American Muslim voices-Things you might not have heard from them before


Racism and Islamophobia are hideous, counterproductive, provincial inventions that afflict our society and reduce its effectiveness.  It is meant to nominalize the voices of its victims and dehumanize them and de-value  anything they have to say.  The following article written by an American Muslim expresses a view probably shared by a majority of non Muslim Americans which they might never hear coming from an American Muslim, and while it should not be a deal clincher, should emphasize the commonality that Americans have with one another.

What’s Up With Muslims and Dogs?
I’m not a big follower of reality television, but was happy to hear about TLC’s new reality show “All-American Muslim.” We know that personal contact is the best way to break down stereotypes, but with Muslims less than 2% of the U.S. population, many Americans will never get to know a Muslim. Meeting us through reality television might not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

After watching “All-American Muslim” for a few weeks, I now believe that the show is good for our community beyond the way it might lessen prejudice against Muslims. The additional benefit is that the show has engaged our community in discussing some of the many challenges we face making distinctions between critical religious values and flexible cultural practices. In the fourth episode, the issue of Muslims having dogs in the home came up, and this is worth further discussion.

In this episode, newlywed Arab-American Shadia tells Jeff, her Irish-American convert husband, that she does not want his dog to move with them to their new home. Shadia has allergies, and her asthma is exacerbated by the dog’s hair. This is an understandable and common dilemma. But Shadia bolsters her position with statements about the impermissibility for a Muslim to have dogs in the home. Her father will not pray in the house if the dog is there, she says, because dog hair is impure and a prayer space needs to be pure. Later, Shadia backs off from the religious argument, admitting that the main reason she doesn’t want a dog in the house is “I wasn’t raised with dogs; I’m not used to them.” I appreciated this moment of honesty. The use of a religious norm as a trump card in an argument we want to win is a temptation we all face.

So what is the Islamic position about dogs? In fact, there are a variety of opinions according to different legal schools. The majority consider the saliva of dogs to be impure, while the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs, only considering the saliva of the latter to be impure. The question for Muslims observant of other schools of law is, what are the implications of such an impurity?

These Muslims should remember that there are many other impurities present in our homes, mostly in the form of human waste, blood, and other bodily fluids. It is fairly common for such impurities to come in contact with our clothes, and we simply wash them off or change our clothes for prayer. When you have children at home, it sometimes seems you can never get away from human waste. But we manage it, often by designating a special space and clothing kept clean for prayer.

Some Muslims object to having a dog in the home because of a prophetic report that angels do not enter a home with dogs in it. If a Muslim accepts this report as authentic, it still requires an analysis of context to determine its meaning and legal application. Ordinary people are not recipients of divine revelation through angelic messengers, so it is possible that this statement, although in general form, might suggest a rule for the Prophet’s home, not all homes. This interpretation is strengthened by the fact the Qur’an states that angels are always present, protecting us and recording our good and bad actions.

Whatever the implications of this report, there is no doubt that the Qur’an is positive about dogs. The Qur’an allows the use of hunting dogs, which is one of the reasons the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs – since we can eat game that has been in a retriever’s mouth. But most compelling is the Qur’anic description of a dog who kept company with righteous youths escaping religious persecution. The party finds shelter in a cave where God places them in a deep sleep; the Qur’an (18:18) says:

You would have thought them awake, but they were asleep And [God] turned them on their right sides then on their left sides And their dog stretched his forelegs across the threshold

This tender description of the dog guarding the cave makes it clear that the animal is good company for believers. Legal scholars might argue about the proper location of the dog – that he should stay on the threshold of the home, not inside – but home designs vary across cultures. In warm climates, an outdoor courtyard is a perfectly humane place for a dog – its physical and social needs can be met in the yard. This is not the case in cold climates, where people stay indoors most of the day for months at a time.

Extreme concern about the uncleanliness of dogs likely arose historically as Islam became more of an urban phenomenon. In medieval cities, as in modern cities in underdeveloped countries, crowding of people and animals leads to the rapid spread of disease and animal control is not a priority. A few run-ins with an aggressive or diseased animal can result in excessive caution, fear and negativity.

I have long felt badly that many Muslims fear dogs as a result of negative experiences and that they resort to confused religious reasoning to shun them. It is one of the reasons why I try to introduce my students and friends to my very sweet, very large dog Ziggy.

