Soldiers Are Said to Face Punishment in Koran Burnings

By  and  Published: March 2, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan — Five American service members and an Afghan-American linguist may face disciplinary action in the burning of Korans at a NATO base, an event a week ago that plunged Afghanistan into days of violent protests, according to the preliminary conclusions of a joint military investigation.

“All six will be referred to the proper U.S. authorities for further action,” said an official familiar with the joint Afghan-American investigation intothe Koran burnings, who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

Significantly, the five service members include military “leaders,” according to the report. While it was unclear whether that meant any senior officers would be held to account, it was taken as a sign here that the investigation was focusing more on decision-making along the chain of command rather than simply focusing on soldiers who may have been carrying out orders with little understanding of their potential impact.

The preeminent religious authority in Afghanistan, the Ulema Council, said Friday that those responsible for the burning of the Korans and other religious texts should be put on trial and punished. And it called for the American-led coalition to respond by handing over all Afghan prisoners in its custody and ceding control of its prisons.

The Ulema Council, which is made up of scholarly mullahs, made its recommendations following its own investigation into the Koran burning incident last week in a statement released through President Hamid Karzai’s office late on Friday evening.

The burning of the Korans and other religious texts, seized from Afghan prisoners at an American-run detention center, triggered days of deadly protests. At least 29 Afghans have been killed in the violence, and the outpouring of popular fury coincided with the shooting deaths of six American soldiers.

Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commanding general in Afghanistan, and President Obama both apologized in the wake of the demonstrations.

Did the NYPD’s Spying on Muslims Violate the Law?

Did the NYPD’s Spying on Muslims Violate the Law?


by Justin Elliott ProPublica

Last August, the Associated Press launched a series detailing how the New York Police Department has extensively investigated Muslims in New York and other states, including preparing reports on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, apparently without any suspicion of crimes being committed.

The propriety and legality of the NYPD’s activities is under dispute. Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who claimed last year that the NYPD does not focus on religion and only follows threats or leads – is now arguing that, as he said last week, “Everything the NYPD has done is legal, it is appropriate, it is constitutional.” Others disagree. In fact, Bloomberg himself signed a law in 2004 prohibiting profiling by law enforcement based on religion.

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional committee the Justice Department is reviewing whether to investigate potential civil rights violations by the NYPD.

To get a better understanding of the rules governing the NYPD – and whether the department has followed them in its surveillance of Muslims – we spoke to Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center at NYU Law School.

The NYPD did not respond to our request for comment about allegations it has violated the law.

So Mayor Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly say everything that the NYPD did was legal and constitutional. Other people have disagreed – Newark Mayor Cory Booker, for example, said the wholesale surveillance of a community without suspicion of a crime “clearly crosses a line.” What restrictions is the NYPD operating under?

They are operating under at least three sets of rules. The first and most basic set of rules is the consent decree from the Handschu case – the so-called Handschu guidelines. This was a 1970s-era political surveillance case that was settled through a consent decree. The NYPD had been conducting surveillance of a number of political groups in the 60s and 70s. The initial consent decree regulated the NYPD’s collection of intelligence about political activity. It first said the NYPD can only collect intelligence about political activity if it follows certain rules. For example, the NYPD had to get clearance from something called the Handschu authority, which was a three-member board that consisted of two high-level police officials and one civilian appointed by the mayor.

Then, post-9/11 the NYPD went to court and asked a judge to review the consent decree because they wanted to have greater freedom in their counter-terrorism operations. What they wound up doing was adopting guidelines based on the FBI’s guidelines from 2003, issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft. These were different in several important ways. The first was that there was no pre-clearance, at all. There was no requirement that the NYPD get approval from the Handschu authority before they undertook any intel gathering about political activity. The second was that the guidelines explicitly say the NYPD can attend any public event or gathering on the same basis as another member of the public. So if I can go to a church, the NYPD can go to a church. But it goes on to say that the NYPD can’t retain the information it gathers from going to such public events unless it is connected to suspected criminal or terrorist activity.

