Posted on April 24, 2013 in Countdown


Seeking a Conviction, or Political Points?

The White House announced on Monday that Dzohkhar Tsarnaev, suspected along with his brother of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon, will be tried as a civilian in federal court. The announcement dashes the hopes of a group of Republican Senators led by Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain (the Senate’s dynamic duo of demagoguery) that Tsarnaev would be tried as an enemy combatant in military court. The fact that the White House even had to make such an announcement is a sad indication of how just how destructive the post-9/11 resort to extra-judicial responses to terrorism has been. Despite Sen. Graham’s protestations, there is absolutely no reason why Tsarnaev would not be tried in a federal court. He is an American citizen, accused of committing crimes against American civilians, and there is no evidence that he or his brother had any connection to al Qaeda or affiliated organizations covered under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Federal courts also have a much higher rate of success in prosecuting terrorism cases, having successfully convicted nearly 500 people of terrorism-related charges since 9/11. Military commissions, despite their looser evidence rules, have convicted just seven. Of course, Graham’s objections were never about anything more than partisan posturing, designed to make President Obama seem weak. Kudos to Obama for refusing to be intimidated and making the choice that preserves both our security and our values.

“An American Citizen is an American Citizen"

Those are the words of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, concerning Israeli treatment of Arab American citizens who are denied entry or subjected to heightened scrutiny at Israeli borders, an issue we have written about several times and raised with US officials on countless occasions. In the "1951 U.S.-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation," Israel pledged to permit U.S. citizens to "travel freely, to reside at places of their choice, to enjoy liberty of conscience" and to guarantee them "the most constant protection and security." But, despite the treaty, Israeli authorities refuse to honor their obligations. And, if certain members of Congress get their way, they’ll no longer be legally required to do so. How, you ask? New legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would grant visa waivers to Israeli citizens who wish to travel to the U.S. The Senate version grants an exception to U.S. law to allow for discrimination. What’s most unfortunate about this is that it’s gaining traction in both Houses of Congress. It’s also, thankfully, receiving a fair amount of opposition. In his latest column, AAI President Jim Zogby makes the case that Israel should not be rewarded with visa waivers when it regularly discriminates against American citizens based on ethnicity. “Our concern has been that Israel was being allowed to determine, on its own, that Arab Americans are second-class U.S. citizens,” he writes. There is momentum behind blocking this legislation. We can’t let our members of Congress sign a piece of legislation that would sanction discrimination of American citizens. We have an obligation to educate them on why this legislation should not be supported.

Louie Gohmert’s Theory on Immigration

If Albert Einstein met Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), we think he might reconsider his famous quote, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” As the nation scrambled to deal with the terrible attacks in Boston, Gohmert and other members of Congress sought to take advantage of the period of fear and uncertainty. They identified Boston as a political opportunity to stop much-needed immigration reform. Using an unhealthy blend of scare tactics and conspiracy theories, Rep. Louie Gohmert (you know him for his remarks about terror babies) alleged that Islamic radicals are posing as Hispanics to gain entry and citizenship to the country. Quite an interesting theory, so we checked it out. Turns out it’s quite simple to understand. Here is how it works: Take any person of color (Gohmert can’t tell the difference anyway) and change his/her name. If you’re Arab and your name is Mamdouah, change it to Manuel. Named Habib? That’s easy, you’re now Hector. If you’ve followed Gohmert’s instructions correctly, you now have a green card. See, was that so hard? Needless to say, members of the Hispanic, Arab American, and American Muslim communities were outraged at Rep. Gohmert for dreaming up yet another conspiracy to thwart immigration reform and for trying to use their communities to do so. After Boston, this was particularly shameful.

Syria: Still Getting Worse

It seems like we say this every week, but the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. This week, Israeli military officials publicly declared that they believed that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons repeatedly since mid-March. The comments, made by Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, a top IDF intelligence official, echoed assertions made in recent weeks by Britain and France. Since the Obama Administration has stated in the past that the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would constitute a “red line” that would prompt greater American involvement, the European and Israeli statements put considerable pressure on the Obama Administration to follow its rhetoric with action. But like everything coming out of Syria, these reports would still have to be confirmed as true. Meanwhile, the problem of Syrian refugees continues to grow by the day. Though no one knows the exact number, an estimated 2.5 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict began more than two years ago. In addition to the devastating conditions the refugees are living in, they are straining the resources of neighboring countries ill-equipped to deal with them, like Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Jordan, in particular, is increasingly dependent on international funding to cover the costs of the refugee influx, and is seeing its delicate social balance upset by yet another wave of refugees. If the Obama Administration wants to lead on Syria, it should start by helping the country’s neighbors absorb the human fallout from the brutal war. 

DoJ Judgment on NYPD Spying: Let’s Wait and See

Something awesome happened last week. At a subcommittee hearing on the Department of Justice Budget for 2014, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) gave Attorney General Eric Holder an earful about two issues important to our community: the NYPD’s spying program and adding categories to the FBI’s 1-699 Hate Crime Incident Report form to track crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arab Americans. Holder has continuously avoided coming to a conclusion on the legality of the NYPD’s spying program, which targets Arab American and American Muslim communities up and down the east coast. In an article in Mother Jones published three weeks ago, journalist Adam Serwer asked what was up with the DoJ, inquiring: “…whatever happened to the Obama administration's review of NYPD spying?” Holder gave Honda the expected convoluted answer, saying it’s “under review.” Yea, yea, we know – that’s what you said a number of times before, but why haven’t you reached a judgment yet? (It’s been two years). Holder indicated that he’d have to wait and see what happens with two pending lawsuits filed against the NYPD before he makes a judgment (transcript here). Incredible. There was better news, though, regarding the proposed changes to the Hate Crimes Incident Report form. Holder said he would recommend adding the aforementioned categories. Currently the FBI does not track hate crimes targeting Sikhs, Hindus and Arab Americans. Talk about incredible.

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