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Posted by on in Surveillance

By Gadeir Abbas

There was a time not long ago when the vast size of our world and the sheer number of people inhabiting it provided a degree of privacy protection against an intrusive government. No government could monitor everything that happened everywhere. So instead, governments had to pick and choose who to follow, what to listen to, and which information to collect. God might be omniscient, but we hoped our government never would be.

Unfortunately, we now know that there are places in the world in which the United States is omniscient. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the National Security Agency (NSA) was able to "collect, sort, and make available every Iraqi email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time."

Last month we learned from the Washington Post that, through an NSA program called MYSTIC, the agency is making a recording of all phone calls that occur in an entire undisclosed country. And the NSA has not been reluctant to extend its reach. Last year's intelligence budget provided the NSA the opportunity to extend its gaze to an additional five nations.

The NSA can now reduce to zeroes and ones the life of whole nations. The government no longer needs to pick and choose what information to collect. They can know it all. The privacy protections afforded by being just one person among many no longer apply.

And while the United States developed this monitoring capacity in secret, citizens must now decide for themselves whether their government should have it. One would hope that this question -- whether omniscience is an appropriate policy objective -- answers itself.

Just consider for a moment the recordings and intercepts the United States has now collected from half a dozen countries in the world -- calls to the doctor to discuss a complicated pregnancy, messages from a mother informing her children of their father's death, conversations between youngsters in love, pleas for help from those in dire financial straits -- the NSA would have a record of all these otherwise fleeting interactions stored away for as long as it likes.

It does not make one a terrorist sympathizer to find this objectionable. The NSA should not spy on foreign populations in ways that make our stomachs churn and tyrants green with envy. Foreigners are people like us and desire privacy as much as we do. This must count for something.

Though foreigners are subject to the NSA's omniscience today, Americans inside our borders will be tomorrow. If we cannot muster the empathy to respect the privacy of innocent foreigners, let's just be selfish. Government omniscience anywhere is the first step toward government omniscience everywhere.

The amount of information in the world there is to monitor no longer exceeds the United States' capacity to monitor it. And with this development, a pillar that once supported our right to privacy has crumbled.

Because we now have to answer the question of whether we want the United States to be omniscient, let us make clear that such attributes should be reserved for God alone.

Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at CAIR's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on in Surveillance

 

By Robert McCaw

How would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have reacted to recent revelations that the U.S. government is collecting and storing nearly every citizen's phone records and gathering their electronic data?

From 1958 until his 1968 assassination, the FBI conducted extensive surveillance on Dr. King, amassing over 17,000 pages of material on his day-to-day activities.

Today King's legacy as a civil rights leader is celebrated; there is even a federal holiday named after him. But during his lifetime, the government tracked his movements, tapped his phones, bugged his offices and hotel rooms, and planted informants to spy on him. In addition, the FBI anonymously sent him a letter threatening to destroy his credibility and suggesting that he commit suicide to avoid this.

King was also separately targeted by an NSA domestic spying program called "Minaret." With others, including Muhammad Ali, Dr. King was labeled and watch-listed as a possible "domestic terrorist and foreign radical" suspect.

We know that Dr. King was aware of his constant surveillance and the threat that it posed to him, yet he continued to teach and promote the ideals of peaceful organizing and resistance, equality, fraternity, and freedom until his life was taken.

So how would he react to the recent disclosures that the NSA and FBI, along with the CIA, DEA, and even local law enforcement agencies like the NYPD are spying on U.S. citizens by collecting communication metadata and infiltrating public demonstrations, activist circles, and houses of worship?

Today Dr. King would be confronted with the Orwellian truth that we are all under surveillance, although some groups -- like American Muslims -- are under more scrutiny than others. However, whether you are white or black, Hispanic or Asian, Muslim or Christian, the government is spying on all groups as potential "domestic terrorist and foreign radicals."

Just as it was 50 years ago, the NSA and FBI have once again been caught abusing their surveillance powers, infringing on the liberties they are sworn to protect -- all in the name of national security.

These government spying programs constitute a clear violation the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, and chills First Amendment freedom of speech.

Dr. King supported the Constitution as a framework for all citizens to achieve equal rights, and I believe he would have vocally opposed such government intrusions and spying. While he may have remained publicly silent on the government's unlawful invasion of his personal life, it's hard to believe that he would have sat idly by and let every American experience similar attacks on personal liberties as he faced while leading the battle for civil rights and the nation's soul.

To honor Dr. King's legacy and the values on which our nation was founded, Americans should work together to challenge these expansive domestic spying programs that are robbing us of our civil liberties.

Some members of Congress and the Obama administration make the claim that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Dr. King would know better -- the Constitution is clear and these programs are illegal and need to be ended.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on in Racial Profiling

If any question remained about whether racism and bigotry are alive and well in America, the Rush Limbaughs and Paula Deens of our time have laid it to rest.

Last Monday -- hot on the heels of the furious uproar that swept the nation after the jury reached its verdict in the Trayvon Martin case -- Rush Limbaugh, in true form, pounced on an opportunity to exploit racial tensions in America by dropping the derogatory N-word on the airwaves.

In a recent civil lawsuit, Food Network's ex-darling and America's embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted under oath to uttering racial slurs.

