John Knefel: Adnan Latif Wrote to his Lawyer About Why He Wanted to End His Life

This article is reblogged from Alternet.org. It is a must-read and sheds more light on the needless and groundless circumstances that led Latif to give up all hope on his ever leaving Guantanamo Bay.I will refrain from calling this a tragedy: a tragedy is thought to be inevitable. Latif’s incarceration and suicide were anything but. What happened to Latif is a travesty. And there is plenty of blame to be assigned: to the past and current Presidential Administrations; the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Military, for starters.

What happened to Latif is still happening: and not only to Guantanamo detainees. Incarceration without due process rights, under unjust circumstances or false evidence is a regular event that happens to thousands of minorities–men and women–everyday in the United States: in U.S. prisons and detention facilities that hold migrants and refugees. More on this in a future post.

Dead Gitmo Prisoner’s Tragic Letter About Why He Gave Up on Life

by John Knefel

September 13, 2012  |

Adnan Latif was found dead in his cell on September 10th, 2012, just a day before the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. He was 32. Latif, a Yemeni citizen, had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade, despite a 2010 court ruling that ordered the Obama administration to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Latif’s release forthwith,” due to lack of evidence that he had committed any crime. He suffered at the hands of the US government in ways that most people can’t begin to comprehend, and his death should be a reminder that the national shame that is Guantanamo Bay lives on and now enjoys bipartisan support.

Reexamining a letter  he wrote to his lawyer David Remes in December of 2010 shows the depths of his despair near the end of his life. His letter begins simply. The first paragraph is just one devastating sentence: “Do whatever you wish to do, the issue is over.” He then goes on to describe Guantanamo as, “a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know [sic] except the language of power, oppression, and humiliation for whoever enters it.”

“Anybody who is able to die,” Latif writes, “will be able to achieve happiness for himself, he has no hope except that.”

He continues:

“The requirement…is to leave this life which is no longer anymore [sic] called a life, instead it itself has become death and renewable torture. Ending it is a mercy and happiness for this soul. I will not allow any more of this and I will end it.”

Latif attempted suicide in 2009 by slitting his wrists, and his attorney, David Remes, has said that he tried to kill himself on other occasions as well.

A car accident in 1994 left Latif with a head injury, which he was attempting to get treated in Afghanistan when he was captured near the border by Pakistani authorities. In January, 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo, with the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first detainees. According to the ACLU, Latif was cleared to be released in 2004, 2007, 2009, and again in 2010 by US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy. The Obama DOJ appealed the 2010 decision, in part because of a policy of not transferring detainees to Yemen, and so Latif remained in custody – not because of what he had done (which was nothing), but because of where he was born. The decision to appeal his release wasn’t a holdover from the Bush era. That was an affirmative decision made by the Obama administration, and any supporters who hoped Obama would close Guantanamo Bay should understand that fact.

Latif is far from the only prisoner still held at Guantanamo despite being okayed for release. “Over half of the people left in Gitmo have been cleared for years,” said Cori Crider, Legal Director at Reprieve in charge of managing litigation on secret prisons,who has represented clients detained at Guantanamo. Crider went on to say that although conditions at the prison are better than they were in 2002, indefinite detention is enough to break people.  “That young man, who was, say, twenty when he is seized, is thirty. He sees his life slipping away from him with no sign of release. Hopelessness takes lives at Gitmo now.”

There are, unsurprisingly, international legal ramifications to Latif’s death as well. “When a Government deprives a person of their liberty and keeps them in detention, it exercises almost complete control over that person’s security and well-being. Because of this control, if a person dies in custody, there is a presumption under international law of government responsibility,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, Former Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. “Thus, for any death in custody, the government must accept legal responsibility, or affirmatively demonstrate that it was not responsible for the death.” The understandable reaction that this is merely another example in an already disgracefully long list of international crimes committed since 9/11 only underscores how radical and warped US national security and foreign policy has become.

“A world power failed to safeguard peace and human rights and from saving me. I will do whatever I am able to do to rid myself of the imposed death on me at any moment of this prison.”

Adnan Latif’s letter is in full below. (Click to read a larger version)

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Shrien Dewani, Julian Assange, and British Justice

 
 
“…[V]iolence… threatens [the law] not by the ends that it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law.  The same may be…suggested, if one reflects how often the figure of the “great” criminal, however, repellent his ends may have been, has aroused the secret admiration of the public.”
Walter Benjamin, The Critique of Violence
 
 

In December 2010, we saw the British justice system take action in two separate events related to crimes against Swedish women.  In the first Shrien Dewani, a British citizen of Indian descent, was accused of soliciting, paying for, and coordinating the horrific murder of his Swedish bride of two weeks, Anni Dewani, while on their honeymoon in South Africa the November prior. Anni Dewani was kidnapped at gunpoint, and was later found naked, beaten, and dead from a bullet through the neck after a dinner trip to the Gugulethu township in Cape Town.   Three men, including the driver of the limo, have been charged. Two have already begun long prison terms. One of them had his sentence reduced after implicating Dewani, a multimillionaire.  Detained in England at the request of the South African government, Dewani was released after his family put up £250,000 bail several days later.  He was tagged with an electronic ankle bracelet, subjected to curfews, his movements restricted, and required to report to the police daily.

At almost the same time, Julian Assange was also detained in England at the request of another government. He was (and is still) wanted for questioning in Sweden in the course of an investigation into possible sexual misconduct.  Since, even 18 months later, charges have still not been filed, we cannot be certain of the offense, but early indications were that he could be charged with continuing to have sex with one woman despite a broken condom,* and having failed to answer a police summons to be tested for STD’s; this crime is punishable by up to two years in prison.  He is also being investigated for a second crime, namely of having “sex by surprise” with another woman; this charge, if he were to be arrested and convicted, would carry a fine of 5,000 kronor, or $715.  While the circumstances surrounding these events are murky; at least one of the possible victims told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in an interview that, “It is quite wrong that we were afraid of him. He is not violent, and I do not feel threatened by him.”  She elaborated that, “The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who had attitude problems with women.” Assange was initially denied bail, but at a later hearing was allowed £200,000 bail, with the additional requirement of  £40,000 in two separate sureties of  £20,000 each.  Released after nine days in jail, he faced an extradition hearing.  Like Dewani, he had to wear an electronic bracelet that monitored his movement.  His movements were restricted in house arrest fashion; he had curfews, and, had to report to the police daily.

