Commentary Magazine


Topic: civil-liberties

The Worst Part of the IRS Asset-Seizure Abuse: Expect It to Continue

There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

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There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances.”

Richard Weber, the chief of Criminal Investigation at the I.R.S., said in a written statement, “This policy update will ensure that C.I. continues to focus our limited investigative resources on identifying and investigating violations within our jurisdiction that closely align with C.I.’s mission and key priorities.” He added that making deposits under $10,000 to evade reporting requirements, called structuring, is still a crime whether the money is from legal or illegal sources. The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

Not nearly enough about the policy will change, nor will the law allowing it. And there won’t be consequences for those clearly abusing this authority. The IRS simply promises to use better discretion in deciding whose bank accounts they will–literally!–raid.

If you want a description of what happens when a federal agency operates with impunity and is incentivized to go trolling for cash, this is it. And the head of the relevant IRS department, after being exposed as the chief pillager, declares that you can trust him to pillage more responsibly. Any government that condones this is fundamentally at odds with the basic pillars of liberty, including presumption of innocence, due process, and private property protections. At least The Sopranos could be funny.

As the IRS goes blundering and plundering through America’s piggy banks, it’s important to revisit how we got here. Here is the explanation of the law in the Times piece:

The practice has swept up dairy farmers in Maryland, an Army sergeant in Virginia saving for his children’s college education and Ms. Hinders, 67, who has borrowed money, strained her credit cards and taken out a second mortgage to keep her restaurant going.

Their money was seized under an increasingly controversial area of law known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agents to take property they suspect of being tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

Critics say this incentive has led to the creation of a law enforcement dragnet, with more than 100 multiagency task forces combing through bank reports, looking for accounts to seize. Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks and other financial institutions must report cash deposits greater than $10,000. But since many criminals are aware of that requirement, banks also are supposed to report any suspicious transactions, including deposit patterns below $10,000. Last year, banks filed more than 700,000 suspicious activity reports. Owners who are caught up in structuring cases often cannot afford to fight. The median amount seized by the I.R.S. was $34,000, according to the Institute for Justice analysis, while legal costs can easily mount to $20,000 or more.

Aside from the abuse of power–a pattern with the IRS, isn’t it?–this is a story about unintended consequences as well. The government put a regulation in place to catch depositors’ ill-gotten gains. Since criminals pay close attention to the laws they don’t follow, they started easily avoiding the paperwork. So the government simply cast a wider net, creating an air of suspicion around anyone who deposited less than $10,000. If that sounds like a lot of people to you, well, you’d be right, wouldn’t you?

One major objection to the sheer amount of regulation–especially that which is aimed at the financial industries–is that it virtually guarantees that anyone without a lobbyist and a D.C. lawyer on retainer will break the law fairly regularly. This is in part because so many of those laws are convoluted, nonsensical, or unconstitutional, and also because power corrupts and federal agencies have all the power.

This is your federal government in 2014: everyone’s a suspect. Madison is turning in his grave.

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NSA, Metadata, and the Constitution

If any evidence were needed that judicial activism is not merely a problem of the left, look at what a couple of conservative judicial activists pulled off yesterday in a case involving one of our most important national security safeguards–the NSA’s monitoring of terrorist communications.

Larry Klayman is a professional plaintiff who has filed too many cases to count. (He has even gone to court against the organization he founded and then left, Judicial Watch.) He first came to public attention pursuing various far-fetched allegations against the Clintons; more recently he has been pursuing the conspiratorial “birther” claim that President Obama should be thrown out of office because he supposedly wasn’t born in this country. He has also been quoted as saying that conservatives should demand “that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Klayman’s latest cause is the NSA’s collection of “metadata” which has been irresponsibly revealed by Edward Snowden. This is the NSA program that collects information on which telephone numbers are in contact with each other so that links among terrorist plotters can be detected. Mind you, the NSA can’t actually listen in to the content of these communications without a court order. It can only search for patterns so that if an al-Qaeda mastermind abroad calls someone in the United States, that phone number can be tagged for further investigation. This is considerably less intrusive than the use of surveillance cameras in public places by organizations such as the New York Police Department or Macy’s which can monitor individuals’ movements–and, more to the point, it’s a lot less intrusive than the kind of data that big companies such as Amazon and Google compile on their customers, which includes their Internet browsing habits.

