Ali Gharib

Ted Cruz Is an Anti-Muslim Bigot, Too

 This is a frightening time for Muslims in America. One of the country’s major parties is in thrall to anti-Muslim ideologues.

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Human Rights Watch Calls on Businesses to Withdraw from Israeli Settlements

For almost a half a century, Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied during the Six Day War have grown, imposing a two-tiered system—one that not only discriminates against Palestinians, but deprives them of basic rights and adversely impacts their society’s economic viability. Proponents of a two-state solution have watched with dismay as every new apartment and settlement erected in occupied territory created new stumbling blocks on the path to peace and ending the conflict. And yet Israel has faced few consequences. On Tuesday morning, however, New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report calling for an end to this impunity, at least where the international business community is concerned.

The new 162-page report, “Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” calls for businesses operating in and dealing directly with Israeli settlements to end their endeavors there. “In Human Rights Watch’s view, the context of human rights abuse to which settlement business activity contributes is so pervasive and severe that businesses should cease carrying out activities inside or for the benefit of settlements,” the report says. “They should also stop financing, administering, trading with or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure.”

The report coincides with recognition from an unlikely place of just how bad Israeli discriminations and rights abuses have gotten. On Monday, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, a fluent Hebrew speaker who is well liked in the Jewish state, told an audience in Tel Aviv that “at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank: one for Jews and one for Palestinians.” Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried Shapiro’s statement as “unacceptable and untrue,” the settlement enterprise—which is illegal under international humanitarian law—patently imposes different standards on many aspects of life in the West Bank.

“Occupation, Inc.” leverages case studies to demonstrate just how businesses contribute to discrimination, rights abuses, and violations of humanitarian law. It divides businesses into two broad categories: those that directly contribute to supporting settlements—such as construction of settlements and the infrastructure needed to establish and maintain them—and those that are based in settlements, which don’t necessarily directly bolster the inherently rights abusive enterprises, but nonetheless provide benefits to exclusive Jewish Israeli communities in Palestinian territories.

“We’re trying to be very strongly based in law,” says Sari Bashi, HRW’s Israel-Palestine country director. “Under international law, businesses have responsibilities. Our position is doing business in the settlements is inconsistent with those responsibilities.”

The move will no doubt be seen as controversial. “Israel is not going to care about this distinction that Human Rights Watch is making,” said Ali Abunimah, an activist and journalist who advocates for boycotting Israel. “As far as Israel is concerned, it’s a call for a boycott.”

The Israelis are almost certain to view the report as part of the growing movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel, known by its initials BDS. As BDS has gained traction, it has been met by increasingly fierce resistance from the Israeli government and many pro-Israel groups in the US. In his 2014 speech to the most influential American pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, Netanyahu focused on the fight against the movement, but said it was doomed to fail. By last summer, Israeli rhetoric against BDS grew more intense and the government poured $25 million into anti-BDS efforts. “We are in the midst of a great struggle being waged against the state of Israel, an international campaign to blacken its name,” said Netanyahu. The issue has even percolated into American presidential politics: In a letter to megadonor Haim Saban, an Israeli-American businessman, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton pledged to “make countering BDS a priority.”

Even while BDS most often targets Israel as a whole, some peace activists, both from the pro-Palestinian and liberal pro-Israel camps, prefer to single out settlements. Not only is the occupation viewed as a humanitarian and human rights disaster, but settlements impede chances for a two-state solution, the thinking goes. Calls outside the BDS movement for boycotting settlements have even caused rifts among liberal pro-Israel groups: Some, like Americans for Peace Now, support settlement boycotts while others, such as J Street, oppose settlements but don’t call on their membership to boycott.

Nonetheless, such distinctions are lost on Israel’s right-wing government, where settlers rule the roost. Netanyahu has overseen a massive boom in settlement growth, and his government coalition is populated by pro-settlement parties and even many politicians who disavow the two-state solution altogether. Over the holidays, Israel’s Ambassador in Washington gave gifts produced in settlements to foreign officials, ironically mimicking the erasure of the Green Line that hardcore BDS activists push for.

Those BDS activists, for their part, welcome the Human Rights Watch report. Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS movement, calls the report “ground-breaking—even courageous, given the current environment of increased repression and McCarthyism in the US.” Abunimah, also a strong supporter of BDS, says it was “a very good step in the right direction,” adding, “This report will be a really useful tool for BDS activists.”

The report calls on third-party states to deny settlement products the benefits afforded by trade agreements to Israeli products, therefore subjecting those goods to full tariffs. In accordance with that, HRW calls on countries to impose strict protocols for labeling the origins of settlement products as such. The European Union is working through its own origin labeling regulations with regards to the settlements and, on Monday, stated that any EU deals with Israel must exclude the occupied territories, a move Israel opposed. Israel reportedly softened the language from European foreign ministers, an outcome one activist, who works on EU and Israeli-Palestinian issues and asked to remain anonymous, says that an earlier release of the HRW report could perhaps have forestalled.

