September 11, 2011

On the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the time is right to consider how we have changed as a country and how we remain the same.  It is a widely-accepted truism that we were all changed after the terrorist attacks in Washington, DC, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, even though some made use of the fear and heated emotions following the attacks to suppress human and civil rights, our bedrock principles endure, and in fact, flourish.

Throughout the history of our country, we have struggled to navigate the tension between security and fairness.  At times, we have experienced shameful failures – the World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans are a notable example.  And yet, our democracy continues, striving to reaffirm our national unity of purpose. This tension is not a simple intellectual exercise – it goes to the heart of what America will be. This dialog and our ability to have it demonstrate how deeply our country values freedom.

In the decade since September 11, 2001, the evolution of our counterterrorism policies has clearly exemplified this struggle.  Some of the measures we’ve taken have put human rights at risk and promoted suspicion of particular communities. The indefinite detentions following the Patriot Act are one example. However, an atmosphere of suspicion toward immigrants and our history of immigration risks a core element of our country and does not make us safer. In fact, the opposite is true.  Experts have noted that the decision to institute military commissions in the wake of the attacks had the potential to place the men and women of our own armed services at greater risk. Moreover, alienating or demonizing some of our communities prevents the flow of information that is vital to effective security, damages our unity, and most importantly, violates our fundamental values.

Our commitment to fundamental freedoms and human rights must trump partisan political divisions as we work together to ensure American security. We must reject ethnic or racial stereotyping, we must protect religious freedom, we must protect civil and human rights, and we must stand together – to prevent losing even more than the lives we lost that day and the human rights we lost in the aftermath.

TODAY join Rights Working Group and Melissa Harris-Perry on Twitter to discuss profiling and rights after 9/11

Crossposted from Rights Working Group

Rights Working Group and renown progressive scholar Melissa Harris-Perry will hold a Twitter Chat, TODAY from 3-4 pm ET, about racial profiling and ways to reclaim and expand rights lost after 9/11.

Why? Ten years ago, in June 2001, the End Racial Profiling Act was first introduced in Congress with strong bi-partisan support.  After 9/11, significant support for ending racial profiling took a backseat to unethical national security policies that expanded racial profiling to other groups.  The federal government began targeting people of Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim backgrounds for extra scrutiny, launching the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System that required more than 80,000 men to register and undergo interrogations, detentions and deportations.  In addition, we experienced restrictions on privacy rights, due process and the expansion of the government’s powers of surveillance and detention.

Under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, immigration law and policies were conflated with national security laws and practices, resulting in an increase in resources devoted to detentions and deportations of immigrants, worksite raids, home raids and collaborations with local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law.

While profiling broadened and became more frequent among some communities of color, the racial profiling impacting African Americans and Latinos that expanded during the War on Drugs in the 1970s and 80s continued.

We will talk about how, together, we can combat these forms of oppression to restore and expand democracy in our nation. We will share resources, ideas and reach a broader audience. Join us TODAY from 3-4 pm! Tell a friend! To promote and join the twitter chat Use hashtag: #reclaimrights #p2

To RSVP, tweet this: @RightsWorking I’ll be at the #reclaimrights #tweetchat on 9/7!

Promote the Chat using your own or a sample tweet:

Let’s fight for rights lost after 9/11 Join @rightsworking for Reclaim Our Rights Twitter Chat, Sept. 7, 3-4 p.m., ET. Use #reclaimrights #p2

Spread the word! End Post 9/11 racial profiling! Join @rightsworking Twitter Chat, Sept. 7, 3-4 p.m., ET. Use #reclaimrights #p2

Chat with Melissa Harris-Perry and @rightsworking about rights lost post-9/11. Sept. 7, 3-4 pm, ET,. #reclaimrights, #p2, #mharrisperry

Join in on the *National Week of Action* :Reflecting on Our Loss and Reclaiming Our Rights - September 11-17, 2011

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org.

