Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Coble, Ranking Member Scott and members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today at this critical
oversight hearing on two amendments to the law criminalizing material
support of terrorism:
Section 805 of the USA PATRIOT Act and
Section 6603 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of
I am a staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, where I have
worked on several cases involving the issue of material support of
terrorism. However, I am also here today because I have seen first-hand,
with my own eyes, how those laws have impeded humanitarian relief operations
in the worst natural disaster in recent memory.
I was born and raised in the United States, but my parents and extended
family are from Sri Lanka. I was on a plane to visit relatives there last
December, in the air between Los Angeles and Singapore, when the tsunami
struck � killing 40,000 people in Sri Lanka alone. I landed there a day
later, and spent the next three weeks doing relief work with several
different humanitarian organizations.
suffering and devastation I saw was unimaginably horrible. My first
mission was to a displaced persons camp in eastern Sri Lanka, with a relief
team from the Hospital Christian Fellowship. At that camp we treated about
200 people. Every person I spoke with had lost at least one family member to
the tsunami. I spoke with mothers and fathers who had been unable to keep
hold of their children as they were sucked away by the sea, and parents who
had been forced to choose, in a split second, which of their children to
save because they could not grab on to all of them. I met children who saw
their families, their homes, their villages � everything they had known �
disappear in an instant. Seeing the destruction of whole towns, places of
worship, roads, trees � everything � was a humbling experience that is
indelibly etched in my memory.
If this had happened anywhere in the world, even here, the devastation and
its aftermath would have been terrible to behold. But it was made worse
because it happened in Sri Lanka � a country that has been torn by civil war
for over twenty years. About one fifth of the territory of Sri Lanka is
controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed group
fighting against the government of Sri Lanka. The LTTE has been designated
as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department pursuant to
Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. � 1189. As a
result, it is a violation of law to give material support to that group.
Material support is defined very broadly, as I will discuss below, and
consequences for violating the law are severe. Non-citizens face
deportation, while citizens and non-citizens alike face civil forfeiture and
criminal penalties up to twenty years in prison. 8 U.S.C. � 1227(a)(4)(B);
18 U.S.C. � 2339B.
Although the LTTE is designated as a terrorist organization, in the
territory it controls it functions as a government. The LTTE runs a court
system, a police force, orphanages, a set of health clinics, and even its
own traffic police. It is for all practical purposes the government for well
over 500,000 people who live in the LTTE-controlled areas. And, because the
LTTE governs its territory as an authoritarian military regime, it exerts a
significant amount of control over all of the institutions in its territory.
As with civil war situations around the globe � Somalia, Indonesia, Sudan,
Ethiopia, to name a few � providing humanitarian aid to the most needy
people in Sri Lanka almost inevitably requires working in areas controlled
by � and dealing directly with -- a group that is designated as, or at least
meets the very broad definition of, a foreign terrorist organization.
Unlike our material support laws,
did not differentiate between areas under the LTTE�s control and those
controlled by the Sri Lankan government. Thousands of people living in
LTTE-held territory died, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced into
camps, many having lost some or all of their family members and in urgent
need of food, shelter, and medical care. In fact, because the LTTE controls
large segments of the eastern seaboard of the island, which was most
directly hit by the tsunami, people in LTTE territory were some of the most
Sadly, though, our material support laws contain no exception for support
even if it is necessary to save the lives of people who happen to live in
LTTE-held territory. In fact there is no exception for humanitarian
assistance at all, except for �medicine and religious materials.� While this
exception is important, it is sorely inadequate to meet the needs of people
caught in humanitarian crises.