Abunimah, the pro-Palestinian activist, also lauds HRW for having made “a big shift form their previous position and accept(ing) that any and all business is abusive and helps Israel in grave violations of Palestinian rights and international law.”

In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report on discrimination against Palestinians in the West Bank that called on businesses to “to prevent and mitigate any corporate involvement” in rights abuses, only cutting off business entirely when the activities were inextricable from abuses. The shift occurred in part because the new report and the recommendations it makes to businesses active in the settlements, Israel, and third-party states relies heavily on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which was not adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011, says Arvind Ganesan, who directs the Business and Human Rights division at HRW. “It’s very clear that if a company is contributing to violations or operating in a place where there is a high risk of exacerbating or contributing to violations, you shouldn’t do that,” says Ganesan. “The whole nature of settlements and way land is seized and the nature of who benefits makes it hard to see how you can operate there.”

“Occupation, Inc.” makes this case through meticulous research and careful attention to the consequences of Israel’s illegal actions in the West Bank. One particularly strong section deals with one of the most common pro-Israel defenses of settlement business: that it supports Palestinian economic life. Settlement businesses claim to bring jobs for Palestinians, but HRW’s report shows that the discriminatory legal system makes labor abuses possible. And, as the report and countless others have pointed out, the World Bank has estimated that with an end to restrictions on Palestinian economic activity in Area C (some 60 percent of the West Bank that is controlled exclusively by Israel), the Palestinian GDP could jump by more than a third, making way for more Palestinians to be employed by Palestinian companies.

“There is an ongoing and concerted Israeli pushback against the compelling logic of acting on the illegality of settlements and the illegality of Israeli actions beyond the Green Line by way of more than rhetorical condemnation,” says Daniel Levy, the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East and North Africa program. “That Israeli pushback rests on very weak legal and substantive grounds. The flimsiness of those grounds is being further exposed by this Human Rights Watch report.”

Ultimately, settlements and settlement business don’t account for a huge portion of Israeli economic activity, but liberals like Levy who work on Israel-Palestine issues welcome the renewed focus. Levy says the “the major propelling factor for the status quo, the impunity that Israel feels in the face of its actions toward to the Palestinians” needs to give way to “the obvious consequences that have been called for by this Human Rights Watch report.”

“We’re a long way from that being addressed,” he adds, “but this takes us in the right direction for those who want to see peace between Israel and Palestine.”

America's Massive Hypocrisy in Refusing British Muslim Family's Entry

The Mahmood family’s ordeal at Gatwick airport in London, where the Disneyland-bound group of 11 UK citizens was pulled out of the boarding line by American officials and had their tickets cancelled, speaks to more than just the apparent institutional prejudices of the American government’s security measures.

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Everything You Need to Know About Tom Cotton, the Man Behind the GOP's Insane Letter to Iran

This weekend, freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas spearheaded a completely innocent effort to let Iran know that, basically, the Senate GOP would fight any nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic even after it was signed. That, at least, was the implicit threat in the open letter Cotton wrote; the explicit one was that any future president could easily undo such an accord.

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Wikileaks Info Cherry-Picked by Corporate Media to Bolster Case Against Iran

A source provides details to the American government about the nefarious activities of a Middle Eastern country. That information ends up in scores of secret U.S. government documents. Subsequently, the information winds up on the front pages of major newspapers, and is heralded by war hawks in Washington as a casus belli.

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A Global Day of Action for Iran

Last week, Iranians were back out on the streets in numbers, braving beatings and tear gas with bullets whizzing over their heads – risking arrest or, worse, life and limb. Fissures are even becoming apparent in the higher echelons of the Islamic Republic. Like Mir Hossien Moussavi’s initially reluctant leadership of the opposition, the cracks in the elite structures are fostered by the continuing strength of increasingly defiant demonstrators, and vice versa.

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The World Watches as Lebanon Goes to the Polls

WASHINGTON, Jun 5 (IPS) -- After emerging from a political crisis last year, the Lebanese people will head to the polls Jun. 7 to determine the composition of the new parliament. A variety of foreign powers, including the U.S., will be watching closely, waiting for the electoral results before they determine their policies towards the new government.

The outcome is especially important because many analysts view the elections through the lens of the struggle between U.S. and Iranian regional hegemonic aspirations.

No one is sure whether the Saad al-Hariri’s Western-backed March 14 alliance will retain its parliamentary majority, or whether the balance of power will shift to the Iranian-backed March 8 movement, led by the Shi’a militant group Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement of Maronite Christian Michael Aoun.

