Judge Strikes Down Parts of
Executive Order on Terrorism
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Post" -- -- A Los Angeles federal
judge has ruled that key portions of a presidential
order blocking financial assistance to terrorist groups
are unconstitutional, further complicating the Bush
administration's attempts to defend its aggressive
anti-terrorism tactics in federal courts.
U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins, in a ruling
released late Monday, found that two provisions of an
executive order signed Sept. 23, 2001, are impermissibly
vague because they allow the president to unilaterally
designate organizations as terrorist groups and broadly
prohibit association with such groups.
The ruling marks a victory for the Humanitarian Law
Project and other plaintiffs in the case, who are
seeking to provide support for the "lawful, nonviolent
activities" of two groups designated terrorist
organizations by the U.S. government: the Kurdistan
Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers,
in Sri Lanka.
They argue that federal anti-terrorism laws put
charities and individual donors at risk of prosecution
for providing benign assistance to foreign groups that
have been added to the government's terrorism list.
David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who is
helping to represent the plaintiffs in the case, said
the executive order and a related federal statute
improperly allow President Bush to create "blacklists"
and engage in "guilt by association."
"The court's decision confirms that even in fighting
terror, unchecked executive authority and trampling on
fundamental freedoms is not a permissible option," Cole
said in a statement.
The ruling is the latest setback for the
administration's terrorism and detention policies, in
lower courts and at the Supreme Court. In August, a
federal judge in Detroit ruled that a National Security
Agency warrantless wiretap program is unconstitutional.
The government has appealed that ruling.
Collins has previously issued similar rulings in favor
of the Humanitarian Law Project, a Los Angeles group
that has filed legal challenges to a 1996 anti-terrorism
law and to the 2001 USA Patriot Act. Those issues are
still being litigated after Congress rewrote parts of
the Patriot Act.
The latest case focuses on Executive Order 13224, which
is aimed at cutting off financing to alleged terrorist
groups and is based on the 1977 International Emergency
Economic Powers Act. Twenty-seven groups and individuals
were initially named as "specially designated global
terrorists" under the order -- including the PKK and the
Tamil Tigers -- and hundreds more since have been added
to the list.
In her ruling, Collins said the order is
unconstitutional because there is "no apparent limit" on
presidential authority to designate groups or
individuals as terrorists. In addition, the judge ruled,
language banning those "otherwise associated" with such
groups is "unconstitutionally vague on its face."
Collins rejected a number of other claims by the
plaintiffs, however, including that the order's
definition of a terrorist group is too vague.
The Justice Department said it is too early to decide on
"We are pleased that the court rejected many of the
constitutional arguments raised by the plaintiffs,"
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a
statement. "However, we believe the court erred in
finding that certain other aspects of the executive
order were unconstitutional."
Bruce Fein, a Justice Department official in the Reagan
years who has criticized the Bush administration's broad
assertions of executive power, said that appealing
Collins's ruling may carry more risks for the government
than simply changing the executive order's language.
"If they take this up on appeal, they risk another
repudiation of this omnipotent-presidency theory that
they have," Fein said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company