A US judge has struck down President George Bush’s authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-September 11 executive order was unconstitutional and vague.
US District Judge Audrey Collins’ 45-page ruling yesterday was a reversal of her own tentative findings last July in which she indicated she would uphold wide powers asserted by Bush under an anti-terror financing law. She delayed her ruling then to allow more legal briefs to be filed.
The Humanitarian Law Project had challenged Bush’s order, which blocked all the assets of groups or individuals he named as “specially designated global terrorists” after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists,” David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington DC-based Centre for Constitutional Rights that represented the group, said yesterday. “It was reminiscent of the McCarthy era.”
The case centred on two groups, the Liberation Tigers, which seeks a separate homeland for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan, a political organisation representing the interests of Kurds in Turkey.
Judge Collins prohibited the government from blocking the assets of the two groups, which had been designated by the US as foreign terrorist organisations.
Cole said the judge’s ruling did not invalidate the hundreds of other designated terrorist groups on the list but “calls them into question”.
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice, said, “We are currently reviewing the decision and we have made no determination what the government’s next step will be.”
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment immediately.
Judge Collins also struck down the provision in which Bush had authorised the secretary of the treasury to designate anyone who “assists, sponsors or provides services to” or is “otherwise associated with” a designated group.
However, she let stand sections of the order that penalises those who provide “services” to designated terrorist groups. She said such services would include the humanitarian aid and rights training proposed by the plaintiffs.
The Humanitarian Law Project plans to appeal against that part of the ruling, Cole says.
“We are pleased the court rejected many of the constitutional arguments raised by the plaintiffs, including their challenge to the government’s ban on providing services to terrorist organisations,” Miller said yesterday. “However, we believe the court erred in finding that certain other aspects of the executive order were unconstitutional.”
But Cole said the ruling was still considered a victory.
“Even in fighting terrorism the president cannot be given a blank cheque to blacklist anyone he considers a bad guy or a bad group and you can’t imply guilt by association,” Cole said.