An agreement after Hezbollah took the Sunni Arab neighbourhoods of Beirut by force a year ago strengthened Hezbollah’s opposition, granting their coalition veto power over actions of the government. Now the group is looking to expand its power and perhaps take the helm of government.

The U.S. has designated Hezbollah, an armed Shia group that also serves as a social organization and political party for much of Lebanon's Shia population, a terrorist group

Asked by National Public Radio on Monday whether the U.S. would recognize electoral gains by Hezbollah, U.S. President Barack Obama stumbled through an answer which indicated that he was waiting to see what happened in the election.

"Well, look, if at some point -- Lebanon is a member of the United Nations -- if at some point they are elected as a head of state, or a head of state is elected in Lebanon that is a member of that organization, then that would raise these issues. That hasn’t happened yet," he said.

While the U.S. currently supports Lebanon under a government in which Hezbollah is in opposition, a government there led by the group and its allies might draw concern in Washington, where support for Hezbollah’s adversary Israel and antipathy towards the group’s patron, Iran, run deep.

The elections, however unpredictable, do retain the typical character of Lebanese politics: several regional and international players have a stake in the process.

The list of countries deeply interested in the elections goes beyond the usual Mideast regional players – Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – and into the realm of international powers such as the U.S., France and Russia.

The Obama administration deemed the Lebanese election important enough to dispatch Vice President Joe Biden to Beirut last week -- the first time in 25 years that a sitting U.S. president or vice president has visited Lebanon.

Biden said that he hadn’t come to back any specific Lebanese party, but he later remarked that the U.S. "will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government."

"When there is an American embrace, it almost always backfires, particularly in the Middle East," said the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) Les Campbell, at a panel hosted by the Washington-based Aspen Institute.

At the same panel, Middle East analyst and al-Hayat correspondent Raghida Dergham referenced the involvement of outside players in Lebanon, calling the country a laboratory where regional power struggles are carried out between countries like Iran, Syria and Israel.

In addition to the struggle between external powers, Dergham said the stakes were even higher for Lebanon itself.

"If Hezbollah wins, the fabric of society may change. The meaning of ‘the state’ may change," she said, though she insisted she wasn’t predicting a Hezbollah victory. She said she feared another violent conflict with Israel, which fought a 34-day war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

"I’m afraid the Netanyahu government wants to shield themselves from a peace process, and Lebanon might be the platform to do that if Hezbollah wins," she said.

The U.S. has not telegraphed how it would react to a Hezbollah win, but experts have made some predictions.

"If Hezbollah and its allies win a majority and they lead the next government, at that point we will see the Obama administration pull back in the level of what aid it provides militarily," said Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) fellow Mohammad Bazzi during a press call. "We may see a continuation in training, but there will be a pullback in arms [aid]."

Indeed, when another Islamic "resistance" group, Hamas, won Palestinian Authority (PA) elections, it was largely frozen out by the West, including the U.S., which withdrew or diverted some 400 million dollars of aid to the PA.

The U.S. has been supporting the Lebanese military, which is widely viewed as a unifying national institution, with the intention of bolstering it. The army, however, has neither the mandate nor the ability to carry U.N. resolution 1771, which calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese militias.

It is unlikely Hezbollah will opt to form a government on its own. Rather, to make the new government more palatable - both within Lebanon and abroad - a coalition with elements of the March 14th movement is likely.

Despite Hariri’s publicly saying he will not join a government led by the March 8th coalition – Hezbollah and its allies – NDI’s Campbell believes that, regardless of which side emerges from the election with more seats, "there will likely be a unity government."

Campbell sees claims to the contrary by March 14th leaders as an effort to impress the importance of turnout upon their constituents.

Hezbollah’s coalition already includes Aoun, who, despite aligning himself with Hezbollah, has some sharply divergent political goals. Such allies, whose support would be needed for a March 8th victory, would likely moderate Hezbollah’s agenda.

Pointing to a likely national unity government, the close U.S. relationship with Lebanese president and former army general Michel Suleiman, and the fact that leading the government would make Hezbollah accountable to the public, Financial Times columnist Roula Khalaf argued that the U.S. should support whomever emerges from the elections.

"[A]t a time when President Barack Obama is on a mission to improve America’s battered image in the Muslim world... it would be a mistake to punish voters for making what the U.S. considered to be the wrong choice," Khalaf wrote.

"At a time when the U.S. is trying to engage Syria and Iran," Khalaf continued, "it can surely find justification for respecting the choice of Lebanese voters, even if it finds the outcome of the elections disagreeable."

