With April 15 fast approaching, I have just finished mailing my 1040. This year, I didn't owe taxes and, boy, am I relieved. Not because I can't afford to cut a check, it's just that I don't want to spend the next six years in a federal prison for violating the provisions of US Code Title 18 -- Crimes and Criminal Procedures.
That's exactly what happened to Ahmed Taalil Mohamud, a cab driver in Anaheim, California, who was sentenced to six years in prison for, as the Associated Press put it, "funneling thousands of dollars to a terrorist organization" in Somalia.
Mohamud was one of four Somali immigrants convicted of sending nearly $11,000 to al-Shabab, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda. The other co-conspirators received prison sentences ranging between 10 and 18 years.
The Somalis ran afoul of Title 18 -- specifically Article 2339C, which sets forth "Prohibitions against the financing of terrorism."
This law stipulates that it is a crime to collect funds with the intention or knowledge that such funds might be used to carry out any "act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed combat, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act."
Title 18's Article 2339B further states that: "whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life."
Any act "intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian" -- that stands as a perfectly legitimate definition of terrorism. President Barack Obama offered an equally straightforward definition of terrorism on the eve of the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings when he stated: "Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror."
My concern is that my government has a long and abiding history of engaging in acts that clearly meet all-of-the-above definitions of terrorism.
A Long, Proud History of Bombing Civilians
US bombs have been killing civilians in great numbers ever since the end of WWII when the detonation of a single bomb over the city of Hiroshima incinerated 220,000 men, women and children.
By 1968, US bombs and bullets had killed an estimated href="http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/vietnam-a-war-on-civilians">300,000 civilians in Vietnam.
Between 1969 and 1973, America's secret bombing raids over Cambodia may have killed as many as 150,000 civilians.
On February 13, 1991, more than 408 civilians were blown to bits in an aerial attack on the Amiriyah shelter (aka "Public Shelter No. 25") in Iraq. The attack was carried out by the US Air Force, using two laser-guided "smart bombs."
In Operation Allied Force, the US-led assault on Kosovo, Human Rights Watch documented 528 civilians killed in 90 different incidents.
In the process of enforcing a "no-fly zone" over Libya -- ostensibly "to protect civilians" -- US and allied bombs left "at least 72" civilians dead.
In Afghanistan, between October 2001 and March 2002, US bombs and drones claimed the lives of 3,000 - 3,400 civilians.
On April 1, 2003, a US nighttime air attack on a residential district in the town of Hilla killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians, mostly children.
On November 3, 2008, a US airstrike on a wedding party in Wech Baghtu, Afghanistan, killed 26 "insurgents" -- and 37 civilians, largely women and children.
In March 2011, a CIA drone attack killed scores of Pakistanis -- mainly civilians and tribal elders -- as they gathered to discuss a local land dispute. "Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that jirga," Brig. Abdullah Dogar told the London Sunday Times, "but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?"
As of August 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism determined, 2,292 Pakistanis had been killed by US missiles, including as many as 775 civilians -- 168 of whom were children.
Between June 2011 and January 12, 2013, the US had conducted at least 23 air attacks inside Somalia, nine of which involved drones. Investigations by journalists determined that between 58 to 170 people were killed in these attacks, including 11 to 57 civilians and 3 children.
In the last week of November 2013, a "botched NATO drone attack" in Afghanistan killed three civilians, one of them a two-year-old toddler.
In December 2013, a US drone killed 15 civilians in Yemen as they were driving to a wedding party.
In April 2014, Time magazine (citing a 2013 report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism) reported "US drone attacks have killed an estimated 900 civilians in Pakistan since 2004." The latest BIJ figures list 383 drone strikes (87 percent authorized by Barack Obama) with as many as 957 civilians and 202 children killed.
No wonder that, in an April 10 interview with Salon, former President Jimmy Carter observed: "The rest of the world, almost unanimously, looks at America as the No. 1 warmonger."
And the White House has not done the country any favors by lowering its terrorism bar. Only a few days after the murder of a two-year-old child inflamed Afghan anger against the US, the White House radically revised its rules of engagement. The previous standard required that the US military was to "ensure" that civilians were not targeted. Now, troops are merely advised to "avoid targeting" civilians. Civilian deaths are now acceptable. The only limitation is that they "must not be excessive" -- a slippery word that is open to interpretation.
A US Taxpayer's Liability
According to the "jurisdiction" section of article 2339C, the potential targets of the law are not limited to immigrant cabdrivers. American citizens are also placed in the legal crosshairs. The law makes it clear that its enforcement also applies when "a perpetrator is a national of United States."
What kind of crimes are we talking about? They can include assaults against a government building, acts directed against "any person or property within the US," or any offense "committed onboard" an aircraft registered under US law or a vessel flying the US flag. Taking a cue from the USA PATRIOT Act, the law criminalizes any "predicate act committed in an attempt to compel United States to do or abstain from doing any act." This would seem to include everything from firebombing the Pentagon to staging vigils at US military bases or holding mass rallies in the Capital Mall.
The penalties for violating this law are severe, including fines and imprisonment "for not more than 20 years, or both." And the Department of Justice is not even required to prove that funds volunteered by a would-be terrorist -- or taxpayer -- were actually used to finance, support or provoke some proscribed act. As Article 2339C clearly stipulates: "[F]or an act to constitute an offense set forth in this subsection, it shall not be necessary that the funds were actually used to carry out a predicate act."
"Prohibited activities" include knowingly providing material support or resources. Individuals or financial institutions found to have "possessed or controlled funds used by any designated terrorist organizations" are liable to a fine of $50,000 or imprisonment "for not more than 15 years or both." If someone is killed as a result of the "predicate act," US law requires a life sentence.
According to US Code, Article 2339B: "A person must have knowledge that the organization is designated terrorist organization. . . , that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorist activity. . . or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism."
In light of this definition, a taxpayer's only defense against a charge of complicity in supporting state-sponsored terrorism would be to claim total ignorance of the Pentagon's long history of collateral damage and civilian carnage. But, given the state of the US media and education, such claims might prove persuasive in a court of law.
Article 2339B contains a curious escape clause. "No person may be prosecuted under this section . . . if the provision of that materiel support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization was approved by the Secretary of State with the concurrence of the Attorney General." Article 2339B then seems to double back on itself by adding: "the Secretary of State may not approve the provision of any material support that may be used to carry out terrorist activity."
Article 2339B provides a possible loophole for taxpayers who fear being prosecuted under to Article 2339C when it states "whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both . . . ." [Emphasis added.]
In 2013, $1.7 million worth of tax dollars were handed over to 9,733 Afghan contractors but, because of the way law is written, 80 percent of these contracts were granted without scrutiny. As a result, the report notes, "millions of contracting dollars could be diverted to forces seeking to harm US Military and civilian personnel."
So the Pentagon is not only perpetrating acts of terror against civilians from the Middle East to Panama; it is now in the position of financing terrorism against itself.
Gar Smith is a Berkeley-based investigative reporter, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth.