Felonious Speeches

'Material support' for terrorism


Is Rudy Giuliani an accomplice to terrorism? In a December New York Times op-ed piece, Georgetown law professor David Cole noted that the former New York mayor arguably violated the federal ban on providing "material support" to terrorist groups when he spoke at a conference in Paris the previous month. So did his fellow speakers, including former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and former national security adviser Frances Townsend.

The gathering was sponsored by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group that the State Department considers a "foreign terrorist organization." Cole, who represented the Humanitarian Law Project in its unsuccessful First Amendment challenge to the material support ban, noted that the government says the law applies even to speech advocating legal, nonviolent activities if it is "for the benefit of" a terrorist group.

Under that reading of the law, which Mukasey defended as attorney general, it is a felony to challenge a group's designation as a terrorist organization, to file an amicus brief on its behalf, or to advise its members on peaceful tactics for achieving their goals. Hence Giuliani et al. could be prosecuted for providing material support to terrorists by speaking in support of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. 

Cole, to be clear, does not think the conference speakers should go to prison. He wants Congress to narrow the material support law so that it excludes such speech.