2011-12-13-Ziggy.jpg

Ziggy came into our home to be like the dog in the cave: to keep company to my child who lies in exile from the world because of a debilitating illness. He has been nothing but a blessing – guarding the house while we sleep, forcing me to exercise daily, and showing us, as he happily follows our tiny cat around the yard, that if cats and dogs can get along so well, then we people have no excuse.

There is another reason why I love having my dog around. Ziggy came from Tennessee. He was rescued by an animal control officer who uses her own resources to save dogs who would otherwise be destroyed in a few days. Tina saves as many dogs as she can by bringing them home and putting them up for adoption on the internet. When I called Tina to speak about adopting Ziggy, she had 65 dogs she had rescued out in her yard. After being disheartened by some terrible things that have come out of Tennessee lately – mosque burnings and anti-Shari`ah legislation among them – I love looking at Ziggy and thinking about the woman with the thick southern accent and big heart who saved his life.

 

All American Muslim


A lot has been said and written about the TLC channel’s new reality television show, All American Muslim.  TLC claims the show’s intent is to “look at life in Dearborn, Michigan–home to the largest mosque in the United States–through the lens of five Muslim American families….offering an intimate look at the customs and celebrations, misconceptions and conflicts these families face outside and within their own community” and in this day and age of Islamophobia and bigotry becoming so acceptable and widespread a phenomenon, such goals are noble, righteous and worth pursuing.  Being categorized as aa ‘reality television show’ has already put the show at an extreme disadvantage for such ambitious objectives.  A look at the reality shows lists that are are now or have been on television is a rather dismal look at American society….not necessarily because America is bad, but because the track record of reality television certainly is.  Reality shows are staged, scripted and heavily edited to offer to the viewing public a sleazy, seedy slice of human life.  Staged means producers and those who put such shows together encourage cast members to take on personae meant to either enforce stereotypes or appeal to as wide a segment of the population in order to keep such shows financially profitable.  In other words acts of violence, nudity, sex or simulated sex become the mainstay of such shows in order to keep viewers which in turn prompts advertisers to buy advertisement on such programs, no matter how deleterious the effects such programming may have on the public.  Already web denizens have been treated to fatuous discussions and pictures about one of the cast members’ change of hair color and other assorted body parts; this is what reality tv brings to the table, in order to quench the insatiable appetite for sex and titillation for which we in America have become accustomed.  No one should be happy that a value system, belief, faith, culture, heritage, ethnicity to which they belong has found a home in such a genre considering its track record.  Moreover, why do we need television to drive home the point that American Muslims are just like any other group of Americans; that they encompass a wide spectrum of ideals, loyalties and types of people like any other group of people who’ve inhabited our shores.

For the last decade we’ve been besieged with notions of our exceptionalism, which should include among other things our excellence in intelligence and enlightenment, but it seems we are below average in exhibiting these characteristics which are essential in building and maintaining an exceptional society.  Rather we are plagued with the Islamophobic notions expressed by politicians and pundits alike which incite Americans to ever lower depths of bigotry and fratricide, racism and depravity that encouraged a fringe group of bigots and extremists, the Florida Family Association to pressure some advertisers, notably Lowes, to withdraw advertising from All American Muslim.  FFA is practically irrelevant to 99% of Americans and that fact, along with inherent prejudice compelled it to send letters to advertisers on the program complaining about the lack of negative portrayals of Muslims on a show entitled, All American Muslim.  The name itself speaks to positive values and shared interests, something bigots and racists rarely extend to anyone or anything different from themselves, and so it is that some advertisers bought FFA’s argument and stopped advertising on the show.   The very notion that All American Muslim must show jihadists and sharia minded Muslims is as ridiculous as asserting any other reality tv show must showcase the errant behavior of members of its group in order to be more life like, especially when that group is a tiny microcosm, but this is what is expected, what must be done when talking about Muslims. ‘When did you stop beating your wife’ is the cornerstone of such an illogical argument that says in order to be socially acceptable you must show us all of your adornment in order to accept your totality, even down to your underwear.  This is an age old, biblical concept that extends to the whole body the ignominy of a few.  In today’s climate….it is simply too easy for Lowes to reject the argument and cave in.  Being headquartered in North Carolina, a state which had for 30 years Jesse Helms as its US senator, who too was  anachronistic  made it even easier.