Indeed, the U.S. special envoy for Mideast peace, former Senator George Mitchell, will visit the region next week. Though the State Department would not confirm his itinerary, there is speculation that Mitchell’s trip will include his first visit to Syria as special envoy.

In her blog at Foreign Policy, Laura Rozen revealed that Mitchell will make a stop in Lebanon in the period immediately following the election.

Last month, the German newspaper Der Spiegel wrote a bombshell article which asserted that leaks from an investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri – Saad’s father – reveal that Hezbollah was involved.

Some commentators, including politicians from both sides of the Lebanese political spectrum, have debated the veracity of the Der Spiegel article – some noting its timing just before the elections.

Attempts to Undermine Hamas Are Killing Gaza

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 - Despite a desperate need to rebuild the Gaza Strip, viewed by many as a key ingredient to reuniting the Palestinian territories and building a two-state peace deal with Israel, it appears that the U.S. and the international community are poised to continue old, politically charged policies that will impede progress.

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MoveOn Launches Campaign for Bold Progressive Reforms as the Obama Era Begins

Huge throngs came to Washington to watch President-elect Barack Obama get sworn into office and attend one, or if they were lucky, several balls, parties and events. Widely billed as the biggest celebration ever to come to town, visitors couldn't help but notice that the grassroots progressive groups that helped get Obama elected are far from fading into the background until the next round of elections. Instead, those visitors -- and perhaps some Washington insiders, too -- were forced to see the advertisements spread across D.C.'s transit system proclaiming that MoveOn.org is preparing to throw its full weight behind immediately launching bold progressive reforms.

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IDF Using Flesh-Burning Chemical Against Civilians

More and more press reports about Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) using a controversial weapon against the Gaza Strip continue to surface. Even in the face of mounting evidence and criticism from increasingly reliable sources, however, the official Israeli line has not changed: Deny, deny, deny.

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Newspapers in Swing States Are Delivering Anti-Islam DVDs to Voters

Millions of voters in U.S. states crucial to this fall's presidential election received DVD copies of a controversial documentary film as advertising inserts in their morning newspapers over the past week, with more expected to be sent out over the upcoming weekend.

The 2006 film, Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, which has been accused by critics of encouraging Islamophobia, was reportedly delivered, or slated for delivery this weekend, into tens of millions of households in states such as Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Missouri and other "swing states" that don't vote consistently for either party and usually decide elections.

Republicans and their candidate, Sen. John McCain, have made battling the threat posed by radical Islamists a central platform of their campaign, while presenting their Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, as being weak on the issue. Obama has also fought off persistent smear campaigns, particularly among Jewish voters, that he is a closet Muslim.

Gregory Ross, the spokesman for the Clarion group, which produced and is distributing the DVD, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that the movie was being delivered to 28 million homes throughout the month of September and that the intention was not to sway voters to either candidate.

The Clarion Fund is a shadowy non-profit group created to "educate Americans about issues of national security," according to its website. The staff and organizational information of the group is not listed on the website.

Clarion Fund was founded by the writer and executive produce of Obsession, Israeli-Canadian Raphael Shore. The group also runs the website Radicalislam.org -- an educational site which implores its readers to "take action against radical Islam" by exploring its resources under four headings: "fueling terror," "Sharia law," "vote 2008," and "radical Islam overview."

Because of Clarion Fund's non-profit, tax-exempt status, it is not permitted to sway voters in a partisan manner. But Radicalislam.org reportedly was, until it was recently pointed out in the media, carrying an article that explicitly endorsed Sen. John McCain.

IPS telephoned the Clarion Fund and its reported contact and counsel, Eli D. Greenberg of the New York law firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman and Herz. The calls were not returned.

The documentary, despite an initial disclaimer that the material covered applies only to radical Islamists and not all Muslims, has drawn fire from critics for conflating mainstream Islam with violent and militant tendencies of a smaller subset of the religion. Critics argue that it makes little distinction between the religion of Islam and the political realities that inform terrorism.

Among the film's stable of experts are "reformed" Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorist and convert to evangelical Christianity Walid Shoebat, self-described terrorism expert Stephen Emerson, and another evangelical convert from Islam named Noni Darwish who runs a website called Arabs for Israel.

An investigation by IPS last year revealed that the production and promotion of Obsession was tied to several right-wing Zionist groups in the U.S. and Israel. Raphael Shore's brother, Rabbi Ephraim Shore, heads up the Israeli group Aish Hatorah, which helped form HonestReporting, an organization which, the IPS investigation revealed, had ties to the film despite the apparent denials of the relationship.

Several of the newspapers that ran the advertising insert were contacted for interviews by IPS, and those who responded all gave similar responses that, though the material may or may not agree with the editorial positions of the papers, the DVDs met the standards for advertising. The newspapers said they did not want to participate in censorship.

