Posted on April 30, 2013 in Countdown


Biden: Look Backwards

In the face of overwhelming evidence that the Bush Administration systematically tortured detainees in violation of American law and international treaty obligations, Obama’s mantra has been that he prefers to “look forward, not back.” Unfortunately for the President, his determination to forget that these crimes happened does not erase them. The Senate Intelligence Committee late last year completed a 6,000 page investigation of the torture program, but has so far been prevented from presenting its findings to the public because of opposition from the White House and the CIA. Over the weekend, Vice President Joe Biden said during a public forum in Arizona that he supports the release of the Senate report, arguing: “I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge, you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward.” Biden was joined onstage by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who also called for the report’s release. President Obama would be wise to heed the voices inside and outside his administration calling for the release of the report and accountability for torture more generally. The country can’t move forward until it takes an honest and critical look backwards.

Wavering on Visa Waivers

We’ve been writing for weeks about the bills being considered in the House and Senate that would add Israel to the Visa Waiver Program. Normally, any country seeking to join the program must promise reciprocal treatment to American citizens, but some in Congress are willing to exempt Israel from that requirement, effectively blessing Israel’s discrimination against Americans of Arab descent. Over the weekend, two influential newspapers published editorials criticizing their local senators for their support of these discriminatory measures. George Bisharat, writing in the Los Angeles Times, lambasted California Democrat Barbara Boxer for sponsoring one of the offending bills, arguing that Boxer and other senators should “...grow backbones, and refuse to trade the interests of their own constituents for those of a foreign nation.” Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun ran an editorial by Zainab Choudhry and Saqib Ali taking Maryland Senator Ben Cardin to task for co-sponsoring Boxer’s bill. These editorials are a reflection of mounting opposition to the visa waiver exemption on Capitol Hill, and they could presage a Washington event even rarer than this summer’s cicadas: the failure of an AIPAC legislative priority.

…And the Backlash Begins

After the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the tragedy has been twisted to serve many different political purposes. Some have called it a reason to delay immigration reform, or cause for greater surveillance against Arab Americans and American Muslims. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, the ever-suspicious Peter King (R-NY) went toe-to-toe with Keith Ellison (D-MN) over FBI profiling of Muslims. King argued that law enforcement should focus its investigations on the Muslim community, since that’s where the threat is ostensibly coming from. We’ve seen these calls for profiling from King before (remember the radicalization hearings in 2011?), but he isn’t the only member of Congress who wants to revive profiling programs of the past. In an interview with Fox News, the usually civil-libertarian Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized Obama’s dismantling of NSEERS because “...we’re not doing enough scrutiny on those who come on student visas and refugee status.” For his part, Attorney General Eric Holder cautioned against stigmatizing religious and ethnic groups, and vowed that the Justice Department would punish anyone committing “misguided acts of retaliation,” but his unwillingness to condemn the NYPD’s spying program has raised serious questions about his commitment to the civil liberties of Arab Americans and American Muslims. The Boston bombings were a horrible tragedy, and they shouldn’t be cynically used to further erode Americans’ civil liberties.

More Chemical Weapons Accusations in Syria

Last week, we mentioned that the Israeli government accused the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons against its people, after the UK and France made similar accusations in recent weeks. Well, now the US has officially joined the chorus, and the White House announced last Thursday that their intelligence may indicate that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons at least twice in Syria. Officials were quick to point out, however, that the intelligence may not be solid enough to trigger direct US involvement, despite the fact that the President Obama previously called chemical weapons-use a “red-line.” Frankly, we’re happy that the US government is admitting that their intelligence isn’t always perfect (sorry, innocent drone victims, this doesn’t extend to you yet), but many members of Congress don’t seem to agree. For example, Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Mike Rogers (R-MI) have introduced H.R. 1327, the Free Syria Act, which “authorizes expanded humanitarian aid…economic assistance to opposition-allied local coordination committees…[and] authorizes the President to train and equip carefully vetted Syrian opposition fighters.”

Future MI Senate Race Taking Shape

Ever since Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) announced that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, the Countdown team has scoured Capitol Hill to find out who might be thinking of replacing him. Also, we read this article. We already knew that Arab American Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (see his Syria bill above) have been eyeing the seat, but now we know who their opposition will probably be: Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), a three-term Congressman who’s been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act. The Hill reports that Peters will likely announce his Senate run tomorrow, making him the first major candidate to officially throw his hat in the ring. Are you wondering who would be better for the Arab American community, a pro-immigration Democrat or an Arab American civil libertarian? So are we. Check out last year’s Congressional Scorecard to see how they’ve been voting on our issues lately.

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