Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Freedom of the Press on Campus

Today is the release of my report about freedom of the press on campus from the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement. I will be part of a National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement conversation with student journalist Sydney Charles, Student Press Law Center Staff Attorney Sommer Ingram Dean, and Advocacy Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists Courtney Radsch on “The State of Press Freedom on Campus and Around the World” held on Thursday, July 30 at 2pm ET. Here is the full report:



Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Bari Weiss and Coward Culture

Bari Weiss is a coward.
That claim may seem incredible to those who have read the fulsome praise from conservatives about Weiss’ decision last week to quit her job as an op-ed editor and writer at the New York Times, and her open resignation letter.
Newt Gingrich tweeted, “Bari Weiss’s Letter to the publisher of the new york times is the definitive explanation of the replacement of the news media with the propaganda media. Everyone watching the lies about covid should remember weiss and understand we are being fed baloney to beat President Trump.” Lindsey Graham tweeted, “Unfortunately, it is not breaking news that the @nytimes is an intolerant media outlet.” Brent Bozell declared, “The resignation of Bari Weiss should send shockwaves through the world of journalism.” James O’Keefe (an expert on journalistic ethics) tweeted about the New York Times in response to Weiss’ letter, “Their culture ignores journalistic ethics and moral values.” Josh Hammer at the Forward called Weiss “a casualty of the Left’s woke culture war.”
Rush Limbaugh (who was so clueless he thought Weiss was the Times op-ed editor who took over from James Bennet) devoted an hour of his show to reading Weiss’ letter and concluded, “The New York Times has become the epitome of tyranny and authoritarianism. You’re not allowed to have any other point of view if you read the paper. You must conform to the opinions in the news stories or you’re not even welcome as a subscriber.”
David French last year wrote a piece for National Review called “Courage is the Cure for Political Correctness,” where he argued that “the prevalence of conservative timidity is both worrisome and self-reinforcing” and “truly confronting illiberal political correctness requires personal courage.” Sadly, French responded to Weiss’ resignation by praising her “courage.” In reality, there’s nothing courageous about quitting a job because you’re criticized.
Weiss herself praised her own courage in her own letter: “Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.” That’s true. And it doesn’t.
Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller (legendary for helping the Bush Administration spread the false story of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) reported about Weiss (falsely) at Fox News: “Weiss was apparently stripped of her role as editor, and not immediately offered another position; the implication that she was no longer welcome was clear.”
It’s easy to understand how Miller might have made this incompetent mistake and falsely assumed that Weiss was stripped of her role as editor. After all, Weiss’ whining letter and the doting expressions of sympathy from across the internet for her oppression all made little sense if Weiss had simply quit her job. But Weiss did, in fact, simply quit her job and was not “stripped of her role as editor.”
Why did Weiss quit? In her letter, Weiss tries to suggest that she was forced to leave and makes some unsubstantiated legal threats about “unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge.” But the key part of the letter is this paragraph:
“My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again.’ Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly ‘inclusive’ one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.”
So what “appropriate action” was Weiss demanding? Should her critics be summarily fired, or merely censored by the bosses at the Times?
Weiss has not provided any evidence for her allegations, and I would prefer to have proof and context before commenting; Weiss has many talents, but the neutral and objective recitation of facts is not her strong suit. But let’s assume that what Weiss says is true. Suppose she was called a racist, a Nazi, and had people urge her firing on the Times internal gossip network. That is mean behavior, but it is not repression. (By contrast, Weiss’ demand that her critics be silenced by the bosses is a form of repression.)
One of the key charges Weiss made in her letter was that her colleagues had publicly called her a liar, and she complained that the bosses had failed to silence her co-workers who disagreed with her. This is apparently a reference to an internal meeting in June, when Weiss tweeted about a generational “civil war” at the New York Times where the younger New Guard staffers all believe in “safetyism,” a creed “in which the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech.” Other staffers in the same meeting responded on Twitter that Weiss’ account wasn’t accurate, and therefore Weiss complains they were calling her a liar.
The irony here is that Weiss is the one demanding safetyism for herself, where her emotional security from being criticized trumps the free speech of other staffers. Coward Culture merges with Cancel Culture when someone like Weiss demands the silencing of others. The fear of being criticized turns into the demand not to be criticized. To Weiss, she needs to have a “safe space” (that space being her entire workplace and also all public commentary about the work and opinions by co-workers) or she is being “bullied.”
One of the crucial slogans of Coward Culture is “bullying,” and Weiss makes full use of it in her resignation letter: “My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views.” Weiss thinks bullying is a terrible crime. She told Vanity Fair, “I hate bullies. In college I protested bullying professors who used their classrooms to promote propaganda and to silence opposing views. Now I criticize bullying students…”
For Weiss, defining her critics as “bullying” her entitles her to demand that they be censored. The almighty free speech that Weiss pretends to love doesn’t apply to bullies, of course. Bullying is a term of infantilization. We think free speech doesn’t apply to bullying because bullying is what children do to one another, and free speech doesn’t apply when we’re protecting someone from bullying. As I have argued in the Journal of Academic Freedom, bullying is a dangerous concept to apply to adults. It’s especially dangerous to apply to the discussions about the New York Times op-ed writings.
Like many people who crusade against bullies, Weiss is a bully herself. After freelance writer Erin Biba used the F word on Twitter in 2018, Weiss wrote on Twitter to several magazines that had published Biba’s freelance articles, apparently trying to get her fired: “What kind of social media etiquette do @BBCScienceNews, @Newsweek, @sciam expect from their freelancers?” Nothing embodies right-wing Cancel Culture more than someone like Weiss who thinks freelance writers should be punished for violating nonexistent “etiquette” rules on their personal social media.
Weiss launched her career as a right-wing pundit in 2006 as a student at Columbia demanding the investigation and punishment of professors who criticized the Israeli government, with Weiss denouncing “the racism of these professors.” As Glenn Greenwald noted about Weiss, “her whole career was literally built on ugly campaigns to attack, stigmatize, and punish Arab professors who criticize Israel.”
Although Weiss was angry when Columbia refused to punish the professors she disliked, her efforts at censorship still had a powerful impact. To appease pro-Israel critics like Weiss, Columbia enacted one of the most repressive speech codes against faculty in America, a speech code that still exists, allowing formal complaints and penalties against any professors who “advocate any political or social cause” in a class.
Weiss’ personal hypocrisy on free speech may be noteworthy since she was one of the signers of the infamous Harper’s letter on justice and open debate.But there’s a bigger story here in the reaction to her resignation letter. Weiss herself provides the best testimony proving the hypocrisy of the cries about Cancel Culture. A Vanity Fair profile of Weiss noted how she was censored by the right-wing Wall Street Journal when she worked there: “During the campaign, she tried to sound the alarm about Steve Bannon but was told that she ‘didn’t have the standing.’ She wanted to write about Melania Trump’s hypocrisy with her cyber-bullying issue but wasn’t allowed to.” Weiss told a Reason podcast, “all of a sudden I was being told that I didn’t, you know, have the standing to write about these things, or that they were too anti-Trump.”
This is a remarkable story. Weiss says she was censored by the Wall Street Journal because her views were too liberal, yet this fact never generated any outrage about right-wing Cancel Culture. By contrast, Weiss was never censored by the New York Times, but simply complained about co-workers who dared to criticize her, and yet the Times became the embodiment of Cancel Culture repression in this public debate. As Weiss has realized, there’s a lot more attention and celebrity status to be gained from calling out a fictional version of left-wing Cancel Culture rather than the real pro-Trump Cancel Culture that actually prevails.
After reading all this, you might be surprised to learn that I have nothing against Bari Weiss. I can’t judge her work as an editor because that’s not visible to a reader. Based on my very limited exposure to her writing, while it is occasionally factually flawed, it seems mostly adequate and sometimes is very good (such as her piece on defamation in Australia).
I don’t think Weiss should have been fired, and I would have been upset if her political views or ability to anger people would have led to her dismissal. But when people quit their jobs, that’s on them. Weiss is under no obligation to stay at a job she doesn’t like. But she shouldn’t be celebrated for bravery in leaving it. Being harshly criticized at work might be disturbing in some occupations, but it should be part of the job description at the New York Times op-ed section.
There are real victims of Cancel Culture on the left and the right, and real dangers to our discourse when people are afraid to speak freely. Quitting your job and then playing the victim card is not a case of Cancel Culture. What Weiss did is Coward Culture, and we must reject this celebration of Weiss’ cowardice as a tool to demand censorship of her critics.
Crossposted from AcademeBlog.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Problem with Princeton’s Racism Committee Proposal

