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Terror suspects guilty by association

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Appeals court reinstates terrorism indictments
Reversal of lower court ruling seen as Bush administration victory

Updated: 9:46 p.m. ET Dec. 20, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO - A federal appeals court Monday reinstated indictments against seven defendants accused of raising money for a terrorist organization with links to ousted Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.

In a victory for the Bush administration’s war on terrorism, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Los Angeles federal judge who declared the 1996 terrorism financing law unconstitutional.

The law makes it illegal to funnel money — “material support” — to organizations the State Department says are linked to terrorism, about 30 groups in all.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the government rarely used the law. The administration has since used it to win dozens of terrorism convictions nationwide, from Lackawanna, N.Y., to Seattle and Portland, Ore.

One legal expert criticized the decision.

“This is a troubling result for a nation that believes in freedom of association,” said David Cole, an expert on the law in question at the Georgetown University Law Center.

2001 indictment
The case stems from a 2001 indictment against the seven Los Angeles defendants for allegedly providing several hundred thousand dollars to the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which the appeals court said “participated in various terrorist activities against the Iranian regime” and “carried out terrorist activities with the support” of Saddam’s regime.

U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi invalidated the law, saying it did not provide the groups a proper forum to contest their terror designations. His ruling had no immediate effect beyond the Los Angeles case.

On Monday, a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court overruled the judge — and went a step further, saying individuals accused of supporting the listed groups cannot challenge whether the groups should be listed.

Mirrors Virginia appellate ruling
The government, the court said, must prove only “that a particular organization was designated at the time the material support was given, not whether the government made a correct designation.”

The decision mirrors a ruling this year by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upholding the conviction of a man who funneled money to the militant Hezbollah organization while insisting he had a right to challenge that group’s listing.

“The Justice Department is pleased that yet another court has upheld the constitutionality of the material support statute, a key weapon in our arsenal of legal remedies in the war on terror,” spokesman John Nowacki said.

The seven Los Angeles defendants said it was a violation of their First Amendment rights to be prohibited from contributing money to groups they say are not terror organizations, and they should have the right to prove the group in question should not be on the State Department’s list. No trial date has been set in their case.

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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