on: January 26, 2015, 02:28:34 PM
Started by Crafty_Dog - Last post by Crafty_Dog
The Assassin’s Veto
USA Today finds a deadly common ground.
Jan. 23, 2015 3:57 p.m. ET
(Note: We’ll be off Monday, returning Tuesday.)
“Common ground” is vastly overrated as a political virtue, and USA Today demonstrates why. In a pair of the paper’s recent op-eds one finds common ground between an Islamic supremacist and the dean of an American journalism school. Both men agree that free speech should be severely curtailed in a way that would empower violent extremists.
Iraqis burn the French flag. ENLARGE
Iraqis burn the French flag. Photo: Associated Press
Two weeks ago this column faulted USA Today for its choice of writer to rebut the paper’s pro-free-speech editorial the day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The “opposing view” came from Anjem Choudary, described in his shirttail bio as “a radical Muslim cleric in London and a lecturer in sharia.”
Many of our readers supported USA Today’s editorial decision on the ground that it is a public service to inform readers of the true attitudes of Islamic radicals, too often whitewashed by the media and political leaders. We acknowledged the next day that they had a point.
But what can one say about this week’s column by DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication in Baltimore? Choudary and Wickham make nearly identical arguments. Their columns are titled, respectively, “People Know the Consequences” and “ ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Crosses the Line.” Neither man expressly endorses the terrorists’ actions, but both strongly imply the victims had it coming because they offended their killers’ religious sensibilities.
Choudary: “Because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see. Within liberal democracies, freedom of expression has curtailments, such as laws against incitement and hatred. . . . So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity [sic] of its citizens at risk?”
Wickham: “If Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo’s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.”
Oddly, Wickham frames his argument in terms of First Amendment law, which, as he acknowledges, doesn’t apply in France. “Given the possible ripple effects of Charlie Hebdo’s mistreatment of Islam’s most sacred religious figure,” he writes, “at least people in this country should understand the limits America’s highest court has placed on free speech.”
To which one might add: especially people in this country who take it upon themselves to educate their fellow citizens, whether on campus or in the pages of a national newspaper. Wickham knows something about First Amendment law—but only enough to make an embarrassing show of how much he doesn’t know.
Wickham’s argument rests on two doctrines from early-20th-century First Amendment law: “clear and present danger” (Schenck v. U.S., 1919) and “fighting words” (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942). It is ludicrous to suggest that either doctrine would justify censoring a magazine’s irreverent depictions of Muhammad.
It is doubtful that Schenck is even good law anymore. “The Supreme Court hasn’t used the ‘clear and present danger’ test for First Amendment cases in decades,” notes HotAir.com blogger “AllahPundit”:
The test now for inflammatory speech is the Brandenburg test, a strciter [sic] standard that allows the state to criminalize incitement only in narrow circumstances—when the speaker intends to incite violence and violence is likely to quickly result. Charlie Hebdo’s Mohammed cartoons may have met the “likely” prong of that test but they sure didn’t meet the “intent” part.
We discussed Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) in last Friday’s column. There are additional reasons to think the Brandenburg doctrine would be inapplicable in defending a hypothetical effort to censor Charlie Hebdo. Brandenburg dealt with speech that advocated violence, something Charlie Hebdo has never to our knowledge done. And the incitement whose prospects the justices weighed and dismissed was of violence by supporters of the speaker—in Brandenburg, a Ku Klux Klan leader—not of an angry or violent reaction from opponents of his viewpoint.
The fighting-words doctrine, which is still good law, would be inapplicable for overlapping reasons. Fighting words have in common with incitement that a necessary element of their definition is the instantaneity of their effect. In Chaplinsky, Justice Frank Murphy defined fighting words as “those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” The key words here are “utterance” and “immediate.” To put it in laymen’s terms, if you encounter a stranger on the street and insult him—in Chaplinsky’s case by shouting, “You are a goddamned racketeer!”—you can’t escape prosecution by claiming you were just exercising your right to free speech and he started it by throwing the first punch.
One can imagine a case in which a Charlie Hebdo caricature would constitute fighting words (albeit of a symbolic nature): if, say, a latter-day Chaplinsky taunted a Muslim on the street by waving a copy of the magazine and a fight ensued, both men could be booked for a breach of the peace. But the publication of offensive words or images is not fighting words. In fact, Chaplinsky had been handing out leaflets whose substantive message was similar to the insult he uttered (“denouncing all religion as a ‘racket’ ”). He was cited only for the spoken provocation.
