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Civil Rights in Obama’s Second Term

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The Same Coin
By Cyrus McGoldrick
Human Rights Advocate — NY
Obama - Martin Luther King
These battles over state power are tests of principle for the American people and all branches of their government.
Civil Rights in Obama’s Second Term

The election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of the United States of America marked for many a national shift away from the culture of foreign imperialism and domestic fascism escalated by George W. Bush’s inner circle and a compliant Congress. However, even a brief analysis of civil rights over the last four years paints a very different picture.

The US military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been a prison for 800 of the thousands of people held in captivity by the US military without charge or trial over the last eleven years. The prison seems a microcosm for Obama’s normalizing and extension of his inherited abuses of panic and power to include his executive right to exercise it against American citizens.

Executive Bullying

The prison at Guantanamo is open today with over 170 men still incarcerated, four years after Obama’s promise to close it. Instead of closing the prison and others around the world, he signed into law in 2011 the National Defense Authorization Act, giving the military the right to indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, without charge or trial.

The last four years also saw increased application of torturous pre-trial solitary confinement and Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) to predominantly Muslim prisoners, including Fahd Hashmi.

Hashmi, in his four years of pre-trial torture, was not allowed to see or hear the evidence against him because it was deemed by the state to be “top-secret.”

The Obama administration has brought more prosecutions against whistleblowers than all previous US presidents combined. Bradley Manning, a US army soldier accused of passing classified material to WikiLeaks, suffers from continuing pre-trial solitary confinement. Meanwhile, Bush administration officials and military torturers have been given immunity from prosecution for war crimes

Obama has been proud of escalating the CIA drone strikes that terrorize over a dozen nations.

    Obama has been proud of escalating the CIA drone strikes that terrorize over a dozen nations, and in 2012 set precedents in the assassination of three American citizens abroad without indictment, charge, or conviction. Shaikh Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni scholar who was imprisoned for months and tortured in Yemen before going into hiding, was killed with Samir Khan, an American accused of writing for a magazine affiliated with al-Qaida.

    Weeks later, a drone killed Al-Awlaki’s son, the 16-year-old Abdurrahman. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the state for information on the boy’s murder. The New York Times wrote a flattering piece about Obama’s “kill list,” a list of names and faces marked for death by the CIA and the military, over which he had final approval and would decide whether to order the assassination immediately or later.

    US Muslims’ Stolen Rights

    The NYPD has found itself in more than a handful of scandals in the past two years including rape and evidence-planting.

      American Muslims continue to face unreasonable searches and abusive behavior, not just at airports but also at the nation’s borders. Reports that Muslims crossing into the United States from Canada were being asked how many times they prayed and which mosque they attended led the Michigan chapter of CAIR to file a lawsuit against US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the FBI in 2012.

      Warrantless search and seizure is the norm in New York City and other cities and towns around the country. The New York City Police Department’s virulently racist stop-and-frisk policy has affected the whole city, especially neighborhoods like Jackson Heights in Queens, where the tactic is used to terrorize Latino, South Asian, Muslim, and working-class communities. A New York court recently ruled parts of the NYPD policy unconstitutional.

      The NYPD has found itself in more than a handful of scandals in the past two years — including rape and evidence-planting — but few of them drew responses such as the comprehensive and warrantless surveillance of individuals based on nothing more than religion and race. A Pulitzer prize-winning series of investigative reports by the Associated Press exposing the NYPD Intelligence Division’s covert unit tasked to map, monitor, and infiltrate law-abiding Muslim communities around the world first detailed the CIA-trained “Demographics Unit” in August 2011.

      The AP reports included NYPD documents leaked from the Intelligence Division, including one that mandated the surveillance of entire neighborhoods if housing people of listed “Ancestries of Interest.” The list included 27 countries with significant Muslim populations; the 28th ancestry was “American Black Muslim.” Neither NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg have either apologized or resigned.  Expected front-running mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, current City Council speaker, has already suggested that she would ask Kelly to continue.