By John K. Wilson
More than 100 professors at Princeton have signed a letter proposing reforms in the wake of Black Lives Matter. The letter contains a lot of good ideas (which I suspect is what the signers support), but unfortunately it also has one particularly bad idea: “Constitute a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures.”
This is not a difficult call. The proposed rule is a terrible idea, and a clear violation of academic freedom. Regulations of racist publications (and, even broader, “incidents”) are a real threat to free expression, even when faculty are the ones assigned to endanger academic freedom.
Andrew Cole, a professor of English at Princeton, wrote a defense of the letter and offered his analysis of academic freedom. Cole argues: “In free speech, you can say most anything. In academic freedom, you can’t. It’s not anything goes, and it’s baffling that so many conflate ‘free speech’ with ‘academic freedom’ — because the University itself certainly doesn’t. It regards research to be a matter of faculty conduct and, where appropriate, disciplinary response: ‘Members of the Princeton community have a duty to foster a climate that encourages ethical conduct of scholarly research. They also have a responsibility to report if ever they encounter serious indications of misconduct in research.’”
Unfortunately, the belief that free speech and academic freedom are radically different concepts is a common mistake, even within the AAUP. In reality, academic freedom and free speech are very close cousins. Academic freedom is the application of free speech principles to the academic context, and academic freedom protects an enormous amount of free speech for faculty. As Cole correctly points out, “serious indications of misconduct” can be investigated and punished. But except for that rare occurrence, research is protected by a very broad understanding of academic freedom. Expressing bad ideas in research (or what someone thinks is racist) is not punishable unless it meets the strict terms of research misconduct. You can be evaluated for bad research during hiring and promotion decisions, but not punished for bad research in a disciplinary decision. That’s an absolutely crucial distinction that Cole ignores.
Cole claims that racist research counts as research misconduct: “The University is also clear to describe as ‘misconduct’ research that is, to take one example, ‘a threat to public health.’” He goes on to point out that “racism is factually a “‘threat to public health,’” including “murderous policing” and racial disparities in longevity.
The mistake Cole makes here is contending that any research with bad ideas is therefore misconduct. The logic Cole uses is this: Professor X argues for Idea Y. I think Idea Y is harmful to public health. Therefore, Professor X’s research is harmful to public health and a form of misconduct.
Clearly, the intent of the “misconduct” rule on threats to health is to prevent dangerous research when the research study causes direct harm to the subjects. It was never meant to apply to research which expresses support for political views that someone thinks are bad and will therefore harm people.
If Cole’s interpretation of misconduct were true, it would pose a severe threat to public health by discouraging research on issues of public health. Suppose someone did research on defunding the police. If they support defunding, someone can bring them up on charges of misconduct because defunding police leads to higher murder rates. If they oppose defunding, they can be blamed for supporting “murderous policing.” Either position could be a threat to public health, depending on your beliefs. Who will get fired? Maybe the one with unpopular views.
It’s also noteworthy that the proposal Cole defends is not limited to racist ideas that harm people. It applies to all research deemed racist, even if it’s a study of literature with no conceivable threat to public health.
Cole claims, “is anti-Black research or anti-Latinx publication “ethical”? The University must pose this question.” No, the University must not pose this question. By declaring that only research deemed “racist” is subjected to special scrutiny, Princeton would be creating an indefensible standard. Why not also ban “sexist” or “homophobic” research? Indeed, why not just make it universal and ban “wrong” research with “bad” effects?
The whole point of academic freedom is to reject this approach. If you punish all “racist” or “bad” research, it will inevitably have a chilling effect on professors who want to challenge the status quo. Even if the faculty evaluating these cases are thoughtful and reasonable, how many professors want to be brought up before the “racism” committee and have their thoughts investigated for possible racism?
Cole may find it tempting to say that racist research is evil, and he doesn’t mind if it gets silenced. But who gets to define racism? Plenty of critics of Israel are accused of anti-Semitism and racism, and they could quite easily occupy most of the complaints to a “racism committee.” Even if the committee never punishes them, the label of being “racist” could be used against innocent professors and silence important research about race. Supporters of Black Lives Matter are commonly accused of anti-white racism, and it is possible that the racism committee would be occupied with complaints about their views.
We already have a way to punish racist research: Criticism. Everyone is free to denounce everyone else for their racist ideas. If you don’t like racist research, call it out and convince others that you’re right. But a separate system to punish faculty for racism is an awful idea that threatens academic freedom.
Crossposted from AcademeBlog.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