The massacre at Charlie Hebdo was nothing at all like a street fight or a riot. It was a carefully premeditated act of mass murder. To cite it as a justification for censorship is not just misguided but monstrous. In the months after 9/11 it became a cliché that if the government took this or that action in an effort to counter terrorism, “the terrorists will have won.” In this case, if Choudary and Wickham had their way the terrorists really would win—which is to say that they would succeed in their goal of suppressing by force criticism of or irreverence toward Islam.
Call it the assassin’s veto. And there is no principled basis to apply such a doctrine only in cases of Islamic supremacist violence. Martin Luther King and other civil-rights leaders were assassinated by white supremacists angry over the things the victims had said. By Wickham’s logic, that would have justified government censorship of speech in favor of civil rights. If the courts adopted the Wickham doctrine, extremists of all stripes would have a powerful incentive to kill.
There’s more. In citing the outdated clear-and-present-danger doctrine, Wickham does not specify its object—i.e., the answer to the question: Clear and present danger of what? In Schenck, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes did not limit the answer to violence, or to panic (Wickham tiresomely cites Holmes’s dicta about falsely shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater).
Here is the relevant passage in full: “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” That is sweeping enough to include speech encouraging the violation of any valid law.
In Schenck, the “substantive evil” in question was the evasion of the military draft during World War I. The case upheld the conviction of a Socialist Party official for sending antiwar leaflets through the mail. If the clear-and-present-danger doctrine applied today—or at the time of the civil-rights movement—it would justify arresting and convicting people for encouraging, even indirectly, nonviolent civil disobedience or other unlawful protest tactics.
Perhaps one can mount a defense of the Wickham piece similar to the one our readers offered of the Choudary one. If one takes Wickham’s views as representative of the attitudes of American academia—a proposition that may be too sweeping but is not altogether outlandish—then it is in the public interest to expose them. Perhaps the debate we ought to be having is whether there is any reason for journalism schools to exist if they’re run by people with so little regard for free expression.
on: January 26, 2015, 01:07:35 PM
Started by DougMacG - Last post by Crafty_Dog
An Opening for Elizabeth Warren If She Wants It
Hillary Clinton’s daunting lead in national polls masks much closer results in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Douglas E. Schoen
Jan. 25, 2015 7:31 p.m. ET
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told Fortune magazine this month that she won’t run for president in 2016, deepening the sense that the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton’s for the asking. Yet in contemporary politics the landscape can change dramatically, seemingly overnight. Before 2008 Barack Obama said repeatedly that he wasn’t running for president.
If Elizabeth Warren doesn’t change her mind, it could be because of intimidating national polls showing Mrs. Clinton with an overwhelming lead. Most recently, a CNN/ORC poll had the former secretary of state with a 66%-9% advantage over Ms. Warren.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2013. ENLARGE
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2013. Photo: Bloomberg News
But these numbers don’t tell the whole story, and if Ms. Warren eventually does get into the race, it could be because the numbers in the crucial primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire are not nearly so scary.
In my own recent polling there, I found a much more competitive landscape. Telephone interviews with 400 likely caucusgoers in Iowa and 400 likely primary voters in New Hampshire, conducted Jan. 13-15, suggest that Ms. Warren is already considerably more competitive than national polls suggest. In a head-to-head Clinton-Warren matchup in Iowa, Mrs. Clinton ran 15 points ahead of Ms. Warren, at 51%-36%. Surprisingly, caucus-voting Iowa Democrats already appear to be thoroughly familiar with the Massachusetts senator, and well-disposed toward her, with a 75%-7% favorability rating. Mrs. Clinton has great favorables, too: 93%-6%.
But Mrs. Clinton’s favorables don’t appear to make her invulnerable to a populist challenge from the left, as a Warren campaign would almost certainly be. My polling shows that there is a significant opening with Democratic primary voters who are extremely liberal in ideology and populist in orientation.
I also tested Mrs. Clinton’s message, based on her public statements, of charting a new direction and standing up for working people against Ms. Warren’s more explicitly populist direction in which government addresses fundamental unfairness in American society through more oversight of Wall Street and policies to reduce income inequality. In that message comparison, Ms. Warren polled a mere four points behind Mrs. Clinton, at 31% to 35%.
