Sunday, October 16, 2011

The FBI training, Again and the Case of the Forgotten Muthanna

The FBI counter- terrorism training is clearly a problem. There seems to be a theme in the training of the FBI agents- Islam is evil and adherents are a threat. The story from Seattle is that a community leader from that area who attended the 2011 FBI Citizens' Academy class in Seattle reported that the training included material equating Islam with Nazism, part of that documents read: "A careful comparison of Arab/Islamist propaganda and Nazi propaganda reveals the closeness of these links. . .I would suggest that the current conflicts are a continuation of Nazi policies carried out by Arabs. . ." The document was signed by an FBI agent.
Again, we have a problem. NPR reports that the FBI is reevaluating its whole counter- terrorism training that refers to culture or religion. This is a first step in the right direction. There is another problem. The NPR story posed the question: "The question that everyone is asking — and the FBI is trying to answer now — is how the Muslim bias crept into the training program in the first place." The NPR story gives three answers: "The counterterrorism training was, the officials said, given a low priority because the FBI didn't expect funding for that kind of training to get slashed." Second, "The recall suggests that the FBI is not entirely sure what it is teaching in its counterterrorism curriculum." Third, "[O]fficials close to the process say part of the problem is one of structure. The counterterrorism training division has a lot of autonomy."
Church Doctrine and Bias?
Is there another reason? The federal law enforcement agencies seek individuals with intelligence, education and with a history of conformity to America's law and expectations of moral behavior. After living in this country for almost twenty years, my impression is that those with religious background have the highest law abiding history. And as someone who has a hobby of listening to Christian religious sermons on AM radio while driving, I can relate that there seems to be a theme running in Christian sermons today- the focus on Israel and Islam is a common occurrence. And the focus is clearly negative. Are these law-abiding officers, who tend to be religious, prejudiced by their religious background and exposure to religious messages that keep hammering a negative view of Islam? I am not sure this is the case but if it is- then the problem is much deeper and makes the training ever more critical. There are major Christian figures in this country who have openly and unequivocally attacked Islam and its Prophet- doing so with no regard for anyone and in the most vulgar and vile manner . These are not the David Koresh types in this country. They are the Pat Robertsons, the Billy Grahams and others with millions of followers. They are leaders of millions of Americans- many of whom end up in law enforcement.
My point about the background issue of course only applies to some, perhaps many, in law enforcement, but clearly not all. But it is significant enough where it can make a difference in receptiveness to certain ideas. How could anyone, in a decision making position in the FBI hierarchy, with an above average intelligence and education and a law abiding background, accept the drivel of the pseudo training? I mean wasn't it obviously biased material or was accepted since it validated the former received messages from Hollywood, the media and many American religious leaders?
Agents Object to Biased Training
Again this is not everyone we are talking about. The NPR story reports that what brought this biased training to light is complaints from agents who were not happy with the training and saw through the bias and prejudice and voiced their objections. Of course, these objections were voiced due to the training being misleading and biased and not necessarily out of love of the religion of Islam or the culture- which is fine. Here is part of the NPR story: 'NPR has obtained real-time emails from agents who were attending that controversial class at Quantico this April. What the emails indicate is that at least some of those in that class objected to the biased information they were getting and they reached out both to experts and to supervisors to complain about the curriculum. One email said that the Prophet Muhammad was being portrayed as a warring military leader. It also cited an instructor as saying that a "true Muslim" had to support or take part in the killing of non-Muslims. The instructor also told the class, according to a handful of attendees, that Muhammad was an epileptic and the Quran didn't come to him in a series of heavenly visions, but instead was actually part of an epileptic fit.'
The Wall Street Journal recently had a series of articles about the expansion of federal criminal law prosecution and how prosecution under vague federal criminal law can ensnare the unwary, those who do not have the mens rea to commit criminal acts. In Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey Silverglate, Silverglate tells stories of how individuals from different walks of life were ensnared using vague statutes. Here we have a perfect storm for the Muslim activists and their organizations, mainly the American Muslim charities: Vague laws, aggressive federal prosecution and a prejudiced federal law enforcement. Then you magnify the outcome by a multiplier with the foreign conflict dimension an aggravating factor.
I am not arguing that the problem is a deeper societal bias that cannot be remedied. My argument is that there is already a deep reservoir of bias in American society. This is fed by Hollywood and the media. It is aggravated by religious sermons that see the Muslims and the Arabs as the modern day enemies of "the people of Israel," in the Biblical sense, a conflict between Good and Evil. The media, Hollywood and Churches can do their "thing" or number, on Arabs and Muslims but the least we could expect, given this background and reality, is that the country that has the Harvards and the Georgetowns, the John Espositos and Noah Feldmans, gives its law enforcement an accurate and unbiased training on Islam and Muslims? Is that too much to ask? Isn't that in the US national interest?
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The case of the Forgotten Muthanna
One of the Muslim American victims of the post 9/11 big net cast in the War on Terror is Muthanna Alhanooti. I recently visited community activist and leader Muthanna al Hanooti. Muthanna who is serving time in federal prison in Milan, Michigan. He was sentenced to one year in prison after pleading guilty to transacting business with the former Iraqi regime without obtaining a license from the Treasury department. Harvey Silverglate in Three Felonies a Day writes about how the federal government exerts tremendous pressure to force defendants not only to sing but to compose as well. It does not seem that Muthanna composed- that is tell lies to save his skin. Now Muthanna serves time in a place about half an hour from Dearborn, the community where he lived and worked for a number of years and met and knew many people. Anyone who saw Muthanna at an event knew the extent of his friendships by the number of people going to him to shake his hand and hug him. Now Muthanna sits, feeling abandoned, by the community he loved and he served. He has no visitors. The community that he lived in, loved and served seems to have abandoned him. It is not a crime to visit a friend or anyone else in prison. Muthanna needs the support of his friends and the community. One does not have to be a family member to visit an inmate. More should be visiting him