FFA’s David Caton, the one who spearheaded this advertising ploy didn’t’ take into consideration the fact that not EVERYONE agrees with his backward values.  His track record as an author should have toned down his proclivity for social activism, since his attempts to get people to forgo his own former passions of pornography and masturbation did more harm than good, judging by reviews written about his book, Overcoming the addiction to pornography.  However, media, by design is a very powerful aphrodisiac and Caton, just like the cast members of All American Muslim is unable to see the pitfalls of being so vocal AND so wrong when thrust in front of the bright television lights.  The backlash to the Lowes announcement to stop advertising has been swift and immediate AND productive.  Now, Caton is faced with the proposition that advertising is sold out for the show which insures it will stay on the air espousing the very message he doesn’t want seen.  It has also led to a boycott by some citizens of conscience of Lowes at a time of year when retailers make most of their money in sales.  Ouch! Whether the Lowes boycott will be successful or not won’t be known, if ever, until after the Christmas season’s sales figures are released, but the effectiveness of boycotts as a means of social protest is highlighted by this  boycott and its organizers.  Lowes, caught in the middle of two opposites is a loser as long as it stays in this current position while those who are calling for a boycott of Lowes are going to have to prove it has adversely affected the company’s bottom line. The FFA has already lost the ideological fight because the show will air its scheduled 8 episodes and advertising picked up after they inserted themselves into this ideological fight, but the fact they even got this far is a side commentary on where this country is.  Two cast members had this to say about what’s happening surrounding their show and addressed their comments to the well known racist Islamophobe Pamela Gellar

Gellar’s response was equally deadly obsequious, pointing out how much she has in common with them. The fact that a predatory persecutor like Geller can find something in common with a despised, taunted, hunted persecuted religious minority is the essence of reality television.

 

 

 

 

No Comment-Feeding a movement


Ron Paul and Israel


 

Ron Paul was not invited to the The Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC)  forum on Wednesday, December 7 because the hosts think Paul is  “too extreme” or has views they think are not consistent with the GOP.  However if you listen to the above video, Paul says all the right things; he supports Israel’s right to say whether or not Iran is an existential threat to Israel and should be attacked, he agrees that Israel has the right to determine its own borders, independent of outside influence or pressure….he claims to have supported Israel’s strike against the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, purporting to be the only voice of support within the US government at that time. So why is it that such a candidate would receive a snub from a group of Republicans when he so clearly has consistently supported Israel?

The reason for Jewish Republican ire is the very first statement he made in the video above when he said he is a non-interventionist.  Despite all the things Paul believes in vis-a-vis Israel he is not willing to lend that country unconditional support for things that are not shared, mutual interests.  He is able to separate American interests, the political entity he is seeking to lead, from Israeli interest and where the two do not meet, he’s not willing to sacrifice American interests for Israel, and that is a problem for Israel firsters.  Paul, until now, has been able to resist the conflation of the two countries into one all encompassing, inseparable  interest.  In so doing he’s acknowledged American financial, military, and human resources will not always be available for Israeli capriciousness and that seems to be the problem with Jewish supporters of Israel here in America. It seems Israel would prefer the political infighting and strong arming that has come with previous Republican administrations that opposed, on the face of things, Israel policies with respect to her borders and neighbors, but who would at some point caved and gave them the money and materiel requested to continue Israeli expansionist policy.  Paul’s policy statements on Israel are indeed consistent with Israeli interests, except for  American financial and military support and oddly enough just as Paul asserts,  these ideas are consistent with the GOP platform.  However, today’s body politic has taken such a far turn to the right and American politicians go through such extremes to genuflect before Israel and her supporters here and there in Israel, Paul can be successfully painted as an outsider or even an anti-Semite due to his stance.

One last interesting note to make about the forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition is none of the other GOP candidates expressed support for Paul’s presence at the event.  It would appear that there is no possibility of dialogue when it comes to Israel….it is not welcomed, supported, or even sought after.  It is  a self imposed censorship the participants seem to be particularly interested in maintaining.  Not one voice was raised to protest Paul’s exclusion from the forum, yet the ever clownish Donald Trump “debate” has already had three GOP candidates say they will not attend, Ron Paul being one of them, amid cries that the debate is no more than a publicity stunt for Trump, in a way to legitimize and insert himself into the political process.  That Trump debate however, has received round condemnation from at least 3 candidates and various pundits.  For the moment, America’s politics have been taken hostage by naked Israeli self-interests which spare no dissent from a complete and total surrender thereof.  Ron Paul is another recent victim of this trend.