AAUP Censures University of Nebraska–Lincoln at Annual Meeting


The University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) was placed on the AAUP’s list of censured administrations by a unanimous vote today at the AAUP annual meeting in Arlington, VA. Doctoral student Courtney Lawton had been removed as a teacher without a hearing after she publicly criticized and protested a student doing on-campus recruiting for Turning Point USA. The University administration claimed that because Lawton continued to be paid, there was no violation of her rights or academic freedom, a position that the AAUP rejected. The chancellor at UNL had announced, “she will not teach at our university going forward because of [her] inappropriate behavior.”

The AAUP also removed Stillman College from its censure list after working with the institution to revise its policies and practices. And the University of Iowa was removed from the list of sanctioned institutions for violations of academic governance standards.

The membership passed a resolution expressing support for contingent and part-time faculty. This year’s Annual Conference also included a wide range of speakers, primarily on the theme of free speech on campus, and a keynote address by Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains. You can watch the AAUP’s Facebook live discussions with selected speakers.

The AAUP’s membership (as of 5/24/18) was 41,742, an increase of 1.2% from a year ago. The fastest-growing section of the AAUP are the non-union members at advocacy chapters, which grew to 9,970, up 5.6% from the previous year.
The AAUP is in a strong financial position, but the upcoming Janus ruling by the Supreme Court later this month creates enormous stress and uncertainty by threatening the 11,000 fee-paying non-members at AAUP unionized chapters. Total revenue for the combined AAUP organization was $8.7 million in 2017 revenue, nearly $1 million more than 2015, with expenses in 2017 of $7.3 million. AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum declared, “If it were not for the impending Janus decision, I believe that by 2020 the AAUP would be a $10 million organization.” He said, “We’ve tried to build up some reserves” because of Janus so that the AAUP would “not be forced to take any abrupt actions to deal with revenue shortfalls.”
Janus has already had a serious impact on the AAUP by causing budget cuts. The position of faculty editor for Academe magazine was eliminated, as was the development director for the AAUP Foundation.
In his presidential address, Fichtenbaum declared, “We do not have to stand by and watch our profession…be destroyed by super-rich corporations and right-wing organizations. We can fight back.” He said, “If we fold, our fate is certain. Even if we fight, there are no guarantees. But we have a chance.”
Fichtenbaum claimed, “If we don’t get involved in politics, we will be unable to stop the people attacking academic freedom, collective bargaining, and shared governance.” He added, “You can stand together. That is the lesson of the West Virginia teachers’ strike.” Fichtenbaum argued, “We need to act collectively. We need to organize a union."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Ali al-Marri Story

