name of "fighting terrorism."

Six international "counterterrorist" meetings were held in 1996 alone: Asian meetings in the Philippines and Japan, a Middle East conference in Egypt, a meeting of Latin American countries in Lima, Peru, and a gathering of the imperialist powers in Paris. The U.S. has trained more than 19,000 foreign police officials from more than 80 countries in "counterterrorism" in the last several years.

However, a look at the new State Department list shows that the U.S. government is targetting many different kinds of non-governmental groups who have only one thing in common--they all, one way or another, are seen as obstacles to U.S. goals in their part of the world.

The definition of "terrorist" used by the U.S. government in making its list is so vague that it can be applied to almost any non-governmental group that has conflict with the U.S. It is apparently not even necessary for the U.S. government to have evidence that such groups have taken up armed struggle--a group can be designated "terrorist" if the State Department says they have an "intent" to endanger property and if they carry out actions designed to "intimidate" (whatever that means).

In addition, the U.S. government can designate an organization "terrorist" based on secret evidence which the government is not required to produce in court. Groups receiving a "terrorist" label have only 30 days to contest the label--and are not even guaranteed a right to know the evidence used to label them. This is designed to make legal challenges extremely difficult.

Clearly, one purpose of this new "anti-terrorism" law is to limit the ways people in the U.S. can legally support genuine revolutionary movements that are fighting for a new society in countries dominated by the U.S.

For example: One of the groups on the U.S. list is the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). Endorsing Peruvian Fujimori government's accusation that the PCP are "terrorists" is one more way that the U.S. is supporting the bloody counterinsurgency war being waged by the Peruvian government using massacres, disappearances, torture and rape. By including the PCP on this State Department list, the U.S. government intends to ban certain kinds of revolutionary support activity and prevent supporters of the PCP from coming to the U.S. and speaking here. This designation also raises the danger of new FBI surveillance and disruption of supporters of the people's war in Peru.

This law is nothing but a step toward making revolutionary internationalism illegal!

Heriberto Ocasio, the National Spokesperson for the U.S.-based Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (CSRP), states, "If the U.S. government thinks that this law will stop international solidarity with people fighting against brutal U.S.-backed regimes around the world, they are very mistaken. Our committee, for one, will continue to broadly organize masses in political support for the just and heroic People's War in Peru."

A Club for U.S.-Imposed "Settlements"

The law and the new State Department list are also aimed at stabilizing the U.S. grip on important parts of the world where there aren't yet Maoist revolutionary movements, but where other class forces are opposed to U.S. interests. For example, describing the Kurdistan Workers Party as "terrorist" is an endorsement of the Turkish government's brutal war waged against Kurdish people in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has been trying to impose "settlements" on various parts of the world. This new "Anti-Terrorism" law is designed to work as a club against political movements which opposed such U.S.-imposed "settlements"--especially in Palestine and Ireland.

A large part of the State Department's list consists of Palestinian organizations opposed to the concessions the PLO has been making to Israel--including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Islamist groups like Hamas and Hizballah. The U.S. government claims that Hamas carries out important fundraising activities among Arab immigrants in the U.S.--and they clearly want to make such political activities in Arab communities illegal.

The bill is also intended to pressure organizations that are not (for the moment!) included on the State Department list--including the struggle of Irish people against British domination and the struggle led by the Zapatista movement in Mexico.

The U.S. government has long wanted to criminalize the activities of Noraid--the U.S. organization that has raised large sums of money for Irish Republican causes over several decades. At this moment, the IRA's political arm Sinn Fein is negotiating with the British government--and so, the Irish Republican Army was not included on the State Department's first "terrorist" list. However the existence of this new law means that the IRA could be added to the "terrorist" list if the armed anti-British groups in Northern Ireland end their ceasefire. The U.S. government has given itself the power to criminalize Noraid at will--and that threat to cut off IRA funds is intended as pressure on the Irish nationalists to accept terms offered by the British government.

Within the U.S., there has been significant work done by many forces to support the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico. The mainstream U.S. media has repeatedly noted that the Zapatistas have put their messages directly before the world--often bypassing the official media and publishing manifestos on the Internet--using computers donated by supporters around the world. For the moment, such material support to the Zapatistas is still legal in the U.S.--but it could quickly come under attack if the U.S. government decided the negotiations between the Zapatista movement and the Mexican government were not proceeding according to U.S. interests.

This Anti-Terrorism law is, in short, designed to be a permanent threat and pressure on many different political movements around the world--including those that are not currently on the State Department list.

Trying to Outlaw
International Solidarity

One way to understand the possible impact of this new Anti-Terrorism law is to ask what would have happened if it had been on the books in earlier decades:

Would people have gone to prison for printing posters to send to the movements fighting against apartheid in South Africa during the 1960s and '70s? Would it have been illegal to send tools in the 1980s to the guerrillas resisting the U.S.-backed government of El Salvador? Would it have been illegal to send financial help to the families of Irish political prisoners--during the H-block hunger strikes?

The answer to these questions might well have been "yes"--if those organizations had been put on a new State Department "terrorist" list.

In fact, the U.S. government did conduct all kinds of covert surveillance and disruption of the Central American support movement during the 1980s. According to the book "The FBI v. The First Amendment" by Richard Criley, the FBI launched two investigations between 1981 and 1985 that involved 1,330 groups and 2,370 individuals opposed to U.S. policies in Central America. It started with an investigation of one group, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), but was expanded to hundreds of other organizations known to work with CISPES on the basis that they might be "CISPES fronts."

In the 1980s, it was already illegal for U.S. groups to provide military supplies to groups and countries opposing the U.S. So part of the way the U.S. government justified its covert actions in the 1980s was by claiming that humanitarian aid to El Salvador would be diverted by guerrillas there to serve military purposes. This argument created some scandal in the 1980s, since the FBI was targeting support activities that were, in fact, then legal.

Now this new 1996 law orders the FBI to investigate and prosecute anyone who contributes even humanitarian aid to State Department designated organizations. This makes it much easier for the FBI to spy on, deport and imprison people for international support activities--once the State Department has designated a particular movement as "terrorist."

Oppose the Criminalization of International Solidarity

It is not yet clear exactly how the Anti-Terrorism Act will be implemented. Resistance is being organized. Parts of the law have already been challenged or restricted in court cases.

According to David Cole of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a recent court decision in the case of the LA 8--8 pro-Palestinian activists who the U.S. government tried to deport--"casts serious doubt on the constitutionality of this law."

Twenty-three organizations recently came together to form the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom. This NCPPF recently held a national conference--and includes within it the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation (NCARL), the American Muslim Council, the Arab American Institute, the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (CSRP), the Irish National Caucus, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Lawyers Guild. This is an important beginning for building broader exposure of, and opposition to, the U.S.'s "anti-terrorism" attack.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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