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Part of Patriot Act ruled unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Friday that a provision within the Patriot Act is unconstitutional, information made available Monday revealed.

U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said the wording of part of the act — which has given the government unfettered power in fighting terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001 — is too vague.

Constitutional rights attorney David Cole — who is the former attorney of former USF professor Mazen Al Najjar — argued the case on behalf of The Humanitarian Law Project.

“I’m obviously delighted, and I think it underscores what many people have said about the Patriot Act,” Cole said in an interview late Monday. “Congress in its haste to act after 9/11 failed to consider constitutional rights issues presented by the statutes.”

The part of the act in question made it illegal for anyone to offer advice or support to groups the government has in the past designated as “terrorist” organizations.

The plaintiffs in this case, five organizations and two U.S. citizens, were seeking to provide aid and advice to peaceful Kurdish refugees in Turkey, Cole said.

The groups said the government threatened them with 15 years of jail time if they were to lend support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

In a 1997 report, then Secretary of State Madeline Albright issued a report that listed both groups as “foreign terrorist groups.”

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger rebels have been engaged in a two-decade civil war that has killed more than 65,000 people. Turkey’s military has been battling Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy since 1984, a fight that has left some 37,000 people dead.

Under the Patriot Act, the U.S. prohibition on providing “material support” or “resources” to terrorist groups was expanded to include “expert advice or assistance.”

But Cole said the groups he represented were looking to provide “assistance in human rights advocacy and peacemaking.”

“It’s unconstitutional to criminalize speech that encourages human rights,” he said.

Added Judge Collins: “The U.S.A. Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature.”

Cole, a professor at Georgetown University, also consulted Sami Al-Arian on the former USF professor’s application for citizenship in the United States. Al-Arian was arrested Feb. 20 on a 50-count federal indictment that alleged he was involved with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Prior to Al-Arian’s arrest, Cole spoke at USF and criticized the administration for moving to fire Al-Arian after his appearance on The O’Reilly Factor in 2001.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.