Ms. Warren could find similar encouragement in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state and neighbor of the senator’s state of Massachusetts. Among likely Democratic primary voters, Mrs. Clinton led Ms. Warren by only nine points, 51%-42%. The two had virtually identical favorable ratings at 89%-5% for Ms. Warren, 90%-5% for Mrs. Clinton.
Ms. Warren’s populist message resonates more strongly in New Hampshire than in Iowa. New Hampshire residents, when polled on the specific Clinton and Warren messages, had Ms. Warren within hailing distance of Mrs. Clinton, at 38%-31%. When respondents were asked the sort of question that a campaign might pose—whether they’d vote for Mrs. Clinton, described as close to Wall Street and a supporter of the Iraq war, versus Ms. Warren as a true progressive who stands up to Wall Street—Ms. Warren polled ahead of Mrs. Clinton, at 47% to 42%.
Given that front-runners in primaries typically draw their highest poll numbers at the start of a race, when their name-recognition advantage is most pronounced, Mrs. Clinton’s best hope would be to solidify her current support. Worst case: She suffers the same slippage she did in Iowa in 2008 when she finished a poor third after showing a resounding lead of 58%-12% over then-Sen. Obama.
The implications are clear. Hillary Clinton is vulnerable in the Democratic primaries, something her new adviser Joel Benenson (currently an Obama pollster who previously worked for me) is presumably in the process of finding out. The results from my polling also suggest that potential candidates who would offer populist messages—former Sen. Jim Webb from Virginia and Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont—also have the potential to narrow significantly Mrs. Clinton’s current lead.
If either Mr. Webb or Mr. Sanders gets into the race, Ms. Warren might have second thoughts—a split of the populist vote could pave the way for Mrs. Clinton. The former secretary of state could further complicate matters for potential challengers from the left by developing her own theme to appeal to an electorate that sees American society as fundamentally unfair.
Tom Donahue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, last week attacked Ms. Warren’s “economic populism” and charged that she stands for more regulation and government control of business. That’s music to the ears of many Democratic primary voters, who seem ready to embrace candidates who take on big business, the banks and Wall Street—some of Ms. Warren’s favorite targets. In other words, the Democratic presidential contest could go very quickly from a foregone conclusion to a fierce contest.
Mr. Schoen served as a political adviser and pollster for President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000.
on: January 26, 2015, 12:54:49 PM
Started by Crafty_Dog - Last post by Crafty_Dog
Mary Anastasia O’Grady
Jan. 25, 2015 7:37 p.m. ET
It’s hard to know who had most to gain—and the least to lose—from the death of Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. I’d say it’s Iran.
Nisman was scheduled to testify last week to the Argentine Congress about his investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85. In 2006 he indicted seven Iranians and one Lebanese-born member of Hezbollah for the crime. None have been captured, though the Lebanese suspect was killed in 2008 in Syria.
Earlier this month Nisman filed a criminal complaint in an Argentine court, alleging that President Cristina Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman had crafted a secret agreement with Iran to let the terrorists off the hook in exchange for Iranian oil largess and Iranian purchases of Argentine grain.
Nisman claimed he had a solid case against la presidenta and her alleged co-conspirators, and he released a summary of a 300-page report on his investigation. He promised to reveal more at the hearing.
But his objective was never to bring down the president. He sought justice for the bombing victims, and on Jan. 14 he spoke of a new plan to secure it on the Argentine television program “A Dos Voces.” “It’s close to coming out,” Nisman said, “and I say close because I’ve already made the decision, and we are making final revisions. There is a way for the Iranians to be extradited . . . [so] that [they] face trial in the Republic of Argentina.”
Less than a week later the prosecutor turned up dead. His body was found the night before the Jan. 19 hearing in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment with a single .22-caliber bullet through the head.
It took almost no time for President Kirchner’s secretary of security, Sergio Berni, to arrive at the apartment and declare the cause of death an apparent suicide.
There has since been only confusion. First came word that the service door to the apartment was locked from the inside; then a locksmith called to the scene contradicted that. First there were only two ways into the apartment. Then investigators announced there is a third, and that recent footprints were found in that narrow corridor. First it was suggested that the test for gunpowder on Nisman’s hands was important. When the test for gunpowder was negative, it was dismissed as unimportant because, well, that can happen with small bullets. Countless questions remain, including why his bodyguards reportedly were not on watch in front of his door and why the journalist who broke the news that he was found in a pool of blood fled the country over the weekend.