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If any evidence were needed that judicial activism is not merely a problem of the left, look at what a couple of conservative judicial activists pulled off yesterday in a case involving one of our most important national security safeguards–the NSA’s monitoring of terrorist communications.

Larry Klayman is a professional plaintiff who has filed too many cases to count. (He has even gone to court against the organization he founded and then left, Judicial Watch.) He first came to public attention pursuing various far-fetched allegations against the Clintons; more recently he has been pursuing the conspiratorial “birther” claim that President Obama should be thrown out of office because he supposedly wasn’t born in this country. He has also been quoted as saying that conservatives should demand “that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Klayman’s latest cause is the NSA’s collection of “metadata” which has been irresponsibly revealed by Edward Snowden. This is the NSA program that collects information on which telephone numbers are in contact with each other so that links among terrorist plotters can be detected. Mind you, the NSA can’t actually listen in to the content of these communications without a court order. It can only search for patterns so that if an al-Qaeda mastermind abroad calls someone in the United States, that phone number can be tagged for further investigation. This is considerably less intrusive than the use of surveillance cameras in public places by organizations such as the New York Police Department or Macy’s which can monitor individuals’ movements–and, more to the point, it’s a lot less intrusive than the kind of data that big companies such as Amazon and Google compile on their customers, which includes their Internet browsing habits.

Yet Klayman did not choose to sue the NYPD or Google–at least not that I know of. (Given his litigious nature–he doesn’t seem to have a job other than filing suits–such cases may well be pending.) He chose to sue the NSA over its collection of metadata, claiming that the NSA was infringing on his personal liberties by collecting his metadata–as if Larry Klayman were so important a personage that the NSA was actually going to devote time and resources to monitoring him.

Such suits are almost as common as spam emails and about as significant. The difference in this case is that a federal judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, chose to grant Klayman an injunction against the NSA. Sort of. Leon actually stayed his own injunction in a moment of self-awareness or perhaps self-protection–because if he hadn’t done so, an appeals court undoubtedly would have.

Leon must know that the odds of his ruling being upheld on review are slim to none. He claims that the NSA is violating the Fourth Amendment with its “almost Orwellian” program and adds: “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval.”

In reality, the NSA program has been fully authorized by the USA Patriot Act and reviewed on a regular basis by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court whose members are picked by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has previously ruled (in Smith v. Maryland, a 1979 case) that individuals have no expectation of privacy in metadata, and judicial review is built into the process to make sure that the NSA abides by the rules. So is congressional review. The appropriate committees of Congress have been kept fully informed of what NSA has been up to, and members with oversight of intelligence activities have voiced support for these efforts. (See this Slate article for a list of supportive comments from members of the House and Senate.)

The practical significance of Leon’s ruling is apt to be slight. The future of the NSA programs is going to be decided above his pay grade–by the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court, not by a lone federal district judge. This will, however, no doubt fuel Klayman’s fund-raising (in typically bombastic fashion he is claiming this is the “biggest ruling in the history of government litigation”) and allow him to file ever more suits.

But while the legal significance of Leon’s order is not great, it is symbolic of how some libertarians of the right have joined with libertarians of the left to try to eviscerate some of the most effective defenses we have against terrorist attacks. So far the center has held–the president and leaders of Congress have recognized that the NSA’s programs are too important to become a partisan football. But with a presidential review group set to submit a call for greater restrictions on NSA activities, there is cause for concern that the center may not hold much longer. If so, the gain in our civil liberties will be slight to nonexistent (who aside from Larry Klayman stays up nights worrying about whether the NSA is collecting metadata on our calls?), while the harm to our national security will be palpable.

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Reality Intervenes in NSA Debate

Outraged Europeans would prefer to think that when it comes to privacy issues, they are the good guys and those nasty Americans are the bad guys. We have even been treated to the dubious spectacle in recent days of being lectured by the Germans, of all people, on how much they respect civil liberties and how little regard we have for them—which conveniently elides the inconvenient fact that the only reason that Germans have any civil liberties to enjoy is because of the U.S. Armed Forces which overthrew the Nazis and protected them from the Communists.