Open admissions of bigotry like these don't simply rub salt on festering wounds; they ignite a centuries-old pain that lies buried deep in the hearts of members of the black community.

To make matters worse, legislation like "stand your ground" and stop-and-frisk policies disproportionately undermine minorities and subject them to unfair, humiliating treatment. The stark racial divide within our society is made all the more apparent by laws like these that are not applied equally to everyone regardless of their skin color. This serves only to widen the gaping chasm that exists between Americans of different races and ethnicities.

Justice cannot be selectively applied to only a specific subset of the population. It must be equally upheld for all Americans.

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the broader implications of the Trayvon Martin shooting. This tragedy provides an opportunity for all of us to recognize and confront inner prejudices that cannot be ignored, or we are doomed to leave a legacy tainted with pain, shame, and guilt for generations to come.

Dr. King dreamed that one day his four children would be judged not based on the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Today, decades later our country has a black president in the White House, but we are far still from realizing Dr. King's dream. And unless we can challenge ourselves to navigate outside of our comfort zones and engage in frank, candid conversations about this polarizing, emotionally charged subject, we will continue to drift further away.

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Posted by on in Civil Rights

On July 4, CAIR will mark Independence Day by joining fellow Americans at the "Restore the Fourth" rally in Washington, D.C. in support of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

This rally comes at a time when the country's national security and law enforcement agencies are accused of engaging in several domestic spying programs that allowed them to obtain the daily phone, email and online records of American citizens and foreigners alike, without any probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Fourth of July honors that triumphant day in 1776 when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, asserting that America's thirteen colonies were free and independent from the tyrannical British rule. That our nation would establish a new Government under the principles that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Our nation's founders rejected the British Crown's "absolute despotism" and its "long train of abuses and usurpations" of Americans rights and state laws. Among the colonies' grievances against King George III were that he "obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers," "depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury" and abolished "our most valuable laws ... altering fundamentally the forms of our governments."

Prior to the Deceleration of Independence, in 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they wished, without any specific reason. John Adams -- signer of the Declaration of Independence and our nation's second president -- said of Otis's speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

Twelve years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence the U.S. Constitution was formally adopted, shortly followed by the ratification of the first ten amendments to that Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Those fundamental principles of liberty guided the American Revolution were enshrined in the Bill of Rights, preserving the personal freedoms of all American against any future tyrannies, abuses and usurpations of law.

Today, recent leaks have revealed that the National Security Agency, in cooperation with the FBI, is covertly carrying out at least two nationwide surveillance programs that collect information on the private calls and online activities of U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents alike. These programs are being carried out in secret partnership with some of the nation's top telecommunications and internet and technology companies.

That is why organizations like CAIR are celebrating Independence Day this year by rallying in support of the Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment. We rally under disheartening reports that our nation's national security or law enforcement agencies are engaged in domestic and international spying programs that undermine the core constitutional protections of privacy and prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

Through secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders, the federal government is obtaining -- without any probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing -- data from millions of American Verizon Business Network Services customers and user account information from Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype and AOL. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.

While some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, CAIR and the civil rights community believe that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause. ..."

Again, CAIR urges the president and Congress to establish clear criteria for how such communication records are collected and for how long they can be stored. Congress should amend of section 215 of the Patriot Act to enact better safeguards that protect Americans from such abuses, and commit to full public disclosure and transparency by declassifying aspects of the spying programs.

Legislative initiatives like these are necessary to protect the fourth amendment rights of all Americans, including members of the American Muslim community, which has been subject to unwarranted and discriminatory acts of surveillance for more than a decade. Furthermore, without additional information about the criteria that determine "foreignness," CAIR remains concerned that these programs could discriminate on the basis of religion and national origin.

CAIR is proud to be a part of that long tradition established by our nation's founding fathers in asserting the rights and liberties of our fellow citizens against the tyranny of government abuses and usurpations of law.

In celebration of the Fourth of July, we encourage you to read copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and take action by contacting the president and Congress to demand an immediate end to these abusive and unconstitutional government spying programs.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.

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Posted by on in Surveillance
Recent reports have revealed that the FBI and National Security Agency are “tapped” directly into the servers of the nation’s top Internet providers and collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.

I was told earlier today by a colleague from another civil rights organization “there is a good chance that the feds are intercepting my phone calls and emails, but I am sure that everyone in your organization and the Muslim community are under surveillance.”

My response was,“We are all under surveillance.”

I am a policy advocate for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.

As a nation we sat idly by while Congress passed and the president signed into law the USA PATRIOT Act and expanded the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – the primary sources of authority for these expansive domestic spying programs.

While Americans were told that these programs would be used primarily to target violent extremist groups like al-Qaeda, federal law enforcement and national security agencies quickly used their new found powers to spy on American citizens.

At present, the FBI and NSA have obtained direct access, under FISA secret court orders, to the servers of Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, and AOL. Under a surveillance program, code-named PRISM, they are collecting data on personal emails, chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferences, logins, and details on online social networking.