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri has been deported to Qatar after spending 13 years in a US Navy brig and a federal prison for being an al-Qaeda agent and providing material support to terrorists.
But the full story about the al-Marri case reveals the failure of the Bush Administration’s approach to terrorism. I've been reporting on the al-Marri case for more than a decade. Torture and the violation of Constitutional rights didn’t work. But al-Marri was not some innocent victim. Al-Marri has expressed regret for working with al-Qaeda, but it’s not clear that he has abandoned his terrorist past. As a computer expert, al-Marri could pose a danger anywhere.
The incompetence began when al-Marri was facing trial for fraud in 2003 in Peoria. There’s no doubt that he was guilty, and would have been found guilty. But the Bush Administration wanted al-Marri to reveal information about al-Qaeda. So they decided to name him an "enemy combatant" in order to have full control over him and perhaps use their "enhanced interrogation" techniques. In fact, the Bush Administration was so anxious to have al-Marri as an "enemy combatant" that they agreed to drop the fraud charges "with prejudice," meaning that he could never be charged with them again. Reports indicate that the Bush Administration never got any worthwhile information from al-Marri; the "enemy combatant" designation was an utter failure.
This was the first major error of the Bush Administration. If al-Marri had been convicted on fraud, the years he spent in prison for that would not be deducted from his 15-year sentence. In essence, by naming al-Marri an "enemy combatant," the Bush Administration ended up reducing his time in prison.
The second major mistake of the Bush Administration was the torture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. By torturing Mohammed rather than using normal interrogation techniques, the Bush Administration made all of the evidence he provided inadmissible in any court. If the more reliable and effective interrogation techniques that reject torture had been used, prosecutors would have been able to tie al-Marri directly to terrorism.
The problem for prosecutors today is that al-Marri had never been an operational terrorist, and although he was an al-Qaeda agent, he was sent as a sleeper agent to the US to coordinate al-Qaeda’s follow-up operatives arriving after 9-11, operatives who never arrived due to the global crackdown on al-Qaeda. Without Mohammed’s evidence and without the fraud evidence that the Bush Administration had tainted and dismissed with prejudice, prosecutors were in a very difficult position to prove that al-Marri had done anything illegal.
That’s why they felt forced to agree to a relatively short sentence that just ended. Once again, we’re all paying the price for the failures of the Bush Administration.
Al-Marri came to Peoria with his wife and five children on Sept. 10, 2001 to enroll as a graduate student in computer science at Bradley University (which he had attended as an undergraduate two decades earlier). While the government portrays al-Marri as a key al-Qaeda figure in America, he is also the center of a fight over whether civil liberties will be sacrificed to fight the “war on terrorism.” On June 23, 2003, George W. Bush designated al-Marri as the third “enemy combatant” in America, depriving him of all legal rights.
While evidence of al-Marri’s involvement in illegal and perhaps terrorist activities has steadily accumulated, so too did the fact that the government is violating his constitutional rights with little justification. The Bush Administration’s efforts to deny al-Marri his rights have done nothing to protect America from terrorism, and its mishandling of the al-Marri case could eventually allow him to go free.
When the FBI first questioned al-Marri, at his apartment in West Peoria on Oct. 2, 2001, it was based on a police stop where al-Marri was found to have a briefcase full of cash (Al-Marri reportedly received over $13,000 in cash from Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, the financier who bankrolled the September 11th attacks).
A tip from a US Cellular salesman worried about al-Marri’s cell phone calls to the Middle East may also have led to a deeper investigation. Because his enrollment forms at Bradley had listed two different birthdates, the FBI paid a visit to al-Marri. FBI agents continued to investigate al-Marri, and on Dec. 11, 2001, visited his home again.
They say al-Marri gave them permission to search his apartment and his laptop.
On al-Marri’s laptop, FBI computer experts found files with more than 1,750 credit card numbers, along with bookmarked websites about computer hacking, credit card fraud, buying hazardous chemicals, and making fake driver’s licenses. Al-Marri’s computer also included proxy software used to conceal identity on the internet, and hacker programs used to gather information about other people’s computers.
Al-Marri’s laptop also indicated his support of bin Laden, including an Arabic prayer that “Neither the U.S. nor anyone living in it will dream of security/safety before we live it in Palestine and before the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed,” and that God should “protect” and “guard” Usama bin Laden. The laptop also included audio files of lectures by bin Laden, lectures advising how to train in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, photos of the 9-11 attacks and of prisoners held in Kabul, and a note in Arabic declaring: “Neither the U.S. nor anyone living in it will dream of security/safety before we live it in Palestine and before the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed.”
On Dec. 12, al-Marri returned to the FBI offices, but this time he asked for a lawyer, and refused to take a polygraph test. Agents confronted him with a list of 36 expired credit cards numbers on two sheets of paper in his laptop’s carrying case, a list that included the owners’ names and expiration dates. Al-Marri claimed that the handwriting on the sheets wasn’t his, and said he knew nothing about them. On orders from the New York City offices, federal agents arrested al-Marri that afternoon as a “material witness.” After a few weeks in the Peoria County Jail, al-Marri was flown to New York and put in the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
On Dec. 14, 2001, FBI agents got a search warrant for al-Marri’s apartment, and found an almanac with business cards used to mark pages showing U.S. dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads. They also found an Arabic prayer calling for the defeat of the “villainous” Christians and Jews in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Chechnya.
The Credit Card Scheme
On Jan. 28, 2002, al-Marri was arrested and charged with unauthorized possession of “more than 15” access devices — the credit-card numbers — with the intent to defraud. He was indicted on the charge Feb. 6, 2002. After al-Marri and his attorneys decided that Manhattan was a bad place for a terrorism suspect to go on trial, they asked for the venue to be moved back to central Illinois, where the alleged crimes had taken place, so the government dropped the charges in New York and re-filed them in Peoria.
In the summer of 2000, al-Marri came to central Illinois and created a fake company, AAA Carpets, in room 209 at the Time Out Motel in Macomb, Il., using the name Abdullakareem A. Almuslam. Western Illinois University student Matt Stiles, who hooked up a high-speed internet connection for al-Marri, told the Chicago Tribune, “He said it was very important that he have fast Internet service.” According to Stiles, “All I know is he sat around and was on the Internet all day.”