More to the point, the narrative of European innocence on state-sponsored snooping can only be maintained by a complete denial of reality. The details are of course classified, but some tantalizing tidbits are now seeping into public discussion. For example this Wall Street Journal article: “Millions of phone records at the center of a firestorm in Europe over spying by the National Security Agency were secretly supplied to the U.S. by European intelligence services—not collected by the NSA, upending a furor that cast a pall over trans-Atlantic relations.”

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Outraged Europeans would prefer to think that when it comes to privacy issues, they are the good guys and those nasty Americans are the bad guys. We have even been treated to the dubious spectacle in recent days of being lectured by the Germans, of all people, on how much they respect civil liberties and how little regard we have for them—which conveniently elides the inconvenient fact that the only reason that Germans have any civil liberties to enjoy is because of the U.S. Armed Forces which overthrew the Nazis and protected them from the Communists.

More to the point, the narrative of European innocence on state-sponsored snooping can only be maintained by a complete denial of reality. The details are of course classified, but some tantalizing tidbits are now seeping into public discussion. For example this Wall Street Journal article: “Millions of phone records at the center of a firestorm in Europe over spying by the National Security Agency were secretly supplied to the U.S. by European intelligence services—not collected by the NSA, upending a furor that cast a pall over trans-Atlantic relations.”

Or this AP story: “A former foreign minister of Greece says the U.S. is not the only country eavesdropping on foreign diplomats: his country’s secret services did that to U.S. ambassadors in Athens and Ankara in the 1990s.”

What a surprise: The Europeans engage in espionage and surveillance too. And, as it turns out, their spy agencies often operate with less oversight than our own.

So perhaps, just perhaps, we will hear fewer smug lectures from across the Atlantic about the horrors of the NSA and more recognition of the complex realities, including the fact that NSA surveillance helps to protect the Europeans from terrorism and other threats.

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A Tea Partier Gets Some Unusual Defenders

Last week I wrote about the entertaining series of stories in which reporters asked Senate Democrats why they didn’t stand with Rand Paul during his filibuster of John Brennan over civil liberties concerns. I noted that congressional Democrats judge foreign policy stands on partisanship alone, and the Democrats’ confused responses to reporters last week signaled they thought reporters were in on the joke.

But there are Democrats outside of government starting to pipe up on the issue of drones and secrecy, and it suggests Paul’s filibuster was even more successful from a publicity standpoint than it seemed at the time. This is because when it began, Paul’s concentration on the seemingly farfetched possibility that the government would drone critics like Jane Fonda as they sat in Starbucks left the initial impression that the filibuster was going to be a political theater of the absurd. But Paul proved many doubters wrong not only by attracting other politicians and rallying support on Twitter, but because the drone-Fonda case highlighted something that made people uneasy: if the federal government couldn’t or wouldn’t clearly deny its right to zap nonviolent people on American soil, was there anything the Obama administration would rule out?

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Last week I wrote about the entertaining series of stories in which reporters asked Senate Democrats why they didn’t stand with Rand Paul during his filibuster of John Brennan over civil liberties concerns. I noted that congressional Democrats judge foreign policy stands on partisanship alone, and the Democrats’ confused responses to reporters last week signaled they thought reporters were in on the joke.

But there are Democrats outside of government starting to pipe up on the issue of drones and secrecy, and it suggests Paul’s filibuster was even more successful from a publicity standpoint than it seemed at the time. This is because when it began, Paul’s concentration on the seemingly farfetched possibility that the government would drone critics like Jane Fonda as they sat in Starbucks left the initial impression that the filibuster was going to be a political theater of the absurd. But Paul proved many doubters wrong not only by attracting other politicians and rallying support on Twitter, but because the drone-Fonda case highlighted something that made people uneasy: if the federal government couldn’t or wouldn’t clearly deny its right to zap nonviolent people on American soil, was there anything the Obama administration would rule out?

And that, in turn, led to many asking a related series of questions: what exactly do we know about the drone program? Does it have limits, and if so, what are they? Why, people wondered, didn’t they know exactly what the federal government’s guidelines are regarding these floating robot assassins suddenly the centerpiece of our anti-terror efforts? Sensing they were losing the spin battle, the White House had Attorney General Eric Holder finally respond with a terse note, basically saying the government cannot drone Fonda. Not good enough, says Jane Harman, a former Democratic congresswoman from California who was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and is now head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

Still, the letter left more questions unanswered than answered. Indeed, a simple “no” is hardly reassuring when the policy it supports is not clear.