Call ’em out!


 

This is a fairly decent video that tries to point out the Islamophobia network in America as well as give positive suggestions on how Muslims can combat it.  We’ve railed against the bigotry inherent in today’s one sided assault on Islam and Muslims but rarely have we pointed out who is behind this trend.  Rather we’ve focused on how consistent has been the trend throughout America’s history while at the same time maintaining that America is a country that has far more potential and greatness if it lives up to its core values it only gives lip service to today.

A more focused criticism of the Obama assault on liberty


The last several posts here have been very critical of the Obama administration’s approach to domestic politics and particularly it’s heavy handed approach to dissent.  Unfortunately, it’s so extensive one article posted here listed 20 examples of the Administration’s assault on domestic liberties.  I began to think perhaps such a long article which underscores so many points might be as oppressive as Obama’s policies so this one very concise piece by Coleen Rowley from one of my favorite sources, Consortium News makes the point very well about a very frightening trend started by Bush and solidified by the current administration.

U.S. intelligence says the terror threat from al-Qaeda is receding, but Congress keeps on expanding the scope of this “war” so as not to look “weak on terror,” now adding new military powers that could be used against American citizens.

The political, military industrial, corporate class in Washington DC continues to re-make our Constitutional Republic into a powerful, unaccountable Military Empire.

The U.S. Senate has just voted 93 to 7 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, which allows the military to operate domestically within the borders of the United States and to possibly (or most probably) detain U.S. citizens without trial.

Forget that the ACLU called it “an historic threat to American citizens,” this bill is so dangerous not only to our rights but to our country’s security that it was criticized by the Directors of the FBI and the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Defense Secretary!

For the first time in our history, if this Act is not vetoed, American citizens may not be guaranteed their Article III right to trial. The government would be able to decide who gets an old-fashioned trial (along with right to attorney and right against self-incrimination) and who gets detained without due process and put into a modern legal limbo.

Does anyone remember that none of the first thousand people the FBI rounded up after 9/11, and who were imprisoned for several months (some brutalized) were ever charged with terrorism? Does anyone remember that hundreds of the Gitmo detainees who were handed over to their American military captors in exchange for monetary bounties were found, after years of imprisonment, to have no connection to terrorism?

When in doubt about a case, what do you think the government will again do? Does it prefer to submit its evidence to a jury’s scrutiny and its witnesses to the trouble of being cross-examined in court by a defense attorney or would it be easier to have no questions asked and dump the accused into detainee prison without rights? I think we already know that answer from the nearly ten years of experience at Guantanamo.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, declared that suspected citizens open themselves up “to imprisonment and death” He added: “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.’”

Of course, the politicians will say we are just talking about a few cases. But in fact the sky’s probably the limit given the current legal ambiguity in the Patriot Act expansion of “material support for terrorism” to now include humanitarian aid and even mere advocacy speech without any need to prove an accused person intended to support any kind of terrorist violence.

The Department of Justice has been currently using this ambiguity for over a year to investigate 23 American citizens who are anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. Additionally, the “war on terror” will undoubtedly expand even more when it is de-linked from 9/11.

See “The War on Terrorism Congress Never Declared — But Soon Might” by Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor, expert on these issues and associate dean for scholarship at American University Washington College of Law, which states:

“An individual may be detained for providing ‘direct support’ (which, in the government’s view, may be nothing more than minor financial or logistical assistance) in aid of ‘associated forces’ that are ‘engaged in hostilities against … coalition partners.’

“Thus, the NDAA effectively authorizes the military detention of any individual who provides such assistance anywhere in the world to any group engaged in hostilities against any of our coalition partners, whether or not the United States is in any way involved in (or even affected by) that particular conflict.”

Given this expansion of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force contained in the 2012 NDAA to encompass undefined “associated forces,” we could witness the U.S. government targeting a large range of political dissidents, human rights activists, humanitarians, and maybe even “occupiers.”