Al-Marri used a false name and stolen Social Security number to open accounts at three banks in Macomb, and opened a credit card processing account. Using stolen credit card numbers, al-Marri processed fake transactions, and then moved the money out before the credit card companies and banks figured out the fraud.
Although al-Marri denied the allegations, the evidence against him seemed overwhelming. Six of the stolen credit card numbers used by “Almuslam” were later found on al-Marri’s laptop. A witness in Macomb picked al-Marri out of a photo line-up as the man calling himself “Almuslam.” Fingerprints on the “Almuslam” bank documents in Macomb matched al-Marri. Airline records show that an Ali S. al-Marri took a flight from Saudi Arabia to Frankfurt and then O’Hare on May 25-26, 2000.
The summer “Almuslam” was in Macomb, he made a call to a travel agency, arranging for a flight by a man named Ali al-Marri, who took a flight from Peoria to Chicago and then New York on Aug. 18, 2000, and then returned the next day, missing the connection to Peoria. Al-Marri soon left the country, and flew from Frankfurt back to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 21, 2000.
But the Macomb evidence proves that al-Marri was a criminal, not necessarily a terrorist. In January 2003, federal prosecutor Michael McGovern told a judge that al-Marri had used credit card fraud to provide “material support” to al-Qaeda, but no evidence of this has ever been publicly produced.
The Al-Qaeda Phone Number
In addition to the fraud charges, al-Marri was also charged with two counts of lying to federal agents. The government accused al-Marri of falsely denying that he called a phone in the United Arab Emirates, and of falsely claiming that he hadn’t been in the country in 2000 when the credit card fraud was perpetrated.
On four occasions in 2001, al-Marri tried (unsuccessfully) to call a number in United Arab Emirates using public pay phones in Illinois. On Sept. 23, a call was made from a store in Peoria near his apartment, using a phone card that was also used on al-Marri’s cell phone on Sept. 27 and his home phone on Oct. 24. On Oct. 14, the same number was called around 2am using the same phone card from a gas station in Springfield; around the same time, al-Marri’s cell phone was used near Springfield. On Nov. 4, the number was called twice from pay phones in Chicago, using a second phone card; that same phone card was used three days later from al-Marri’s home phone.
The FBI was suspicious of the phone number because it was used on Sept. 3, 2001 by Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh to transfer money to Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker” for the 9-11 attacks. The phone number was also listed by al-Qaeda financier, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (arrested in Pakistan on March 1, 2003 along with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed). Al-Hawsawi, who is accused of sending money to the 9-11 hijackers, listed the number on a withdrawal slip from a United Arab Emirates (UAE) bank.
The number was also called by 9-11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who listed the phone number when he sent a Fed Ex package to the UAE on Sept. 4, 2001. The 9-11 hijackers returned leftover money to the account opened by al-Hawsawi shortly before the attacks. The phone number was also used in the transfer of money to Ramzi Muhammad Abdullah bin al-Shibh, whom American officials believe was intended to be another 9-11 hijacker. But when questioned by the FBI about it, al-Marri denied calling the phone number or knowing al-Hawsawi. On Dec. 23, 2002, al-Marri was charged with making false statements to the FBI denying that he called the number.
The Enemy Combatant
While al-Marri was awaiting his trial, the US got a lucky break in capturing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the global leader of al-Qaeda operations, on March 1, 2003. Under torture (including waterboarding), Mohammed revealed some information about the al-Qaeda network, and named al-Marri as “the point of contact for AQ operatives arriving in the US for September 11 follow-up operations.” Newsweek claimed that Mohammed described al-Marri as “the perfect sleeper agent because he has studied in the United States, had no criminal record and had a family with whom he could travel.”
But one Newsweek reporter admitted to a Peoria Journal-Star columnist there wasn’t evidence of contact with other al-Qaeda operatives. “That’s the mystery here,” reporter Daniel Klaidman said. “If he was the main contact, we probably would’ve seen more evidence of him talking to others.” Because some of the information linking al-Marri to terrorism was acquired using torture, it’s unreliable and cannot be allowed in a court of law.
According to the government, al-Marri trained at al-Qaeda’s al Farooq camp in Afghanistan, including training in chemical weapons, and pledged service to Osama bin Laden, offering himself for a “martyrdom” mission. Some detainees reportedly identified al-Marri as being at the al-Farooq camp, and said that he offered to die for al-Qaeda. With this additional information, the Bush Administration decided to name al-Marri an enemy combatant–even though he was arrested on American soil, and has never been accused of carrying out any acts of violence.
Bush’s June 23, 2003 order declared that “al-Marri engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism,” and he “represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States.” The order claimed that the enemy combatant designation was “necessary to prevent him from aiding al-Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States or its armed forces, other government personnel, or citizens.”
The Defense Department said al-Marri’s status was changed ‘‘due to recent credible information provided by other detainees in the war on terrorism. Enemy combatant status may be used to describe an individual who, under the laws and customs of war, has become a member of or associated himself with hostile enemy forces, thereby attaining the status of a belligerent.’’
This doesn’t describe al-Marri at all, even if the worst accusations against him are true. First of all, there is no declared war with al-Qaeda, because al-Qaeda is a terrorist group, not an enemy nation. Second, al-Marri’s alleged membership in the group is tenuous at best. Third, al-Marri was never a belligerent of any kind. A statement from Human Rights Watch charged, “The United States cannot declare a criminal suspect, including a suspected member of al-Qaida, an enemy combatant, except where there has been direct participation in an international armed conflict.”
Jan Paul Miller, federal prosecutor for central Illinois, filed to dismiss the criminal case without prejudice—meaning that the government could later reinstate the charges. And the judge seemed willing to support that ruling, but wanted to give defense attorneys time to prepare a response. However, the government was under orders to get al-Marri into military custody immediately, and rather than have a few hours delay for a response by al-Marri’s attorneys, they agreed to dismiss the charges with prejudice, which means al-Marri can never be prosecuted for his acts of credit card fraud and lying. This critical decision may come back to haunt the government now that al-Marri’s enemy combatant status is overturned.