Killing Awlaki and the Lessons of the Israeli Counter- terror War model: Terror Increases, Democracy Compromised

The United States government killed Anwar Awlaki, an American citizen who joined, as a propagandist and cheerleader, the Al Qaeda's war against the U.S. This killing raises a number of constitutional questions regarding the seemingly summary execution of an American citizen. The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution reads: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." Was Awlaki "deprived of life" without due process of law? Due process has two dimensions- substantive and procedural. Substantive due process is the question whether the penalty is fair compared to the violation or crime and procedural due process is whether the punishment was imposed through a fair and just procedure. To constitutional scholars the killing of Awlaki raises valid fifth amendment questions.
Operational Threat versus Propaganda Threat/Hate Speech
Terror experts have a different focus- they focus on the impact of the killing on the counter- terror campaign. The questions asked are not constitutional or moral questions- they are utility questions. A number of terrorism analysts seem to think the killing of Awlaki is a victory in America's war on terror. In a Reuters story dated 9/30/2011 none of the experts interviewed took the constitutional approach. One terror expert, Michael Ryan ,stated: "Removing Awlaki is an important accomplishment because of his ability to speak on the internet in a familiar American accent. He sounded normal even as he was saying outrageous things. His importance relates almost entirely to what Abu Mus'ab al-Suri referred to as the third circle of jihad, what we call home-grown terrorism. (The first two circles are what we know as al-Qaeda Central and AQ affiliates.) He consistently delivered the message that terrorism against Americans was a laudable activity. He effusively praised Nidal Hassan for his shooting American soldiers on American soil. He could also deliver interviews in credible Arabic. In those, his message was generally that the United States was at war with Islam and that the United States tolerated only those Muslims that followed the American line. Muslims that followed the American line were actually no Muslims at all, according to Awlaki. So taking Awlaki out of battle was a good blow against this kind of hate speech that might appeal to troubled people inside the United States. On the other hand, Awlaki had no role in operations and his death will have no effect on the ability of AQAP to carry out transnational terrorist operations..."
Real Terrorism Experts: Martha Crenshaw, Pedahzur and Perliger
In post 9/11 era many claimed to be terrorism experts though they had dubious credentials as to language skills, expertise and training. Many touted the Israeli model as the right and only way for the U.S. to deal with the terror threat-claiming, despite real evidence to the contrary- that the Israeli approach is a workable and effective approach. The Bush administration declared a War on Terror, that is, it adopted the Israeli view of the terror threat as a war issue and not a law enforcement problem. One of the real terrorism experts is Martha Crenshaw. Crenshaw edited a volume, The Consequences of Counterterrorism, with a chapter on the Israeli counter- terror experience. "The consequences of counterterrorist policies in Israel" is a chapter written by Ami Pedahzur of the University of Texas and Arie Perliger of Israel's Hebrew University. In examining whether the Israeli experience is successful they use two criteria: "Effectiveness" in decreasing incidents of terror and "democratic accountability." They examine five Israeli counter- terrorism policies, one of which is targeted killings, and conclude that the Israeli measures increased acts of terror and exacted a price on Israel by eroding its democracy.
The Israel Experience: From Limited to Expanded use of Targeted Killings
From "Ticking Bombs to "Ticking Infrastructure"
Israel is a country that utilized targeted killings, a "war model" counter- terror tactic, extensively in its counter- terror campaign. It began as a narrow and limited tactic but ended up being expanded with the classes or categories of those eligible for the one- time extra ordinary measure broadening over time: 'These days, "targeted killings" have become almost synonymous with air strikes aimed at insurgents and their leaders. This measure has been utilized extensively by Israel since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The initial aim of this method was to stop "ticking bombs." In other words, when all other measures had been exhausted, targeted killings were supposed to strike at terrorists who were dispatched on a deadly mission. However, as indicated by Yuval Diskin, head of the General Security Service (GSS) and the person responsible for developing this tactic, its use quickly expanded from "ticking bombs" to "ticking infrastructures." This vague term refers to dispatchers and local leaders of terrorist cells. By 2004 it had become obvious that the targets of this policy had expanded once more and now included political leaders of different Palestinian factions, such as Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al- Rantisi.'
The Utility and Cost of the Israeli Counter- Terror Approach
Steep Decline in "Public Trust in Political and Legal Institutions"
Pedahzur and Perliger characterize Israeli strategy as "the war model in its most extreme version." They evaluate the effort as a failure since Israel faced more acts of terrorism while eroding its democracy: "Israeli practices have generated poor outcomes, and generated Palestinian animosity toward Israel has only increased. These effects have played into the hands of the different insurgent groups and led to an escalation in terrorist campaigns. At the same time, the quality of Israeli democracy has declined, and Israel's standing as the only democracy in the Middle Eats has been compromised. For example, the ongoing adoption of the war model-type measures over the years has reduced the ability of a growing proportion of Israeli residents to exercise basic civil and political rights. The Palestinian population from the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli Arabs, and, in the last decade, left-wing activists have all suffered from a diminished ability to organize politically, to engage in effective political protests, and to sustain their civil rights. Other signs of the decline in the democratic foundations of the Israeli state have been the dramatic upsurge in administrative detentions, from several hundred during the early 1970s to more than ten thousand during the 1990s, the growing use of military force in security assignments in the interstate civilian arena, and a sharp drop in public trust in political and legal institutions."
Targeted killings raise important questions not only about the constitutionality of the controversial counter- terror tactic but about the Israel counter- terror war model itself as well.