It has also been reported that FBI and the NSA are using the USA PATRIOT Act to obtain FISA secret court orders instructing Verizon Business Network Services to turn over millions of customer phone records. Under this secret court order, Verizon must provide the FBI and NSA with phone records “between the United States and abroad” and “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

This includes the phone numbers for both parties on a call, as well as data on time, location, duration, and other unique identifiers — but not  the names of persons participating in the calls (although such information is easily attainable) and the content of  their conversations.

Earlier today President Obama said at a press conference that we as a nation “Can’t have 100 percent safety and 100 percent security and 0 percent inconvenience.”

In response to the president, I would quote one of our nation’s founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, who said, People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.

This all-encompassing domestic spying program that collects and deciphers metadata aggregated from our phone calls, emails, and online footprints does not only affect the civil rights of American Muslims, it coercively dismantles the privacy and free speech rights of all Americans.

Such domestic spying programs can easily be dismantled, however, if all Americans who value the constitutional protections of privacy and prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure take action by contacting their elected representatives.

In 2011, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that “when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

I believe that it is entirely appropriate in light of these recent revelations that Americans join together in expressing their shock and anger over such abusive and unconstitutional government spying programs.

Some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. During a recent conference call joined by some of the nation’s leading rights organizations that work on surveillance issues it was agreed that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…”

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR’s national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
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Posted by on in Civil Rights
Since 2007, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has labored under a cloud of vilification. Through the support of many who share our commitment to sticking to principle in the face of adversity, we greeted 2013, in which we will celebrate nineteen years of service, free of this cloud.

Vilification of outspoken minorities is nothing new in our nation. Civil rights icon Martin Luther King--who now has a federal holiday named after him--was wiretapped and branded "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" in an FBI memo. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King a "degenerate."[i]

While CAIR is not claiming any equivalence with Dr. King, we do note that if such an icon can be attacked and smeared, so can a much smaller 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.

The smearing of King does, however, contain a valuable insight: Those who effectively challenge injustice will be attacked and smeared. Irrelevant and ineffective groups get ignored.

Read on to see some of the great things CAIR has been doing and how sticking to our principles has dissipated the cloud hung over CAIR in 2007. We thank God Almighty for His blessing and invite you to join us in advocating for justice and mutual understanding.

Legal and advocacy challenges to anti-Islam legislation. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Islamic religious practices were considered in 31 states and the U.S. Congress. These bills threaten to undermine both the First Amendment and the Constitution's supremacy clause, making them a danger to the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans. Bills were signed into law in Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, and Tennessee. Louisiana and Oklahoma had previously passed such laws. CAIR staff wrote the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Oklahoma law. Four federal judges have so far ruled in favor of our Constitution-preserving arguments.  In Minnesota, the bill was pulled shortly after CAIR held a community press conference announcing our opposition to it. Similarly, in New Jersey a lawmaker withdrew an anti-Islam bill and met with Muslim community leaders following CAIR's intervention. In other states including Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan, CAIR played a crucial role in efforts that succeeded in ending proposed limits on American religious freedom. 

Expanding legal capacity. CAIR now employs more than 25 attorneys on staff across the nation.

There when we you need us. CAIR lawyers and staff processed 5,580 civil rights complaints in 2011 and 2012. CAIR protects the civil rights of all Americans. In August 2012, CAIR staff went to Joplin, Mo. after a suspicious fire destroyed a mosque there. CAIR staff also attended the opening of a mosque in Murfresboro, Tenn. after helping that community confront a years-long Islamophobic campaign.

Largest American Muslim Capitol Hill advocacy. In March 2012, representatives from more than 20 CAIR chapters met with elected officials and staff at 113 congressional offices. This included 66 Democratic, one Independent and 46 Republican offices. CAIR discussed measures to end racial profiling and ensuring that anyone detained by the United States cannot be held indefinitely and without trial. For the recent 2012 election, CAIR used a list of almost 500,000 American Muslim voters to encourage Muslims to go vote.

Significant ability to push positive messages about Muslims in the media. In a recent one-year period, there were there were 2,811 references to the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the Nexis media database, a source that compiles most domestic print media as well as major international media. This year, American media outlets carried 12,298 stories about the month of Ramadan, with the vast majority of the stories offering positive information. Since 1995, CAIR was able to help local communities maximize the positive impact of Ramadan through the distribution of our "Ramadan Publicity Kit" to leaders and activists nationwide and CAIR's own news releases. In 1994, before CAIR's founding, there were just 376 references to Ramadan, according to the Nexis media database. Since our founding, CAIR has promoted media coverage Ramadan annually as an excellent way to highlight the Muslim community's unique contributions to American society.

First American Muslim Supreme Court amicus brief. CAIR filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Jones seeking the court's support for the requirement that law enforcement authorities obtain a warrant before placing a GPS tracking device on any individual's vehicle. This was the first time in our nation's history that a Muslim organization wrote its own amicus to our nation's highest court. The court ultimately ruled that warrantless, prolonged GPS tacking of an individual's vehicle is unconstitutional.

Forty-three Members of Congress congratulate CAIR. In 2012, CAIR's national office received congratulatory letters from 43 Members of Congress, this included both Democrats and Republicans.

CAIR respected internationally (part 1): two national CAIR leaders among world's 500 most influential Muslims. Two of CAIR's national leaders--Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper--have been listed among the world's 500 most influential Muslims by Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center. The 2012 entry for Awad calls CAIR, "the most prominent Muslim lobby group" in the United States.