So if you look at, say, the NYPD’s guide to Newark’s Muslim community obtained and published by the AP – which maps out mosques and Muslim-owned businesses without mentioning and suspicions of crimes – aren’t the police retaining exactly this kind of information?

There are a couple of documents that suggest they may have violated Handschu. For example, the [2006 NYPD report] on the Danish cartoon controversy, which is a collection of statements in mosques and other places that have been taken down by undercover officers or confidential informants.

What are the other rules the NYPD operates under?

The second set is that the NYPD has a profiling order in place, and New York City also has a racial profiling law. They are slightly different. The NYPD order [issued in 2002] does not include religion among the categories that they define as profiling. But the New York City lawdoes. It prohibits police officers from relying on race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin as a determinative factor in initiating law enforcement action. Normally you have quite a difficult time in racial profiling cases showing they’ve used one of these factors as the determinative factor. In this case, if you look at the documents, it seems quite clear that the NYPD had its eyes quite firmly on the Muslim community. So it’s possible it is also in violation of this law.

The third set of rules is, of course, the U.S. and the New York state constitutions. Within the Constitution you’re looking at least two broad categories of provisions – potential First Amendment claims for free speech, freedom of association, and free exercise of religion. The other piece of it would be potential equal protection claims.

There was another AP story this week reporting that a bunch of federal grant money and equipment used as part of surveillance and investigation of the Muslim community. Does that muddy the legal questions about whether they were following federal rules as well?

The federal program that was giving them money is the HIDTA program – High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. It’s geared toward providing funds to combat drug trafficking. HIDTA itself does allow for counter-terrorism spending to be an incidental purpose. It requires the HIDTA Executive Board to basically make sure that funds were being used for the purposes that they were supposed to be used for. So I think there’s a real issue about accountability and oversight of the use of HIDTA funds here.

So if the NYPD did potentially violate the Handschu guidelines and city law you mentioned, what are the penalties?

Well the Handschu lawyers already went to court last year and told the judge that the documents that had been released by the AP suggested that there had been violations of the Handschu decree. They asked for discovery so they could check the files of the NYPD to see whether they had violated the prohibition on keeping dossiers. I believe that that discovery will likely be starting soon. So there’s clearly a remedy through the Handschu mechanism. Because it’s a consent decree, it’s an ongoing thing. The judge has supervisory jurisdiction. There are also issues under the racial profiling law and under the First Amendment.

We’ve also turned to the question of oversight. The FBI, for all its faults, does have a fair amount of oversight – an inspector general internally and congressional oversight. We think a similar thing would be a great idea for the NYPD.

GOP Sticks Up For Sharia Law

by Sahil Kapur

In their ongoing attempt to portray the Obama administration’s birth control rule as infringing on religious freedom, House Republicans invited a Muslim witness to a hearing who pointed out that such a precedent could permit the government to make laws that violate Islamic code.Asma Uddin, editor-in-chief of the Muslim-American website and an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argued in her testimony Tuesday that the contraception mandate is a violation of the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. Later, under questioning from House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Uddin explained how the regulation’s precedent could infringe upon the rights of Muslims.

“If the government mandated everything that had positive health benefits, it could possibly mandate that everyone drink red wine for heart health even though it violates the religious beliefs of Muslims,” Uddin said.

She went on: “And it could mandate that everyone eat shellfish, even though that violates the religious beliefs of Jews. And it could mandate gym memberships because it’s widely accepted that exercise is beneficial.”

With that, Smith ended his questioning of Uddin.

It’s clear Uddin wasn’t singling out the potential plight of Muslims that could arise from this regulation. But siding with a witness who argues that government should not create laws that oppress the Islamic faith is still deeply ironic for a party whose members, including Smith, have spent the Obama presidency warning about the specter of “Sharia law,” suggesting that Muslims want to exert greater control over U.S. laws.