For example, in the first few days of relief work, we focused on treating
people�s immediate medical needs � injuries, wounds, dehydration,
respiratory infections � with medicines and dressings. Such assistance would
probably fit under the exception for �medicine.� But within a week, the most
serious public health problems for the hundreds of thousands of displaced
people changed. In situations of mass displacement, the greatest killer is
often infectious disease, which spreads through contaminated water,
inadequate sanitation, and exposure from a lack of shelter. To prevent
outbreaks, humanitarian organizations must provide displaced people with
water purification systems, toilets, tents, and other such goods which are
not �medicine� but nonetheless serve an absolutely critical medical
Yet our material support laws do not appear, as a practical matter, to allow
humanitarian organizations to provide such vital resources to people living
under the LTTE�s control, because such resources generally cannot be
provided without providing �material support� to the LTTE as the statute
defines that term. For example, as currently written the law defines
material support to include �any property, tangible or intangible, . . . or
This definition appears to encompass much of what I saw was needed for
humanitarian relief work, including water, water purification systems,
sanitation equipment such as toilets, all forms of shelter (including even
children�s clothing), and many of the materials needed for longer-term
reconstruction such as boats and building materials. Because the law makes
no distinction between lethal aid � such as weapons or ammunition -- and
non-lethal aid, a group seeking to provide toilets to the LTTE�s health
ministry to take to camps in an area under its control may be violating the
material support laws.
The statute also criminalizes the provision of expert advice or assistance
(if derived from specialized knowledge).
Thus, a public health expert who wants to advise the LTTE -- and the LTTE is
the government for all practical purposes in the areas it controls -- about
how to set up camps so as to minimize the spread of diseases, such as
dysentery or cholera, probably cannot do so under the statute. Indeed, even
training psychological counselors working with the LTTE in their territory �
which is a crucial need for children who lost parents in the tsunami -- may
violate the �training� or �personnel� provisions, as long as the training
imparts a �specific skill� and the counselors work under the LTTE�s
�direction and control.�
As a result, qualified people who have the willingness and ability to help
those affected by the disaster are scared to do so. I have spoken personally
with doctors, teachers, and others who want to work with people desperately
needing their help in Sri Lanka, but fear liability under the �expert
advice,� �training,� and �personnel� provisions of the law. I also know
people who feared to send funds for urgent humanitarian needs, including
clothing, tents, and even books, because they thought that doing so might
violate the material support laws. I have also consulted with organizations,
in my capacity as an ACLU attorney, that seek to send money for humanitarian
assistance to areas controlled by designated groups. I have heard those
organizations express grave concerns about continuing their work for
precisely these reasons.
Unfortunately, the fears of these organizations are well-justified. Our
Department of Justice has argued that doctors seeking to work in areas under
LTTE control are not entitled to an injunction against prosecution under the
material support laws, and it has even succeeded in winning deportation
orders under the immigration law�s definition of material support, for
merely giving food and shelter to people who belong to a �terrorist
organization� even if that group is not designated. See Humanitarian Law
Project v. United States Department of Justice, 393 F.3d 902 (9th Cir. 2004)
(en banc); Singh-Kaur v. Ashcroft, 385 F.3d 293, 299-301 (3d Cir. 2004).
Last year, Congress passed a law that was supposed to clarify the intent
needed to prosecute for �material support.� Under section 6603 of the
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the government
must prove that assistance was provided knowing that the organization had
been designated as a �foreign terrorist organization� or that the
organization had been involved in international terrorism. This amendment
did not provide comfort to the doctors, relief workers and organizations
with whom I worked.
Many in the humanitarian aid community are well aware of the LTTE�s
designation, which has been the subject of a number of high-profile court
decisions. Even without knowing of the designation, anyone with even a
passing understanding of Sri Lanka knows that the LTTE and the government
are involved in a violent conflict. Knowledge that the LTTE has engaged in
violent acts would probably satisfy the intent requirement under current
law. To provide desperately needed drinking water, blankets, clothing or
tents in LTTE-held areas may require working with the LTTE officials who are
the de facto government in that area.
Thus, our law puts aid workers in the untenable position of having to
choose between providing assistance, knowing they are exposing themselves
and their organizations to a risk of exclusion from the United States,
deportation, civil forfeiture or even criminal prosecution, or leaving
desperate victims of natural calamity to face the disaster on their own.
