Times Lauds Left-Wing Radical as 'Civil Rights Lawyer'

Ralph Fertig runs a left-wing pressure group, but to Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak he's just a "civil rights lawyer," and his wish to provide legal support to a Kurdish group in Turkey with terror links is portrayed as a free speech issue. The Times lets us know what to think in a text box: "Does a tool for dealing with the nation's enemies violate its values?"

On Thursday, Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak profiled radical leftist lawyer Ralph Fertig at his home in Los Angeles, in his story on an upcoming Supreme Court case: "Right to Free Speech Collides With Fight Against Terror." Liptak actually used the more benign appellation "civil rights lawyer."

The paper's pro-Fertig favoritism is evident in the large photo of the subject above a quote from Fertig employed as a photo caption: "Fear is manipulated, and the tools of the penal system are applied to inhibit people from speaking out." the source: "Ralph D. Fertig - Civil rights lawyer and activist."

The text box also suggested the left-wing lawyer was on the side of the angels: "Does a tool for dealing with the nation's enemies violate its values?"

Liptak's own text is not much less credulous:

Ralph D. Fertig, a 79-year-old civil rights lawyer, says he would like to help a militant Kurdish group in Turkey find peaceful ways to achieve its goals. But he fears prosecution under a law banning even benign assistance to groups said to engage in terrorism.

The Supreme Court will soon hear Mr. Fertig's challenge to the law, in a case that pits First Amendment freedoms against the government's efforts to combat terrorism. The case represents the court's first encounter with the free speech and association rights of American citizens in the context of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks - and its first chance to test the constitutionality of a provision of the USA Patriot Act.

Opponents of the law, which bans providing "material support" to terrorist organizations, say it violates American values in ways that would have made Senator Joseph R. McCarthy blush during the witch hunts of the cold war.

The government defends the law, under which it has secured many of its terrorism convictions in the last decade, as an important tool that takes account of the slippery nature of the nation's modern enemies.

The law takes a comprehensive approach to its ban on aid to terrorist groups, prohibiting not only providing cash, weapons and the like but also four more ambiguous sorts of help - "training," "personnel," "expert advice or assistance" and "service."

Fertig wants to use his pressure group, the Humanitarian Law Project, to provide "material support" to the P.K.K. (a Kurdish group operating in Turkey accused by the U.S. of terrorist acts) in the form of a friend-of-the-court brief. He is forbidden to do so by a provision in the Patriot Act. The Times made Fertig's left-wing activist group sound like a standard goody-goody non-governmental organization:

Mr. Fertig is president of the Humanitarian Law Project, a nonprofit group that has a long history of mediating international conflicts and promoting human rights. He and the project, along with a doctor and several other groups, sued to strike down the material-support law in 1998.

A more informative look at the Humanitarian Law Project can be found on its "Discover the Networks" entry:

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.

Liptak continued:

A number of victims of McCarthy-era persecution filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to remember the lessons of history.

Liptak relayed the radical lawyer's wacky statements without comment, before summarizing the other side in two paragraphs:

Mr. Fertig said the current climate was in some ways worse.

"I think it's more dangerous than McCarthyism," he said. "It was not illegal to help the communists or to be a communist. You might lose your job, you might lose your friends, you might be ostracized. But you'd be free. Today, the same person would be thrown in jail."

A friend-of-the-court brief - prepared by Edwin Meese III, the former United States attorney general; John C. Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer; and others - called the civil liberties critique of the material-support law naïve.

The law represents "a considered wartime judgment by the political branches of the optimal means to confront the unique challenges posed by terrorism," their brief said. Allowing any sort of contributions to terrorist organizations "simply because the donor intends that they be used for 'peaceful' purposes directly conflicts with Congress's determination that no quarantine can effectively isolate 'good' activities from the evil of terrorism."