The NDAA is deliberately confusing for political purposes but much is at stake. President Barack Obama’s determination as to whether or not he will veto the problematic 2012 war funding bill will determine how Benjamin Franklin’s glib response to the woman waiting outside the Constitutional Convention is ultimately answered. Franklin and other founding fathers had created “a Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

But a lawless Military Empire could now await where U.S. “emergency war powers” trump the Constitution, where the Commander in Chief becomes king for a term(s), the military enters into domestic police-state actions in violation of 130 years of Posse Comitatus law, and the Constitution becomes as quaint as the Geneva Conventions were for Alberto Gonzalez and the Bush Administration.

Corrupted, compliant politicians have already allowed their fears to get the better of them by going along with pre-emptive war in violation of the Nuremberg Principles and international law and torturing in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture.

So why should they also not go for detaining American citizens without constitutional rights or trial?

You can tell President Obama he needs to live up to his threat to veto this legislation or you can sign Sen. Mark Udall’s petition.

This abdication to repression on Obama’s part led me to ask is it the position or our political system that makes presidents abuse their power and totally disregard the Constitution.  Indeed, Obama a Constitutional lawyer has turned out in many ways to be as bad as his predecessor even after suggesting, as Rowley points out, that he would be different.  I’m simply not at the stage where I believe in the lesser of two evils concession, although there are surely some good points made on that theory’s behalf.  We should hold our elected officials to their words; if they promise they will not abuse the rights of American citizens and then it turns out that they have picked up the baton of state sponsored, government endorsed oppression, they should be voted out of office and it should be made explicitly clear to them the reason is because of their betrayal.  I wish Obama supporters would get on board with this idea; his misuse of his executive powers should be no more acceptable to the electorate than Bush.

Twenty Examples of the Obama Administration Assault on Domestic Civil Liberties


by Bill Quigley

The Obama administration has affirmed, continued and expanded almost all of the draconian domestic civil liberties intrusions pioneered under the Bush administration.  Here are twenty examples of serious assaults on the domestic rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience that have occurred since the Obama administration has assumed power.  Consider these and then decide if there is any fundamental difference between the Bush presidency and the Obama presidency in the area of domestic civil liberties.

Patriot Act

On May 27, 2011, President Obama, over widespread bipartisan objections, approved a Congressional four year extension of controversial parts of the Patriot Act that were set to expire.  In March of 2010, Obama signed a similar extension of the Patriot Act for one year.  These provisions allow the government, with permission from a special secret court, to seize records without the owner’s knowledge, conduct secret surveillance of suspicious people who have no known ties to terrorist groups and to obtain secret roving wiretaps on people.

Criminalization of Dissent and Militarization of the Police

Anyone who has gone to a peace or justice protest in recent years has seen it – local police have been turned into SWAT teams, and SWAT teams into heavily armored military.  Officer Friendly or even Officer Unfriendly has given way to police uniformed like soldiers with SWAT shields, shin guards, heavy vests, military helmets, visors, and vastly increased firepower.  Protest police sport ninja turtle-like outfits and are accompanied by helicopters, special tanks, and even sound blasting vehicles first used in Iraq.  Wireless fingerprint scanners first used by troops in Iraq are now being utilized by local police departments to check motorists.  Facial recognition software introduced in war zones is now being used in Arizona and other jurisdictions.  Drones just like the ones used in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan are being used along the Mexican and Canadian borders.  These activities continue to expand under the Obama administration.

Wiretaps

Wiretaps for oral, electronic or wire communications, approved by federal and state courts, are at an all-time high.  Wiretaps in year 2010 were up 34% from 2009, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts.

Criminalization of Speech

Muslims in the US have been targeted by the Obama Department of Justice for inflammatory things they said or published on the internet.  First Amendment protection of freedom of speech, most recently stated in a 1969 Supreme Court decision, Brandenberg v Ohio, says the government cannot punish inflammatory speech, even if it advocates violence unless it is likely to incite or produce such action.  A Pakistani resident legally living in the US was indicted by the DOJ in September 2011 for uploading a video on YouTube.  The DOJ said the video was supportive of terrorists even though nothing on the video called for violence.  In July 2011, the DOJ indicted a former Penn State student for going onto websites and suggesting targets and for providing a link to an explosives course already posted on the internet.