CAIR 'Important' in Iran's decision to release two U.S. hikers. In 2011, CAIR officials were part of a delegation of American Muslim and Christian leaders that went to Iran to foster theological dialogue and to seek the release of American hikers who had been detained in that nation. CAIR had met with President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials about the issue of the detained hikers several times over the previous two years.  CAIR National Director Nihad Awad and then Board Chair Larry Shaw travelled with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington and Interim Dean of Washington National Cathedral. The delegation was informed by the Iranian authorities that its work prior to the trip and during its stay in Iran was important in the ultimate decision to release the hikers.

Nation's oldest Muslim newspaper honors CAIR. In December 2011, CAIR received an award for "Civil Rights Preservation" from the Muslim Journal, the nation's oldest American Muslim newspaper. 

CAIR chapters locally awarded and respected. In 2012, CAIR-Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid received an award from the Islamic Society of North America for his work in promoting intrafaith and interfaith understanding and cooperation. CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab was appointed by Chicago's Mayor to the city's New Americans Advisory Committee. Looking "at contemporary American Muslim women who founded or lead non-profit organizations" during Women's History Month, Islamic Networks Group recognized five of CAIR's key female leaders. CAIR-Minnesota's Nausheena Hussain was given the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits 2012 Leadership Award in the Catalytic Leader category.

CAIR respected internationally (part 2). Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the general delegation of the PLO to the United States, wrote to CAIR in September 2012 expressing the delegation's "great admiration for CAIR's work." Also in 2012, the Ambassador of the League of Arab States wished the organization success in its "good and noble efforts promoting cooperation and understanding."

Unjust and untested 2007 government allegation against CAIR put to rest in 2011. In 2007, a list of more than 300 un-indicted co-conspirators (UCC) was released by Holy Land Foundation trial prosecutors. The list included some of the American Muslim community's leading organizations, including CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).

Groups opposing American Muslim organizations seized upon the list as a tool. While there is no legal implication to being labeled an un-indicted co-conspirator, since it does not require the Justice Department to prove anything in a court of law, the smears that can result from such a designation are exactly why the Justice Department's manual for prosecutors says: "In all public filings and proceedings, federal prosecutors should remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of uncharged third-parties."

This issue of the designation was settled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Department of Justice in CAIR's favor. 

On October 20, 2010, three judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Department of Justice violated the Fifth Amendment rights of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), and by implication the rights of other similarly-named Muslim organizations and individuals, such as CAIR, when it included them on the 2007 list.

Regarding CAIR, in 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder, who indicated that Department of Justice officials determined after "looking at the facts and the law, a prosecution would not be appropriate."

This conclusion was reached after two reviews conducted under both the Bush and Obama administrations. After Holder, the chief law enforcement officer in America, stated this determination, internet rumor held that a prosecution had been suppressed due to political interference. 

These allegations have also been put to rest. James Jacks, the U.S. Attorney who led the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation issued a statement that was partially re-produced in the Dallas Morning News: "'The decision to indict or not indict a case is based upon an analysis of the evidence and the law,' [Jacks] wrote. 'That's what happened in this case.'"

While the FBI severed outreach to CAIR in 2008, this has had no impact on substantive work on bias complaints, investigations and similar issues. In 2008, subsequent to the UCC designation discussed above, FBI offices contacted many CAIR chapters stating that they were suspending some ties between the Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group and FBI field offices. The letters also stated that the FBI would continue to work with CAIR on civil rights issues impacting American Muslims.

Substantive work on bias complaints, investigations and similar issues never stopped. Writing in the New York Times on March 11, 2011, Scott Shane reported, "Last month, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, said that the bureau had no 'formal relationship' with CAIR, but that the organization's officials and chapters regularly worked with F.B.I. officials on investigations and related matters. This included a news conference held on Thursday in Sacramento to announce an arrest in a mosque vandalism case."

Among the public reasons for the FBI's 2008 move is a line found in wiretaps of a 1993 meeting in Philadelphia during which a participant discussed "establishing alternative organizations which can benefit from a new atmosphere, ones whose Islamic hue is not very conspicuous." The conspiracy theory runs that CAIR was the product of this discussion.

CAIR raised reasonable questions about why the agency would pursue a working relationship from the organization's founding in 1994 through 2008 and then break it off citing a problem that arose in 1993.

CAIR is subjected to false accusations, but even its most vehement detractors never assert that the organization is "not very conspicuous" in its "Islamic hue."  Indeed, "Islamic" is all over CAIR's founding. According to early CAIR documents, the Council on American-Islamic Relations was created as an "organization that challenges stereotypes of Islam and Muslims,"[ii] a "Washington-based Islamic advocacy group"[iii] and an "organization dedicated to providing an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public."[iv]

Outreach ties or not, some of CAIR's ongoing work with law enforcement was highlighted by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan institution which works for the U.S Congress, in its 2010 report American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat:

