Founded in 1985, the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) describes itself as “a non-profit organization … dedicated to protecting human rights and promoting the peaceful resolution of conflict by using established international human rights laws and humanitarian law.” “Our long-term objectives,” says HLP, “are to strengthen human rights standards ratified by nations around the globe and to foster communication on compelling international human rights issues among human rights activists, law faculty and students, members of Congress and their staffs, as well as interested citizens.”
HLP is a non-governmental organization with consultative status at the United Nations, with a “mandate to seek compliance with armed conflict laws.”
HLP was created by Los Angeles real estate magnate Aris Anagnos, who since the early 1970s has bankrolled Marxist causes around the globe — including the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the Marxist rebels in Chiapas, and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Whenever the United States has been involved in conflicts with Marxist adversaries, HLP has sided with the latter. In 1988, for instance, prior to a scheduled human rights summit between American and Soviet leaders, HLP attorney Karen Parker led a press conference in New York to assure the Soviets that contrary to U.S. rhetoric, the real human rights problems were not in Russia but in America. American human rights violations had reached “truly mass proportions,” said HLP, not the least of which was the tragedy of “the starving, the homeless.”
HLP shares an address (at the Los Angeles Peace Center, located at 8124 West 3rd Street in Los Angeles) with Aris Anagnos’ real estate company and dozens of other loosely intertwined leftist organizations based therein. The Center is funded by the Carolyn & Aris Anagnos Peace Center Foundation as a rent-free home for progressive organizations. Among the groups with office space in the Peace Center are: Americans for Democratic Action, the Coalition for World Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, and the National Lawyers Guild. At one time, Pacifica Radio station KPFK’s local advisory board held its meetings at the Peace Center. HLP Executive Director Lydia Brazon sits on Pacifica’s Board, which Leslie Cagan had chaired until April 2004.
In January 2004, HLP scored a legal victory it had long been seeking when a Los Angeles Federal District Court judge struck down parts of the Patriot Act. At issue, in particular, was the provision in the Act which barred American groups like HLP from providing advice and non-military aid to known terrorist organizations. This restriction was challenged on HLP’s behalf by the Center for Constitutional Rights. HLP claimed that it wished to provide support for “only the lawful activities” of two organizations designated as terrorist entities by the U.S. government: (a) the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, responsible for over 200 suicide bombings and the assassinations in the early 1990s of the prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka; and (b) the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Syrian-backed, Marxist, Kurdish nationalist organization that sought to establish an independent state in southeast Turkey in the 1980s and ’90s, and engaged in the massacre of civilian villages where its dogma was opposed, leaving an estimated 30,000 dead.
Prior to the court ruling in its favor, HLP complained that “the broad Patriot Act ban on providing ‘expert advice and assistance’ [to such terrorist organizations] has led [humanitarian] groups to fear providing … support, for fear of facing criminal sanctions.”
HLP has made many damning reports about the U.S. before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, as well as on the floor of the UN, mostly about “atrocities” allegedly committed in or by the United States, particularly during both Iraq wars. On November 22, 2004, HLP submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, charging that U.S. troops in Fallujah, Iraq had deliberately attacked hospitals and medical personnel, in some cases torturing and murdering innocent civilians.
HLP was also behind the well-publicized international accusations (unsupported by any evidence) that the U.S. committed “atrocities” in both Iraq wars by using bombs tipped with depleted uranium. “Our organization considers the Iraq situation an atrocity followed by a catastrophe,” testified Karen Parker, who for years has represented HLF before the United Nations. “The international community simply must respond or risk being overtaken in every way by a power [the U.S.] that did not and does not intend to abide by the principles of humanitarian law carefully carved out since the first Geneva Convention.” HLP calls for the U.S. to be prosecuted for its alleged war crimes by the World Court, which HLP considers “the highest legal body in the world.”
Viewing the United States as the world’s principal agent of international strife, HLP identifies American disarmament as one of its chief objectives. In July 2003, in testimony before a UN Commission on Human Rights subcommittee, Karen Parker claimed that the fate of the entire world depended upon the “true disarmament” of the U.S. “The smaller, poorer countries cannot possibly keep up with ‘arm-chair’ wars or they will bankrupt themselves,” she said. “Even the other developed countries are far, far behind this technological madness. If the United States is allowed to use and develop these weapons, all other countries are reduced to peonage at the mercy of the United States.”
