- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -
Woe betide the organization or individual who lands on America’s terrorist list. The consequences are dire and it’s easier to get on the list than off it even if you turn to peaceful politics. Just ask Nelson Mandela.
One of the great statesmen of our time, Mandela stayed on the American terrorist blacklist for 15 years after winning the Nobel Prize prior to becoming South Africa’s first post-Apartheid president. He was removed from the list after then president George W. Bush signed into law a bill that took the label “terrorist” off members of the African National Congress (ANC), the group that used sabotage, bombings and armed attacks against the white minority regime.
The ANC became South Africa’s governing party after the fall of apartheid but the U.S. restrictions imposed on ANC militants stayed in place. Why? Bureaucratic inertia is as good an explanation as any and a look at the current list of what is officially labelled Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) suggests that once a group earns the designation, it is difficult to shake.
The consequences of a U.S. terrorist designation include freezing an organisation’s funds, banning its members from travelling to the U.S. and imposing harsh penalties (up to 15 years in prison) on people who provide “material support or resources” to an FTO.
At present, there are 44 groups on the list, ranged in alphabetical order from the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organisation to the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia. The Abu Nidal group, according to the government’s own country reports on terrorism, “is largely considered inactive.” The Congressional Research Service, a bipartisan agency which provides research and analysis for Congress, has wondered why it is still on the list.