Part of the Anti-Terrorist Patriot Act Is Illegal, Groups’ Lawsuit Contends

Times Staff Writer

A portion of the USA Patriot Act that makes it a crime to provide “expert advice and assistance” to terrorist organizations, even if that aid is humanitarian, was challenged as unconstitutional Wednesday in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court.

The suit, which names Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as defendants, seeks an injunction barring the government from enforcing the contested section of the law.

It was brought on behalf of five organizations and two individuals who said they want to support the “lawful humanitarian and political activities” of the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

Both groups appear on a State Department list of international terrorist organizations, making them subject to the restrictions imposed by the Patriot Act.

Anyone convicted of violating the law can be sentenced to 15 years in prison.


The lawsuit contends that the prohibition violates the 1st and 5th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs include the Humanitarian Law Project of Los Angeles; Ilankai Thamil Sangam, a New Jersey-based nonprofit group; the World Tamil Coordinating Committee of New York; the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America, headquartered in Chicago; the Tamil Welfare and Human Rights Committee of Bethesda, Md.; Ralph Fertig, a USC professor and president of the Humanitarian Law Project; and Nagalingam Jeyalingam, a New York physician active in support of the Tamil cause.

The Patriot Act, enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, gave federal law enforcement authorities sweeping new powers to combat terrorism at home and abroad.

In October 2001, U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins of Los Angeles struck down portions of a 1996 anti-terrorism law that barred individuals from providing “training” or “personnel” to organizations designated as terrorist.

Collins said those terms were too vague to be constitutionally acceptable.

That case was brought by some of the same plaintiffs and lawyers who filed Wednesday’s lawsuit.