The lead investigator in the case has not issued a final ruling, and those who knew Nisman say the suicide theory stretches credulity. He had spent 14 years on the bombing case and was about to march into Congress with two years of judicially approved wiretaps that he believed would expose a game of footsie between Mrs. Kirchner and Tehran.
Nisman was in good spirits about the matter, as indicated in his TV appearance. He was divorced, but by all accounts close to his teenage daughters. It seems unlikely that he would have pulled the trigger without leaving them so much as a farewell note. His ex-wife, who is an Argentine judge, says she does not believe he committed suicide.
Argentines smell a rat, not the least because the kirchneristas have earned a reputation for corruption and coercion, and this looks like a mob hit. Late last week even Mrs. Kirchner seemed to realize that the suicide narrative wouldn’t fly. After remaining silent for days, she announced her own theory: Nisman was murdered by rogue members of the Argentine intelligence service who are trying to bring her down.
These enemies, she said, concocted the story that she and Mr. Timerman had made a deal to receive oil and sell grain in exchange for providing impunity to the terrorists. The secretary of the presidency backed her up. Nisman “could not have written this nonsense,” he said. “It is totally clear he had nothing to do with it, but there were people around him who had a different agenda.”
Of course the way to learn whether Nisman was driven to kill himself, or whether he was killed by disloyal spies who used him, would be to air every detail of his report. If she really wants to get to the bottom of things Mrs. Kirchner will name and support a new, independent prosecutor. But that might get her into trouble with Iran.
If Nisman was murdered, it involved a level of sophistication not normally associated with Argentina but not uncommon for Iran. Tehran has more than 40 years of experience knocking off meddlesome individuals abroad and is now trying to allay global distrust as it bamboozles Barack Obama about its nuclear-weapons program. Nisman’s search for truth may have put a target on his back.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com
on: January 26, 2015, 12:45:02 PM
Started by Crafty_Dog - Last post by Crafty_Dog
Monday Morning Outlook
GDP, Strong Again To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
With all the focus on Europe in general and Greece in particular, it’s important to keep in mind that the US economy continues to move forward. After real GDP dropped in the first quarter of last year, some analysts were predicting another recession. By contrast, we said the drop was due to unusually harsh winter weather and the economy would rebound quickly.
And rebound it did. Real GDP grew at a 4.6% annual rate in the second quarter and a 5% rate in the third. On Friday, the government will report its initial estimate for real GDP growth in Q4 and we think the economy grew at a 3.3% annual rate. If we’re right, real GDP was up a Plow Horse 2.6% in 2014, slightly faster than the 2.3% pace the economy has averaged since the recovery started in 2009.
For 2015, we’re forecasting 2.7%. Some analysts are lifting their forecasts based on plummeting oil prices and Europe’s quantitative easing, while some might mark them down due to Greece. But these are all sideshows.
Lower oil prices may push up non-oil spending, but oil production will now expand more slowly. QE in Europe is not going to help boost growth; it’ll just stuff European banks with as many useless excess reserves as US banks hold already. And our exports to Greece are less than 0.01% of US GDP.
Instead, investors need to focus on the fundamentals that drive the economy, which haven’t changed. Monetary policy remains loose, tax rates are not going up (regardless of what President Obama said in his State of the Union address), and entrepreneurs are still innovating.
Below is our “add-em-up” forecast for Q4 real GDP.
Consumption: Auto sales increased at a 0.5% annual rate in Q4 while “real” (inflation-adjusted) retail sales outside the auto sector were up at a tepid 1.8% rate. But services make up about 2/3 of personal consumption and those were up at about a 4.5% rate. So it looks like real personal consumption of goods and services combined, grew at a 3.8% annual rate in Q4, contributing 2.6 points to the real GDP growth rate (3.8 times the consumption share of GDP, which is 68%, equals 2.6).
Business Investment: Business equipment investment and commercial construction were both unchanged in Q4. Factoring in R&D suggests overall business investment grew at a 0.8% rate, which should add 0.1 point to the real GDP growth rate (0.8 times the 13% business investment share of GDP equals 0.1).
Home Building: A 9% annualized gain in home building in Q4 will add about 0.3 points to real GDP (9 times the home building share of GDP, which is 3%, equals 0.3).