  • "The [2010] story of the five men from the Alexandria, Virginia area...became public when the Council on American-Islamic Relations got their families in touch with the FBI after the five left the United States without telling their families." [CAIR note: This case is cited in numerous sources as a core example of the American Muslim community working with law enforcement.]
  • "Posing as a new convert, Monteilh arrived at the Irvine Islamic Center in 2006 wearing robes and a long beard, using the name Farouk al-Aziz. Monteilh had a criminal record that included serving 16 months in state prison on two grand theft charges. Members of the Islamic Center of Irvine were reportedly alarmed about Monteilh and his talk of jihad and plans for a terrorist attack. The local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported him to the Irvine police and obtained a three-year restraining order against him." [CAIR note: It was later revealed the Monteilh was an FBI informant.]
Former Rep. Myrick (R-NC) admits she got "bad advice" when supporting Muslim Mafia. The authors of Muslim Mafia, one of whom likens Islam to a "cancer" and the other proposed putting pig's blood in water in Afghanistan, accused CAIR of trying to infiltrate the U.S. Government. At the time, Newsweek concluded, "CAIR has tried to place interns on Capitol Hill, but as it points out, that's standard practice for advocacy groups of all types and allegiances. There's no proof of sinister motives or an effort to encourage international jihad."[v]

The book's sole credibility boost came from its forward, which was written by then U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC). 

According to Mother Jones, community activist Mohamed Elibiary met with Myrick in September 2011.[vi] Elibiary says, "[Myrick] let me know that she doesn't hold any bad feelings towards the community and that some of the previous things, like her writing the foreword for the Muslim Mafia book, was done through bad advice she received."

Mother Jones adds the following:

It wasn't Myrick's only attempt to make things right. She conveyed a similar message to Ellison. "I don't think she ever knew what she was really getting herself into," Ellison says. "She was a little stunned that she would be associated with hating a religious minority group. I think she re-evaluated a number of things, and I think she's far less aggressive than she used to be."

Senators see through false allegations, commend CAIR. In 2003, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) made negative statements about CAIR. In 2012, Senator Schumer wrote, "I applaud CAIR for their determination to the mission of humanity around the world and perseverance to continue to cultivate and encourage mutual understanding among Americans of all background and cultures." Similarly, Durbin wrote to CAIR's Chicago chapter in 2011 saying the group, "advances a greater understanding of the Muslim culture and serves as an essential thread in the multicultural fabric of our nation. [CAIR's] efforts to advocate for tolerance promote the civil liberties of all communities." In 2012, when Durbin held a hearing on hate crimes, his district director attended a viewing of the hearing hosted by CAIR-Chicago.

U.S. history shows clearly that those who advocate for justice will at times be vilified. It also shows that those who stick to our nation's principles can ultimately emerge from this vilification having contributed to a more perfect union. Before Muslims came under the lens of bias African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Catholics, Mormons, Jews and any number of others faced it. Each in their turn has pushed back. Today it is our turn. If history is any guide, then tomorrow this lens will turn to another group. We believe it is essential that this group be able to look to Muslims with pride and know we honored the hard work done by groups before us and will be there to help those who come after us.   

[i]Christensen, Jen. "FBI tracked King's every move," CNN, December 29, 2008.
[ii] CAIR letter to Vice President Gore, 10/06/1995
[iii] CAIR press release, 8/28/1995
[iv] CAIR press release, 12/13/1995
[v] "Know Your Conspiracies: Newsweek's guide to today's trendiest, hippest and least likely fringe beliefs," Newsweek, February 12, 2010.
[vi] Tim Murphy and Adam Serwer. "The GOP's Anti-Muslim Wing is in Retreat," Mother Jones, January 3, 2013.

Tagged in: CAIR
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Posted by on in Entrapment
By Rachel Roberts

As details emerge about Matthew Aaron Llenaza, the San Jose man arrested for plotting terrorism at the behest of an undercover FBI agent, we have learned that Mr. Llenaza had a history of bipolar disorder and psychosis. This newly publicized information about Mr. Llenaza casts doubt on the portrait the FBI has drawn of its suspect, whom they characterize as a shrewd and calculating Taliban sympathizer intent on doing harm to the United States. It also raises concerns about the FBI using public resources to thwart plots that it is, in fact, concocting on its own. 

But these new details about Mr. Llenaza highlight something not often talked about in the mainstream discourse about counterterrorism efforts: its effects on the mentally ill.

Our organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has offered legal representation and advice to hundreds of American Muslims who were approached by FBI and other law enforcement agents purportedly for terrorism-related investigations in recent years. 

Our California offices have received several complaints from family members of mentally ill Muslims that the FBI or a cooperating agency expressed a need to question their disabled loved one as part of a terrorism investigation. The reason given was that the subject had exhibited some "suspicious behavior."  In several such cases, law enforcement agents conducted multiple interviews with mentally ill individuals without an attorney present. 

Family members reported that law enforcement agents asked questions about religion and geopolitics, which were met with answers that, although wild and often incoherent, could be misconstrued as support for violence against the U.S and be used as a basis to further target that subject.

These interviews, when coupled with the generally pervasive fear American Muslims have of terrorism accusations, have also resulted in exacerbating the illnesses of the Muslims approached.  We know of cases in which mentally ill Muslims have suffered psychotic episodes and have even attempted suicide after interactions with law enforcement.