Domestic Government Spying on Muslim Communities

In activities that offend freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and several other laws, the NYPD and the CIA have partnered to conduct intelligence operations against Muslim communities in New York and elsewhere.  The CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans, works with the police on “human mapping”, commonly known as racial and religious profiling to spy on the Muslim community.  Under the Obama administration, the Associated Press reported in August 2011, informants known as “mosque crawlers,” monitor sermons, bookstores and cafes.

Top Secret America

In July 2010, the Washington Post released “Top Secret America,” a series of articles detailing the results of a two year investigation into the rapidly expanding world of homeland security, intelligence and counter-terrorism.   It found 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence at about 10,000 locations across the US.  Every single day, the National Security Agency intercepts and stores more than 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications. The FBI has a secret database named Guardian that contains reports of suspicious activities filed from federal, state and local law enforcement.  According to the Washington Post, Guardian contained 161,948 files as of December 2009.  From that database there have been 103 full investigations and at least five arrests the FBI reported.  The Obama administration has done nothing to cut back on the secrecy.

Other Domestic Spying

There are at least 72 fusion centers across the US which collect local domestic police information and merge it into multi-jurisdictional intelligence centers, according to a recent report by the ACLU.  These centers share information from federal, state and local law enforcement and some private companies to secretly spy on Americans.  These all continue to grow and flourish under the Obama administration.

Abusive FBI Intelligence Operations

The Electronic Frontier Foundation documented thousands of violations of the law by FBI intelligence operations from 2001 to 2008 and estimate that there are over 4000 such violations each year.  President Obama issued an executive order to strengthen the Intelligence Oversight Board, an agency which is supposed to make sure the FBI, the CIA and other spy agencies are following the law.  No other changes have been noticed.

Wikileaks

The publication of US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks and then by main stream news outlets sparked condemnation by the Obama administration officials who said the publication of accurate government documents was nothing less than an attack on the United States.  The Attorney General announced a criminal investigation and promised “this is not saber rattling.” Government officials warned State Department employees not to download the publicly available documents.  A State Department official and Columbia officials warned students that discussing Wikileaks or linking documents to social networking sites could jeopardize their chances of getting a government job, a position that lasted several days until reversed by other Columbia officials.  At the time this was written, the Obama administration continued to try to find ways to prosecute the publishers of Wikileaks.

Censorship of Books by the CIA

In 2011, the CIA demanded extensive cuts from a memoir by former FBI agent Ali H. Soufan, in part because it made the agency look bad.  Soufan’s book detailed the use of torture methods on captured prisoners and mistakes that led to 9-11. Similarly, a 2011 book on interrogation methods by former CIA agent Glenn Carle was subjected to extensive black outs.  The CIA under the Obama administration continues its push for censorship.

Blocking Publication of Photos of U.S. Soldiers Abusing Prisoners

In May 2009, President Obama reversed his position of three weeks earlier and refused to release photos of US soldiers abusing prisoners.  In April 2009, the US Department of Defense told a federal court that it would release the photos.  The photos were part of nearly 200 criminal investigations into abuses by soldiers.

Technological Spying

The Bay Area Transit System, in August 2011, hearing of rumors to protest against fatal shootings by their police, shut down cell service in four stations.  Western companies sell email surveillance software to repressive regimes in China, Libya and Syria to use against protestors and human rights activists.  Surveillance cameras monitor residents in high crime areas, street corners and other governmental buildings.  Police department computers ask for and receive daily lists from utility companies with addresses and names of every home address in their area.  Computers in police cars scan every license plate of every car they drive by.  The Obama administration has made no serious effort to cut back these new technologies of spying on citizens.

Use of “State Secrets” to Shield Government and Others from Review

When the Bush government was caught hiring private planes from a Boeing subsidiary to transport people for torture to other countries, the Bush administration successfully asked the federal trial court to dismiss a case by detainees tortured because having a trial would disclose “state secrets” and threaten national security.  When President Obama was elected, the state secrets defense was reaffirmed in arguments before a federal appeals court.  It continues to be a mainstay of the Obama administration effort to cloak their actions and the actions of the Bush administration in secrecy.