Government: Public construction projects continued to increase in Q4 while military spending picked up as well. As a result, it looks like real government purchases grew at a 1.1% annual rate in Q4, which should add 0.2 percentage points to real GDP growth (1.1 times the government purchase share of GDP, which is 18%, equals 0.2).
Trade: At this point, the government only has trade data through November, but the data so far suggest the “real” trade deficit in goods has gotten a little smaller. As a result, we’re forecasting that net exports add 0.1 point to the real GDP growth rate.
Inventories: After a weather-related lull in Q1, companies built inventories at a very rapid pace in Q2. Since, then that pace has neither slowed nor sped up further, meaning inventories are a net zero for GDP, neither adding nor subtracting.
The US government has expanded way too much in the past decade or so, which is why we have a Plow Horse economy rather than a Race Horse economy. But, even in this environment, the private sector still has room to grow. Not just in Q4, but in 2015 and likely beyond.
on: January 26, 2015, 12:32:51 PM
Started by Crafty_Dog - Last post by Crafty_Dog
From Inside Prison, a Terrorism Suspect Shares His Diary
‘Guantánamo Diary’ by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
JAN. 25, 2015
Books of The Times
By SCOTT SHANE
There’s a revealing moment in Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s gripping and depressing “Guantánamo Diary” when a new interrogator is assigned to question him. By this point, Mr. Slahi has been asked the same questions and given the same answers for years. But the new military interrogator, a woman he describes as “quiet and polite,” surprises him with a novel inquiry about what he knows of another terrorism suspect’s travel to Iraq in 2003.
The problem, as Mr. Slahi gently points out to his questioner, is that he has been locked up since 2001 and held at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002, so there is no chance that he could have such information. The interrogator smiles and explains that she asked anyway, because “I have the question in my request” from her bosses.
Much of the attention accorded to Mr. Slahi’s extraordinary memoir has justifiably gone to his excruciating account of his suffering during a “special interrogation” that lasted for months in 2003 and was personally approved by Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the secretary of defense. By Mr. Slahi’s account, which is corroborated by multiple government investigations, his treatment involved extended sleep deprivation, loud music, shackling for days in a freezing cell, dousing with ice water, beatings, threats that he could be made to disappear and that his mother would be arrested and gang-raped.
But another overwhelming impression from his book, published after a seven-year legal battle and with heavy redactions from military censors, is of the woeful incompetence of some of the government’s efforts to keep the country safe from terrorism. That is no surprise to students of bureaucracy. When it comes to the military and intelligence agencies, however, secrecy makes blunders far easier to hide, and outspoken foes of big government give it a pass as soon as fears of terrorism are invoked.
The torture methods approved for Mr. Slahi, for instance, mimicked those used by America’s Communist adversaries in the Cold War, which were famous for producing false confessions. Predictably, Mr. Slahi describes how, desperate to stop the brutal treatment, he finally decided to tell the interrogators whatever he thought they wanted to hear, fabricating plots and implicating others in nonexistent crimes. Some interrogators, though, doubted his confessions and asked for a polygraph test. He denied plotting terrorism or supporting Al Qaeda, and the test results variously showed “no deception” or “no opinion,” undermining his supposed admissions.
Even the book’s redactions are a tedious reminder of the government’s frequent haplessness. Much black ink was expended, for instance, to try to keep readers from learning that some of Mr. Slahi’s Guantánamo interrogators were women. Why the censors decided their gender should be secret is anybody’s guess. Still, they missed enough feminine pronouns that their efforts at cover-up were undone.
Another dubious redaction draws a rare outburst of sarcasm from Larry Siems, who edited the book and lays out the facts of Mr. Slahi’s case dispassionately in his introduction and many footnotes. When a guard tells him not to worry because he’ll soon be home with his family, Mr. Slahi writes, “I couldn’t help breaking in [redacted].” Mr. Siems comments in a footnote, “It seems possible, if incredible, that the U.S. government may have here redacted the word ‘tears.’ ”
To be sure, Mr. Slahi’s pre-Guantánamo résumé cried out for scrutiny, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Born in Mauritania, he had joined Al Qaeda in 1990 to fight Afghanistan’s Communist government alongside Osama bin Laden. A cousin, also Mr. Slahi’s brother-in-law, was an aide to Bin Laden. In Germany, Mr. Slahi had once crossed paths with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, later a planner of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Slahi had lived in Montreal and prayed at the same mosque as Ahmed Ressam, arrested in 1999 on charges of trying to bring explosives into the United States for the failed “millennium plot.”
