Members Assail TV Network Tied to Hezbollah

Posted February 4, 2005 at 5:16pm

Can two dozen House Members convince the Bush administration that a Lebanese television network is a terrorist organization?

At issue is al-Manar, the official broadcast network of Hezbollah, the terrorist organization blamed for the 1982 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut that killed 241 American servicemen and other attacks.

The network recently was banned from the airwaves in France after a French court ruled that al-Manar aired anti-Semitic programming that incited hatred and violence against Jews. In the wake of that ruling, the State Department took similar action, adding al-Manar to its Terrorist Exclusion List, which can prevent associates of the network from entering the United States.

But Congressional critics, led by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), are not satisfied and are pressing the Bush administration to add al-Manar to its list of global terrorist organizations. They argue that the network continues to maintain a bureau in Washington and that the station can still do business with U.S. companies.

“These aren’t the people yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Ackerman said in an interview this week. “These are the people blowing up crowded theaters.”

Ackerman has assembled roughly two dozen House Members to co-sign a letter to President Bush this week, asking him to have his administration “conduct the necessary interagency review” to add al-Manar to the terrorist list.

The lawmakers write that they are “strongly of the opinion that al-Manar, as the voice of a terrorist group, cannot be allowed to shield its complicity in terrorism behind the First Amendment.”

They added, “As an entity that receives its funding directly from Hezbollah and indirectly from Iran, there is ample justification for sanctioning this beacon of hatred to [the] fullest extent” possible.

Hezbollah, while viewed as a legitimate political organization by a number of Arab and European governments, was an original member of the Bush administration’s list of international terrorist organizations that emerged from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Al-Manar (“The Beacon”) has acknowledged that it erred in airing some shows that included explicitly anti-Jewish views.

The programming included a 29-part Syrian docudrama that claimed to be a factual account of a centuries-long Jewish plot to achieve world domination. Other material aired by al-Manar claimed that Jewish rabbis perform human sacrifice rituals.

Efforts to locate an al-Manar bureau in Washington were unsuccessful. In a mission statement on the network’s English-language Web site, the network says, “Al-Manar avoids cheap incitement in dealing with developments and activities, and it stresses objectively on the adoption of the fair and just causes of the whole [Arab] nation.”

Lucie Morillon, a Washington representative for Reporters Without Borders — a Paris-based group that has strongly criticized the steps taken against al-Manar by the French and American governments — said she believes al-Manar’s “bureau” amounted to one reporter, Muhammad Dalbah, who may have occasionally worked out of The Associated Press’ offices in Washington.

She said Dalbah freelances for several news outlets in the Middle East, and indicated that she has tried — without success thus far — to reach Dalbah.

Morillon said adding the network to the U.S. government’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists would set a “dangerous precedent.”

“We feel the measure could be the first of many others, and that any network that is accused of helping terrorists could end up on the list,” Morillon said. “Who could be next?”

Among other things, the terrorist designation would prevent al-Manar from receiving any “material” support from American companies, and it would allow the U.S. government to take steps to seize the network’s assets in the United States.

Morillon said her organization is also worried that treating al-Manar as a terrorist organization would risk turning the network into an acceptable military target.

Leaders of her organization have alleged that U.S. military forces in Iraq have deliberately targeted al-Jazeera, another Arab television network that has been accused of close complicity with terrorists.

Ackerman described Morillon’s concerns as “a bit wacky” and said he was shocked to learn that her group appears to serve as “advocates for the mouthpiece of international terror.”

“This isn’t a free-speech issue. This is a fighting-terror issue,” Ackerman said.

The signatories include Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Artur Davis (D-Ala.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Lane Evans (D-Ill.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Major Owens (D-N.Y.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.).