In the domestic context, drones should never be used against citizens unless there is an armed conflict on U.S. soil….

Only the Federal Aviation Administration has been tasked with reviewing safety of domestic drones – nothing related to legal or security issues….

In the absence of congressional action, more than 30 state legislatures are banning or contemplating bills governing domestic drone use. But we need a national solution – not a fragmentation of state and local laws.

Harman’s CNN.com op-ed is titled “Rand Paul is Right.” In a similar op-ed in the Washington Post, former Bill Clinton chief of staff John Podesta writes that “The Obama administration is wrong” to withhold documents being requested by Congress that would shed light on the secret drone programs. Podesta writes:

It is beyond dispute that some information must be closely held to protect national security and to engage in effective diplomacy, and that unauthorized disclosure can be extraordinarily harmful. But protecting technical means, human sources, operational details and intelligence methods cannot be an excuse for creating secret law to guide our institutions.

In refusing to release to Congress the rules and justifications governing a program that has conducted nearly 400 unmanned drone strikes and killed at least three Americans in the past four years, President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days. And in keeping this information from the American people, he is undermining the nation’s ability to be a leader on the world stage and is acting in opposition to the democratic principles we hold most important.

And there is one Senate Democrat who isn’t dropping the issue, either. West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller objected to the freezing-out of Congress in a meeting with President Obama this week, Politico reports. According to those at the meeting, Obama offered a magnificently unserious and contemptuous response: “This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here,” the president said.

Perhaps the usually humorless Obama was trying awkwardly to make a joke, and just isn’t very funny. But the Democrats in the meeting, especially Rockefeller, weren’t amused. According to Politico, the senators reminded Obama that if he were in the Senate and a Republican were in the White House, he would be outraged by this behavior. Obama apparently acknowledged that, yes, he was being quite hypocritical. Rockefeller also objected to the fact that when he was finally allowed to see a couple of memos in a secure room, the White House sent a babysitter in to watch him.

The White House has tried to make it abundantly clear that they don’t appreciate oversight or transparency from Congress, least of all from members of the president’s own party. But those outside of Congress are starting to feel more comfortable openly challenging the president on executive authority, and going on record in support of Paul. The Kentucky senator is winning a second week’s worth of news cycles on this issue. The president may not consider himself accountable to Paul, but neither can he ignore him.

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Democrats and Civil Liberties

There were several surprising moments in Rand Paul’s 13-hour talking filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. But there was one aspect of it that wasn’t surprising at all: Democrats ignored or dismissed it (with the exception of Ron Wyden). Reporters began asking Democrats where they were. You would think, the assumption went, that there would be plenty of Democrats–who were, after all, able to muster a lifetime’s worth of outrage at George Bush–who would feel right at home defending civil liberties from a wartime president.

Buzzfeed published a story getting some pretty weak excuses from Democrats in the Senate. It’s worth reading their explanations while keeping in mind the Democrats’ favorite manufactured storyline–that Republicans are so consumed by partisanship that they won’t even stand with Democrats who agree with them. But by far the best comment comes from this Huffington Post piece on how the liberal network MSNBC covered the filibuster. Aside from Rachel Maddow, who chose principle over partisanship, MSNBC’s viewers were treated to quite a spectacle:

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There were several surprising moments in Rand Paul’s 13-hour talking filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. But there was one aspect of it that wasn’t surprising at all: Democrats ignored or dismissed it (with the exception of Ron Wyden). Reporters began asking Democrats where they were. You would think, the assumption went, that there would be plenty of Democrats–who were, after all, able to muster a lifetime’s worth of outrage at George Bush–who would feel right at home defending civil liberties from a wartime president.