Because mental disabilities often result in an inability to control physical behavior and speech, interviews that take place in this context have the potential not only to unfairly incriminate an innocent suffering person, but to mislead law enforcement and waste public resources on those who need treatment, not criminal penalties for crimes they would never have the capacity to commit.

In many of the prominent terrorism trials of the past decade, the Muslim defendants who worked with FBI and law enforcement agents to plan or attempt to carry out attacks on the U.S. also had histories of mental illness.

For example in the trial of the Newburgh Four, a group of Muslim men were lured by an informant bearing expensive gifts into plotting to blow up synagogues in the Bronx, NY and shoot down a military jet. One of the defendants, Laguerre Payen, who suffered from schizophrenia, was repeatedly disruptive during his trial and engaged the judge in a rambling dialogue about his conviction at the time of his sentencing.

In another case, Ahmad Ferhani, unemployed and in and out of mental institutions for many years, was convicted of plotting to blow up synagogues after being approached by an informant linked to the New York City Police Department.

The pressure on law enforcement to produce results for counterterrorism efforts, especially when combined with anti-Muslim training that characterizes Muslims as unhinged and bent on destroying the U.S., has the potential to criminalize those members of the community most in need of the system's protections.

That the entrapment defense has failed in every terrorism trial in the past dozen years despite clear government overreach highlights how our criminal laws have not been able to overcome the climate of fear that permeates our post-9/11 world.

Law enforcement agencies must take steps to implement ethical standards when they interact with members of the public, Muslim or not, who have been diagnosed with or who exhibit signs of mental illness.

Law enforcement should also focus their efforts on those who have already taken an affirmative step toward committing a terrorism-related crime. According to a recent article in Mother Jones, an FBI informant led one of every three terrorist plots foiled, and also provided all the necessary weapons, money, and transportation to people who ordinarily would not have the resources, intellectual or material, to carry out attacks.

As a society, we have much to learn about how we care for and treat the mentally ill. Scapegoating them for crimes or subjecting them to heightened scrutiny simply for being members of their religious community is a step backward.

Rachel Roberts is an attorney and the civil rights coordinator for CAIR's Northern California offices.

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Posted by on in Border Questioning
As Americans, we have a lot to be thankful for. In the hustle of everyday life, we might take for granted the little things that we have grown accustomed to, such as the ability to speak freely and defend our own rights, or the ability to travel freely whether on business, for leisure, or visiting loved ones. Yet even when we're accustomed to these everyday liberties, it's always good to pause and put things in perspective.

What happens when those liberties start to be taken away? 

Imagine you're on a road trip with your family, and as you cross from Canada or Mexico at a U.S. border checkpoint, you're signaled to pull your car to the side of the road. Imagine you're asked to step out of your car and are put into a holding room -- and held for up to 10 hours.

Imagine an unidentified government agent comes in and begins aggressively interrogating you, asking personal questions like: How many times a day do you pray? What do you pray for? What mosque do you go to? Do you believe in the Qur'an?

Now imagine that your personal belongings such as your wallet, purse, cell phone, and laptop are confiscated and held by the government, possibly for several months.

What if this begins to happen every time you travel? Highways and airports would become barriers rather than facilitators to moving freely.

These scenarios that I've described are not hypothetical: they are happening as we speak, on an alarmingly frequent basis, to Muslims travelling in North America and abroad. 

Suddenly, travelling has become a nightmarish experience for many ordinary Americans whose names that raise a flag in a clearly imperfect system. 

Some of these people believe they've been placed on a government watch list, but even if they wanted to appeal that placement, there's no reliable path to have your name cleared from those lists. Many in the American Muslim community are now finding themselves lost in a seemingly endless maze of secrecy, red-tape and frustration. From an advocacy and activism standpoint, we must stand up and help find a resolution for these issues.

A few weeks ago, staff and board members from CAIR chapters across the country sought to find a solution to this situation as we participated in Muslim advocacy days on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. This has become a yearly tradition that enables us to meet face-to-face with our elected officials and their staff. Each year, our reach increases; this year we met with 168 congressional offices.  

I come from the border state of Arizona, and this issue hits especially close to home for me, as the number of reported instances of religious questioning and lengthy detainments at the borders is on the rise. The same is true for states along the northern border with Canada. CAIR offices in these states have been handling these religious questioning cases for years and have filed inquiries with DHS. 

We might assume that our elected officials are aware of such cases of religious questioning or improper behavior by law enforcement, but most of the time they're not. It is our job to educate them on these issues -- as the Rev. Al Sharpton said during CAIR's national banquet last year, we need to "bring light to dark places."

When we sat down and described these issues that many of their constituents are facing, the congressional offices responded with surprise and a great deal of support and concern about this trend. By bringing forth such stories, we are able to ask these members of Congress to support letters of inquiry or other possible legislative routes that could eventually bring about a resolution. The members of our community who have been unfairly targeted by these egregious practices deserve nothing less.

As we move forward from these productive meetings, we must continue to do our part to bring these issues to light. I hope we all realize that even though these types of intrusive tactics are happening to a targeted segment of the population, it is vital to always stand up for the inalienable rights of all Americans.

We live in times where civil liberties are slowly eroding for the population at large; therefore, issues such as this should be of grave concern to all. The liberties that we should all be thankful for are in jeopardy; our choice is to stand up and defend them or face an uncertain road ahead.

