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Supreme Court ruling barring aid to terrorist groups: why some lament it

Humanitarian and peace organizations say their direct interaction with violent or terrorist groups is vital to intervention efforts. The Supreme Court decision Monday means they do it at their peril.

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The Supreme Court ruling on Monday has put international humanitarian and peace organizations on notice that any aid to a US-designated terrorist group could land them in an American prison.

Evan Vucci/AP/File

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The US Supreme Court has put international humanitarian workers on notice that any assistance to a US-designated terrorist group could land them in an American prison.

On Monday, the high court upheld a federal law that outlaws providing “material support” to any group on a State Department list of terrorist organizations.

The prohibition extends beyond knowingly facilitating illegal operations. The law – part of the USA Patriot Act – makes it a federal crime to provide any help or support to a terror group – even support designed to teach a violent group how to use legal and peaceful means to achieve political change.

Violators face up to 15 years in prison.

Organizations and individuals involved in international peace and humanitarian efforts expressed disappointment with Monday’s ruling.

“The ‘material support law’ – which is aimed at putting an end to terrorism – actually threatens our work and the work of many other peacemaking organizations that must interact directly with groups that have engaged in violence,” said former President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center.

“The vague language of the law leaves us wondering if we will be prosecuted for our work to promote peace and freedom,” he said.

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