      The details and breadth of the NYPD’s surveillance program point at what national agencies are doing. The Department of Justice was caught by the ACLU using Muslim community outreach and “law enforcement dialogue” events for intelligence gathering.

      The FBI has visited hundreds of thousands of Muslims to intimidate and ask questions about the neighborhood, mosque, family, travels, and more. Some are prosecuted for “lying to a federal officer” — a felony — for making a mistake.

      The “terrorism” bogeyman has proven to be the product of the FBI and NYPD sending undercover agents and paid informants to infiltrate Muslim communities and manipulate young men — some with bipolar disorder, low IQ, drug addictions, etc. — into agreeing to a criminal plot of the agent’s devising.

      Craig Monteilh, a former informant, was paid by the FBI to pretend to convert to Islam and “go get young brothers.” Shamiur Rahman, a New York City teenager arrested on minor drug offenses, spoke of being hired by the NYPD Intelligence Division in his interrogation room. He then befriended and reported to the NYPD on the meetings of Muslim college students, including a discussion group coordinated by this author. Monteilh was exposed when concerned Muslims at the Orange County mosque reported the FBI-paid “radicalizer” to the FBI. Shamiur Rahman revealed his employment after increasingly erratic behavior.

      On the other hand, some are persecuted for simply declining to spy on their own communities. The Massachusetts pharmacist and anti-war activist Tarek Mehanna was persecuted by the FBI in 2012 for declining to become their informant. Prosecutors convinced a jury that his translation of classical Arabic texts on jihad was a service for terrorist groups, even though he had never communicated with any of such entities. After a moving and principled speech to the court on the day of his sentencing, Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to seventeen and a half years in prison.

      Hate Crimes

      US_Muslims_-_ReutersThe effect that these precedents have had and will have on minority communities cannot be treated as anything less than the natural trajectory of the authoritarian surveillance state. (Reuters)

        Ongoing and multiplying conflicts in Muslim lands, along with the accompanying games, films, and callous media coverage, have directed American bigotry at the figure of the Muslim, escalating hate speech, violent crimes, and even bias-fueled murders against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim.

        Hate groups spent tens of thousands of dollars plastering paid advertisements bashing Islam on the public transportation apparatus of New York City over the last six months, even as the city saw two men in two weeks assaulted for being Muslim and a third man pushed onto the subway tracks and killed because the woman who pushed him told police she hated Muslims. He was a Hindu immigrant from India.

        Discrimination against Muslims in the work environment had been prevalent but notoriously difficult to legally prove, until a group of Congress members led by Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann accused several Muslims in public service of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the fact that such ties would not be illegal. One high profile target of Bachmann’s crusade was Huma Abedin, aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and wife to ultra-Zionist former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Although Abedin immediately received bipartisan support in the face of the attacks, the episode made clear that growing sectors saw the American wars as ideological.

        Growing sectors in the US are seeing the American wars as ideological ones.

          Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians are understood to be the most directly and disproportionately affected by the wave of government repression, including special registration programs, detention and deportation, surveillance, infiltration and entrapment, political prosecutions and lawfare against Muslim-owned businesses and charities, and more.

          But the effect that these precedents have had and will have on other minority communities, political organizing, and eventually the whole country cannot be treated as anything less than the natural trajectory of the authoritarian surveillance state.

          These battles over state power are tests of principle for the American people and all branches of their government, they present an urgent and oppressive reality for not only Americans but also the people around the world that are waiting on Americans to rein in their government. The normalization of authoritarian power and the escalation of violence must serve as sharp reminders to people of conscience around the world: life and liberty must be defended.

          Related Links:
          Obama Unleashed on World in Second Term?
          Tarek Mehanna: US Muslim Terrorist or Critic?
          US Military's Culture of Religious Bigotry
          African Americans: Culture, Community, and Dream

          Cyrus McGoldrick is an American Muslim activist and artist of Iranian and Irish descent. He is the Outreach Director for the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, and the Muslim chaplain at Manhattan College.

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