All of this, of course, until his stay of execution ran out in June 2012. Assange then sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK, and requested political asylum. As of today, we know the upshot: The Brits threatened to invade the Ecuadorian Embassy. The Ecuadorian Embassy decided to give Assange asylum. The Brits refuse to give Assange safe passage to Ecuador, and remain outside the Ecuadorian Embassy ready to arrest him should he step outside.

It is rather interesting that Assange and Dewani had nearly identical conditions surrounding their detention.  Certainly, sexual abuse and murder are each serious charges; neither Dewani nor Assange should be exculpated without a proper judicial process.  However, there is a bizarre contrast in the treatment accorded to each when comparing the substance of the crimes in question. Dewani’s appear to be about coordinating and paying for the vicious murder of his own wife; still, he was almost immediately able to qualify for bail. Moreover, despite the vigorous protests of the South African national prosecutors office — an office that has already gained convictions in the case — he was released pending an extradition hearing. In March 2012, despite promises on the part of the South African prosecutor in charge of Dewani’s hearing, he was granted a stay by the London’s High Court. Why? Because “High Court judge Sir John Thomas said it would be unjust and oppressive to send Dewani back to South Africa in his present condition.” That is to say, Dewani was heard telling family that he would kill himself if extradited. As we all know, threats to self-inflicted harm are a fairly popular way to persuade the judge not to send you somewhere you don’t want to go: like to jail, to stand trial, or to be extradited to South Africa.**

As of today, Dewani is still in England, while two of his accomplices have been convicted, and sentenced to 18 and 25 years in prison, respectively, and the trial of one other accomplice in South Africa goes on.

I am thrilled by the UK’s zeal in wanting to protect the sexual rights of women. Seriously, it is a delight to know that the UK, like the US, and of course like that bastion of women’s rights, Sweden, has the interests of women at heart. But I wish that they could apply consistent, or even proportional standards to suspects like Dewani—as they do to Julian Assange. But as we know, perhaps all isn’t as it seems; this situation reminds me human rights activists like Former First Lady Laura Bush, who pointed out her deep concern for the rights of women in Afghanistan—coincidentally around the same time as Hubby Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan.

Whatever Assange’s crimes, unlike the US and the UK, they do not appear to include premeditated violence. It is not irrelevant that Assange is being sought after for some of the most daring non-violent ‘crimes’ that the world has seen since Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers: exposing the reckless and remorseless criminal actions of the United States and allied governments as they collectively pursue their “War on Terror.”  Its name aside, this war is not being conducted against a noun.  It includes real violence towards real people in real countries, with terrible effects on civilian populations; unsavory engagements with odious dictators; and sundry violations of long-standing agreements in favor of human rights and against arbitrary search, seizure, and torture.

Let’s consider the argument that Moe Tkacik made about the relevance of the suspicions about Assange to his position as Wikileaks courier. She points out that Assange is accused by two women for trying the sleazy trick of pulling off his condom in the middle of sex—and pretending it was an accident. As she argued shortly before she left the Washington City Paper:

The question of whether Assange is an incorrigible douchebag (and also, a liar) would only decisively matter if he was asking (or more likely knowing what we know, presumptuously expecting) us to take his word for it that Muammar Gaddafi doesn’t travel anywhere without his Bedouin tents and voluptuous Ukrainian nurse or the Arab Gulf states are privately rooting for the us to start shooting missiles at Iran, etc. etc. But trusting the judgment of those who impart information is actually the precise opposite of the point of Wikileaks; the organization he founded is by design merely a high-profile courier; what impact would have on your credit card bills if it turned out that your letter carrier was into child porn?\
 
Which is why all the media deconstruction of Assange’s seemingly well-cultivated mystique seems so suspiciously irrelevant to begin with: wouldn’t a ludicrously secretive network of ultra-sophisticated hackers be structurally impervious to any character assassination attempts on its weird-looking white-haired mascot? (Her links)
 

The actual threat posed by Julian Assange and his organization, Wikileaks, is the audacity of truth.  It is not the non-consensual (and as far as we know, non-violent) sexual acts presumably committed against two women that is source of the great criminality of Assange.  From the perspective of those who rule over us, Assange’s offense is exacerbated by the—not-so-secret—admiration of an international public, of billions of civilians across the globe who have watched in frustration as the flexing of sovereign and unchecked muscles have resulted in the widescale and often fatal bullying of innocents — women and men alike– with no repercussions, no contrition, and ultimately, no self-awareness of the fact that in the hands of Presidents Bush and Obama the rule of law has been transformed into the illusion of law: We—the US, Great Britain, France, and others in the Global North—will decide what law is, what crime is, what violence is, and you—citizens of the world will accept it, all of it, and like it.  Until, that is, great criminals like Julian Assange come along and remind us that there is a power greater than the violence of the state—a power to resist and challenge the pure acts of hooliganism, plunder, and plutocracy that the United States government and its allies defend as righteous acts of “spreading democracy.”

Does that mean that we should condone sexual deception? Not at all. Still:

  1. Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden.
  2. Assange has still not been charged.
  3. It’s not clear that sexual deception, however vicious, is equivalent to sexual assault. Perhaps Sweden could accuse him of negligence or some equivalent charge. But let’s preserve the respect for victims of acquaintance rape and other forms of rape by recognizing the distinction between coercion and sexual assholishness. We might be able to construct a framework for the latter in its relationship to coercion. Still, as of yet, we don’t have a strong one, so let’s not elevate it to the complex category of rape.

Why is it that Dewani, A British citizen accused of plotting to murder his wife is receiving more lenient treatment than a man who has not yet been charged with rape?  If in fact Assange is only wanted by the Swedish authorities for questioning, they could have found some way to accommodate the very real concerns that Assange, once in Sweden, could be rushed to the United States to face an unfair trial. It’s too late for that. But perhaps, now that Ecuador has stood up to the British government, the UK might find some way to show its “honorable” intentions–by negotiating for an independent third-country investigator for Assange. And by insisting that Dewani be extradited to South Africa for the–substantive–charges that he faces.