The fact that al-Marri was already in jail awaiting trial on fraud charges made the sudden rush by the Bush Administration even more puzzling. Alice Fisher, deputy assistant attorney general, told the media, “We are confident we would have prevailed,” but dropped the charges in order to help fight terrorism. Fisher has admitted that investigators do not believe that al-Marri was “specifically tasked” to plot a chemical or biological attack in the United States. Instead, Newsweek reports that government officials believe al-Marri was assigned to hack into the computer systems of U.S. banks. Al-Marri also frequently visited websites on the production of hydrogen cyanide, a lethal gas that al-Qaeda plotted to use in America. Given al-Marri’s suspected role, why was it necessary to shift the case to military tribunals, which cannot rule on the dismissed charges of fraud and lying?
According to an ABC News report, al-Marri was made an “enemy combatant” because “the government does not want senior al-Qaeda leaders testifying about classified information in open court.” Yet this explanation is not plausible, since the fraud charges against al-Marri wouldn’t have required any classified information. Classified information might come out only if terrorism charges were filed against him, but it’s doubtful that evidence acquired more than five years ago would seriously undermine the war on terror.
Putting the Pressure on al-Marri
The real reason for “enemy combatant” status was revealed anonymously to journalists. United Press International reported that a Justice Department official said “that the actual reason for the change in status was to pressure him to cooperate.” According to the anonymous official, “If the guy says ‘Even if you give me 30 years in jail, I’ll never help you.’ Then you can always threaten him with indefinite custody incommunicado from his family or attorneys.” Attorney General John Ashcroft declared, “An individual with that kind of situation is an individual who might know a lot about what could happen, might know the names of individuals, information being so key to intelligence and prevention.”
On May 7, 2003, federal prosecutor David Kelley, according to al-Marri’s attorney, threatened al-Marri that if he continued a plea of innocence, “the circumstances of his confinement, which were already severe, would be further aggravated.” For years, al-Marri was kept in solitary confinement, and reportedly also had his family threatened by the government in an effort to get him to talk.
Even if al-Marri didn’t confess under this “pressure,” the government hoped that making al-Marri an “enemy combatant” might give a lesson to al-Qaeda supporters who were reluctant to cooperate. CNN reported that “senior FBI official” said the al-Marri case had implications for other terrorism suspects: “If I were in their shoes, I’d take a message from this.”
Frank Dunham, a defense attorney representing Zacarias Moussaoui and Yassir Hamdi, called this a significant admission: “In front of appeals courts, they have argued that enemy combatant status prevents the horror of having corporals and sergeants having to follow Miranda warnings and chain-evidence requirements. They have also argued for the national security implications of allowing it. But never a frank admission that it offers them more leverage in plea bargains and cooperation.”
When Constitutional rights are abandoned solely for the sake of intimidating prisoners, it indicates a serious threat to civil liberties. As Emily Tynes of the ACLU observes, “The Department of Justice’s treatment of al-Marri reads like a case study in abuse of power.” Tynes notes, “He will be held in a military brig indefinitely, without opportunity for trial, without the opportunity for counsel, without access to the outside world or even, necessarily, sunshine. He now has no rights. He now has no privileges. He is persona non grata.”
Unfortunately, few people were concerned about the violations of civil liberties in the al-Marri case. Then-Congressman Ray LaHood (who became a member of Obama’s cabinet) told WGLT about the al-Marri case at the time: “I guarantee you, if these folks get lawyers, they will have their day in court.” LaHood claimed, “I don’t see too many crocodile tears being spread around this country for these people. I guarantee you, there’s enough civil liberties groups to look after their interests.” LaHood may have been unaware of the fact that an “enemy combatant” is denied the constitutional right to a lawyer.
Former judge Andrew Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst at Fox News, noted in the Los Angeles Times about the al-Marri case, “We have tried the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Charles Manson, Al Capone and O.J. Simpson, Tokyo Rose and the Rosenbergs. So who is an enemy combatant? Not John Walker Lindh, who fought alongside the Taliban. Not Zacarias Moussaoui, who the government says helped plan the 9/11 attacks. Not Lyman Faris, who allegedly plotted to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. The Constitution protected their rights. Who is an enemy combatant? Today, it can be anyone the president wants. And that is terrifying.”
Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
Al-Marri’s case was the first time any president has ever stopped a judicial process by declaring someone an “enemy combatant.” The fraud and lying charges against al-Marri could have carried penalties of five to 30 years in prison, with fines of up to $1 million on each count. Clearly, there was no immediate danger that al-Marri would be released to organize terrorist activities if not for the “enemy combatant” designation.
To the contrary, al-Marri could have been kept in prison for years on fraud and lying charges, and by the time he was scheduled for release, terrorism charges could be filed without any danger to national security. Because the government did not file any terrorism charges against him, al-Marri would have no right to call any witnesses with potentially sensitive information. The public information already released in indictments was more than sufficient to convict al-Marri.
By refusing to respect civil liberties, the Bush Administration could have ended up allowing an al-Qaeda agent to get away with his crimes. Many experts felt that the Obama Administration might release al-Marri and send him back to his home country, Qatar. But with his skills in computer fraud, Al-Marri can pose a threat to America from anywhere in the world.
Most important of all, the Bush Administration put the Bill of Rights at risk by treating it so cavalierly as an inconvenience to be dismissed whenever it suits the “war on terror.” Ali al-Marri is not an innocent man. But until he is granted his rights and his day in court, we will all see our civil liberties reduced. The only way the terrorists can ultimately win is to lead us to reject the freedoms considered fundamental to our democracy.
The Obama Administration, anxious to reverse the Bush Administration policies and avoid an almost certain defeat in the Supreme Court, decided to try al-Marri in the regular court system. That led to al-Marri’s guilty plea, and the sentence for material support for terrorism that al-Marri just completed before his deportation to Qatar.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ben Shapiro's Homophobia


