Bush order is ruled unconstitutional

November 29, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the Bush administration violated the U.S. Constitution when it froze the assets of more than two dozen alleged terrorist groups after the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins, in a ruling released yesterday, held that an executive order that Bush issued on Sept. 24, 2001, designating 27 groups and individuals as "specially designated global terrorists" was "unconstitutionally vague."

Collins said the order was flawed because it failed to explain the criteria used to make the designations, and because it included no process to challenge the decision. "The President's designation authority is subject only to his unfettered discretion," the judge noted.

The ruling came in a long-running lawsuit before Collins in which humanitarian groups are seeking to support the nonviolent work of two groups that the secretary of state had designated as terrorist: the Kurdistan Workers Party, the main Kurdish political party in Turkey, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a rebel group fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Earlier in the case, Collins struck down portions of a law making it a felony to provide "material support" to terrorists, declaring that language in the USA Patriot Act, which had amended the law, was ill-defined. The material support law has been used often by the Justice Department in prosecuting terrorist cases.

Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said the agency believes the judge erred in her decision.

Collins' latest ruling could affect another one of the administration's most widely used authorities in its war on terror, although the full import of the ruling was not immediately clear.

U.S. officials have used the power to freeze assets of hundreds of organizations and individuals around the world to try to choke off financing for what it views as illicit operations.

But Collins also said that many of the designations, especially those made by the Treasury Department rather than by Bush, were valid because they followed detailed procedures.

The executive order "was as sweeping as any in the government's post-9/11 arsenal, as it allowed the President to designate groups and individuals without finding that they fit any criteria whatsoever," said David Cole, a professor at Georgetown Law Center. Cole was the lead counsel in the case, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York civil liberties group.

Cole said Collins' ruling was limited to protecting the humanitarian groups in the pending suit from being declared terrorist groups by Bush without a fair hearing or adequate notice.

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