Perhaps—even though Assange may be the great criminal, and Dewani may be a heinous criminal, too much of the world is aware of the United States and the British governments as the real—and systemic—threats to the safety of men and women around the world. Until the UK can show that it can play fair, those  perceptions will continue.

**************

*Or not wearing a condom.

**The last three sentences were accidentally omitted from an earlier version of this column.

**************

Update: Here is the judgement of the London High Court in the dispute between Assange and the Swedish Prosecution Authority, July 12, 2011. Notice especially paragraphs 149-153: The decision has been taken not to charge him at this stage. As the High Court admits, had the same set of facts occurred in England or Wales, he would have already been charged. Still, the extradition order is not yet in order to prosecute him, but to interrogate him further.

Mosques, Temples, and Theaters: We Need to Change the Script

Yesterday, less than 48 hours after the shootings in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned to the ground. It was the second time that someone had tried to burn the mosque down in a month, and the third time that the mosque has had a fire on its property.  A suspect hasn’t been found.    The FBI suspects arson. The mosque is completely gone. It was burned during the month of Ramadan. Gee. The third fire on its property, and the second in less than a month. The third time. Arson? Really, you think?

I only happened to come across this news as I was perusing some comments regarding the Sikh Temple shooting. There has been virtually no reporting on it. Let me look into my political crystal ball:  A mosque gets burned to the ground, after two previous attempts: The perpetrator will be a white, angry young man, possibly part of a crowd of young angry white men.  I will predict a “white supremacist organization.”

Am I a genius? Maybe.  After all, some of us in the South Asian community understood well before the media confirmed it: the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was the work of a white supremacist whose name, Wade Michael Page, would only be released hours later And some of us in the progressive pundosphere anticipated well before most details came out about the Aurora, Colorado shootings by James Holmes, that he would be characterized as a quiet, loner type. And at least some of us understood in the hours after the shooting at the United States Army Base in Fort Hood, Texas, that the shooter, because he wasn’t white and because he was remotely “Arab”—and even though he was a soldier and an Army psychiatrist–that his actions would be characterized as those of a “terrorist.”

Why did we know? It’s not that we were psychic or we had a direct line to God. Rather, we have become accustomed to the scripts that American law enforcement, the FBI, and the media run in the aftermath of (too) many mass shootings:

A group of Sikhs shot by a white man? A white supremacist. A group of (mostly) white Americans shot by a white man in the Midwest? In a theater? A loner. In a high school by two white boys/men? Troubled loners. By a man of East Asian origin on a college campus? A deranged loner. An Army base shot up by a Palestinian-American (US Army psychiatrist)? A terrorist (by definition deranged and ideologically zealous). A black man is repeatedly run over by two white boys in a truck? So strange; racism is gone. We have a black president. A black boy gets shot by a white man? Random and probably deserved. Black men on death row for crimes they didn’t commit? Justice prevails. So say the governors who allow them to be executed, and so follow our media.

These scripts are pulled out so neatly, one marvels at the level of organization that allow them to be read out so easily. And yet, like most scripts, they are edited to provide a clear, easy-to-follow narrative that appeals to the audience’s most intimately held beliefs. Those beliefs are drawn out, and impressed again to memorize what our irrational sides fear: those white guys are loners; those young white/Asian men are troubled and deranged loners. Those brown men are terrorists. Those black men are hoodlums and gangmembers.

The Oak Creek Police held a press conference after the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where they declared that the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism. How did they define an act of domestic terrorism, a reporter asked. The Chief of Police declared that it was an act of terrorism done within the confines of the country, by a person who was not from another country. In fact, domestic terrorism does not exclude acts committed by foreign nationals according to Sec. 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act, one of the first and overarching bills that was passed to combat terrorism after September 11, 2001.

Though his definition was incorrect, his answer was illuminating—because it reflected the fiction that Americans have been trained, through these repeating scripts, to believe: most evil against Americans is committed by foreign (and usually Muslim) men, and most Americans are white.

But part of the newsworthiness of the shooting was that another massacre (and so soon after Aurora) was occurring, but this time against “foreigners.” And so the media became obsessively focused on the non-Muslim brownness of the victims. Perhaps a bit far-fetched.  But how else can we explain the obsessive focus on the “Sikh-ness” of the victims? Or the questions about whether Sikhs as a group have enemies (Didn’t the victims of Aurora, Colorado have enemies?) Or whether “anti-Semitic” acts have been committed against Sikhs in the past? Yes. This was asked by a Fox News broadcaster.

When the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting happened the week before, there was no discussion of the “whiteness” or the “Americanness” the victims, even though every one who died was white and American.  In fact, the focus was on how “normal,” how kind, how loving, how smart they were in their roles as children, soldiers, parents, and students. Aren’t the temple-goers also “normal,” kind, and loving? They are a religious people, like so many Americans. Many of them are Americans, like the victims in Aurora, Colorado.

James Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, was also white and American. And so media turned to its usual, Ted Kaczynski script: genius, troubled, loner.  In the case of Oak, Creek, the shooter was white, but since the victims were brown, the shooter had to have been a white supremacist. According to Chauncey DeVega, even white supremacists were hoping he wasn’t one of them.

And now that a mosque has been burned to the ground, we barely hear anything about it. That’s part of the script, too: A mosque? Muslims? Not that interesting. After all, how can Muslims be peace-loving? Don’t they want to kill Americans? They attacked America.

Like most scripts, these are fictional.  But unlike most movies and novels, the FBI and the media outlets that draw on these scripts claim to be reporting the truth. And to move from novelistic narratives to more accurate, documentarian narratives, it is necessary to confront the ideological truths that underlie the mass epidemic of violence that America is confronting. Yes, better gun control can help to manage the violence. Page’s gun was the same type used in Aurora, and in the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year. It was a 9 mm semiautomatic, and it was legal. And it would have been legal even under President Clinton’s 1994 Assault Weapon ban. But the Joplin mosque was burned down. I doubt that banning matches will solve the problem at hand.