The courageous decision of NBA player Jason Collins to come out of the closet got me thinking about Ben Shapiro, the right-wing pundit who tweeted about him: “So Jason Collins is a hero because he's gay? Our standard has dropped quite a bit since Normandy.”

Considering that Shapiro has also tweeted that Newt Gingrich and Mark Levin are heroes, we'd have to say that his standards have dropped quite a bit since Normandy. But Shapiro also tweeted, “@adamcarolla is my hero.” I hope that all us, liberal and conservative, can agree that anyone who regards Adam Carolla as a “hero” has permanently given up the right to defend the word.

But this certainly isn't the first case of Shapiro being homophobic. Back in 2003, Shapiro wrote, “If you pay tuition, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda. If you pay taxes, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda. If your child majors in English, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda.”

I discovered that quote while writing a review of Shapiro's first book, Brainwashed.

Shapiro's book about the evil liberals in academia unintentionally disproved much of what he claimed. Here's what I wrote about Brainwashed:

Shapiro admits, “I don’t believe that large numbers of conservative students are purposefully targeted for grade penalization.” Shapiro, who seemingly cannot write a paragraph without making a factual error, a distortion of a statistic, or a specious argument, somehow managed to get good enough grades from all of his left-wing brainwashing professors to be admitted to Harvard Law School.


Shapiro, to me, reflects why there's a growing gap between left and right on campus. Leftist students who do well in school and score high on standardized tests tend to go to graduate school where they are trained to explain and defend their ideas, and then become professors. Right-wing students who are challenged by their professors reject the criticism on ideological grounds. Conservatives (like Shapiro) with high-level  test-taking talents tend to go to law school, and then are embraced by the world of right-wing commentary and talk radio. Instead of learning how to examine the facts, they are taught how to be outrageous. As I noted in my book about Rush Limbaugh, they realize that facts don't matter as much as assertions, the more over-the-top, the better.

That's partly why conservative intellectual culture in America is becoming so anti-science, anti-reason, anti-education, and openly bigoted. While they falsely condemn academia as being a world of leftist groupthink, conservatives like Shapiro live firmly in the realm of right-wing groupthink. In his most recent, and even dumber, book, Bullies, Shapiro fantasizes about the terrible imaginary repression of conservatives and openly endorses bullying liberals to fight against the victimization of the right.

The immature rantings of Shapiro as a college student weren't something he grew out of. Instead, his dumbest beliefs were reinforced by a right-wing culture that nurtured every nutty idea he had, and pressured him never to stray from a far right ideology. As a result, Ben Shapiro has become a professional idiot. And Shapiro's success in that job certainly inspires other conservatives to reject the difficult path of long years in graduate school with little hope of a faculty job, when it so much easier to rant and rave with little care about the arguments you're making. That's why Shapiro's first reaction to Jason Collins' announcement reflects the bigotry and the idiocy of the far right today.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Campus Copyright as Censorship

Steve Harris of Saint Louis University writes at Academe Blog about his university's threats to sue him if he surveyed faculty, on the bizarre grounds that it would violate the university's copyright over its own survey. This is both censorship and lunacy, since nothing about SLU AAUP's proposed questions would have violated any copyright law. Indeed, since the purpose of the survey was to ask the questions that SLU didn't, no one could imagine that the AAUP chapter was copying the administration. Unfortunately, the threat of litigation works, and the AAUP chapter decided to only ask one question.

Here's a list of the original questions from the SLU survey. Nothing about this survey is particularly original, useful, or valuable.
SLU's Climate Committee Survey
1) Faculty members have adequate opportunities to communicate their concerns to the University.
2) Faculty representatives to the senate, institutional committees, and other representative bodies keep their constituents informed.
3) Faculty representatives to the senate, institutional committees, and other representative bodies solicit constituents' views whenever appropriate.
4) The University regularly communicates with faculty members regarding important University matters.
5) Faculty members are made aware of imminent changes proposed by the University affecting academic matters.
6) Faculty members have access to the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions on academic matters.
7) The University responds to faculty concerns.
8) The University communicates its institutional priorities clearly to the faculty.
9) What are your perceptions of communication from the University?
10) The University appreciates the contributions of faculty.
11) The University fosters an atmosphere of trust.
12) A collaborative decision-making environment exists between the faculty and the University on academic matters.
13) The Mission of the University is reflected in the day-to-day operations of the University.
14) The President is effective in leading the University.
15) Across the University, morale is high.
16) Staff and faculty work together effectively.
17) Faculty and students have effective working relationships.
18) I would recommend Saint Louis University as a good place to work.
19) What are your perceptions of the University climate?
20) The faculty has meaningful input regarding important matters related to faculty.
21) The faculty is able to express dissenting views on University matters without fear of reprisal.
22) In general, the University acts on institution-wide faculty concerns.
23) Faculty members have the resources they need to further their teaching and research endeavors.
24) The University's organizational/management structure fosters participation in academic decision making.
25) The faculty has an influential role in establishing the University's priorities.
26) What are your perceptions of faculty being heard at the University?
27) On which campus do you work primarily?
28) How long have you been employed by Saint Louis University?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