Imraan Siddiqi is a board member for CAIR-Arizona.

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Posted by on in Freedom of Religion

It's generally true that most lawmakers are lawyers, or at least are familiar with the law. It appears, however, that that may not be the case in North Carolina, where at least 11 Republicans sponsored a clearly unconstitutional bill that would allow North Carolina to declare Christianity its state religion by arguing that the First Amendment doesn't apply to states.

One of the basics of constitutional law is that the Fourteenth Amendment (the one extending citizenship to former slaves) makes it clear that states are required to follow the U.S. Constitution, at least the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

The relevant section is called the Equal Protection Clause, and it reads:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The purpose at the time was primarily to overturn Jim Crow laws, such as the barring of blacks from juries in West Virginia. But it has since been used much more broadly, to protect the infringement of citizen's fundamental rights as contained in the Bill or Rights.

Of course, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and religion. There is no more fundamental right in American tradition than the freedom to worship (it was numbered first for a reason). The First Amendment states, in its entirety:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Key in it is the Establishment Clause, which prevents the government from establishing a state religion.

Again, the Fourteenth Amendment means that states, and their divisions, need to respect all fundamental liberties of their citizens. But this point is apparently lost on some in North Carolina where the resolution with 11 Republican sponsors reads:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

The reason for this clearly unconstitutional proposal is to establish Christianity as the official religion of North Carolina and ensure that all prayers offered at the beginning of meetings can be Christian ones. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit charging the Rowan County Board of Commissioners with breaching the Establishment Clause by having 97% Christian prayers at their meetings, and some in the state capitol are trying to run around this.

Hopefully those with a basic understanding of the US Constitution kill the resolution in committee, where it currently is, but if not it certainly can't be upheld by any federal court. A better proposal might be to require some basic civics classes for the Republican cosponsors. I'm sure CAIR or the ACLU would be happy to oblige.

Todd Gallinger is the director of chapter development at CAIR's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on in Civil Rights
As the drone silently glides across the horizon, hundreds of civilians and militants alike are stalked. It surveils homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools, and reports its findings to officials safely installed in military compounds hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the dangers of war. A drone is not affected by human emotions, and it will not hesitate to take a life.

During President Barack Obama's time in office, the United States has conducted over 300 drone strikes in Pakistan -- five times as many as under the Bush administration. These strikes have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3,577 people; out of that number, 2,693 were deemed "combatants."

Unfortunately, there is no real method for determining exactly how many of those 2,693 "combatants" belonged to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or were fighters of any kind, since recent reports indicate that all military-aged males (typically anyone between the ages of 18 and 65) are targeted as combatants even if they may be unarmed civilian bystanders.

The use of drone strikes in general has not garnered much public attention in the U.S. However, the use of drones in the extrajudicial murders of two U.S. citizens -- Anwar al-Awlaki, and later, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman -- sparked a necessary debate over the legality of using drones for the targeted killing of American citizens without charge or trial.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from "depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Due process is our right as Americans to fair legal proceedings with an opportunity to be heard before the government deprives us of our life, liberty or property. However, Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki were not even charged with a crime, let alone given a trial, before they were killed by their government.

The United States' use of drones overseas has drawn scrutiny from the United Nations. The UN recently announced that it will have a panel investigate the rise in drone strikes by the U.S. and other nations and the related allegations of unlawful killings.

The International Bill of Human Rights exists as a universal constitution providing all humans with fundamental rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In using drones to assassinate suspected terrorists, the U.S. government clearly disregards Articles 7, 10, 11, 12 and 28 of the International Bill of Human Rights.

More recently, the suspected use of surveillance drones in the search for accused murderer Christopher Dorner raised additional concerns as civilians, reporters and politicians questioned the government's invasion of our constitutional right to privacy.

Drones may have assisted in finding Dorner, but we should not disregard the breach in privacy of allowing Americans to be watched in their homes and businesses by drones. Normalizing the use of drones enables a path towards increasing government infringement on our civil liberties if left unchecked and unpressured by the public.

Hamza Yammout is an intern with CAIR-LA's civil rights division.
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Posted by on in Civil Rights

This week, the Senate will take up another vote to move forward on Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. I believe he should be confirmed.
 
His confirmation would send the signal that President Obama’s second term will be more diplomacy-oriented and less hawkish in its relations with the Muslim world.
 
Sen. Hagel has a depth of knowledge of foreign affairs and connections with key players in the international arena that will serve him and our nation well as secretary of defense.
 
While I cannot endorse all the administration’s defense policies – particularly the counterproductive drone assassination program and actions relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – Sen. Hagel’s confirmation may offer a path to re-building the tattered relations we currently have with so many regions and nations that are vital to our national interests.

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Posted by on in Freedom of Religion

The System Worked for Tennessee Muslims
By Gadeir Abbas

Word count: 502

[Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at [email protected]]

This year, the Muslim community of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will likely be able to open its doors in time to share Ramadan together in the mosque they built, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM).

Houses of worship are built and opened all the time, but this one has acquired special significance. In opening its doors in spite of unprecedented obstacles and opposition, the mosque serves as a lasting testament to America's abiding commitment to religious freedom.

