The nation’s highest court will hear a case that may redefine the difference between humanitarian aid and aiding and abetting terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and Tamil Tigers.
The Humanitarian Law Project, a left-wing special interest group, is contesting part of federal law that prohibits “material support” to terrorists and nations such as Iran.
The HLP in their lawsuit claims that it is difficult to determine who the terrorists are and whether assisting them by lecturing about peace proposals, teaching them English, or rendering medical treatment equates with supporting terrorists and terrorism.
The Humanitarian Law Project described its support to the groups as “teaching and advocating the use of international law and other nonviolent means to reduce conflict, advance human rights and promote peace.”
As the law now stands, suspects providing such services to Hamas, for example, may be sentenced to upwards of 10 years in federal prison.
The USA Patriot Act makes it a crime to provide any form of support, including humanitarian assistance, to groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The legal dispute arose from advice given by the Humanitarian Law Project to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. Both groups are listed by the State Department as terrorist organizations.
Recently, indicted Wall Street hedge fund manager Rajakumara Rajaratnam and his father, J. M. Rajaratnam, knowingly provided financial and other support to the Tamil Tigers, more than 30 victims and survivors of the terrorist group’s attacks alleged, according to a report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, NJ, family members of those killed and survivors of bombings committed by the group formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), alleged that Rajaratnam and the family foundation headed by his father provided millions of dollars in funds used for the deadly and destructive terrorist attacks.
The seven-count complaint, the result of a year-long investigation, was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 which grants non-U.S. citizens access to the U.S. Courts to seek justice for violations of “the law of nations,” such as crimes against humanity and terrorism, no matter where they occur.
From 2004 through 2009, the LTTF, or Tamil Tigers, conducted hundreds of attacks, including several suicide bombings and political assassination attempts. According to the FBI, LTTE is responsible for the murders of over 4,000 people since 2006. The terrorist organization was the first to use suicide attacks on a widespread basis, a tactic subsequently adopted by al Qaeda and Hamas, among others. Most of LTTE’s funding and weapons procurement came from a network of international front charities and non-governmental organizations controlled by LTTE.
The complaint documents the transfer of millions of dollars from Rajaratnam and his family’s foundation to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), which was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2007 as a “charitable organization that acts as a front to facilitate fundraising and procurement for the LTTE.” The TRO’s assets were immediately frozen.
According to the complaint, Rajaratnam gave $1 million to the TRO’s U.S. branch in 2004 in response to LTTE’s calls for renewed funding in anticipation of the “final war.” This money was funneled from TRO-U.S. accounts to TRO headquarters in Sri Lanka. Rajaratnam had previously made a $1 million contribution to TRO following the LTTE’s successful “Elephant Pass” guerrilla campaign. These donations “demonstrate Rajaratnam’s contributions were given with the intent of supporting specific LTTE attacks and operations,” the complaint charges.
The complaint also documents donations from the Rajaratnam Family Foundation to the TRO totaling well over $5 million from 2001 to 2007.
As further evidence that Rajaratnam clearly supported LTTE’s campaign of terrorism, the complaint cites allegations that letters introducing Rajaratnam were provided to LTTE founder and leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran between December 2002 and June 2003. The letters of introduction to Prabhakaran, who was killed in 2009, were arranged by Karunakaran Kandasamy (Karuna), a TRO fundraiser and an LTTE operative who pled guilty in U.S. courts to criminal charges of materially supporting LTTE in June 2009. In letters to senior LTTE leaders in Sri Lanka, Karuna described Rajaratnam as a wealthy Tamil supporter in the United States who was “among the people who provide financial support for our struggle for freedom” and as someone who “has been working actively on the forefront.”
In November 2002, Rajaratnam, speaking at a fundraiser for the Association of Tamils of Sri Lankan USA (ITSA), called those supporting the Tamils’ struggle in Sri Lanka “terrorists,” later adding that they were not just terrorists but also “freedom fighters.” In addition, Rajaratnam’s father wrote on ITSA’s web site that “Historically, freedom movements have been labeled as terrorist organizations by the oppressors . . . ‘Terrorists’ have in their lifetime become ‘His excellencies.'” He added, “LTTE has not engaged in any killing that is not justifiable in the context of war.”
The counts brought by the lawsuit are: aiding and abetting terrorist acts universally condemned as violations of the law of nations; aiding and abetting, intentionally facilitating, and/or recklessly disregarding crimes against humanity in violation of international law; reckless disregard; wrongful death; survival; negligence; and negligent and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The HLP lawsuit is the first constitutional test of the “material support” provision of the USA Patriot Act since Congress approved it after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Government lawyers argue that the law is an effective method of combating terrorists who often lack clearly defined borders and can surreptitiously attack targets at will. The U.S. solicitor-general states that there is nothing ill-defined about the law.