On Tuesday, the American Association of University Professors and nine other groups wrote a letter asking UCSD to abandon its of disciplinary action against the Che Cafe Collective, a move that the school had claimed was necessary because of the USA Patriot Act. The cafe had linked to a site supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist group.
In an interview later Tuesday, Joseph Watson, UCSD vice chancellor for student affairs, said that the school had made a mistake and would not pursue its earlier warnings of disciplinary action for linking. "We agree with the signers of this letter that links are a First Amendment right," Watson said.
Watson added, however, that UCSD would require the Che Cafe Collective to delete a collection of files on university computers that included political statements by a second alleged terrorist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
According to the FBI, PKK is a Marxist-Leninist group that hopes to overthrow the existing government in southeastern Turkey. Like the Colombian group, which has kidnapped Americans, it appears on the U.S. government's August list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"We believe that should be removed," Watson said about the PKK site. "It should not be accessed in a manner that includes the UCSD domain name in that address. (If they do not remove it), then we will go through the procedures of appropriate disciplinary action."
Che Cafe is a medley of a vegan collective, a cafe that serves organic food, and a confederation of self-described radical students. Its mission is to advance "radical social change," and it sports links endorsing anarchist sites such as Raise the Fist, which the FBI raided in January.
Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), which signed the letter to UCSD, said hosting a site with terrorist-related content is different from linking to it. He noted the letter talked only about linking, not about publishing information on university servers.
"There might be a legitimate question about allowing a group on the foreign terrorist list to originate content on their server," Finan said, noting he was speaking only for ABFFE. "Part of the problem with the Patriot Act is that it's a vast and complicated law and not everybody's sure about what it means."
The law in question is one section of the USA Patriot Act that prohibits providing "material support or resources" to foreign terrorists that have been placed on a State Department list. Material support is defined as money, lodging, training or "communications equipment." President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law in October 2001.
In April, another UCSD student organization got in trouble for linking to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is on the State Department's list. The group removed the link.
UCSD's Watson said the original warning from the university, which talked about "links" to terrorist groups, was a mistake. "It was a misunderstanding on our part," Watson said. "We inappropriately concluded linking (was unlawful). We've now corrected that. The crucial thing now is the use of the domain name and the server."
Other groups that signed Tuesday's letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, Feminists for Free Expression, the First Amendment Project, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the National Coalition Against Censorship.