Supreme Court blunder on terrorism
The U.S. Supreme Court decision that upholds a ban on all material support to terrorist organizations would likely have meant no IRA ceasefire in Northern Ireland and no Irish peace process.
Chief Justice John Roberts found that any kind of help to a named terrorist organization, even its political wing, would "bolster the terrorist activities of that organization."
That is not necessarily so. Engaging terrorist groups and their supporters in dialogue can actually have the impact of helping end that violent campaign.
There is case history on this in Northern Ireland. If Roberts and other justices had studied what happened to the Irish Republican movement when U.S. supporters and indeed, President Clinton reached out to try and end the violence in the North, they might have come to a very different conclusion.
The American involvement involved a deep dialogue with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, to try and dissuade them from violence and move them towards a political accommodation.
It also involved the Clinton White House taking a considerable risk even when the IRA campaign was going on by giving a visa to Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.
Such a move under this new legislation would be virtually impossible in this one size fits all kind of legislation. The Clinton White House role in the visa which led directly to the ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement, wrought as much by President Clinton’s emissary Senator George Mitchell as any other figure, would simply never have happened.
Irish American supporters knew there was an ongoing discussion within the Irish Republican movement as to the correct way forward, whether to continue the armed campaign or create an entirely new political dimension, involving the non-violent nationalist parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
A key persuader in that argument were Irish Americans who engaged with the Republican movement and pointed out to them the immense benefits to be gained if a political alternative was created.
The benefits included access to the U.S., involvement by the president of the United States in the negotiating process, and the ability to have their message heard throughout the world after decades of censorship.
All those arguments proved to be a very important part of the persuading process. Adams later stated that without the American involvement an IRA ceasefire and the subsequent peace process might never have happened.
Under the federal law just upheld by the Supreme Court such activities would have been illegal.
It is clear that negotiation and dialogue will not work in every process involving named terrorist organizations.
The reality, however, is that there is no sense at all in permanently shutting down the opportunity for dialogue for those who support violent means.
As the Northern Ireland peace process shows, such involvement can actually lead to the end of an armed campaign.
Yes, certain terrorist groups are outside the pale, but not all. The world is an infinitely complex place where one man’s terrorist is another one’s freedom fighter.
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