Indeed, the current material support provision with its limited exceptions
and extremely broad intent requirement leads to truly irrational results. A
humanitarian organization may send medicine to aid in life-saving surgeries,
but arguably cannot send a doctor to perform those surgeries. Medicine is
useless to people dying of starvation, but the law contains no exception for
Most worrisome of all, under provisions currently part of the REAL ID Act,
the situation will likely become even worse. A provision of that bill will
alter the definition of what constitutes a �terrorist organization� in the
Immigration and Nationality Act such that humanitarian groups that provide
material support to designated terrorist organizations will themselves be
defined as terrorist organizations. Thus, a doctor who goes to work for a
humanitarian group that works with both parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka
will violate the immigration code�s material support laws, even if he or she
never has any contact with a designated terrorist organization at all. This
change is of critical importance. The law will soon provide an extremely
broad definition of what constitutes a terrorist organization � a definition
that will include groups that engage in absolutely no violent activities of
any kind. Such expansion must be accompanied by a corresponding narrowing in
the definition of what constitutes material support if we are to prevent our
laws from prohibiting entirely innocent and vitally important humanitarian
The solution to this problem is for Congress to clarify the law by requiring
the government to prove that individuals charged under the material support
laws actually intended to further terrorist activity when they provided
humanitarian assistance. Without such a standard, humanitarian organizations
and individual volunteers are deterred from providing vitally needed
assistance to victims of disasters like the tsunami. The people who managed
to survive the tsunami should not be deprived of basic necessities such as
food and shelter in their hour of greatest need simply because they happen
to live in an area under the control of a designated terrorist organization.
Denying humanitarian assistance to such people does not make us safer;
giving basic necessities to these devastated people simply does not
undermine our nation�s security.
The government has argued that a rule requiring proof that an individual
actually intended to further terrorist activity will allow bad actors who
provide support to terrorist groups to escape liability. However, proof of
intent has proved a workable standard in a variety of legal contexts.
Reckless disregard of the risk that resources will be misused could still
serve as a basis for prosecution, and �deliberate ignorance� or willful
blindness to such misuse could also be punished. Indeed, implausible claims
that a group did not intend to support a terrorist group are unlikely to
succeed in front of juries concerned about the threat of terrorism. However,
groups that carefully screen and monitor projects to ensure that aid is sent
only to those who truly need it, audit their programs through detailed
receipts and written acknowledgements from beneficiaries, or send their own
personnel to ensure that aid is provided as intended will be able to
continue their work. If a humanitarian organization can show that its work
does not further terrorist activity, it should be free to continue providing
life-saving services in conflict areas such as Sri Lanka.
I was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and I felt the horror of
the terrorist attacks in a very personal way. I believe we must do
everything we can to make our country safe from the scourge of terrorism.
However, as I sit here before you today, the faces of the people I saw in
the camps in Sri Lanka flash before me, and I know their need. We do not
have to choose between national security and our commitment to help those
who are suffering around the globe. Amending our material support laws to
allow vital humanitarian work to go unimpeded would allow us to fulfill
those ideals without undermining our safety. The victims of the tsunami
deserve nothing less.
 See 18 U.S.C. �� 2339A, 2339B, as
amended by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, at
� 6603, Pub. L. No. 108-458 and the USA PATRIOT Act � 805, Pub. L. No.
 The government may point to the
exception in 18 U.S.C. � 2339B(j) for activities that would otherwise
constitute providing �personnel,� �training� or �expert advice or
assistance� if permitted by the Attorney General and Secretary of State.