 

What does a world without civil liberties look like?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

There are many examples of the steady dissolution of human rights in this post-9/11, “War on Terrorism” age in the United States. Racial profiling and the practice of preventive prosecution have disillusioned many who have traditionally seen the U.S. as a place where civil liberties thrive and the justice system is fair. Racial and religious profiling have become major causes for concern, and that is just one aspect of the web of increasingly stringent laws and security practices that have proliferated life in America since 9/11. The tragedy of that ill-fated day has translated into a continued state of paranoia, where basic values are ignored in the face of a potential or assumed threat.

One such story is that of Syed Fahad Hashmi, a U.S. citizen who has been through the worst of the American detention system after being accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism. This “material support” involved letting an acquaintance stay with him, an acquaintance who later delivered winter clothing to Al Qaeda.

Hashmi’s story was recently retold in a compelling piece by his former Brooklyn College (CUNY) professor Jeanne Theoharis for The Chronicle of Higher Education. According to the account, Hashmi was a devout Muslim and very politically active, regularly voicing his criticisms of American policies in the Muslim world. While pursuing his master’s in London, Hashmi hosted an acquaintance – Mohammed Junaid Babar – who had brought luggage that he later handed over to an Al Qaeda leader in South Waziristan, in Pakistan. Hashmi was arrested on June 6, 2006 and held in custody for 11 months until his extradition to the United States. Hashmi was then placed in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, at first with some facilities. However, five months later, he was put under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), a measure that severely restricts a prisoner’s contact with the outside world and removes all sense of privacy. Under SAMs, Hashmi’s detention was described as follows-

[Hashmi] was allowed no contact with anyone outside his lawyer and, in very limited fashion, his parents—no calls, letters, or talking through the walls, because his cell was electronically monitored. He had to shower and relieve himself within view of the camera. He was allowed to write only one letter a week to a single member of his family, using no more than three pieces of paper. One parent was allowed to visit every two weeks, but often would be turned away at the door for bureaucratic reasons. [Hashmi] was forbidden any contact—directly or through his lawyers—with the news media. He could read only portions of newspapers approved by his jailers—and not until 30 days after publication. Allowed only one hour out of his cell a day, he had no access to fresh air but was forced to exercise in a solitary cage.

The government cited Hashmi’s “proclivity for violence” as a justification for the measures, even though he did not have a criminal record, did not exhibit any signs of violence or have a demonstrated reach outside of the prison. Over the next three years, Hashmi’s lawyers appealed the SAMs over 30 times, being rejected each time for one implausible reason after another. On April 27, 2010, Hashmi agreed to a plea bargain, with the government, of one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison not just for luggage that someone else had brought into his apartment, but also because of his “anti-American jihadist ideology,” according to Judge Preska. Hashmi made his first public statement in four years, thanking everyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims, for their support. Hashmi was later transferred to the federal high-security prison in Florence, Colorado and in March this year moved into its Supermax ADX facility, the most draconian prison in the federal system. Meanwhile, his once acquaintance Babar, who was the one to physically deliver winter clothing to Al Qaeda, was sentenced to “time served” (four and a half years out of a possible 70) for his “exceptional” service and because he “began co-operating even before his arrest.

While Hashmi’s true intentions – i.e. whether he was aware of his acquaintance’s Al Qaeda connection or if he had ever considered that route himself – are unknown, the outcry against his detention is more about the authorities completely denying him his right to basic human rights and civil liberites. This becomes even more deplorable especially since he is a U.S. citizen imprisoned in his own country. Hashmi’s case echoes other stories of racial and religious profiling that received much media coverage in the aftermath of 9/11. One of the stories was of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who went missing on 9/11. Widespread speculation labeled him as a terrorist and an accomplice to those who carried out the attacks. However, a few months later, his remains were found near the World Trade Center wreckage and it became clear that he had died while being part of the rescue efforts.

Institutionalized racial and religious profiling deeply impacts the community at large and influences the public perception of specific groups that have been targeted by government and national security. In the ten years since 9/11, Arab-Americans and South Asians have increasingly become the targets of hate crimes around the country. In a recent instance, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down in a suburb of Sacramento without any provocation. The police indicated that there was a high chance of hate motivation for the crime.