In this instance, whether they like it or not, GOP success in rolling back the birth control mandate would go hand-in-hand with making the health care law more Sharia-compliant.

Santorum: “I Don’t Believe in an America Where the Separation Between Church and State Is Absolute”

Monday 27 February 2012
by: Adam Peck, ThinkProgress | Report

Rick Santorum took issue with President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech on the separation of church and state on Sunday, telling This Week’s George Stephanopoulos that he does not believe the separation is absolute:

I don’t believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and visions of our country.

Watch it:

In fact, John F. Kennedy was just one in a long lineage of U.S. presidents, founding fathers, scholars and religious icons who supported absolute separation between church and state. Even Ronald Reagan, to whom Santorum has compared himself, proudly proclaimed that “we establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate.”

Bloomberg stands by spying on Muslims

Michael Bloomberg (Reuters / Mary Altaffer / Pool)

Michael Bloomberg (Reuters / Mary Altaffer / Pool)

TAGS: ReligionScandalLawUSAPolice


Next time you’re searching for solace as you settle in for a good night’s sleep, discount any fears and phobias you may have and instead find warmth in the reassuring certainty that, no matter where you are in America, the NYPD is watching over.

Responding to the recent discovery that the New York Police Department dispatched officers across the northeast United States to conduct surveillance on Muslim-Americans, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is defending allegations of profiling. While Muslim advocacy groups across the US are crying foul at the NYPD’s practice of not just racially and religiously profiling — but doing so well out of their jurisdiction — Mayor Bloomberg explains that the rest of the world should be thankful for the department’s (very) long arm of the law.

Never mind the boundaries between New York City and the rest of the world, Mayor Bloomberg now says that it is the NYPD’s duty to “keep this country safe,” no matter where it takes them. This statement comes in the aftermath of an investigation revealed by the AP last week that linked the NYPD to conducting surveillance of Muslim students and faculties at over a dozen colleges across the northeast United States, including the University at Buffalo, the University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League institute Yale.

Previously the AP had unearthed documentation that linked a top-secret “Demographics Unit” within the NYPD to conducting clandestine surveillance on Muslims in the Greater New York City region. Files obtained by the AP showed that a CIA operative oversaw the unit, which dispatched undercover officers to Muslim-majority neighborhoods throughout the area, even sending some patrolmen abroad to investigate leads. In these instances, it is believed that the NYPD regularly acted not on news tips, but instead as a preemptive measure to make sure Islamic terrorists did not use masques, community centers or even local delicatessens as sleeper cells to recruit radicals and train would-be criminals. The latest findings reveal that the NYPD spied on students and staff members of American universities after linking them to Muslim academic groups.

As Muslim-Americans come out to oppose the latest revelations, Bloomberg defends the practice. According to remarks made Tuesday at the Brooklyn Public Library by Bloomberg, the NYPD knows no bounds when it comes to racial and religious profiling.

“The police department goes where there are allegations, and they look to see whether those allegations are true” Bloomberg explains. “That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”

For those that are now making do with whether or not they were the subjects of NYPD surveillance, they seem to think otherwise. Several of the universities and colleges linked to the latest development have publically condemned allegations of surveillance, but despite this the NYPD and Bloomberg himself insist they were in the right.

Afghan violence rages over Quran burning

Violence over the burning of copies of the Quran by NATO troops at a military base in Afghanistan has spread, prompting the US president to issue an apology and the Afghan government to demand trial and punishment for those responsible.

As protests over the incident continued for a third day on Thursday, the death toll of Afghan demonstrators rose to 12.

In a separate incident, two US soldiers were killed when an “individual wearing the Afghan army uniform” opened fire on them at a military base in Khogyani in eastern Nangarhar province, Mohammad Hassan, the district’s governor, told the AFP news agency.

“As the protesters approached the American base here, an ANA [Afghan] soldier in the base opened fire on American soldiers, killing two soldiers,” Hassan said.

Barack Obama’s written apology came shortly after Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, said a US officer was responsible for the Quran incident.