This exception, of course, makes vital assistance dependent on the politics
of the incumbent administration. Furthermore, the exception still bars
much-needed humanitarian aid because it does not cover food, water, blankets
or other genuine humanitarian items. Finally, there will not be enough time,
in many humanitarian crises, to obtain a special license even if the
licensing system is working well.
note by tamilnation.org
Section 2339A. Providing material support to terrorists
(a) Offense. - 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, section 32, 37,
81, 175, 229, 351, 831, 842(m) or (n), 844(f) or, (i), 930(c), 956, 1114,
1116, 1203, 1361, 1362, 1363, 1366, 1751,, 1992, 1993, 2155, 2156, 2280,
2281, 2332, 2332a, 2332b, 2332f, or, 2340A of this title, section 236 of the
Atomic Energy Act of 1954, (42 U.S.C. 2284), or section 46502 or 60123(b) of
title 49, or in, preparation for, or in carrying out, 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. A, violation of this section
may be prosecuted in any Federal judicial, district in which the underlying
offense was committed, or in any, other Federal judicial district as
provided by law.
(b) Definition. - In this section, the term ''material support or,
resources'' means currency or monetary instruments or financial, securities,
financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or, assistance, safehouses,
false documentation or identification,, communications equipment, facilities,
weapons, lethal substances,, explosives, personnel, transportation, and other
physical assets,, except medicine or religious materials., ,
� 2339B. Providing material support or resources to designated foreign
(a) Prohibited Activities.�
(1) Unlawful conduct.� Whoever, within the United States or subject to the
jurisdiction of the United States, knowingly provides material support or
resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to
do so, shall be fined under this title or 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.
(2) Financial institutions.� Except as authorized by the Secretary, any
financial institution that becomes aware that it has possession of, or
control over, any funds in which a foreign terrorist organization, or its
agent, has an interest, shall�
(A) retain possession of, or maintain control over, such funds; and
(B) report to the Secretary the existence of such funds in accordance with
regulations issued by the Secretary.
(b) Civil Penalty.� Any financial institution that knowingly fails to comply
with subsection (a)(2) shall be subject to a civil penalty in an amount that
is the greater of�
(A) $50,000 per violation; or
(B) twice the amount of which the financial institution was required under
subsection (a)(2) to retain possession or control.
(c) Injunction.� Whenever it appears to the Secretary or the Attorney
General that any person is engaged in, or is about to engage in, any act
that constitutes, or would constitute, a violation of this section, the
Attorney General may initiate civil action in a district court of the United
States to enjoin such violation.
(d) Extraterritorial Jurisdiction.� There is extraterritorial Federal
jurisdiction over an offense under this section.
(1) In general.� The Attorney General shall conduct any investigation of a
possible violation of this section, or of any license, order, or regulation
issued pursuant to this section.
(2) Coordination with the department of the treasury.� The Attorney General
shall work in coordination with the Secretary in investigations relating to�
(A) the compliance or noncompliance by a financial institution with the
requirements of subsection (a)(2); and
(B) civil penalty proceedings authorized under subsection (b).
(3) Referral.� Any evidence of a criminal violation of this section arising
in the course of an investigation by the Secretary or any other Federal
agency shall be referred immediately to the Attorney General for further
investigation. The Attorney General shall timely notify the Secretary of any
action taken on referrals from the Secretary, and may refer investigations
to the Secretary for remedial licensing or civil penalty action.
(f) Classified Information in Civil Proceedings Brought by the United
(1) Discovery of classified information by defendants.�
(A) Request by united states.� In any civil proceeding under this section,
upon request made ex parte and in writing by the United States, a court,
upon a sufficient showing, may authorize the United States to�
(i) redact specified items of classified information from documents to be
introduced into evidence or made available to the defendant through
discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure;
(ii) substitute a summary of the information for such classified documents;
(iii) substitute a statement admitting relevant facts that the classified
information would tend to prove.
(B) Order granting request.� If the court enters an order granting a request
under this paragraph, the entire text of the documents to which the request
relates shall be sealed and preserved in the records of the court to be made
available to the appellate court in the event of an appeal.
(C) Denial of request.� If the court enters an order denying a request of
the United States under this paragraph, the United States may take an
immediate, interlocutory appeal in accordance with paragraph (5). For
purposes of such an appeal, the entire text of the documents to which the
request relates, together with any transcripts of arguments made ex parte to
the court in connection therewith, shall be maintained under seal and
delivered to the appellate court.