In another case, it became clear in 2005 that the Bush FBI was avoiding the Fourth Amendment requirement to seek judicial warrants to get telephone and internet records by going directly to the phone companies and asking for the records.  The government and the companies, among other methods of surveillance, set up secret rooms where phone and internet traffic could be monitored.  In 2008, the government granted the companies amnesty for violating the privacy rights of their customers.  Customers sued anyway. But the Obama administration successfully argued to the district court, among other defenses, that disclosure would expose state secrets and should be dismissed.  The case is now on appeal.

Material Support

The Obama administration successfully asked the US Supreme Court not to apply the First Amendment and to allow the government to criminalize humanitarian aid and legal activities of people providing advice or support to foreign organizations which are listed on the government list as terrorist organizations.   The material support law can now be read to penalize people who provide humanitarian aid or human rights advocacy. The Obama administration Solicitor General argued to the court “when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs.”  The Court agreed with the Obama argument that national security trumps free speech in these circumstances.

Chicago Anti-war Grand Jury Investigation

In September 2010, FBI agents raided the homes of seven peace activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids seizing computers, cell phones, passports, and records.  More than 20 anti-war activists were issued federal grand jury subpoenas and more were questioned across the country.  Some of those targeted were members of local labor unions, others members of organizations like the Arab American Action Network, the Columbia Action Network, the Twin Cities Anti-War Campaign and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.  Many were active internationally and visited resistance groups in Columbia and Palestine.  Subpoenas directed people to bring anything related to trips to Columbia, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Israel or the Middle East.  In 2011, the home of a Los Angeles activist was raided and he was questioned about his connections with the September 2010 activists.  All of these investigations are directed by the Obama administration.

Punishing Whistleblowers

The Obama administration has prosecuted five whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all the other administrations in history put together.  They charged a National Security Agency advisor with ten felonies under the Espionage Act for telling the press that government eavesdroppers were wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on misguided and failed projects.  After their case collapsed, the government, which was chastised by the federal judge as engaging in unconscionable conduct allowed him to plead to a misdemeanor and walk.  The administration has also prosecuted former members of the CIA, the State Department, and the FBI.  They even tried to subpoena a journalist and one of the lawyers for the whistleblowers.

Bradley Manning

Army private Bradley Manning is accused of leaking thousands of government documents to Wikileaks.  These documents expose untold numbers of lies by US government officials, wrongful killings of civilians, policies to ignore torture in Iraq, information about who is held at Guantanamo, cover ups of drone strikes and abuse of children and much more damaging information about US malfeasance.  Though Daniel Ellsberg and other whistleblowers say Bradley is an American hero, the US government has jailed him and is threatening him with charges of espionage which may be punished by the death penalty.  For months Manning was held in solitary confinement and forced by guards to sleep naked.  When asked about how Manning was being held, President Obama personally defended the conditions of his confinement saying he had been assured they were appropriate and meeting our basic standards.

Solitary Confinement

At least 20,000 people are in solitary confinement in US jails and prisons, some estimate several times that many.  Despite the fact that federal, state and local prisons and jails do not report actual numbers, academic research estimates tens of thousands are kept in cells for 23 to 24 hours a day in supermax units and prisons, in lockdown, in security housing units, in “the hole”, and in special management units or administrative segregation.  Human Rights Watch reports that one-third to one-half of the prisoners in solitary are likely mentally ill.  In May 2006, the UN Committee on Torture concluded that the United States should “review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.”  The Obama administration has taken no steps to cut back on the use of solitary confinement in federal, state or local jails and prisons.

Special Administrative Measures

Special Administrative Measures (SAMS) are extra harsh conditions of confinement imposed on prisoners (including pre-trial detainees) by the Attorney General.  The U.S. Bureau of Prisons imposes restrictions such segregation and isolation from all other prisoners, and limitation or denial of contact with the outside world such as: no visitors except attorneys, no contact with news media, no use of phone, no correspondence, no contact with family, no communication with guards, 24 hour video surveillance and monitoring. The DOJ admitted in 2009 that several dozen prisoners, including several pre-trial detainees, mostly Muslims, were kept incommunicado under SAMS.  If anything, the use of SAMS has increased under the Obama administration.

These twenty concrete examples document a sustained assault on domestic civil liberties in the United States under the Obama administration.  Rhetoric aside, how different has Obama been from Bush in this area?