Other truths must also be confronted. In large part, the shooters and arsonists who are behind many, if not most of these events in America, are white men.  In large part, these men have either come of age in the shadow of September 11. They have watched the media, heard Department of Homeland Security officials, and followed as mostly white male (and some female) politicians have given the anxious go ahead to wage an enormous war against Muslims abroad (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) or at home (in the form of the War on Terror).  Several of them have served in a military that follows the orders of two U.S. Presidential administrations by training their men to shoot, invade, drop rockets from helicopters, and drones controlled remotely from Syracuse, NY and other air force bases in the United States.

These white men have learned their lessons well, whether in the military or from hours of media news: the frustrations of a scared (white) America can be dealt with waging a war using guns, bombs, chemicals, and drones.  They have learned that it is ok to kill those who you believe to be behind threats to your comfort. They have internalized the message that those you fear can be addressed without words, without dialogue, but with violence, with power, with coercion. They have learned that some religions are automatically evil and that those who adhere to those religions must be destroyed.  And these white men reflect an ideology of violence that has permeated America in the name of the War on Terror. Sadly, that ideology, perpetuated by our white men and women in power, carried out by American soldiers, and endorsed by a lapdog media, isn’t fading away. It’s becoming bigger, stronger, and more murderous.

These men are not mad or crazy.  They are the well-trained students of American foreign and domestic policies. They have learned well the United States’ message: that violence and mayhem are the answer.  We need to change the scripts, and confront the fallout of a decade of the War on Terror—and other excuses for state-led violence quickly, before the chickens come home to roost.

Election Year Redux

When it rains…2 posts on Translation Exercises on the same day! This one, by me, follows on the heels of the sobering piece by Marcellus Andrews.

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As I’ve said repeatedly, by the time the New York Times acknowledges my reality, it must be obvious to the most comatose of creatures. On Tuesday of this week, The New York Times’ Jo Becker and Scott Shane published a long piece that appeared to have very intimate knowledge of Obama’s strategy on counterterrorism.   It was a weird mix of criticism and glorification of the POTUS.  The title was a bit on the breathless side: “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”

On the critical side:

1. The article pointed Obama’s unadulterated interest in centralizing and accumulating as much executive authority as possible to determine who would be next on the “Secret Kill” list.

“Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.”

 

2. It seemed to confirm what the crazies on the left (myself included) have been saying for over 3 years, namely that

“[w]ithout showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.”
 

3. It pointed to criticisms that Obama’s own conservative staff had leveled about the personal assassination program, ranging from lack of accountability, indiscriminatory assassination of civilian adults and children (Children? Killed by Military? Why does that sound so familiar this week?). Folks as Neanderthal on the spectrum as:

Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, who “has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said.”

 

Dennis C. Blair, the former director of national intelligence “until he was fired in May 2010,” [w]ho is quoted by the NYT  as commenting, “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.”  A former head of national intelligence who served during Vietnam? Suggesting that Obama’s war is like Vietnam?

William Daley, chief of staff for Obama until 2011: “One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. Daley said, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”  Given that Daley’s not the sharpest knife, how obvious must it be that Obama is hoarding power for himself much like squirrels accumulate acorns in the late fall?

4. It raises the question of whether the “single digit figures” of civilian deaths could be accurate:

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
 
 

Wow. It bothers this guy that random people killed by drone strikes are automatically assumed to be militants, just because the drones hit them where they lived. Hmm. The upstanding moral conscience of those surrounding the POTUS makes me shiver in awe. Given that fact that they’re dead, the more urgent question might be why so few pols are interested in effectively challenging Obama’s accumulation of power to decide who lives and who dies. A little arbitrary friend/enemy distinction is happening all around us. Which means it could happen to you, too. Carl Schmitt, anyone?

Now, on the warm, puppy-love, side:

  1. Becker and Shane point out how Obama’s acute constitutional lawyerly background would have no deterrent effect on diluting or minimizing the war on Muslims that was initiated under the Bush administration. If anything, Obama’s strength has been to figure out how to weave and finesse a path that bypasses Constitutional principles—even as he pretended that he was keeping campaign promises to shut down Guantanamo Bay and ban torture:

What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.

2.  The article suggests that the supposed near-miss on Christmas 2009 by Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab seemed to push Obama toward a more aggressive anti-terrorism stance).

He asked them to use the close call to imagine in detail the consequences if the bomb had detonated. In characteristic fashion, he went around the room, asking each official to explain what had gone wrong and what needed to be done about it.

“After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States,” said Michael E. Leiter, then director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

More aggressive counterterrorism stance, and I might add, more illegal. But really, let’s think back: wasn’t Obama’s edgy anti-constitutionality approach already in play by February 2009? Remember, in August 2008, he returned to Washington, DC from campaigning to record his vote in favor of the renewal of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). He had done nothing to abate ICE’s policy to step up on deportations of migrants (and no, this is hardly just a policy affecting migrant workers. Secure Communities, implemented in October 2008, targets anyone that the police come across in the course of their duties that might have immigration violations. This too is a counterterrorism policy, per the description of S.Comm on ICE’s own website:

In a memo issued by ICE Director John Morton in June 2010, ICE outlined the way it prioritizes removals. Specifically, ICE prioritizes the removal of those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, repeat violators who game the immigration system, those who fail to appear at immigration hearings, and fugitives who have already been ordered removed by an immigration judge. 

3. It points to Obama’s “pragmatic” reasoning in helping “maintain his options” with regard to renditions, detention, assassinations, drones, and less precise massacrous events, i.e. those that were to be certain of avoiding civilian deaths. (Regarding the term “massacrous”: is there such an adjective? I think we need one, given the long-standing popularity of mass murders by the state).

The NYT also offered a bit of accuracy at the conclusion of the article:

Mr. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, said the strike campaign was dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”

Blair is certainly right: strikes, like rounding up and deporting innocent civilians in the name of fighting crime, like prosecuting kangaroo court cases against young Muslim men like Tarek Mehanna and Fahad Hashmi (and so many others) for “terrorism.” As Blair insists of drone strikes, these are all politically advantageous strategies—no US casualties, gives the appearance of toughness, plays well domestically, and unpopular only in other countries.