Representative Peter King (R-NY), who had recently triggered much uproar about his Congressional hearings targeting Islam in the United States, has now added ethnic profiling to his earlier agenda. In a public television appearance on April 5, King stated that “a person’s religious background or ethnicity can be a factor, one of the things to look at.” This blatant push for religious and racial profiling instead of behavioral profiling is a foreboding sign that the issue will not be going away anytime soon. Until there is a change in this position, unfortunate stories of extreme incarceration, wrongful accusations and hate crimes will continue.

Hashmi’s former professor, Theoharis, sums up her thoughts on America’s tenuous handling of the terrorism threat, stating-

…Seeing that humanity is at odds with the political zeitgeist, where endless searches and small bottles of shampoo and fear-mongering subway posters have become the currency of national security. Where a growing obsession with homegrown terrorism means that we are again willing to chisel away the Bill of Rights in the name of protecting America.

This disintegration of the Bill of Rights for the sake of “national security” points to a future where the state of paranoia may quite likely run every facet of our lives. Such a dystopic future, where basic American values and human rights have been compromised, is the subject of Breakthrough’s ground-breaking new Facebook game, America 2049. In this alternate reality game, the player is tasked with the capture of a presumed terrorist and pushed to ask the question- What if? How close have we already come to America 2049? How can we work together—in real life—to build a better future? The game addresses issues such as racial profiling, religious intolerance, and sexual discrimination by presenting a scenario where wrong choices made today will adversely affect our future. And if the widespread cases of racial profiling and complete removal of civil liberties continue, as with the case of Hashmi, the virtual world of the future in America 2049 might come upon us much sooner than we think.

Photo courtesy of racism.conocimientos.com.ve

Ghailani Trial Showcases NYC is Safe for Terrorist Trials

Most people don't even realize it, but an alleged al Qaeda terrorist - deemed among the most dangerous terrorists in US custody by US counterterrorism officials - has been quietly appearing in a U.S. federal court in downtown Manhattan for pretrial hearings for weeks now.  His trial is scheduled to start there next week.  And as the Wall Street Journal notes today, the NYPD - who are the national experts on counterterrorism security - don't see any need for extra funds to buttress their normal security procedures.

That's a far cry from the $200 million the police department said last year it would need to secure the trial of some other alleged al Qaeda operatives:  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators in the 9/11 attack.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is being tried for his role in an earlier al Qaeda terrorist attack on U.S. interests: the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. He was considered so important to al Qaeda that after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was subjected to so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" in CIA "black sites" while interrogators pumped him for information. He was only transferred from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to a New York prison for civilian trial last year.

Critics of the Obama administration's decision to use civilian trials for alleged terrorists claim, among other things, that trial and imprisonment in the United States pose a major security threat. But according to Devlin Barrett and Sean Gardiner in today's Journal:

The New York Police Department plans some behind-the-scenes security adjustments for Mr. Ghailani's trial, but there will be no street closures or extra officers assigned to security outside the courthouse.

For anyone who actually lives in New York and knows what the downtown courthouse area is like, that makes perfect sense. Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the NYPD has stepped up its patrols and security in the area. There are now concrete barriers around all federal buildings that make it impossible for someone to drive a bomb up anywhere near them. Security entering the courthouse has always been tight, which makes sense, given that the Manhattan courthouse has long been the primary location for terrorist trials.

The problem with the plan to try KSM and his alleged associated there wasn't that New York City lacked sufficient security; it was that political opponents of the Obama Administration turned the trial into a political tool they could use to undermine the administration. And once opponents like Liz Cheney whipped some locals up into a frenzy about the need to close streets and add security, downtown businesses got scared about how that all might affect their bottom line.

The truth is, as the Ghailani trial demonstrates, that the NYPD and federal prison guards are fully capable of securing the massive stone courthouse and adjacent high-security prison that's long housed suspected terrorists safely.  We neither need to shut down the city nor spend another $200 million to accomplish that.

 

 

Time to counter hate and intolerance

Today, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are speaking at the same place Martin Luther King gave his historic speech. Meanwhile, the continued elevated controversy over the so called “ground-zero mosque” is evidence little has changed since 9/11. Time to counter hate and intolerance.

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