Asked how advertisements are screened for inclusion with the paper, the publisher of the North Carolina News and Observer, Orage Quarels III, told IPS, "Is it slanderous? Is it bias? We look at each one individually."

"We take all advertising on good faith," Jim McClure, the vice president of advertising for the News and Observer, which sent out about 250,00 copies, told IPS when asked if the paper considered the intent of advertisers when considering their submissions. "This product came from the Clarion Fund, it was clearly identified, there was a website an address and a phone number on the package, and it came to us through an advertising agency."

"We're getting many concerned calls and emails from Muslims around the country who see this as an attempt to not only marginalize and demonize the American Muslim community, but also to sway the election by targeting swing states," Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told IPS. "People are outraged. I haven't seen this kind of outrage in a long time. It's coming to their homes, it's coming to their neighbors and they believe its going to impact their lives and their children's lives negatively."

Hooper also said there had apparently already been an incident of bias against a bus driver for Islamic school children in Ohio. The biased comments were likely inspired by film.

The New York Times distributed about 145,000 copies of the DVD in national editions of the paper in eleven markets, including Denver, Colorado; Miami, Tampa, and Orlando in Florida; Detroit, Michigan; Kansas City and St. Louis in Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to Times spokesperson Diane McNulty.

McNulty classified the ad as opinion advertising. "It went through our advertising acceptability office, and they looked at it," McNulty told IPS. She was unsure, however, if that office had viewed the DVD before accepting it. A message left for Steph Jesperson of the Times' advertising acceptability office went unanswered.

McClure, of the News and Observer, told IPS that they have gotten overwhelmingly negative responses for readers and will be running objections as letters to the editor in upcoming editions of the paper.

But at least one newspaper, the News and Record of North Carolina, declined to carry the DVD.

"We did not distribute it. I was not involved in the decision; it was an advertising call, in keeping with advertising policies," wrote John Robinson, the editor of the News and Record on his blog. "I asked our publisher about it. He said it was divisive and plays on people's fears and served no educational purpose. The revenue it would have brought in was not a motivator."

Indeed, the print newspaper industry has seen a precipitous decline in revenue, and many critics contend that it's a tough decision for newspapers in economic straits to turn down advertising dollars. In press reports, many newspapers declined to give the advertising rate for their distribution of the DVD, and a few commented that the Clarion group paid the standard advertising rates.

But exactly who paid those standard rates is still in question.

The half million dollars needed to produce the movie was reportedly borrowed by Shore and Clarion, so it is unclear that they had the money to make the recent mass distribution effort, which likely was a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

"I can't imagine that you can produce, package, distribute and advertise this product for less than 50 million dollars," Hooper told IPS.

He also insisted that the substantial financial push may have been intended to sway the election. "Why did they choose to distribute this hate propaganda to millions of homes in swing states in this election?"

The Persecution of Political Prisoner Sami Al-Arian

WASHINGTON, Jul 2 (IPS) -- Palestinian activist and former university professor Sami Al-Arian was arraigned Monday in U.S. federal court on two counts of criminal contempt for his refusal to testify in a grand jury investigation of a Northern Virginia Muslim think-tank.

The indictment is the latest episode of a long, Kafka-esque process that has violated nearly every tenet of Al-Arian's plea agreement following the end of his first trial in 2005, and kept Al-Arian in prison for over five years.

"The government has made a complete mockery of the plea agreement," Al-Arian's attorney, Jonathon Turley, told IPS. "Dr. Al-Arian has received zero benefit from his plea agreement."

Supporters of Al-Arian cited the charges as an attempt by an overzealous Justice Department prosecutor to keep Al-Arian behind bars indefinitely despite an inability to secure a jury conviction. There is no maximum penalty for criminal contempt.

"The whole case against him is a vindictive act by sore losers that lost the Florida case badly because there was no evidence," Al-Arian's daughter, Laila, told IPS. "So they're manufacturing crimes to keep him in prison as long as possible. It's almost as if the whole plea agreement was just a way to buy time."

The indictment said that Al-Arian had refused to testify in violation of a court order. But Al-Arian's defense holds that his subpoena was out of line with his original agreement, which included an express promise that Al-Arian did not have to cooperate further with the government.

On Monday, Al-Arian was moved from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail to the Alexandria courthouse where he was arraigned. He had been in ICE custody for over three months awaiting an expedited deportation as part of the 2005 plea.

In ICE prisons, which have been the target of frequent criticism for their harsh conditions, Al-Arian was only allowed one visitor per month. When arraigned on Monday, Al-Arian and his defense did not enter a plea because they had not had the chance to discuss the charges yet, Turley wrote on his blog. The court entered a not guilty plea.

