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CAIR blog

CAIR's vision is to be a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding.

CAIR's mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

Robert McCaw is the Director of Government Affairs Department at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.

Robert McCaw

The U.S. Justice Department's targeted killing memo

In response to a court order, the Obama administration has released the Justice Department's 41-page legal memo on U.S. targeted killing operations. The memo was used in the decision-making process that led to the 2011 extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdurrahman, who was also a U.S. citizen. The memo was released in response to a court order in consolidated FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) lawsuits filed by the ACLU and The New York Times.

For the past several years, CAIR has joined the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other civil liberties and human rights organizations in calling on the president and submitting testimony to Congress seeking the release of all U.S. government targeted killing memos related to counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.

It's critical for Americans to know how our government determines its own authority to assassinate U.S. citizens suspected of supporting or engaging in acts of terrorism. And the U.S. government's targeted killing program has not only taken the lives of several American citizens but has killed thousands of other people, including countless civilians who are all too often referred to as necessary collateral damage.

As a nation we must ensure that the rule of law and respect for human life is preserved -- whether the intended target is a U.S. citizen or a foreign national -- when targeting groups like al-Qaeda. If we don't, such groups will continue to capitalize on America's targeted killing program, drawing support from popular resentment built around unintended but all too frequent civilian deaths.

CAIR looks forward to reviewing the memo, and continues to urge our government to commit to further disclosure and transparency of American counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs department manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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Robert McCaw

CAIR's take on President Obama's 2014 State of the Union address

On Tuesday night President Obama delivered his 2014 State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. In response to the president's speech, I'd like to highlight several key areas of the address that are important to the American Muslim community and provide CAIR's response.

Domestic surveillance

"[W]orking with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs -- because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

Two weeks ago, CAIR again urged the president to end the bulk collection of citizens' telephone and internet metadata. On January 17, the president addressed public concerns over the National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of citizens' phone records, promising to develop a solution, although not actually providing one. The president asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to decide who will store Americans' phone call records, whether it be phone companies or a third party that doesn't yet exist.

CAIR disagrees with the president on this issue and believes that the privacy of ordinary people is being violated. CAIR instead concurs with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's recent report declaring that the NSA's bulk collection of citizens' phone records is illegal and should immediately be ended. Moreover, bulk collection of phone records is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to domestic surveillance programs. CAIR calls on Congress to restore the privacy rights of all citizens with the introduction of the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act.

Closing the prison at Guantanamo (by 2014?)

"[W]ith the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay -- because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR is pleased that the president has once again called for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo. After six years of promising to do so without any results, he recently signed into law an annual defense spending bill passed by Congress that eases transfer restrictions on inmates from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign nations. The law will ease some of the more rigid transfer provisions that Congress had previously placed on the administration and foreign nations willing to accept prisoners.

With that said, CAIR now encourages President Obama to use his newly granted authorities to begin the process of transferring prisoners who have already been cleared for release to the nations willing to accept them. And while CAIR remains optimistic that in 2014 the situation at Guantanamo will improve, we remain concerned about the lack of due process for prisoners who remain in indefinite detention at Guantanamo without a hearing or trial, and disappointed in Congress for not doing anything to address the controversial threat of indefinite military detention of persons on U.S. soil as authorized by the 2011 NDAA.

Use of Drones

"[E]ven as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks -- through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners -- America must move off a permanent war footing. That's why I've imposed prudent limits on the use of drones -- for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR continues to hope that the president's words translate into action when it comes to moving the U.S. off of "permanent war footing"; it's good to see him acknowledging that our national security is jeopardized when "people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence."

A drone strike on December 12 in Yemen hit a wedding party, killing 12 and injuring 14 others. Such unlawful killings, just one of many examples, cannot be written up as "collateral damage" in the war on terrorism.

CAIR believes that if the administration is truly interested in limiting the use of drones it will publicly address the drone program's lack of public accountability and transparency, claims of executive overreach, possible lack of due process in lethally targeting American citizens, and the high number of civilian casualties that have resulted from these attacks.

As outlined in CAIR's congressional testimony on the use of drone warfare, the president must establish transparent and accountable guidelines and procedures that better define the U.S. drone program's legal framework and avoid civilian deaths and injuries.