But along with that accuracy came a bit of sentimental disingenuity:

But Mr. Blair’s dissent puts him in a small minority of security experts. Mr. Obama’s record has eroded the political perception that Democrats are weak on national security. No one would have imagined four years ago that his counterterrorism policies would come under far more fierce attack from the American Civil Liberties Union than from Mr. Romney.
 
 

Come on, NYT, really: Some of us called this one, and insisted that Obama would be no more interested in abiding by the constitution than Bush.  And here we are in June 2012, with four months til the next election. Kind of feeling like Charlie Brown. The Dem have snatched that football away time and time again. Long past time to walk away from the field and look for a new president. But change is coming. And it is not something I can believe in.

NYPD, Islamophobia, and Federal Law: Spying and Lying as an American Way of Life

Over the last few months, the Associated Press has released multiple reports that detail the infiltration of Muslim student groups, mosques, and community centers by the New York Police Department over the last few years. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has denied the surveillance and infiltration of Muslim communities in NY or elsewhere, but clearly he has been lying. As we see from the numerous AP reports have been released, the NYPD’s spying program ranged over multiple states and countries. The NYPD spied on Muslim communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut–in mosques, on mosques, community centers, student associations, grocery stores and in neighborhoods with large numbers of Muslim families and residents. We also know that the NYPD has infiltrated Muslim student groups at Yale, Penn, Rutgers, City College, among others. On Monday of this week, Yale’s president, Richard Levin, to his infinite credit, wrote a statement that condemned and disavowed any knowledge of the NYPD on Yale’s campus. I’m waiting for similar disavowals by the presidents of these other campuses (apparently there are several). Otherwise, their silence would leave me to wonder how eager they were to collaborate in helping the NYPD to spy on their students.

Democracy Now and Colorlines have both reported in detail about the outrage of such actions on the part of NYPD. As part of a pattern of explicitly Islamaphobic practices on the part of the NYPD, we also heard about the Third Jihad, a racist training film (funded by the Clarion Fund, the same organization that attracted Sheldon Adelson, a big supporter of Newt Gingrich’s campaign) that insisted that even “normal” Muslims had deep terrorist undersides. A clip of NYPD Commissioner Kelly was included in the film, although he disavowed participating in the film and insisted that the clip was taken from elsewhere. Later, it turns out, he lied again: in fact, he was interviewed for it 5 years ago. Until that lie was revealed, Kelly refused to disavow or apologize for his part in the film; yet now he finds it “objectionable. Another lie: Kelly also denied that film was part of NYPD orientation, despite the fact that it was shown to 1500 police officers.

The prevarications and Islamaphobic policies–and illegal and unconstitutional activities– on the part of the NYPD continue. AP has reported that in 2002, then CIA director George Tenet sent an ex-CIA officer, Lawrence Sanchez, to help coordinate the management of intelligence within the NYPD, violating its own practice of not crossing over into domestic spying. Sanchez, who left over one year ago, appears to have been replaced by an unnamed agent, still part of the CIA, who has helped to coordinate the various surveillance and infiltration activities. The CIA has vacillated between denying knowledge of the coordination between itself and the NYPD, and acknowledging it. Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the involvement of the NYPD in spying on local communities with Bloomberg insisting that the spying program was “legal.”  According to AP, “Kelly, the police commissioner, has vigorously defended the NYPD’s relationship with the CIA. Testifying before the City Council in October, Kelly said the collaboration was authorized under the 1981 presidential order, known as No. 12333.” This order, signed by President Reagan, authorized the coordination of various federal agencies, from the NSC, CIA, FBI, the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Energy, and numerous other federal agencies to engage in intelligence gathering and collaboration in the interests of national security.

Order 12333 is a fascinating document, not least because of the constraints around intelligence gathering that are articulated there: According to section 2. 4 of this order, the NYPD violates the constraints of the first paragraph, namely the prohibition from engaging in “electronic surveillance, unconsented physical search, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General.”

Here’s the clause itself:

Collection Techniques. Agencies within the Intelligence Community shall use the least intrusive collection techniques feasible within the United States or directed against United States persons abroad. Agencies are not authorized to use such techniques as electronic surveillance, unconsented physical search, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General. Such procedures shall protect constitutional and other legal rights and limit use of such information to lawful governmental purposes. These procedures shall not authorize:

(a) The CIA to engage in electronic surveillance within the United States except for the purpose of training, testing, or conducting countermeasures to hostile electronic surveillance;

(b) Unconsented physical searches in the United States by agencies other than the FBI, except for:

(1) Searches by counterintelligence elements of the military services directed against military personnel within the United States or abroad for intelligence purposes, when authorized by a military commander empowered to approve physical searches for law enforcement purposes, based upon a finding of probable cause to believe that such persons are acting as agents of foreign powers; and

(2) Searches by CIA of personal property of non-United States persons lawfully in its possession.

(c) Physical surveillance of a United States person in the United States by agencies other than the FBI, except for:

(1) Physical surveillance of present or former employees, present or former intelligence agency contractors or their present of former employees, or applicants for any such employment or contracting; and

(2) Physical surveillance of a military person employed by a nonintelligence element of a military service.

(d) Physical surveillance of a United States person abroad to collect foreign intelligence, except to obtain significant information that cannot reasonably be acquired by other means.

 

The story gets murkier. According to Order 12333, the CIA cannot loan equipment, knowledge or personnel without the explicit permission of CIA counsel. Apparently, in this case, the permission of that counsel, Scott Muller, was never given.  Moreover, the leeway to surveil intrusively is permitted to the CIA and FBI, not to the NYPD.  And yet, the NYPD was–is still?–engaged in most, if not, every single one of these techniques: from physical surveillance (e.g., through the presence of undercover police officers in mosques and on the street to collect license plate numbers), to monitoring devices (by mounting cameras on street corners across the street from mosques, ). The NYPD defends its ability to surveil by insisting that mounting cameras on street corners is “public” surveillance.