The US embassy in Kabul was locked down on Wednesday and remained closed on Thursday.

The embassy said on Twitter that “peaceable assembly is an American value/tradition; we join President Karzai in urging restraint and nonviolence today”.

[read more]

Santorum Pressed on Satan Remarks


PHOENIX — Rick Santorum more or less acknowledged Tuesday that he said in 2008 that Satan was planning to attack America, but said it was irrelevant to voters today.

The Drudge Report blared at the top of its page Tuesday a speech that Mr. Santorum had delivered to students at Ave Maria University in Florida in 2008 in which he warned, “Satan has his sights on the United States of America!”

In the speech, Mr. Santorum added, “Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that have so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

After Mr. Santorum addressed a small crowd here Tuesday evening for more than an hour on topics including Central America, education and limited government, he was shaking hands with voters when reporters asked about the Satan references.

“I’m a person of faith,” he said. “I believe in good and evil. I think if somehow or another because you’re a person of faith you believe in good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we’re going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president.”

Pressed on whether Satan was attacking America, he said: “These are questions that are not relevant to what’s being discussed in America today. What we’re talking about in America today is trying to get America growing. That’s what my speeches are about, that’s what we’re going to talk about in this campaign.”

Santorum Takes Climate Change Denial To A Biblical Level

SAHIL KAPUR  37621 1190


Climate change denial has become a litmus test for modern Republicans, but Rick Santorum, in his fondness for melding faith and government, has become one of the precious few to cite the Bible as evidence that the science-accepting crowd has it all wrong — and apparently the first to bring that thinking to the presidential stage.

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.

He went on to call climate change “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”

The surging presidential hopeful fleshed out this argument further this Sunday on CBS Face The Nation, when asked to justify his recent controversial claim that President Obama has a “phony theology” that’s not “based on the Bible.” He said the President sides with “radical environmentalists” who don’t understand what God intended to be the relationship between humans and the planet.

“When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate — this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government,” Santorum said.

New York Police Caught Monitoring Muslim Student Groups Throughout Northeast

by: Amy Goodman, Democracy NOW! | Video Report

The Associated Press has revealed the New York City Police Department monitored Muslim college students at schools throughout the Northeast, including Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. In one case, the NYPD sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York, where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed. We speak to one of the students on the trip, Jawad Rasul. He is the only student who was under surveillance to now publicly speak out about his experience. “[This is] hurting NYPD’s try and attempt at finding homegrown terrorism, because these kind of tactics actually create more hatred towards them and the other law-enforcement agencies and really destroys the trust that any youth might have developed with the government,” Rasul said. We’re also joined by Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is calling for a state probe into the spying on Muslims.

US apologises for Afghan ‘Quran incident’ amid protests

The US has apologised for inappropriate treatment of religious material in Afghanistan, after hundreds of angry Afghans protested over reports that US forces burned copies of the Quran.

Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defence, called the incident “deeply unfortunate” in remarks on Tuesday. He echoed his top commander General John Allen’s call for “swift and decisive action to investigate this matter”.

“These actions do not represent the views of the United States military. We honour and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception,” he said.

Hundreds of protesters earlier besieged the Bagram airbase, about 60Km north of the capital Kabul, chanting calls of “death to America,” and firing slingshots and petrol bombs at the gate of the base.

Allen, who is the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, offered his apology and ordered an investigation into the incident.

Guards at the base responded by firing rubber bullets from a watchtower, an AFP news agency photographer said.

Another protest by about 500 people broke out in the Pul-e-Charkhi district of Kabul, not far from major NATO bases on the Jalalabad road, Ashamat Estanakzai, an Afghan police spokesman, told AFP.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from the city of Herat, said: “We don’t know if the religious literature was burned, but we know that it was due to be burned because waste at the base is burned generally.

“We do know it was being thrown out. That is what’s caused the protests outside Bagram, about 800-1,000 people were protesting there.

[read more]