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Ali Asad Chandia — now serving a 15-year sentence for supporting a designated terrorist organization — will challenge the constitutionality of the federal law underlying his conviction when his case is heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on Oct. 30. But he has an uphill climb ahead of him. The court already has shot down the constitutional arguments he’ll be making in its en banc decision in United States v. Hammoud in 2004. Chandia, a former third-grade teacher from suburban Maryland, was convicted last year in the “Virginia jihad network” case for conspiring and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group that has fought with India over the disputed border region of Kashmir. In the case, 12 defendants received sentences ranging from almost four years to life in prison “for conspiring to commit various offenses, including mounting expeditions to attack India in Kashmir and Russia in Chechnya in the course of training for jihad in Virginia and Pakistan,” according to the Justice Department. In 2001, the Bush administration designated LET, whose name means “Army of the Pure,” as a foreign terrorist organization after a deadly attack on India’s Parliament building in New Delhi. Chandia provided material support to LET by paying $622 to ship 50,000 paintballs to Pakistan. Under federal law, the secretary of state can designate a group as a foreign terrorist organization, but defendants charged with aiding the group cannot challenge the validity of the designation; only the organization can. Chandia’s attorney, Marvin Miller, a solo practitioner in Alexandria, Va., is arguing Chandia’s due process rights were violated because he can’t challenge the terrorist organization designation. “You have executive branch total authority unreviewable by the courts that can send someone to jail for decades,” he says. Miller is also mounting a First Amendment challenge, asserting that the definitions for providing “material support” are so broad they punish people for freely associating with designated groups. However, Miller is less optimistic about the chances of the First Amendment argument: “I’m not so sure that one is going to go very far.” Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, says the material support law creates “a serious due process problem” and is “clearly designed de facto to eliminate judicial review.” He believes the 4th Circuit is unlikely to rule for Chandia; however, the case “would have a chance on a cert petition [to the Supreme Court]” because it raises fundamental constitutional questions. David Laufman, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Chandia, says he thinks Chandia will lose his appeal because the 4th Circuit already has ruled on the same constitutional challenges in Hammoud. He doesn’t think the case will make it to the Supreme Court, either. “There’s no split in the circuits,” says Laufman, now a partner at Kelley Drye Collier Shannon. “The [terrorist] designation decisions are so intertwined with areas that the Supreme Court has long held are within the executive’s preserve of protecting national security.” While most of the 4th Circuit’s 9-3 decision in Hammoud focused on sentencing issues, the majority found the material support law “does not prohibit mere association; it prohibits the conduct of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.” The due process argument also failed because Congress provided that “the fact of an organization’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization is an element of [federal law], but the validity of the designation is not,” the decision stated. Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, a Lebanese citizen and permanent U.S. resident, was convicted in a U.S.-based cigarette smuggling ring where his co-defendants got four or five years in prison. But the 4th Circuit upheld a 155-year sentence for Hammoud because he also had donated $3,500 to Hezbollah, a Lebanese group designated as a foreign terrorist organization. In a 21-page dissent, Judge Roger Gregory found Hammoud’s due process rights had been violated and he was entitled to a new trial because the trial judge didn’t instruct the jury that Hammoud must have shown specific intent to aid terrorist acts by Hezbollah. Chandia could get lucky if he draws a panel of the court’s more liberal judges, but his chances will likely dwindle if the court decides to hear the case en banc. John Zwerling, who represented one of Chandia’s co-defendants who received a 65-year sentence, says the Hammoud decision is “a huge barrier to get over” for Chandia because the 4th Circuit “would have to admit they got it wrong.” He also believes the odds are against the Supreme Court taking up the issue. Friends and family say Chandia, who has a 3-year-old son and a 6-year-old stepdaughter, never supported any terrorist group. His wife, Patricia Celis-Gonzalez, says Muslims from across the United States have donated funds to pay for his defense. “You’re utilizing a law as a game to get people,” she says. “I would love to see some justice.”
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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