How the erosion of civil liberties is not just a Muslim issue

On Sep. 24, the European Court of Human Rights permitted the extradition to the United States of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a radical Muslim cleric in Britain who was charged with terrorist activity.

The extradition is worrisome because European courts have deemed American prisons to be compatible with human rights standards. Chris Hedges, in his op-ed, “What Is Happening to Muslims Will Happen to the Rest of Us,” however, tells us that this is not the case.

Hedges’ cogently gives us an in-depth look into Article III federal courts in the United States and how these courts violate basic civil and human rights.  Infringements on privacy; torture and/or solitary confinement; lack of material evidence presented against the accused; suspects not knowing what they are being charged with; and violations of First Amendment rights are all practices taking place in U.S. federal courts and prisons.

“‘One of the misapprehensions of the last decade is that the government had to go outside the law to places like Guantanamo or Bagram to abridge the rights of suspects in the name of national security…But this is not the case. A similar degradation of rights that has characterized the prison at Guantanamo has also affected the judicial system within the United States,’” says Jeanne Theoharis, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College.

“These violations of fundamental civil liberties will not, in the end, be reserved exclusively for Muslims once the corporate state feels under siege.  What is happening to them will happen to the rest of us,” noted Hedges.

And Hedges is absolutely correct.  Take for example the National Defense Authorization Act which was passed by the Obama administration on December 31, 2011.  The NDAA allows the capture and indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens without charge or trial.

Taking away American citizens’ rights to due process of law, the NDAA violates their 5th and 6th Amendment rights.

And, while signing the bill, President Obama said he had “serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”

But, regardless of Mr. Obama’s “serious reservations,” the NDAA was signed into law and can be lawfully implemented on U.S. citizens in the United States or abroad.

And, while President Obama says that he will not implement this law during his presidency, the fact of the matter remains that indefinite detention and torture are legal in the United States.

“‘Torture is legal in the United States in the form of years of solitary confinement and the use of special administrative measures…The Obama Administration has not only refused to hold Bush officials accountable for torture, but maintains torturous conditions in federal prisons,’” says Hedges.

A list of 55 names out of the 167 detainees that were unfairly imprisoned in Guantanamo was released recently, and Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights has said this:

“‘[M]ost of the 55 men listed have endured [up to] 11 years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, despite the unanimous assessment…that these men could be safely released or transferred.’”

“It is well past time for our government to release and resettle these unfairly imprisoned men,” stated the American Civil Liberties Union.

These cases in Guantanamo are not only evidence of human rights abuses by our government, but can also give us an inside look into what is actually happening in U.S. federal prisons.

Also, Hedges tells us that there are approximately 25,000 prisoners in federal supermax facilities that are “disproportionately Muslims and people of color.”

This is a daunting fact for American Muslims, who are being continuously discredited by their very own government representatives.

Just this past August, U.S. Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois warned citizens at a town hall meeting that there is “a radical strain of Islam in this country…trying to kill Americans every week…[a] real threat that is much more at home now than it was after 9/11.”

Even more recently, an Arkansas representative and House candidate stated that there is “no solution to the Muslim problem short of expelling all followers of the religion from the United States.”

Besides the sheer egregiousness of these comments, they accurately reflect a prevalent attitude towards people of the Islamic faith.  Statements like these not only say that all Muslims, in general, are a threat, but that they are in fact violent.  So therefore, it becomes of the utmost urgency to “expel,” or somehow bring about a solution to this possibly devastating “problem.”

As a result, not only have hate crimes against American Muslims dramatically increased over the past couple of weeks, but Muslims have been consistently, time and again, been subject to suspicion, surveillance and even tactics of government entrapment in preemptive measures to catch the suspect before they do any “real” damage.

And, while preemptive measures like these, in the name of national security are meant to keep us safe, they have spiraled out of control and have become an excuse for widespread and unwarranted racial profiling of Muslims.

A case in point is government agencies like the CIA helping the New York Police Department (NYPD) assemble a secret “Demographics Unit” that contributed to more than six years of widespread spying and eavesdropping on New York’s Muslim community.

And, as it was stated in the Huffington Post, “the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.”

Similarly, as William von Schrader tells us, “the FBI appears to have conducted blanket surveillance of broad sections of the American Muslim community, leading to a number of foiled terrorist plots.  However, a closer look into some of these foiled terrorist attempts reveals that the planning, materials, funding, and even transportation for these attacks have almost all been provided to these disgruntled young men by the FBI themselves.”

These cases of entrapment by the FBI violate, for example, American Muslims’ First Amendment rights to free speech. Former FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, admitted to trying to corner members of the Muslim community he was spying on to say the word ‘jihad,’ in order to give the FBI a reason to investigate that person.

“[It’s] a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It’s fixed,” said Monteilh.

Ironically enough, in the end, the Muslim community ended up turning in Moneilh to the FBI for his quasi extremist views.

What remains, though, is the widespread and unchecked government spying and racial profiling of American Muslims who seem to merely be guilty by association.

And, while racial profiling is problematic in itself, fear and suspicion have undoubtedly lead to the stripping of human and civil rights and to innocent men being detained indefinitely in inhumane conditions.