The obstacles and opposition to ICM opening its doors were breathtaking. Shortly after ICM received permission to begin construction, a viciously anti-Muslim groundswell rose up to oppose it. The protests were ugly.

Mosque opponents leveled accusations of treason and disloyalty, fueled by the bigoted notion that Muslims are somehow inherently predisposed to violence and subterfuge. The humble mosque even became a campaign issue. While running for governor, Ron Ramsey questioned "whether being a Muslim is actually a religion."

This wasn't the worst of it. Mosque opponents spray painted "not welcome" on a sign announcing ICM's future location. Construction equipment was set ablaze. And there was a bomb threat against Muslims worshiping in Murfreesboro.

Then came the legal assault. Four individuals appeared before state court Judge Robert Corlew, asking him to stop ICM from finishing construction of the mosque. And disappointingly, Judge Corlew turned his court into a circus, allowing the likes of Frank Gaffney to pedal anti-Muslim conspiracy theories as a witness, and attorney Joe Brandon to make outrageous claims that ICM, because of its affiliation with Islam, is a threat to Tennessee.

In a shocking setback, Judge Corlew utilized a heightened "Muslim-only" standard he concocted to prevent ICM from using its mosque. Judge Corlew's discriminatory standard effectively required government to provide greater notice to the public regarding zoning decisions for Muslim houses of worship than those affiliated with other faiths.

Predictably, in applying this discriminatory standard, Judge Corlew found that, for ICM, the government's notice was not robust enough to meet the more onerous standard he created. The judge then refused to allow ICM to receive permission to use the mosque that it built.

All of this is a lot for a single community to handle. But vandalism and violence, discriminatory government acts, and baseless smears--these expressions of religious intolerance will always, to some degree, be present in our society. The true test of America's commitment to religious freedom is not whether discriminatory things happen but how the country's institutions respond. And here, our institutions performed admirably.

The Department of Justice indicted Javier Alan Correa who federal prosecutors believe threatened to bomb ICM. The hate speech of anti-Muslim mosque opponents was countered by more speech refuting irrational fear with rational argument. And Judge Corlew's discriminatory decision preventing ICM from using its building was invalidated just hours after the Department of Justice filed suit on ICM's behalf.

It wasn't pretty, but the system worked. Muslims in Murfreesboro will be able to worship in their community, just as the First Amendment of our Constitution envisioned centuries ago.

-----

ISLAM-OPED: The System Worked for Tennessee Muslims

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the following commentary for publication. CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, [email protected], 202-744-7726 (c)

Tagged in: CAIR
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Posted by on in No-Fly List

I hope that someday we will all look back in shame at how routinely the United States once barred traveling American Muslims from returning to their country. But while that day may be far off, Ali Ahmed serves as just the latest example of how the misguided and illegal use of the no-fly list imposes a strange form of extrajudicial exile on a growing number of Americans.

Ali, a 20-year-old American citizen studying journalism in San Diego, traveled abroad for his wedding, to visit family, and to make a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.  He performed his pilgrimage without incident, but soon after, Ali got his first hint that the U.S. was going to obstruct his movement abroad.

When he attempted to enter Kenya to visit his father and for the wedding, Kenyan authorities did not let him in and instead sent Ali to Bahrain.  The next day, distraught that his wedding had to be postponed and that he would not be able to see his father, Ali tried to return to his country of citizenship, the United States. At the airport, he was told that he would not be allowed to return because sometime after he left the United States his government had put him on its no-fly list. There was no explanation, no way to resolve the problem – just that he could not fly now or at any point in the future.

People placed on the no-fly list are not allowed to board airplanes, whether inside the U.S. or not, that will cross American airspace. Because the U.S. shares its no-fly list with other countries, it also impacts the ability of listed individuals to enter other countries. In the past few years, we've seen people on the U.S. no-fly list denied entry to Great Britain, Mexico, and now Kenya. And it's a life sentence for listed individuals: people put on the no-fly list almost never get off.

But Ali is not alone in this situation – he joins a long list of American Muslims who are not even accused of any wrongdoing, but who found themselves placed on the no-fly list in the midst of their travels. This list includes Gulet Mohamed from Virginia, Amr Abualrub from Connecticut, Aziz Nouhaili from Nevada, and Michael Migliore, Jamal Tarhuni, and Mustafa Elogbi all from Washington state. Just a few weeks ago the United States prevented another San Diego resident from returning to his country of citizenship. And these are only the ones we know about; there are surely many others who have not fought against their placement on the list and the effective exile that results.

It is unprecedented for our government to be able to effectively bar traveling Americans from returning to the U.S. This is why, many years from now when historians catalogue our government's breathtaking transgressions in the post-9/11 era, the extrajudicial use of the no-fly list will be listed along with government-sanctioned torture, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, kill lists, warrantless wiretapping, and the United States’ international gulag of secret prisons. We'll view people like Ali Ahmed as part of the vanguard of American citizens who said “Enough is enough,” and asserted their rights.  But for now, we can all do our part by demanding that our government allow Ali and others in his situation to come home.


By Gadeir Abbas

Word count: 550

[Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at [email protected]]

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the above commentary for publication.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, [email protected], 202-744-7726

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