Based on that history, the government concluded that Mr. Slahi was a “senior recruiter” for Al Qaeda and for a time, listed him as the most dangerous terrorist at Guantánamo. But it has never formally charged him. Mr. Slahi says he left Al Qaeda in 1992, long before it began to target America. His encounter with Mr. Bin al-Shibh lasted one evening and involved no discussion of anti-American plotting, he claims. And Mr. Ressam had left Montreal before Mr. Slahi arrived, and by his account, they never met.
A federal judge who reviewed Mr. Slahi’s habeas petition in 2010, James Robertson, concluded that the government’s evidence was “so attenuated, or so tainted by coercion and mistreatment, or so classified, that it cannot support a criminal prosecution.” The judge said the government’s fear that Mr. Slahi could rejoin Al Qaeda if freed “may indeed be well founded,” but that such concerns did not justify his continued imprisonment. Judge Robertson ordered his release. Despite President Obama’s vow to close the prison, his administration challenged that decision. An appeals court overturned the release order, and Mr. Slahi, now 44, remains in limbo at Guantánamo, where he has been held without trial for more than 12 years.
Mr. Slahi emerges from the pages of his diary, handwritten in 2005, as a curious and generous personality, observant, witty and devout, but by no means fanatical. In the imperfect but vivid English he learned as a fourth language after being sent to Guantánamo, he writes enthusiastically of reading the Bible (several times), “Fermat’s Last Theorem” and “The Catcher in the Rye,” which he says “made me laugh until my stomach hurt.” He came to consider Guantánamo and its staff members his “new home and family,” developing friendships with numerous guards and interrogators, discussing religion, playing chess and watching movies with them. He expresses empathy even for some of his tormentors, saying that “many people in the Army come from poor families, and that’s why the Army sometimes gives them the dirtiest job.”
Though it was written nearly a decade ago, “Guantánamo Diary” arrives at a relevant moment. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama renewed his pledge to close the Guantánamo prison before leaving office. But the recent attacks in Paris, after the beheadings by militants in Syria, have reignited the anxieties that have kept that prison going for so long.
In such an atmosphere, some Americans may worry: What if Mr. Slahi is simply a clever liar who has successfully hidden his past crimes for 12 years? His book quite effectively undercuts that notion. More important, “Guantánamo Diary” forces us to consider why the United States has set aside the cherished idea that a timely trial is the best way to determine who deserves to be in prison. The overwhelming majority of the remaining 122 detainees have not been charged.
“So has the American democracy passed the test it was subjected to with the 2001 terrorist attacks?” Mr. Slahi asks at the end of his book. “I leave this judgment to the reader,” he adds, noting that “the United States and its people are still facing the dilemma of the Cuban detainees.” Nearly a decade after he wrote those words, the dilemma has not been resolved.
By Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Edited by Larry Siems. Illustrated. 379 pages. Little, Brown and Company. $29.
on: January 26, 2015, 12:19:05 PM
Started by Crafty_Dog - Last post by Crafty_Dog
PARIS — The typical trajectory of most French Islamist terrorists follows four steps: alienation from the dominant culture, thanks partly to joblessness and discrimination in blighted neighborhoods; a turn to petty crime, which leads to prison, and then more crime and more prison; religious awakening and radicalization; and an initiatory journey to a Muslim country like Syria, Afghanistan or Yemen to train for jihad.
Stints in prison were seminal for Chérif Kouachi, Amedy Coulibaly and other major figures of French jihadism in recent years — Mohammed Merah, Mehdi Nemmouche, Khaled Kelkal — as both a rite of passage and a gateway to radicalism.
Muslims account for about 7-10 percent of France’s total population but around half of its prison population of 68,000. Muslims are even more numerous in facilities near large cities, particularly in maisons d’arrêt, which hold prisoners serving shorter sentences.
Precise figures are unavailable because laïcité, France’s strict form of secularism, prohibits officially asking and collecting data about people’s religious preferences. These estimates are based on research I conducted in French prisons in 2000-3 and again in 2011-3, when I interviewed some 160 inmates and many guards, doctors and social workers in four major facilities, some among the largest in Europe. Fifteen of those inmates had been sentenced for terrorist acts.