It appears that it is possible for the CIA to assist the NYPD in intelligent-gathering for the purposes of “for the purpose of protecting the employees, information, property and facilities of any agency within the Intelligence Community.”  Yet, given that Sec. 2.4 paragraph pertains first and foremost to the CIA as the chief intelligence gathering agency (which presumably places it above the NYPD in terms of jurisdiction), this clause requires the US Attorney General to be notified. I wonder whether the US Attorney General Eric Holder was informed of the activities of the NYPD. Holder appears to be reluctant to clarify his relationship to NYPD’s spying program.  Is it correct to assume that Holder approved of these activities? If he wasn’t consulted by the CIA or the NYPD, why not?

We know that Mayor Corey Booker has suddenly tried to distance himself from the scandal by insisting that he didn’t know the activities that the NYPD was engaged in. Still, he acknowledges that he was approached by the NYPD to engage in activities that involved policing communities in his own jurisdiction. And he gave them permission to enter and engage in extra-municipal activities that involved his own constituents. Nice.

Were other mayors and governors of NY, NJ, CT and PA informed? NJ Gov. Chris Christie has denied being approached (or atleast he doesn’t “recall” being approached). Were the Attorneys General? I haven’t read or heard any or disavowals from any of the following current or former Governors or Attorney Generals of NY, NJ, PA, or CT:

NY Attorneys General: Eric Schneiderman (current), Andrew Cuomo (current governor), or Eliot Spitzer

NJ Attorney General: Jeffrey Chiesa (current), Paula Dow or Anne Milgram

PA Attorneys General: Linda Kelly (current), William Ryan, or Tom Corbett (current governor)

CT Attorneys General: George Jepson (current) or Richard Blumenthal (or current Gov. Daniel Malloy)

Does this mean that they approved the presence of the NYPD in their states to infiltrate Muslim student associations, community centers, stores, mosques? Moreover, Section 2.6 of Order 12333 authorizes various Intelligence agencies to cooperate with law enforcement for the purposes of tracking “clandestine…or terrorist” activities by “foreign” elements. [By the way, here is the definition of the Intelligence Community. You will notice they’re all federal, and not municipal law enforcement agencies like the NYPD.] This clause says nothing about authorizing municipal law enforcement to engage in extra-state spying or tracking of civilians. Moreover, clause 2.12 insists that “[n]o agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.”

NYPD then, was not only not authorized by this Order to participate in tracking activities, but it was also violating this order’s initial clause. Kelly’s defense appears to be either a prevarication or–at the very least–incorrect. Given his record of duplicitous behavior, I’m leaning toward the former. Section 2. 7 of the Order does say that funding sources or contracts for federal activities are not required to be revealed, which is certainly consistent with the AP’s revelation that taxpayer money was not used for this unique special project on the part of the NYPD. At least $1.6b came from the feds. I believe AP reported that other monies for the spying program came from an unnamed non-profit organization, whose name and funds will not be revealed–but I can’t find the source. The Daily Beast reports that the nonprofit Police Foundation abundantly funded Kelly’s program to send NYPD personnel overseas.As Judith Miller reports, “For several years, the foundation has helped finance most of the NYPD’s $1.5-million-a-year International Liaison Program, in which 11 NYPD detectives are embedded in police departments overseas to explore potential New York ramifications of terrorist activity abroad [it gets even better: American Airlines last year proudly announced that it would participate in the project of helping the NYPD surveil and monitor overseas activity by funding the airfare for detectives to places like “Tel Aviv, London, Amman, Singapore, Santo Domingo, Toronto, Montreal, Paris, Lyons and Madrid,” to carry out surveillance activities that the Police Fund happily underwrites].

Of course, spying is now part and parcel of American life: we saw this with the expansion of 2008 FISA, which approved warrantless wiretapping and surveillance, as well as with the recent passage of the NDAA, signed into law by POTUS on New Year’s Eve 2011. As we know, Wall Street has used millions of dollars–at least $150m— to create its own local spy network in downtown, with the help and cooperation of the NYPD as well. I wonder if NDAA will be applied retroactively to help exculpate the NYPD, AG Holder, Bloomberg and all the other charlatans involved in these egregious violations of human liberties and constitutional law.

It sounds like the NYPD Police Commissioner and a number of Mayors, Governors, and Attorney Generals need to be interrogated for their knowledge or involvement in these activities…and perhaps we need to get start calling for some firings, and at the very least, we need some regime changes in the US at the national, state, and municipal levels.

Kris Kobach’s War on Muslims and Latinos

Updated below:

Those who have known me for the last decade have heard me insist ad nauseam that the war against undocumented migrants is tightly linked to the war on Muslims as terrorists—and that to fight one effectively, you have to find the parallels and fight both. While writing my post on Homophobic Harassment, Self-Deportation, and Surveillance, I discovered the missing link: Kris Kobach, currently the Secretary of State of Kansas. His bio lists an appointment as a law professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Law School, but he is not listed on the roster there; it would appear that he is on leave.  Kobach, who eerily enough resembles Aaron Eckhardt (the meanie in In the Company of Men), went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree, Oxford for an MA, and Yale for his JD.  Kobach first came to power as an attorney during the Bush Administration, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft.  At that time, he engineered the National Security-Entry-Exit-Registration-System (NSEERS), the Special Registration Act that, in 2002 rounded up over 82,000 Muslim men and issued deportation orders against over 13,000 (Also see the AALDEF Special Reg Report). NSEERS was finally suspended last year in May 2011, but it managed to do some serious violence in the intervening decade by facilitating the extended incarceration (without cause) of thousands of innocent Muslim men.

According to his interview with Reporter Jack Hitt on This American Life (#456, Reap What You Sow), he figured out that some 5 of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001 were in the US “illegally,” and of those, four had traffic violations, but their immigration status had never been checked.  This led to his idea that domestic identity databases needed to be cross-checked with federal/immigration databases.  NSEERS has its precedent in a number of interesting older internment and profiling laws: President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which enabled the Feds to round up and incarcerate some tens of thousands of citizens and migrants of Japanese descent after the December 7, 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor. There were also other precedents that made NSEERS possible, such as the Palmer Raids of the 1919-20’s, which targeted suspected anarchists.

