Posted on May 08, 2013 in Countdown

Drones Radicalize

Up until last week, the national debate over the administration’s use of drones has lacked one key element: the human perspective from the ground. Yes, here at home, we’ve discussed how the use of drones changes the way we view killing other humans; how pushing a button to shoot a missile mounted to a flying death bot is so easy it desensitizes the military personnel who control it. The American public has been exposed to statistics about the number of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes, yet the majority of Americans still support the use of Drones abroad. But as we’ve struggled to sort out our perspective on the use of drones, we’ve ignored the perspective of those directly affected by the attacks. Last week, AAI convened an important briefing on Capitol Hill with Yemeni youth activist Farea Al-Muslimi, whose village in Yemen was targeted several days ago by a drone attack. Al-Muslimi says drones empower the very same militants they attempt to destroy. The week before our briefing, Al-Muslimi delivered powerful testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on drones, saying “I knew that the bombing in my village by the United States would empower militants." We think Al-Muslimi’s perspective is an important one that the administration and congress should consider, and because of that, AAI is currently working with a number of congressional offices to address some of the issues raised by the panelists at our briefing, especially with regards to the administration’s legal justification for the use of lethal force. 

Ending the Occupation: It’s Not Rocket Science

In case you didn’t already know, Stephen Hawking is awesome. He’s not only one of the most pre-eminent physicists of our time; he has managed to make unimaginably complex scientific ideas understandable and accessible to the average layman. That’s why we were particularly pleased when Hawking turned his formidable brainpower toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, in consultation with his Palestinian colleagues, decided to boycott a Jerusalem conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres. A statement by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine explained Professor Hawking’s “independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.” Of course, his decision was met with an avalanche of disapproval from the Israeli government, and we’re certain Congress won’t be far behind. Whether you support the boycott or not, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people are immoral, counterproductive, and illegal. But we’re still glad that geniuses agree.

We’re not Backing Down on Visa Waivers

As we’ve discussed in the past, both houses of the Congress are currently considering legislation that would include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows foreign citizens to visit the US without obtaining a visa. Some versions of the legislation exempt Israel from the requirement that it provide reciprocity to American citizens, effectively endorsing Israeli discrimination against Arab Americans. As we’ve seen in cases like those of Sandra Tamari and Nour Joudah, Israel singles out Americans of Arab, and especially Palestinian, descent for extra scrutiny when entering Israel or Palestine. For decades, Arab Americans have reported being detained for hours, denied entry or forced to take a Palestinian passport against their will, and the State Department has shown little willingness to stand up for the rights of these American citizens. AAI and other community leaders have been pushing back in Op-Eds and behind-the-scenes efforts.  We know there are Arab Americans out there with similar stories, and we’d like to collect as many as possible to help show lawmakers that Israel should not be included in the Visa Waiver program. Got a story? Fill out the form.

Sanford Vs. Colbert or Pelosi Cutouts?

Everyone likes a good redemption story. And redemption is just what Republican Mark Sanford got yesterday when he defeated Elizabeth Colbert Busch (Comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister) in a decisive victory in a special election for South Carolina’s 1st congressional seat. If you recall in 2009 Sanford, then the Governor of South Carolina, miraculously disappeared (under the pretense of “hiking the Appalachian trail” and later reported that he was in Buenos Aires having an affair with an Argentinian Journalist. Still, even Sanford’s infidelity and lies about his whereabouts weren’t enough to lose him the special election. We still contend that it was the mock debate Sanford held between himself and Nancy Pelosi that was the tipping point in the election. We’re a little more serious about that last part than you may think. As crazy as Sanford looked during his debate with a cardboard image, his intended anti-Democrat message stuck, and his campaign succeeded in making the race a referendum on Nancy Pelosi and congressional Dems. Affairs, lies, debating cardboard cutouts…who could beat that? This countdown just wrote itself.

An Amendment with Teeth We Love

The Senate “Gang of Eight” immigration bill S.744 is scheduled for markup tomorrow. Among the many amendments under consideration is one that would dramatically alter the who and how of profiling. The current draft of the bill contains language that prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity.  Senator Mazie Hirono introduced an amendment that will replace “race or ethnicity” with “race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.” And perhaps most importantly, the amendment would close the national security loophole that has allowed profiling to go on unfettered against Arab Americans, American Muslims, and South Asians. Taking a break for a moment from the usual tone of Coundtown, this is truly an important development in a fight that we have waged for more than a decade.  Now, we just have to pass it so that we can ensure that all communities are protected and treated equally under the law. We are watching closely and will ask you to take action soon.

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