Buzzfeed published a story getting some pretty weak excuses from Democrats in the Senate. It’s worth reading their explanations while keeping in mind the Democrats’ favorite manufactured storyline–that Republicans are so consumed by partisanship that they won’t even stand with Democrats who agree with them. But by far the best comment comes from this Huffington Post piece on how the liberal network MSNBC covered the filibuster. Aside from Rachel Maddow, who chose principle over partisanship, MSNBC’s viewers were treated to quite a spectacle:

Though the filibuster riveted social media, and was discussed on all of CNN’s prime time shows and every Fox News show except Bill O’Reilly’s, both Al Sharpton and Chris Matthews avoided it, spending none of their segments talking about Paul. Ed Schultz spent 58 seconds on the filibuster, using most of the time to read comments from Facebook followers who called Paul “obstructionist.” By comparison, he spent nearly seven minutes analyzing Bill O’Reilly’s body language.

I haven’t watched Ed Schultz’s show, but it sounds positively disturbing. The most revealing part of the Buzzfeed story is this:

“There was a sense the Paul filibuster was a distraction from the real issues of privacy and civil liberties, and was just not an issue worth spending an entire day on in the Senate,” said the Democratic staffer. “When Senators are getting ready to break ranks, you feel these tremors before it actually hits, and we didn’t hear any of that yesterday.”

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democratic from Alaska [sic], said he shared several of the concerns Paul expressed on the Senate floor, but felt that joining the filibuster would have been a distraction from Congress’s work on the federal budget.

The Democrats in the Senate haven’t passed a budget in years, so Begich’s excuse is laughable. Democrats are apparently working so hard at avoiding their basic constitutional responsibilities they don’t even have time to speak on the Senate floor for a couple of minutes. Perhaps this was Begich’s way of assuring the public they won’t see him on the Senate floor or taking any time off until they pass a budget.

But the comment from the Democratic staffer takes the cake. Democrats, apparently, were paying attention to who else was going to support the filibuster and which bandwagons would be available to them. No one joined the filibuster because no one else did either. But the Democratic staffer did inadvertently get one thing right when he said Democrats considered a filibuster about civil liberties to be a “distraction” from their work on civil liberties. Though the Democratic staffer doesn’t spell it out, this is because the Democratic Party’s work on civil liberties is concentrated on systematically removing and undermining them.

Instead of passing budgets or daring to criticize the leader of their party, congressional Democrats work to pass legislation like Obamacare, which forces everyone to purchase a product, requires taxpayers to fund procedures to which they may object, and insists that to comply with the law religious organizations must violate their beliefs because some Democratic voters want them to. Confiscatory taxes must go up so spending doesn’t have to come down, they demand. What the government thinks you need is their standard for whether you may retain your Second Amendment rights. And you should not be permitted to purchase food products that are legal but of which they disapprove.

The point here is not to state the obvious: that the Democrats are the party of big government. The point is that Democratic opposition to national security policy under Bush was not about civil liberties or federal overreach. Harry Reid didn’t try to undermine the soldiers’ mission by saying “this war is lost” before the very successful troop surge had a chance to prove him wrong because he cared about civil liberties, or knows what they are. Hillary Clinton didn’t grandstand from the Senate about the supposedly corrupt prosecution of a war she supported because she wants limited government.

And as the thousands of Democratic voters, activists, and politicians cheered on remote-controlled targeted assassination at the Democratic National Convention, led in that cheering by their Democratic president and Democratic vice president, they certainly weren’t thinking about civil liberties. They were thinking about winning an election, just as Reid and Clinton were, and just as Barack Obama himself was when he pretended to be concerned with civil liberties so he could win an election. There were no Democrats, besides Wyden, supporting the filibuster because they could not possibly care less about the topic, and because they are manifestly unwilling to jettison the one issue that finally enabled them to win the public’s trust on national security issues. That’s why Democrats sound confused when you ask them why they wouldn’t take a stand on behalf of civil liberties–they don’t understand why you’d even ask them the question.

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CAIR Seeks to Censor Books on Radical Islam

The Council on American-Islamic Relations came into existence in the early 1990s as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money in the United States for Hamas terrorists and their network of “charitable” institutions. Since then, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down and prosecuted by the federal government. But its CAIR spin-off has survived and prospered as both government agencies and the media have accepted its pose as a Muslim civil-liberties group as well as its rationalizations of terrorism and opposition to the struggle against Islamist extremists.