Energized by that success, Kobach became the chief legal strategist for Immigration Reform Legal Institute (IRLI) which is the legal branch of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR, founded by John Tanton, is one of the foremost anti-immigrant foundations in the US. There Kobach turned his efforts to figuring out how to engineer a number of some of the most devastating (note: I didn’t say “effective”) anti-immigration laws in Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri, Arizona, and Alabama.  Those bills were ineffective, in part because they were constantly and effectively challenged in the courts. But they also didn’t solve the unemployment or crime problems that were attributed to undocumented migrants.

Kobach’s career is predicated on the creation of destructive obstacles for brown folks—especially for MEMSA’s** and Latinos—regardless of citizenship. Just goes to show you that an overpriced, elite education and a charming spiel does not a more moral person make.  In effect, his answer to the solution of preventing terrorism was to legalize and systematize racial profiling. There are two important ideas embedded in the Arizona and Alabama ant-immigration laws among others: 1. Make it legal to stop anyone at any point, regardless of a whether or not some violation is being committed, to check on the legality of their presence. By extension, 2. require that migration or citizenship papers be carried on one’s person at all times.  Judging from this editorial that he wrote, he’s also figured out how to pre-empt the DREAM Act. He doesn’t mention it in the letter, but he has figured out that any proposal to enable undocumented migrants to pay less for college tuition will, chances are, fast-track their ability to become legal through the DREAM Act, were it to pass one day.

Kobach has figured out how to write legislation that enables a wide-ranging institutional surveillance. He helped the Mayor of Hazelton, PA write legislation that would fine the landlords and employers of undocumented migrants.  The idea behind these ordinances, like that of NSEERS, is to establish that every “foreigner” (read: neither white nor black) must be codified into a taxonomy of membership (citizens, legal resident, H1-B worker, tourist, etc.): Who are you, where do you fit in, what do your papers say, and should we read you as an acceptable interloper (do you have proper papers) or hostile (lack of papers is a criminal offense; therefore you must criminal or terrorist intent).  It is in many ways, a beautifully engineered binary system: Papers = friendly/no papers = criminal. There is no space in this system for multiple contexts or complexity.

You enrolled in university on a student visa, wanted to stay, fell in love, overstayed visa, had children, and now your life is here with your citizen partner and children. Or:  After the World Bank’s loan repayment policies required your home country to decimate its own economy and/or social safety net, your town was economically devastated, and you migrated to try your hand at earning money in jobs that “Americans” (with papers) would never want, in order to help your extended family survive.

Americans, as I’m sure Kris Kobach—a mid-westerner with Ivy League degrees who likes to go turkey-shooting while writing anti-immigrant legislation—will agree, are more complex than computers. Is it so difficult to believe that foreign nationals and migrants have complex narratives as well? Go read some Isabel Allende, Amitav Ghosh, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Diaz, Julia Alvarez, and they’ll set you straight.

As importantly, this form of surveillance is highly inefficient. Go back to the numbers of hijackers who had both a) illegal immigrant status (five) and b) traffic violations (four). Out of 19. That means the other 14 had papers and NO traffic violations. They were inconspicuous. But as importantly, of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims residing in the United States, and of the 82,000 Muslim men arbitrarily imprisoned under NSEERS, not a single person was shown to have committed a terrorist act.

Here’s the other thing: In Alabama, where HB 56 has taken effect, fewer than 4% of the residents are migrants.  In places like Tuscaloosa, where there was a high profile arrest of a German car executive, Detlev Hagar, who was stopped for a traffic violation. Oops. Steven Anderson, the Tuscaloosa Police Chief freely admits that “Hispanics”—migrants–are not the cause of crime. And Alabamians aren’t thrilled with the law either.

So, tracking undocumented migrants for the purposes of enhancing the safety of legal residents—that’s really not what immigration surveillance is about, now, is it?  Rather, the goal of immigration legislation is to move from a space in which we assume that our neighbors are varied and diverse to one where all “newcomers,” “outsiders,” “visually distinctive,” are assumed to be suspicious, dangerous, or otherwise nefarious. And most importantly, the goal of HB 56 and NSEERS, is to legalize racism under the rule of law, and to pave the way for cementing the whiteness of the Homeland.

The War on Terror is intimately linked to the War on Migrants. These are, for folks like Kris Kobach, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum—part of the same war. For folks like the current POTUS, under whose administration, nearly 1.2 million migrants have been deported—Muslims and Latinos are part and parcel of the same threat to the Homeland: Brown, unwanted unwelcome. If Kris Kobach is cementing the links between NSEERS and Alabama’s HB 56, Arizona’s SB 1070, and similar laws, isn’t it time for liberals and progressives activists to challenge these together?

**(MEMSA): Muslim, Middle Eastern and South Asian

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UPDATE

I should have mentioned that Kobach is an unpaid advisor to MItt Romney, and is responsible for the “self-deportation” concept that Romney endorses. Also, Kobach worked with Samuel Huntington at Harvard. Huntington, you will recall, was a notorious xenophobe and detractor of migration. Among his books, Huntington wrote the infamous Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, which was a harbinger? a prescription? for the War on Muslims. Huntington also wrote “Who Are We,” which was a harbinger of the War on Latinos. Here is a summary of the article-length version of the first book (you can find the entire article as a pdf if you google it), and an article-length version of the second book, entitled, “The Hispanic Challenge.” Both the book and the article are self-contradictory and virulently racist. Kobach, as Huntington’s model protege,  produced a thesis on South African apartheid in which he argued against divestment but rather “engagement” as the way to combat apartheid. That thesis apparently won a Harvard prize for best thesis in 1989, and was later published as a book.

Where is Their Refuge in This World?

Once they had left their homeland they remained homeless, once they had left their state they became stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights they were rightless, the scum of the earth.” Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), ch. 9.