Many Muslims feel marginalized when they get to prison, due to exclusion and bigotry from the white majority in mainstream society, and their own counterracism. Although in urban prisons they are a majority, they continue to feel victimized and trapped. Very few guards are Muslim, and prison officials, who tend to be hypersecular, have little understanding of Islam, for example confusing fundamentalism with extremism.
“Look at how a Catholic or a Jew is treated, and look at how we are treated,” Abdelkarim, a Frenchman of Italian origin in his late 20s who was serving a five-year sentence for armed robbery, told me in 2012. “They have their weekly prayers; in this prison we don’t have Friday prayers. Their rabbi can go to all the cells; our Muslim minister cannot. There’s kosher food, but no halal meat. They despise us, and they call that laïcité.”
In fact, Muslim ministers can visit Muslim inmates in their cells but usually don’t do it for lack of time, and halal meat is increasingly available. But such misperceptions are common, and they only reinforce the appeal of Islam as the religion of choice for the stigmatized and the oppressed. Unlike Christianity, it has an anti-Western and anti-imperialist bend.
One young French inmate of Algerian origin told me in 2013, “If you are a Muslim and ask to participate in the Friday prayers, they take your name down and hand it over to the Renseignements Généraux.” (The Renseignements Généraux is the French equivalent of the FBI.) He added: “If I try to take my prayer carpet to the courtyard, they prohibit it. If I grow a beard, the guards call me Bin Laden, smiling and mocking me. They hate Islam. But Islam can take revenge!”
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Continue reading the main story
Adherence to radical Islam is largely the transfer into the spiritual realm of that particular combination of indignation, rancor and wholesale rejection encompassed by the expression, widespread among prisoners, “avoir la haine” (to have hate). For some inmates, especially those who were only nominally Muslim and nonpracticing, violent aspirations emerge first, with religiosity — and often a very approximate understanding of Islam — grafting itself onto to them later.
Abdelkarim, who converted to Islam (and adopted an Arabic name) about a decade before I met him, acted as an informal Salafist chaplain; his prison counted about 1,000 Muslim inmates and just one Muslim minister, an older gentleman from North Africa out of touch with the young prisoners’ concerns. Each time Abdelkarim sang the call to prayer at dawn he would be sent to solitary confinement for a few days; eventually he was transferred to another jail. Nationwide, there is only about one Muslim minister for every 190 inmates, leaving self-proclaimed ulama to proffer their own religious guidance.
Radical preaching catches on because it offers young Muslim prisoners a way to escape their predicament and develop a fantasy of omnipotence by declaring death onto their oppressors. During my research in 2000-3, the prisoners idolized Khaled Kelkal, whose network killed eight people in a Paris subway station in 1995 to punish the French government for backing a military coup against an Islamist party in Algeria. A decade later their new icon was Mohammed Merah, who in 2012 shot down seven people, including soldiers and Jewish children, in the name of radical Islam; some inmates even impersonated him. Now the new celebrities will be the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly.
About three months ago, the authorities at Fresnes, a very large prison known for its strict discipline, started experimenting with separating suspected Muslim radicals from the general population, grouping them in special cells. Although it is too early to assess the measure’s effectiveness, the provisional results are mixed.
The prisoners’ segregation at Fresnes is incomplete, owing to the shape of the 19th-century building. With rows of cell blocks branching out perpendicularly from a central corridor, the inmates can communicate with each other simply by shouting. The radicalized prisoners now have less influence on other inmates, especially ones who are impressionable or have mental disorders. But they are in closer contact with one another, allowing them to organize and make plans.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced recently that the quarantine program would be expanded in several prisons around Paris. The proposal needs to be refined. Seasoned jihadists must be separated from untested radicals and the returnees from, say, Syria and Iraq, who may have been traumatized or disappointed by their experience of jihad and still stand a chance of being reintegrated into mainstream society.
More must also be done to address the legitimate claims of Muslim inmates. Collective Friday prayers should be allowed in all French prisons, for example. The government announced last week that 60 Muslim ministers would be trained to supplement the 182 or so currently in service. This is a welcome proposal. But at least three times as many ministers are needed, and they must be more uniformly distributed throughout the prisons. Above all, they will need to be coached to better understand and address the concerns of disaffected young Muslim prisoners.
Indeed, reform must begin with respect. For if French prisons have become a breeding ground for radicalism, it is partly because they mistreat the Islamic faith itself.
Farhad Khosrokhavar is a sociologist at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the author, most recently, of “Radicalisation.”