The latest instance of CAIR’s duplicitous behavior is the campaign being conducted by its Philadelphia branch to censor a series of textbooks on The World of Islam for young readers, produced by Mason Crest Published in partnership with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank. They are particularly angry with one of the ten books in the set titled Radical Islam, which deals with the threat from Islamist groups. CAIR wants the books to be withdrawn from public libraries and schools. Although the books are respectful of Islam and acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are neither terrorists nor engaged in spreading hate, they still note the existence of terrorists and Islamists hate groups. While CAIR’s charges of the books being inaccurate are clearly false, their objective is to simply remove all mentions of Muslim terrorism and Islamist ideology from the public square.

For example, the group objects to this line in one the books, Muslims in America: “some Muslims began immigrating to the United States in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.” As FPRI director Harvey Sicherman told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Well, yes, some people did come to the United States to commit terrorism, and I don’t know how one can quarrel with that sentence.”

While Sicherman and FPRI’s Alan Luxenberg, who wrote Radical Islam, are right to complain that the examples cited by CAIR take their books out of context and unfairly tar a respected and valuable institution with a false charge of religious prejudice, the Muslim group’s agenda isn’t accuracy or tolerance. They regard all mentions of Islamist terrorism — a phenomenon that has become a growing homegrown threat to Americans — as a slur on every Muslim. What they want is to simply remove the conflict with radical Islam from the national conversation.

While it is to be hoped that librarians will reject this call for censorship, CAIR’s Philadelphia branch has demonstrated in the past that it has some friends in high places. In 2007, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak and Governor Ed Rendell appeared at a CAIR fundraiser in Philadelphia, setting off a firestorm of criticism from friends of Israel. Neither Sestak nor Rendell apologized for their support of the group — though the congressman, who is now running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate against incumbent political turncoat Arlen Specter, has tried to distance himself from the incident. But whether or not this comes back to haunt Sestak at the ballot box, the lesson here is the way a dangerous extremist group has been able to whitewash its past and insinuate itself into the mainstream political debate.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations came into existence in the early 1990s as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money in the United States for Hamas terrorists and their network of “charitable” institutions. Since then, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down and prosecuted by the federal government. But its CAIR spin-off has survived and prospered as both government agencies and the media have accepted its pose as a Muslim civil-liberties group as well as its rationalizations of terrorism and opposition to the struggle against Islamist extremists.

The latest instance of CAIR’s duplicitous behavior is the campaign being conducted by its Philadelphia branch to censor a series of textbooks on The World of Islam for young readers, produced by Mason Crest Published in partnership with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank. They are particularly angry with one of the ten books in the set titled Radical Islam, which deals with the threat from Islamist groups. CAIR wants the books to be withdrawn from public libraries and schools. Although the books are respectful of Islam and acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are neither terrorists nor engaged in spreading hate, they still note the existence of terrorists and Islamists hate groups. While CAIR’s charges of the books being inaccurate are clearly false, their objective is to simply remove all mentions of Muslim terrorism and Islamist ideology from the public square.

For example, the group objects to this line in one the books, Muslims in America: “some Muslims began immigrating to the United States in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.” As FPRI director Harvey Sicherman told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Well, yes, some people did come to the United States to commit terrorism, and I don’t know how one can quarrel with that sentence.”

While Sicherman and FPRI’s Alan Luxenberg, who wrote Radical Islam, are right to complain that the examples cited by CAIR take their books out of context and unfairly tar a respected and valuable institution with a false charge of religious prejudice, the Muslim group’s agenda isn’t accuracy or tolerance. They regard all mentions of Islamist terrorism — a phenomenon that has become a growing homegrown threat to Americans — as a slur on every Muslim. What they want is to simply remove the conflict with radical Islam from the national conversation.

While it is to be hoped that librarians will reject this call for censorship, CAIR’s Philadelphia branch has demonstrated in the past that it has some friends in high places. In 2007, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak and Governor Ed Rendell appeared at a CAIR fundraiser in Philadelphia, setting off a firestorm of criticism from friends of Israel. Neither Sestak nor Rendell apologized for their support of the group — though the congressman, who is now running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate against incumbent political turncoat Arlen Specter, has tried to distance himself from the incident. But whether or not this comes back to haunt Sestak at the ballot box, the lesson here is the way a dangerous extremist group has been able to whitewash its past and insinuate itself into the mainstream political debate.

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