My View of Conservative Studies

Minding the Campus recently asked 10 people, including me, to comment on the appointment of Steven Hayward to a one-year term as Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Here's what I wrote:
There's nothing inherently wrong with the field of conservative studies, or professorships in it. As the author of two books about conservatives (Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh), I'd certainly be happy to see more jobs available to study conservative ideas. Unfortunately, this particular job appears to be nothing more than preferential hiring for right-wingers, and this kind of explicit political discrimination with little regard for academic values is wrong. Talk-show host Mike Rosen, a member of the hiring committee, told the Washington Times that no liberals or even independents would be allowed in the job (or, one presumes, the lecture series). This kind of suppression sends a message not only to applicants, but also to potential students who may feel silenced in the classroom if they fail to toe the conservative line. If, like me, conservatives believe that political discrimination is wrong in academia, then they must uphold this principle for all appointments. Just as Women's Studies must be open to men, and Black Studies must be open to non-blacks, conservative studies must be open to non-conservatives.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Bowdoin's Response to the NAS

On Academe Blog, I write about the new NAS report on Bowdoin College. Here is the response from Bowdoin College to the NAS report:
The National Association of Scholars today released a report titled “What Does Bowdoin
Teach.” We will review the report because we encourage open discourse on the
effectiveness of American higher education and because we support academic freedom,
which is the essence of a liberal arts institution. 
Bowdoin will continue to assess its effectiveness by relying on many factors to evaluate
our academic and residential life programs, including the accomplishments of students,
faculty, and staff, and the achievements, loyalty, and support of alumni. The College will
also look to the informed judgment of foundations, corporations, and other outside donors
that are well versed in assessing the quality and efficacy of the institutions they support,
and we will depend on the rigorous decennial reaccreditation process. Collectively, these
and other internal measures provide us with the qualitative and quantitative means to
consider carefully how we are doing currently and what we must do to prepare for the
future.
We are proud of our students and our commitment to build and support a community that
resembles America and the world. We are proud of our faculty who represent intellectual
rigor across the disciplines and who are both excellent teachers and engaged scholars. We
are also proud of our alumni who are leaders in all walks of life. A Bowdoin education
trains young men and women of varied backgrounds to think critically, solve complex
problems, apply sound judgment, embrace lifelong learning, and make principled
decisions in support of the common good. This is both our mission and our record.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Censorship at the University of Delaware

InsideHigherEd asks in the headline of a short take, "Censorship or Trademark Enforcement at U. of Delaware?" To answer the question asked in the title, this is absolutely 100% censorship, and there is no doubt of this fact. There are two reasons for this. First of all, UD officials threatened "severe" consequences against the students who wanted to sell the T-shirts, implying the use of the campus disciplinary system rather than the civil courts for a trademark infringement case. As FIRE notes, that's a severe threat to free speech and a complete abuse of the campus judicial system, which has no business dealing with civil cases. Second, this trademark claim is simply ridiculous. The UD certainly does not own the letters "U" and "D," and its attempt to regulate every possible reference to its university is absurd. Universities should be more tolerant of free speech than other corporations, especially when it comes to their own students. They shouldn't be threatening their students in absolutely inappropriate ways in order to censor free speech.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The "Right to Work" Myth


The “right to work” laws such as in Michigan are unfair, and hurt not just unions, but all workers. But I'm interested in the rhetoric here, and how this purely propagandistic term “right to work” is commonly used in every news story and even by its opponents. The effect is similar to what would happen if the nightly news routinely referred to attacks on abortion rights as “right to save babies” laws. Who could oppose the “right to work”?

The “right to work” laws have nothing to do with the right to work, because the union doesn't infringes on anyone's right to work. What we're talking about is the right to freeload by not paying union fees, not the right to work.

Under normal law, if you don't want to join a union, you still have to pay, in essence, a tax on your wages for the work that the union does on your behalf. If you don't like the union, you're perfectly free to oppose the union. You're free to urge your co-workers to elect different leaders, or affiliate with a different union, or abolish any union representation altogether. But it should be the collective choice of all the workers. It simply can't work if anyone is free to freeload.

The analogy here is to paying taxes to the IRS. If you don't like Congress, you're perfectly free to urge people to elect different leaders. But no sane person imagines that you have a “right to work” that includes the right not to have a portion of your wages in taxes. So why is your “right to work” violated if a small part of your income is taken away by a democratically-elected body that promotes the common good through a union?

The Republicans pushing for “right to work” don't actually believe in a right to work (after all, it's not written anywhere in the US Constitution). They want to destroy a political enemy by cutting off their funds. The right to unionize—and the right not to be punished for it by being forced to subsidize your slacker colleagues in “right to work” states—is what's truly at stake here. The “right to work” laws violate that fundamental right of association under the First Amendment by burdening pro-union workers with a greater financial burden that anti-union workers don't need to pay. In essence, “right to work” is a tax on people who want to join unions, and Republicans hope to kill unions by forcing their supporters to overcome that barrier to free association.

If you hate unions, then by all means critique them, attack them, and rationally persuade workers to get rid of them. But don't use the power of government to force an uneven playing field as a cynical political ploy.