The think-tank, the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), is under investigation for alleged ties to terrorism. Al-Arian's defense contends that he gave two affidavits making clear that he has no knowledge of crimes committed by IIIT, and he has offered to take a polygraph lie-detection test to back them up.

Turley told IPS that this constituted cooperation and that Gordon Kromberg, the assistant U.S. attorney who signed the indictments, had agreed -- sending Turley an e-mail saying that it looked like the proposed resolution would work. The next day, Turley learned of the indictments from the media.

Kromberg has been criticized for prosecutorial abuses ranging from stoking Islamophobia among jurors to get convictions, to outright anti-Muslim comments as recorded in court motions, and -- perhaps most shockingly -- punishing defendants that a jury will not convict.

In 1999, at a Cato Institute event on asset forfeiture reform to curb abuses, Kromberg spoke out in favor of broad governmental powers to seize belongings. In Reason Magazine, Michael Lynch's retelling of the Cato event noted that jaws hit the floor when Kromberg, opposed by much of the crowd in defending forfeiture, said that prosecutors should be able to punish wrongdoing if they are convinced it occurred.

"He knew these people were guilty and was certain they needed to be punished," Lynch paraphrased Kromberg's position. "Should we let these people get away, he asked, before answering in an illuminating way: Not if we can punish them through other means."

While the forfeiture battle was a far cry from prosecuting terrorism suspects, Kromberg's assertions about prosecutorial powers is germane to Al-Arian's case in that it reveals his thinking about punishing those he deems guilty even if a jury refuses to do so.

Critics also accuse Kromberg of having an anti-Muslim bias, springing in part, they say, from a strong affinity for Israel.

Kromberg participated in a United Jewish Committee's mission to Israel and kept a diary in which he writes of visiting sites of previous terrorist attacks and discusses some of the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the diary, Kromberg refers to the occupied territories of the West Bank by the name "Judea and Samaria" -- a term favored by right-wing Israelis who often oppose land concessions and a two-state solution -- and referred to "the enthusiasm of the Palestinians to use mass murder as a tool against the Israelis for no apparent end other than to destroy Israel."

Al-Arian has been significantly engaged in Muslim and Palestinian activism since the late 1970s.

In a court motion, one of Al-Arian's legal team quoted Kromberg as saying, "If they [Muslims] can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury," in response to request that Al-Arian's jail transfer be delayed until after the Muslim holy month had ended.

Al-Arian was initially arrested in 2003 and kept in jail for two and half years before his first trial on terrorism charges.

The Bush administration was embarrassed when it couldn't secure a single conviction in one of its highest-profile terrorism cases against the man who then-attorney general John Ashcroft accused of being the head of a Palestinian terrorist organization.

Facing retrial on the deadlocked charges, Al-Arian decided to spare his family the agony of another long trial ordeal by pleading to a lesser charge of aiding associates of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and directly aiding the group before its designation as a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1997.

But Al-Arian set conditions for his agreement. Witnessing the strains that his imprisonment and trial had put on his own family, he refused to work with the government on other cases. He also demanded an expedited deportation when the sentence for his guilty plea expired.

Melva Underbakke, the head of a Tampa-based rights organization who drove nine hours to attend the arraignment, said, "You got the feeling [Al-Arian] has been through this before. The Al-Arian family is amazing. They looked strong."

Al-Arian will have a hearing next week to determine if he can be released on bond pending trail. The government opposes this, but Al-Arian's legal team contends that he is not a flight risk.

"Dr. Al-Arian (1) has lived in this country for over 30 years; (2) had lawful alien status; (3) has family with deep ties in the country; (4) has citizens willing to serve in a custodial status; (5) has no passport; and (6) is willing to be continually monitored under home confinement. The opposition of the government is purely gratuitous and retaliatory under such conditions," wrote Turley in his blog.

Right-Wing Media Using Immigration Debate to Mainstream Hate

In 2008, immigration may be what gay marriage was to the 2004 election: a divisive issue used not to present an actual policy or platform, but rather to galvanize a voting bloc.

Fear-mongering on the issue of immigration comes from a bevy of sources -- from white supremacist groups to CNN.

"Illegal immigrants are attacking our culture and our way of life," Glenn Beck told his audience on his "CNN Headline News" in the manner typical for his prime time-show -- Beck discussed the "scourge" of undocumented workers on more than a quarter of his 2007 programs.

In a report released Wednesday, the watchdog group Media Matters documented and dispelled a pattern of myths propagated by cable news shows and their anchors that fuel anti-immigrant racism and have sparked an increase in hate crimes against Latinos.

"The language of today's hosts, like Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, is divisive and inflammatory, and often misleading," said Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, at a Capitol Hill news conference announcing the release of the report. "It only creates fear, hatred and negative stereotyping of immigrants."