(2) Introduction of classified information; precautions by court.�
(A) Exhibits.� To prevent unnecessary or inadvertent disclosure of
classified information in a civil proceeding brought by the United States
under this section, the United States may petition the court ex parte to
admit, in lieu of classified writings, recordings, or photographs, one or
more of the following:
(i) Copies of items from which classified information has been redacted.
(ii) Stipulations admitting relevant facts that specific classified
information would tend to prove.
(iii) A declassified summary of the specific classified information.
(B) Determination by court.� The court shall grant a request under this
paragraph if the court finds that the redacted item, stipulation, or summary
is sufficient to allow the defendant to prepare a defense.
(3) Taking of trial testimony.�
(A) Objection.� During the examination of a witness in any civil proceeding
brought by the United States under this subsection, the United States may
object to any question or line of inquiry that may require the witness to
disclose classified information not previously found to be admissible.
(B) Action by court.� In determining whether a response is admissible, the
court shall take precautions to guard against the compromise of any
classified information, including�
(i) permitting the United States to provide the court, ex parte, with a
proffer of the witness�s response to the question or line of inquiry; and
(ii) requiring the defendant to provide the court with a proffer of the
nature of the information that the defendant seeks to elicit.
(C) Obligation of defendant.� In any civil proceeding under this section, it
shall be the defendant�s obligation to establish the relevance and
materiality of any classified information sought to be introduced.
(4) Appeal.� If the court enters an order denying a request of the United
States under this subsection, the United States may take an immediate
interlocutory appeal in accordance with paragraph (5).
(5) Interlocutory appeal.�
(A) Subject of appeal.� An interlocutory appeal by the United States shall
lie to a court of appeals from a decision or order of a district court�
(i) authorizing the disclosure of classified information;
(ii) imposing sanctions for nondisclosure of classified information; or
(iii) refusing a protective order sought by the United States to prevent the
disclosure of classified information.
(B) Expedited consideration.�
(i) In general.� An appeal taken pursuant to this paragraph, either before
or during trial, shall be expedited by the court of appeals.
(ii) Appeals prior to trial.� If an appeal is of an order made prior to
trial, an appeal shall be taken not later than 10 days after the decision or
order appealed from, and the trial shall not commence until the appeal is
(iii) Appeals during trial.� If an appeal is taken during trial, the trial
court shall adjourn the trial until the appeal is resolved, and the court of
(I) shall hear argument on such appeal not later than 4 days after the
adjournment of the trial;
(II) may dispense with written briefs other than the supporting materials
previously submitted to the trial court;
(III) shall render its decision not later than 4 days after argument on
(IV) may dispense with the issuance of a written opinion in rendering its
(C) Effect of ruling.� An interlocutory appeal and decision shall not affect
the right of the defendant, in a subsequent appeal from a final judgment, to
claim as error reversal by the trial court on remand of a ruling appealed
from during trial.
(6) Construction.� Nothing in this subsection shall prevent the United
States from seeking protective orders or asserting privileges ordinarily
available to the United States to protect against the disclosure of
classified information, including the invocation of the military and State
(g) Definitions.� As used in this section�
(1) the term �classified information� has the meaning given that term in
section 1(a) of the Classified Information Procedures Act (18 U.S.C. App.);
(2) the term �financial institution� has the same meaning as in section 5312
(a)(2) of title 31, United States Code;
(3) the term �funds� includes coin or currency of the United States or any
other country, traveler�s checks, personal checks, bank checks, money
orders, stocks, bonds, debentures, drafts, letters of credit, any other
negotiable instrument, and any electronic representation of any of the
(4) the term �material support or resources� has the same meaning as in
(5) the term �Secretary� means the Secretary of the Treasury; and
(6) the term �terrorist organization� means an organization designated as a
terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality