- Professor of law at Georgetown University
- Radical attorney-activist who has repeatedly defended supporters of terrorism
- Believes that the “greatest threat to our freedoms is posed not by the terrorists themselves but by our own government's response.”
David Cole is a professor of law at Georgetown University and a prominent attorney-activist in the ranks of the anti-war Left.
At Georgetown, Cole is best known for his course “National Security and Civil Liberties,” which, according to the course description, aims to “address the tension between liberty and security in times of crisis.” Specifically, the course is intended to “shed light” on what it calls “the current crisis,” a reference to the U.S.-led War on Terror. It is in this context that the course proposes to address such issues as “the respective roles of Congress, the President, and the courts in times of emergency”; “the targeting of foreign nationals”; and “preventive detention, surveillance standards, enemy combatants, military tribunals, the role of international tribunals, and regulation of speech and association.”
Cole, who worked as a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) from 1985-90, has been in the vanguard of an activist-led movement that aspires to vitiate anti-terrorism legislation and, more broadly, hamstring U.S. efforts to effectively wage a war on terrorism. Of the War on Terror, Cole wrote in 2002 that “it appears that the greatest threat to our freedoms is posed not by the terrorists themselves but by our own government’s response.”
Relatedly, Cole committed his signature to a “statement of conscience” by Not In Our Name, a hard-line antiwar group calling on “all Americans to RESIST the war and repression that has been loosed on the world by the Bush administration.”
Cole and CCR garnered considerable media coverage in 2005 when the Center elected to represent the radical leftist lawyer Lynne Stewart during her trial for having abetted the terrorist ambitions of Islamic Group leader Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. No sooner was Stewart found guilty in February of 2005, than Cole rallied to her side. In a post-trial column for The Nation, where he is a legal affairs correspondent, Cole denounced the decision, stating that “this case illustrates how out of hand things have gotten in the ‘war on terrorism.’” Stewart, Cole claimed, had committed no crime, and the charges against her “were a stretch.” If anyone could credibly be accused of terrorism, it was the Justice Department, Cole insisted.
This was not the first time that Cole had enlisted his legal expertise in the service of a supporter of terrorism. In 2002 he delivered a lecture before students at the University of South Florida (USF), entitled “Freedom and Civil Liberties In The Wake Of September 11,” wherein he mounted a vigorous defense of Sami Al-Arian, the USF professor arrested for his involvement with terrorism. Calling Al-Arian “the victim,” Cole contended that “People cannot be punished for advocating criminal activity unless the Supreme Court has said their speech is intended and likely to incite imminent lawless actions.” On strength of this argument, Cole claimed Al-Arian’s remark wishing “Death to Israel” was protected speech.
In the same address, Cole also lamented the plight of his client (and Al-Arian’s brother-in-law), Mazen Al-Najjar, a fundraiser for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Invoking a theme that runs through his Georgetown law course, Cole painted Al-Najjar’s case as a routine instance of U.S. authorities' unjust targeting of foreign nationals, and asserted, on no evidence, that Al-Najjar was being “held under conditions which are far worse than any convicted murderers.”
Cole is a supporter of the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), which funnels funds to U.S.-designated terrorist groups like the Tamil Tigers and the Turkish PKK. When HLP filed suit against the U.S. Justice Department, Cole took the organization's case. In his capacity as the lead attorney, he proceeded to argue that a federal anti-terrorism law criminalizing “material support” for terrorism, of which HLP had undeniably run afoul, constituted an unconstitutional infringement of free speech and “imposes guilt by association.”
A similar species of reasoning informs Cole’s virulent opposition to the Patriot Act. Writing in the Winter 2002 issue of Human Rights, a journal of the American Bar Association, Cole protested: “The Patriot Act also resurrects ideological exclusion, the practice of denying entry to aliens for pure speech. It excludes aliens who ‘endorse or espouse terrorist activity,’ or who ‘persuade others to support terrorist activity or a terrorist organization,’ in ways that the secretary of state determines undermine U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. It also excludes aliens who are representatives of groups that ‘endorse acts of terrorist activity’ in ways that similarly undermine U.S. efforts to combat terrorism.” Characteristically, Cole portrayed terrorism as a free speech issue: “Excluding people for their ideas is flatly contrary to the spirit of freedom for which the United States stands,” he wrote.
Cole reprised this line of argument in his indignant opposition to the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, which sought to ban all support for terrorist organizations. Especially outrageous to Cole was that the Act stripped of their citizenship anyone who supported the “lawful activities of an organization [which] the Executive branch deems ‘terrorist.’”
Cole is an advisory board member of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Another noteworthy member of that board is NAACP president Ben Jealous.