Dobbs, the host of CNN's prime-time show "Lou Dobbs Tonight," is the ringleader of the cable news anti-immigration fear mongers -- featuring often-distorted stories about immigration on 70 percent of his programs in 2007.

Frank Sharry, founder of the immigration reform group America's Voice, said, "Lou Dobbs' show is marketed as 'a time for answers,' when we know it should be marketed as 'a time for anger.'"

Janet Murguía, the president of the Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza, said the distorted rants of the anti-immigration news anchors can't be simply dismissed as an exercise in free speech. "Hateful words have hateful consequences," she said.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., noted that the period of increased anti-immigrant vitriol on cable news has correlated with a period that's seen an unprecedented increase in hate crimes against Latinos, according to the FBI.

Dobbs, Beck and O'Reilly often build upon several themes of what they claim undocumented workers, often referred to simply as "illegals," do to the country. The Media Matters report, "Fear and Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News," systematically dismantles many of the harshest talking points.

One of the most common myths is that undocumented workers drain government resources while the same workers pay nothing into the system. But as Media Matters notes, "even documented immigrants are ineligible for most forms of public assistance for the first five years they reside in the United States or until they attain citizenship," let alone undocumented ones.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., used humor to skewer the idea that undocumented workers don't pay taxes by wondering aloud if there was some secret line at retail outlets where undocumented workers bought their goods without paying sales tax (sales taxes represent the largest share of taxes paid by all low-income workers). Moreover, the Media Matters report points out that most undocumented workers use false social security numbers to get jobs and, through paycheck deductions, pay taxes that they will never be able to draw benefits from.

In fact, undocumented workers pay a plethora of other taxes, too -- even by paying rent, they contribute to property taxes.

But the patently false drain on the economy and social services are the least of the worries of the anti-immigrant crusaders: They also focus on the myriad of ways that undocumented workers threaten Americans with bodily harm.

One of the most common claims, discussed during 94, 66 and 29 episodes of Dobbs', O'Reilly's and Beck's shows, respectively, is that illegal immigrants are more prone to crime, endangering the very security of Americans.

Noting that no academic or government study on immigration and crime differentiates between illegal and legal immigrants, the Media Matters report says, "The evidence strongly suggests that immigrants in general are less likely to commit comes" than the native population.

As they're wont to do, the cable news anchors have their own statistics that show otherwise. However, their statistics are twisted or misrepresented, as with their claim that a vastly disproportional number of U.S. federal prisoners are non-U.S. born -- about a quarter of the total.

That number is skewed, as federal prisons only comprise one-tenth of the total prison population, and immigration violations are federal offenses. The actual share of non-citizen prisoners is 5.9 percent overall; the foreign-born population of the United States is about 12 percent of the total, which means that foreign-born people are significantly less likely to be behind bars.

Furthermore, the anchors often repeat the same stories about undocumented workers committing crimes over and over again, giving the impression that many crimes are being perpetrated.

Media Matters documents that O'Reilly dedicated segments on 13 separate programs to a single case of an undocumented worker who was responsible for two drunken-driving fatalities in Virginia, "brush(ing) aside arguments that such cases are unrepresentative."

Another common myth of the potential harm that illegal immigrants pose to American life and limb is that undocumented immigrants are conduits for bringing diseases to U.S. shores.

"Twelve million immigrants who come across the border, many of them have diseases, and they're not checked!" exclaimed right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan as a guest on O'Reilly's Fox News Channel program. It's not an uncommon point.

The Media Matters report said Dobbs has brought up the notion of undocumented workers increasing U.S. cases of leprosy 10 times since 2005. But the figure cited by Dobbs' expert, 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the past three years, actually referred to an aggregate number for the past 30 years.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services' National Hansen's Disease Program, there have been fewer than 400 new cases of leprosy in the period discussed by Dobbs and his expert.

But Dobbs refused to back down from his claim, telling CBS News' Lesley Stahl, "If we reported it, it's a fact." The participants in Wednesday's news conference feared that Dobbs and the other anchors' viewers would have the same response.

Even some members of Congress mistake the myths of cable news for facts, said Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif. And the fiery rhetoric continues to draw new viewers and increase the revenue-generating ratings of the programs.

The news media, said Paul Waldman of Media Matters, "has a responsibility to the public. Their responsibility does not end with their bottom line. If they're going to call themselves a news station, then they have a responsibility to the truth."

"It is the networks that bear the ultimate responsibility," he said.

In the democratic system where an independent media is intended to be a sacrosanct way of informing citizens and arming them for political choices, the prime-time cable news shows in question have debased the debate over immigration into the worst kind of dishonest fear-mongering.

Sharry warns that while presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has relatively moderate views on immigration, his down-ballot Republican ticket-mates are going to run on an anti-immigration platform "like never before," painting the issue as an urgent matter of national security.