In HLP’s estimation, victims of American-perpetrated torture are not limited to innocents in foreign lands. For example, in recent years HLP has classfied Los Angeles gang members targeted by the L.A. Police Department as “torture” victims. Similarly, in 1997 HLP called Whitewater figure Susan McDougal a “torture victim” and a “political prisoner” — because she had been jailed for refusing to testify against President Bill Clinton; HLP petitioned the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Group on Arbitrary Detention to investigate McDougal’s case.
In 2003, HLP was the lead plaintiff in Humanitarian Law Project, et al, v. Department of Justice, a federal court case that involved financial supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) operating in Sir Lanka, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) operating in Turkey, both of which were formally designated foreign terrorist organizations. HLP had long provided aid to the PKK, in hope of helping the group find peaceful ways of advancing its goal: the creation of an independent Kurdish state in southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, and parts of Iran and Syria. Because PKK’s history was replete with bombings, kidnappings, and a violent insurgency responsible for some 22,000 deaths, the U.S. government had designated it as a terrorist organization. Notwithstanding this bloody track record, HLP maintained that with a proper blend of persuasion and education, PKK could be convinced to renounce its violent tactics and to work, instead, within the framework of “various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief.”
HLP was joined in the suit by five Tamil organizations that had aided the LTTE. HLP said that, since 1992, it had conducted fact-finding investigations of human rights violations by the Turkish government against the Kurds, published reports on their findings that were supportive of the PKK, and provided training to the PKK on how to advocate for their “rights” under international law. The five Tamil organizations, meanwhile, were supporting the LTTE with donations of food, clothing, books and educational materials for its orphanages, refugee relief centers, and schools. These groups also wanted to make cash contributions to the LTTE to finance: (a) its 1997 lawsuit challenging its terrorist designation, and (b) the distribution of LTTE literature in the United States.
David Cole, as a cooperating attorney and board member of the Center for Constitutional Rights, was the lead attorney for HLP and its fellow plaintiffs in this case. In court, Cole maintained maintained that legal provisions (in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and in the Patriot Act) criminalizing “material support” for terrorists were unconstitutional. His argument was that because the provisions did “not require proof that an individual intended to further terrorist activity,” they “impose[d] guilt by association, rather than on the basis of one’s acts.” Ultimately, Cole was able to convince a 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that “to convict an accused of violating” the aforementioned provision, “the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused knew that the organization was designated as a foreign terrorist organization or that the accused knew of the organization’s unlawful activities that caused it to be so designated.”
In 2009-10, David Cole and Elena Kagan served as advocates for HLP and its fellow plaintiffs in a case known as Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, Oyez.org lays out the basic facts of the case as follows:
_Among the plaintiffs in this case are supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (“KWP”) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“LTTE”). The KWP and LTTE engage in a variety of both lawful and unlawful activities. They sought an injunction to prevent the government from enforcing sections of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). Section 302 authorizes the Secretary of State to designate a group as a “foreign terrorist organization.” Section 303 makes it a crime for anyone to provide “material support or resources” to even the nonviolent activities of a designated organization. In previous cases, the courts have held that Section 303 was unconstitutionally vague. Congress then passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (“IRTPA”) which amended the AEDPA. It added a state of mind requirement that individuals “knowingly” provide “material support or resources” in order to violate the Act. Congress also added terms to the Act that further clarified what constituted “material support or resources.” The government moved for summary judgment arguing that challenged provisions of the AEDPA were not unconstitutionally vague. The district court granted a partial motion for summary judgment, but held that some parts of the Act were unconstitutionally vague. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the terms “service,” “training,” or “other specialized knowledge” within the AEDPA, as applied to the plaintiffs, were unconstitutionally vague.
In a June 21, 2010 decision, the Supreme Court ruled (by a 6-3 margin) that the AEDPA provision making it a crime for Americans to provide “material support” of any kind to a foreign terrorist organization was constitutional – even if the material support was for ostensibly peaceful purposes.
In December 2006, HLP and the Center for Constitutional Rights jointly petitioned a federal judge to dismiss many of the charges brought against the Hamas-linked organization Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which in 2001 was shut down by the U.S. government because of its terrorist ties. Defense attorneys argued that Executive Order 13224, the statute under which HLF was named as a financier of terrorism, is overly broad.
David Cole, an attorney with the Constitutional Rights Foundation and a professor at Georgetown University School of Law, is a strong supporter of HLP and has made oral arguments on its behalf.