I’m still troubled by many (white and non-white) progressives’ diffidence over U.S. foreign policy.  Besides some of the principled and humbling speeches of Dr. King this week, I reread selections from Hannah Arendt’s masterpiece, Origins of Totalitarianism (Origins), published in 1951. Arendt, a philosopher and a journalist, fled to France from Germany in 1933.  In France, besides working to assist other Jewish refugees, she was imprisoned in a concentration camp. Eventually, with the help of friends, she escaped. She made her way to the United States, where she taught at the New School and the University of Chicago. You may have read her series of searing critical articles on the trial of Adolph Eichmann, published in the New Yorker in 1961 (eventually published as a collection under the title, Eichmann in Jerusalem).

Origins is a sobering analysis that tries to make sense of how hundreds of thousands of Jews and other minorities could have gone from being seemingly secure in their political status as members of a nation to being—first—homeless, then stateless, then rightless.  As usual, I come back to Chapter 9, which is entitled, “The End of the Nation-State and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.”  Did I mention that Ch. 9 is brilliant? Please go read it.

“The soldier during the war is deprived of his right to life, the criminal of his right to freedom, all citizens during an emergency of their right to the pursuit of happiness, but nobody would ever claim that in any of these instances a loss of human rights has taken place.”

I disagree with Arendt about what citizens lose “during times of emergency.”  I don’t think it’s simply the “pursuit of happiness,” a la Alexis de Tocqueville. I agree with Katha Pollitt that civil rights (24:10)—the right to sit at a lunch counter, to be waited on, to vote, to move about without fear of assault, without fear of violence or rape, the right to reproductive health–are unconditionally important.

But I want to make two points here:

1. The right to sit at a lunch counter, to vote, to move about without fear of violence can’t be enjoyed when one is under aerial bombardment or being shot by soldiers. Or dead.

2. Civil rights are national rights, but they are not exclusively national rights. They are not merely rights based on membership.  Rather, they are human rights that should belong to every human being, regardless of nationality, that should be enforceable through the state.

These rights must be extended to migrants and residents living in the US, regardless of political status: the right to water, the right to schooling, the right to medical care, the right to walk down the street without fear of assault or racial profiling or being arrested. But the right to know why I am being arrested, being detained—the right to know the evidence against me, the right to a lawyer, the right to a trial based on Constitutional—aren’t these really human rights protections (Look at how similar these rights are to those listed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights)?

I think Arendt wanted to distinguish the loss of civil rights from the loss of those rights that get to the heart of what it means to be human. We see something of this in the epigraph above and in the quotation below:

The first loss which the rightless suffered was the loss of their homes, and this meant the loss of the entire social texture into which they were born and in which they established for themselves a distinct place in the world…[t]he second loss…was the loss of government protection, and this did not imply just the loss of legal status in their own, but in all countries…By itself the loss of government protection is no more unprecedented than the loss of a home…The more the number of rightless people increased, the greater became the temptation to pay less attention to the deeds of the persecuting government than to the status of the persecuted.

Her words seem so urgent as I think about the indifference of US nationals to the continuation of war under the current Administration. This isn’t just jingoistic foreign policy, as anti-racist activist Tim Wise suggests. We can’t make a qualitative distinction between racism at home versus racist actions internationally. Wars—on terror, on Iraqi and Pakistani civilians, on the bodies of Muslim men (through torture, indefinite detention, solitary confinement), on MEMSA* families– is an assault, a violation of, the homes, the communities, the culture, the livelihood of millions of civilians. The loss of a physical home is mirrored by the existential loss of home.

Where is my refuge, my sanctuary, in this world?  Many of us asked as we felt that existential loss of home on September 11, 2001. We were devastated by the complete rupture in our sense of safety, the deep rent in our communities’ sense of permanence.

The women and men and children on whom we are waging war are asking that same question. The men and women migrants–in detention centers around the US for the simple crime of wanting to sustain their lives and families—ask that same question:  Where is my refuge in this world?  MEMSA’s, who are beaten, tortured, in detention centers around the country, ask that same question: Where is my sanctuary in this world?  Lakhmar Boumedienne, an Algerian relief worker detained in Guantanamo for 7 years before being released, wonders the same thing: where is my refuge in this world, where I did nothing wrong except commit the crime of being Muslim?

The right to live—for US citizens or nationals, for Pakistani, Iraqi, Afghan nationals is not—should not be–dispensable. Ditto Iran. The right to live a life free of terror, free of aerial bombardment, should be indispensable. The ability of children to grow up without fear of drone attacks, without fear of soldiers shooting: is this not a right?

Equally indispensable are the rights to one’s home, one’s culture, one’s social world, one’s status as a political being.  Should it not be an indispensable right to be recognized as a human being with dignity?  For Arendt, this could occur only when people were recognized in their political dimensions: as citizens of a nation. But without those political protections, human beings are seen, as Arendt says, as the scum of the earth.

It is not just US foreign policy that deprives human beings of these rights. Our domestic policies, including the NDAA, deprives us of these rights. Anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia deprive us of these rights even when NO crimes have been committed: right to live without fear of arrest. The right to live with privacy. The right to water and electricity.  The right to hospital care. The right not to be detained. The right to live within our communities. If the world can recognize that these are human rights, why can’t we here in the US?

Why are we not outraged when our own President approves these violations of human dignity?  A few years ago, Judith Butler, a philosopher who has been critical of US policies over the last decade, asked why certain lives are more grievable than others. She points out that we have very few images, frames, stories to associate with the deaths of Iraqi or Palestinian (and, I might add, Pakistani) children. Is it because, as she suggests, their lives are “unreal?”  “If violence is done against those who are unreal, then, from the perspective of violence, it fails to injure or negate those whose lives are already negated.” (Precarious Life, ch. 2)

Are the lives of brown men, women, and children abroad unreal? Already negated? Can they be worth less than the lives of US nationals?  I wonder if this is why the victims of the War on Terror seem so negligible that there is no urge to have our politicians, pundits, progressives, political organizations, race-advocacy organizations insist on bringing those lives to the forefront for discussion?  Would Dr. King approve of our prioritizing the status quo of our privilege (and yes, I mean mine and yours)—black, white, brown—over the lives of children who don’t live here? Over the lives of men and women who don’t live here? Can we—as progressives and liberals and feminists and anti-racists—be that inhumane as we think about our political future as a society?

Where is their refuge in this world? Where is our refuge in this world?

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*Muslim/Middle Eastern/South Asian