"We all want to figure out a solution that protects our borders, our economy and our American values," said Menendez on Wednesday. "But if we are going to have a productive, civil debate about it, we are going to have to come to the table with facts, not misinformation; with respect for one another, not hate."

Pentagon Gives Blackwater Mercenaries New Contract

A U.S.-based private security firm received a contract worth up to 92 million dollars from the Department of Defence amid hard questions about its involvement in two separate violent incidents in Iraq.

"Blackwater has been a contractor in the past with the department and could certainly be in the future," said the U.S.'s top-ranking military officer, General Peter Pace, at an afternoon press conference here.

The future arrived just two hours later when the Pentagon released a new list of contracts -- Presidential Airways, the aviation unit of parent company Blackwater, was awarded the contract to fly Department of Defence passengers and cargo between locations around central Asia.

The announcement comes as a cloud of suspicion is gathering around the "professional military" firm for its actions as a State Department security contractor in Iraq in which at least eight Iraqis and possibly as many as 28 were killed, including a woman and child.

Last week, the Iraqi government announced that it had revoked Blackwater's license to operate in the country.

The initial report by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security on the incident was put together by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and details of the event where a car bomb exploded near a meeting attended by officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Some of the Blackwater team hired as security for the officials was involved in the shootout while apparently trying to clear an evacuation path.

In a statement issued last week, Blackwater USA spokesperson Anne Tyrrell denied any wrongdoing and said that, "Blackwater's independent contractors acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack in Baghdad on Sunday. Blackwater regrets any loss of life but this convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job to defend human life."

However, an official with knowledge of the investigation told the New York Times that the evacuation effort was marked by confusion and chaos -- the Blackwater employees believed they were being fired on, but this contradicted the initial Iraqi report on the incident that said there was no enemy fire. There was also apparently an incident of infighting when one guard did not heed a ceasefire call.

In a press conference Wednesday, the deputy press secretary of the State Department gave a non-denial of reports in the press that the Department of Defence has hinted to the State Department that the investigation into Blackwater should be reined in, only highlighting that the departments were working together and that the reports in the press had come from anonymous sources.

Blackwater USA, which has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq and 800 million dollars in U.S. government contracts, has been one of the most prominent private security firms operating in the country. Some of its notable assignments have included protecting L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, as well as Crocker, who is currently the leading U.S. diplomatic envoy to Iraq.

The firm came into the public eye in March 2004, when four of its employees were killed and mutilated by an Iraqi mob in Fallujah, the war-torn Iraqi city that was an insurgent stronghold at the time. The incident touched off the unsuccessful U.S. attempt to retake the city in April 2004.

Family members of the four employees slain in Fallujah have since sued Blackwater, alleging that the firm failed to provide necessary equipment and manpower that could have saved the employees' lives.

A separate report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee faulted Blackwater's conduct in the Fallujah incident, in which Blackwater was transporting flatbed trucks when its team was ambushed.

"Blackwater embarked on this mission without sufficient preparation, resources and support for its personnel," concluded the report, saying that the firm had ignored warnings by another security company, cut the staff for the mission by putting rear gunners for both involved security vehicles on administrative duties, and went out with insufficiently armoured vehicles.

"Management in North Carolina made the decision to go with soft skin due to the cost" despite the fact that the contract paid for armoured vehicles, said a Blackwater employee quoted in the report, referring to Blackwater's headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina.

The Congressional report noted that the Blackwater men had been sent on their mission without maps and ended up at the wrong military base, where they had to spend the night because of fighting nearby.

Control Risks Group, another security force working in the area at the time, warned Blackwater about the mission after they had twice been offered the same task but "refused both times due to the obvious risk transporting slow-moving loads through such a volatile area."

On the heels of the House Committee report, Congressman David E. Price of North Carolina will introduce legislation next week to extend the reach of U.S. civil courts to include security contractors in Iraq. The proposed bill, H.R. 2740, will also establish F.B.I. investigative units in the war zone charged with investigating allegations of misconduct.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week, Price wrote, "The allegations related to the Sept. 16 incident have the potential to become a flashpoint in terms of Iraqi antagonism toward U.S. personnel, with wide-ranging implications for our mission and our troops. There is no question that the lack of clarity surrounding the legal options for prosecuting criminal acts has significantly undermined our efforts in Iraq."

The various investigations into security contractors working for the U.S. government in Iraq and related legislation are heralded by critics of the Bush administration's approach to the war, pointing to the failures of the so-called [Donald] Rumsfeld doctrine, which promotes a more streamlined and greatly privatised military based on an "entrepreneurial approach" and raising questions about rampant war-profiteering.

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