Comprehensive immigration reform

"Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, and contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let's get immigration reform done this year." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR applauds the president for reaffirming his support for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. CAIR strongly supports Congress passing immigration reform this year, and urges the House of Representatives to reject piecemeal measures that would increase racial and religious profiling, unconstitutional detention, and militarization of the U.S. border. Rather, Congress should adopt comprehensive immigration reform that provides a framework for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to obtain legal status and eventual citizenship.

Securing a fair living wage

"Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn't involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR supports the president in his call for an increase to the federal minimum wage and also on the right to work. Looking for Islamic spiritual guidance on the issue of wages, we find in the Holy Quran: "And O my people! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due" (Quran 11:85). The Prophet Muhammad said that on the Day of Judgment one group of people he will oppose are those who "hire a worker, but do not pay him his right wages owed to him after fulfilling his work."

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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Robert McCaw

How Would Dr. King React to NSA Spying on Americans?

 

By Robert McCaw

How would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have reacted to recent revelations that the U.S. government is collecting and storing nearly every citizen's phone records and gathering their electronic data?

From 1958 until his 1968 assassination, the FBI conducted extensive surveillance on Dr. King, amassing over 17,000 pages of material on his day-to-day activities.

Today King's legacy as a civil rights leader is celebrated; there is even a federal holiday named after him. But during his lifetime, the government tracked his movements, tapped his phones, bugged his offices and hotel rooms, and planted informants to spy on him. In addition, the FBI anonymously sent him a letter threatening to destroy his credibility and suggesting that he commit suicide to avoid this.

King was also separately targeted by an NSA domestic spying program called "Minaret." With others, including Muhammad Ali, Dr. King was labeled and watch-listed as a possible "domestic terrorist and foreign radical" suspect.

We know that Dr. King was aware of his constant surveillance and the threat that it posed to him, yet he continued to teach and promote the ideals of peaceful organizing and resistance, equality, fraternity, and freedom until his life was taken.

So how would he react to the recent disclosures that the NSA and FBI, along with the CIA, DEA, and even local law enforcement agencies like the NYPD are spying on U.S. citizens by collecting communication metadata and infiltrating public demonstrations, activist circles, and houses of worship?

Today Dr. King would be confronted with the Orwellian truth that we are all under surveillance, although some groups -- like American Muslims -- are under more scrutiny than others. However, whether you are white or black, Hispanic or Asian, Muslim or Christian, the government is spying on all groups as potential "domestic terrorist and foreign radicals."

Just as it was 50 years ago, the NSA and FBI have once again been caught abusing their surveillance powers, infringing on the liberties they are sworn to protect -- all in the name of national security.

These government spying programs constitute a clear violation the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, and chills First Amendment freedom of speech.

Dr. King supported the Constitution as a framework for all citizens to achieve equal rights, and I believe he would have vocally opposed such government intrusions and spying. While he may have remained publicly silent on the government's unlawful invasion of his personal life, it's hard to believe that he would have sat idly by and let every American experience similar attacks on personal liberties as he faced while leading the battle for civil rights and the nation's soul.

To honor Dr. King's legacy and the values on which our nation was founded, Americans should work together to challenge these expansive domestic spying programs that are robbing us of our civil liberties.

Some members of Congress and the Obama administration make the claim that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Dr. King would know better -- the Constitution is clear and these programs are illegal and need to be ended.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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Robert McCaw

CAIR celebrates Independence Day by standing up for the Fourth Amendment

On July 4, CAIR will mark Independence Day by joining fellow Americans at the "Restore the Fourth" rally in Washington, D.C. in support of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

This rally comes at a time when the country's national security and law enforcement agencies are accused of engaging in several domestic spying programs that allowed them to obtain the daily phone, email and online records of American citizens and foreigners alike, without any probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Fourth of July honors that triumphant day in 1776 when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, asserting that America's thirteen colonies were free and independent from the tyrannical British rule. That our nation would establish a new Government under the principles that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Our nation's founders rejected the British Crown's "absolute despotism" and its "long train of abuses and usurpations" of Americans rights and state laws. Among the colonies' grievances against King George III were that he "obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers," "depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury" and abolished "our most valuable laws ... altering fundamentally the forms of our governments."

