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Material support to terrorism: Who is really responsible?

By Elizabeth King, Government Affairs Intern

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As Americans, we like to pride ourselves on the notion that everyone is created equal and, therefore, all should be treated as equals. Well, let’s be honest in stating that our country’s history does not reflect that idea very well.

Ever since 9/11, people of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims are being judged at every turn. It is not only troubling that fellow Americans are being subjected to judgment for an event they had nothing to do with, but the fact that many American citizens are being wrongfully accused of aiding terrorism is taking some of these wrongful accusations to the extreme. People are being put in prison on a daily basis for “material support to terrorism,” when people that are working for the government who seem to believe they are above the law are supporting terrorism in ways that are unimaginable to any American citizen, and the government is just turning a blind eye.

The United States government has a list of terrorist organizations that are to be watched for terrorist activities, and it is considered a federal offense to aid these organizations in any way.  According to Cornell University Law School, providing material support to terrorism is defined as:

“Whoever provides material support or resources or conceals or disguises the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of this section…the concealment of an escape from the commission of any such violation, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Since this offense is taken extremely serious, so should whom is being charged with it. There are plenty of people who are imprisoned for providing material support to terrorism without any physical evidence, other than using their first amendment right to free speech, and the majority of these people are of Middle Eastern descent.

In April 2012, a man by the name of Tarek Mehanna was tried for “material support to terrorism.” The prosecutors claimed Mehanna provided material support to terrorism for simply translating Arabic text into English, and by posting content on the Internet that was supposedly sympathetic for Al Qaeda.

So were Mehanna’s online posts “material support for terrorism” or was he just using his first amendment right to voice his opinions? Mehanna was sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison, and it’s suspect that his being Muslim had something to do with his indictment. Carol Rose, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, declared: “It’s official. There is a Muslim exception to the First Amendment.”

While there might be a Muslim exception to the First Amendment, it seems as though there are currently many Muslim exceptions in our society. It was recently brought to the attention of the public that a terrorist organization by the name of Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, or MEK, was being trained by the Joint Special Operations Command (J.S.O.C.) at the Department of Energy in Nevada. This BBC video about MEK gives some insight into the mentality of this organization.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “The MEK currently seeks to overthrow the Iranian theocracy and install a democratic government that is headed, at least initially, by MEK leader Maryam Rajavi.”  They have been involved in many terror attacks ranging from the killings of U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran in the 1970s, to the assassinations of five Iranian nuclear scientists throughout 2007. Even though this organization has been responsible for numerous amounts of attacks, they have been trying to get off the U.S. list of terrorist organizations since they claimed to have renounced violence in 2001.  Here is a video of a debate on Inside Story Americas about the MEK and their status as a terrorist group.

Seymour M. Hersh wrote an article entitled “Our Men in Iran? for The New Yorker, and it revealed that J.S.O.C. has actually been training the MEK on U.S. land.  Hersh wrote, “…the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks—it also involved communication intercepts.”  This gave the MEK the ability to intercept and interpret telephone calls and text messages while inside Iran, which in turn, they would be sharing with U.S. intelligence officials.

Even more problematic, former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich recently gave a speech to the MEK praising their work and honoring the leader of the terrorist organization; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani believed the MEK should be the Time Magazine “person of the year”; and media mogul Rupert Murdoch said the group deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

So why are individuals (even within government and media) that are directly supporting terrorists by training and aiding this group not being reprimanded for their actions? Just because this particular terrorist organization is not attacking the U.S. at this point in time does not change the fact they are terrorists, or their actions against citizens of the country of Iran.

People that are a part of the J.S.O.C are directly affiliated with the training of the MEK they should be subject to the same circumstances as anyone else accused of material support to terrorism. Just because some may not agree with the MEK being on the list of terrorist organizations, does not justify actions to support them. They are still legally considered terrorists; therefore, anyone who supports the organization in any way should be held accountable for their actions.

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