By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a Massachusetts man's appeal of his 2011 conviction on charges of supporting the Islamic militant group al Qaeda.
The court turned down Tarek Mehanna’s appeal of his 2012 conviction, which was based on various activities including a trip to Yemen in 2004 in which he sought military training and his work translating pro-al Qaeda documents from Arabic into English.
Mehanna argued that his translation activities were protected free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His lawyers claimed the prosecution needed to prove direct coordination with al Qaeda for Mahenna to be convicted under a federal law prohibiting "material support" to groups deemed by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations.
Mehanna, from the Boston suburb of Sudbury, is serving a 17-year prison sentence. Prosecutors said Mehanna, a U.S. citizen who holds a doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, answered a call to action from former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to fight U.S. troops. They said he planned to travel to Iraq to fight U.S. troops.
The case came on the heels of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the material support law. The court rejected the argument that the law violated the First Amendment's free speech and free association rights.
In November 2013, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upheld Mehanna’s conviction. The court did not reach the free speech question on the grounds that Mehanna’s trip to Yemen was sufficient to justify his conviction even without taking the translating work into account.
The case is Mehanna v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1125.