Prior to the Deceleration of Independence, in 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they wished, without any specific reason. John Adams -- signer of the Declaration of Independence and our nation's second president -- said of Otis's speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

Twelve years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence the U.S. Constitution was formally adopted, shortly followed by the ratification of the first ten amendments to that Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Those fundamental principles of liberty guided the American Revolution were enshrined in the Bill of Rights, preserving the personal freedoms of all American against any future tyrannies, abuses and usurpations of law.

Today, recent leaks have revealed that the National Security Agency, in cooperation with the FBI, is covertly carrying out at least two nationwide surveillance programs that collect information on the private calls and online activities of U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents alike. These programs are being carried out in secret partnership with some of the nation's top telecommunications and internet and technology companies.

That is why organizations like CAIR are celebrating Independence Day this year by rallying in support of the Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment. We rally under disheartening reports that our nation's national security or law enforcement agencies are engaged in domestic and international spying programs that undermine the core constitutional protections of privacy and prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

Through secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders, the federal government is obtaining -- without any probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing -- data from millions of American Verizon Business Network Services customers and user account information from Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype and AOL. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.

While some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, CAIR and the civil rights community believe that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause. ..."

Again, CAIR urges the president and Congress to establish clear criteria for how such communication records are collected and for how long they can be stored. Congress should amend of section 215 of the Patriot Act to enact better safeguards that protect Americans from such abuses, and commit to full public disclosure and transparency by declassifying aspects of the spying programs.

Legislative initiatives like these are necessary to protect the fourth amendment rights of all Americans, including members of the American Muslim community, which has been subject to unwarranted and discriminatory acts of surveillance for more than a decade. Furthermore, without additional information about the criteria that determine "foreignness," CAIR remains concerned that these programs could discriminate on the basis of religion and national origin.

CAIR is proud to be a part of that long tradition established by our nation's founding fathers in asserting the rights and liberties of our fellow citizens against the tyranny of government abuses and usurpations of law.

In celebration of the Fourth of July, we encourage you to read copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and take action by contacting the president and Congress to demand an immediate end to these abusive and unconstitutional government spying programs.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.

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Robert McCaw

It’s Time to Tell Our Nation’s Leaders to Stop Spying on Calls

Recent reports have revealed that the FBI and National Security Agency are “tapped” directly into the servers of the nation’s top Internet providers and collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.

I was told earlier today by a colleague from another civil rights organization “there is a good chance that the feds are intercepting my phone calls and emails, but I am sure that everyone in your organization and the Muslim community are under surveillance.”

My response was,“We are all under surveillance.”

I am a policy advocate for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.

As a nation we sat idly by while Congress passed and the president signed into law the USA PATRIOT Act and expanded the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – the primary sources of authority for these expansive domestic spying programs.

While Americans were told that these programs would be used primarily to target violent extremist groups like al-Qaeda, federal law enforcement and national security agencies quickly used their new found powers to spy on American citizens.

At present, the FBI and NSA have obtained direct access, under FISA secret court orders, to the servers of Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, and AOL. Under a surveillance program, code-named PRISM, they are collecting data on personal emails, chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferences, logins, and details on online social networking.

It has also been reported that FBI and the NSA are using the USA PATRIOT Act to obtain FISA secret court orders instructing Verizon Business Network Services to turn over millions of customer phone records. Under this secret court order, Verizon must provide the FBI and NSA with phone records “between the United States and abroad” and “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

This includes the phone numbers for both parties on a call, as well as data on time, location, duration, and other unique identifiers — but not  the names of persons participating in the calls (although such information is easily attainable) and the content of  their conversations.

Earlier today President Obama said at a press conference that we as a nation “Can’t have 100 percent safety and 100 percent security and 0 percent inconvenience.”

In response to the president, I would quote one of our nation’s founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, who said, People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.

This all-encompassing domestic spying program that collects and deciphers metadata aggregated from our phone calls, emails, and online footprints does not only affect the civil rights of American Muslims, it coercively dismantles the privacy and free speech rights of all Americans.

Such domestic spying programs can easily be dismantled, however, if all Americans who value the constitutional protections of privacy and prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure take action by contacting their elected representatives.

In 2011, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that “when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

I believe that it is entirely appropriate in light of these recent revelations that Americans join together in expressing their shock and anger over such abusive and unconstitutional government spying programs.

Some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. During a recent conference call joined by some of the nation’s leading rights organizations that work on surveillance issues it was agreed that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…”

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR’s national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
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