The U.S. Supreme Court and Faisal Shahzad, the naturalized Pakistani-American who tried to blow up his SUV in Times Square earlier this year, may not agree on much. But in separate statements Monday, both seemed to come to a similar conclusion about the wave of terrorist attacks that have failed or been foiled since 9/11: the United States is locked in combat with militant foes determined to continue killing Americans until their objectives are achieved.
Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled, the U.S. government has a right to bar Americans from supporting some 45 groups that sponsor or encourage men like Faisal Shahzad.
For the moment, this seems to make John Brennan, President Obama's leading counter-terrorism adviser, odd man out.
In recent statements, Brennan has downplayed the struggle against terrorism by refusing to call it a war. He resists identifying America's enemy in this struggle – militant Islamists – and has publically urged outreach to, and support for the more "moderate" of elements of such terrorist groups as Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Islamist party that has engaged in and fomented terror and has already provoked war with Israel.
In a New York courtroom Monday, Shahzad, unapologetic, succinctly explained why he had tried to kill hundreds of people in Times Square during rush hour. "One has to understand where I'm coming from," he told the court. "I consider myself a Muslim soldier. It's a war."
Shahzad, a homegrown soldier, was "avenging" America's "terrorizing" of "nations and the Muslim people," he said. When asked by the judge whether he was sure that he wanted to plead guilty, Shahzad said he wanted "to plead guilty and 100 time more" to let the U.S. know that if it didn't leave Afghanistan and Iraq, didn't stop its Predator and drone attacks and didn't get out of other Muslim lands, "we will be attacking U.S."
He could not have been clearer, or more matter-of-fact about his intentions.
Meanwhile, in an important ruling that same day, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a law that makes it a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail to provide "material support" to groups that support the Shahzads of the world. So far, this applies only to the four dozen or so organizations that the State Department has officially designated as "foreign terrorist organizations."
Ironically, the Pakistani Taliban, which trained Shahzad in bomb-making – not very well, thank goodness – and gave him $4,000 and later another $12,000 to carry out his self-appointed mission, is not yet on that list. Perhaps the State Department will soon rectify this oversight.
The court also ruled that such "material support" was illegal even if its intention was to bolster "non-violent" elements within such terrorist groups or to further their "humanitarian" or "peaceful" efforts. By a 6-to-3 call, the court found that there was "no distinction between the violent and non-violent wings of terrorist groups," wrote Stephen I. Landman, an analyst with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and that "terrorist groups benefit from any support given to them."
Efforts to help such groups deliver humanitarian aid – as Hamas does in Gaza and Hezbollah does in Lebanon – only serve to legitimize them, warned Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion.
The ruling should not affect free speech. Americans can still write editorials on behalf of such groups and urge them to eschew violence. But now what they cannot do is help legitimize them through active support.
Andrew McCarthy, the former prosecutor of the 1993 World Trade Center culprits, hailed the ruling, calling the material support law "one of our nation's most crucial counterterrorism tools." The law has also been the workhorse of counterterrorism legislation. Since 2001, 75 of the 150 people charged with violating the statute have been convicted.
While Chief Justice Roberts did not use the word "war" in his ruling upholding the material support law, he did say that the "government's interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order."
Are you listening, Mr. Brennan?