Muslim Groups Condemn Body Scanners

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

As full body scanners make their O’Hare Airport debut Monday, two groups (FCNA & CAIR) say the devices – which image a person’s body – are immodest, and therefore are inconsistent with Islam.

By Mark Guarino

body-scanner-airport-half Chicago–As full body scanners debut at O’Hare International Airport Monday, two American Muslim groups have suggested that the technology violates the teachings of Islam.

The comments are just the latest controversy surrounding full-body scanners, which some critics call a “virtual strip search” because the technology sees through clothing to show the contours of a passenger’s body in detail.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has deployed 150 scanners across 21 US airports this month, partly in response to the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner, where bombmaking materials were hidden in a passenger’s underwear – something full-body scanners would have seen.

The TSA expects to install an additional 300 scanners in nine additional airports by the end of this year. But security officials say they will be able to accommodate the wishes of passengers – Muslim or otherwise – who object to the full-body screener.

The technology is “completely optional for all passengers,” says Jim Fotenos, a TSA spokesman, and those who choose not to participate get “an equal level of screening,” which includes a walk through a metal detector and a physical pat-down by an officer of the same sex.

Islamic objections

The screening imagery is a violation of Islam, says The Fiqh Council of North America, a body of Islamic scholars located in Plainfield, Ind. Last month the council issued a statement that said the full body imagery “is against the teachings of Islam, natural law, and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty.”

“It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women,” the statement continued. “There must be a compelling case for the necessity and the exemption to this rule must be proportional to the demonstrated need.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based civil rights advocacy group, agrees with the Fiqh Council and, according to National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, it plans to track Muslims concerns with the scanners before deciding what actions to take next.

“Modesty is a basic principal of the Islamic faith, it’s very important and always has been,” says Mr. Hooper. “People say, ‘I’ll do anything for safety,’ but that’s not the question. Everybody wants to be safe. Muslims fly like anybody else … you can be safe and secure and still maintain your privacy rights.”

‘A fuzzy photo negative’

To stress the anonymity of the process, the TSA says officers review the images in a remote location and never see the actual passengers. What they do see via their monitors is automatically deleted from the system once the passenger passes review.

According to the TSA website, what officers see of a passenger’s body either resembles “a chalk drawing” or “a fuzzy photo negative,” depending on the machine, therefore suggesting passenger privacy is ensured.

The Fiqh Council, however, is urging followers to request pat-down searches as an alternative.

CAIR’s Mr. Hooper also advocates an increase in federal funding for alternate screening technologies that do not require visual screening, such as the “Puffer,” a machine that can identify chemical particles a person may have on their body and analyze whether or not they are harmful.

The TSA’s Fotenos says the current options “shouldn’t substantially impact operations at checkpoints,” saying TSA research at 19 US airports shows gate delays are primarily caused by carry-on baggage checks.

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Still: Secret Bush-Era Prisons

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By John C. Trang, New America Media (NAM)

NAM Editor’s Note: Muslims make up 70 percent of inmates in two prisons the George W. Bush regime clandestinely established in the Midwest between 2006 and 2008.

razorwire

Despite President Barack Obama’s declaration that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam, government practices suggest otherwise.

In June, the ACLU filed complaints against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for illegally establishing secret prisons called Communications Management Units, or CMUs. The ACLU also alleged unconstitutional restrictions on Muslim inmates’ right to religious freedom. As a law student investigating the CMUs, the existence of these secret prisons trouble me.

The first CMU was clandestinely established in late 2006 at the federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind. In 2008, another CMU was established in Marion, Ill. According to the government, CMUs were created to “house inmates who, due to their current offense of conviction, offense conduct or other verified information, require increased monitoring of communication between inmates and persons in the community in order to protect the safety, security, and orderly operations of Bureau facilities and protect the public.”

Sounds mundane, right? But the fact is CMUs are a palpable and disconcerting product of xenophobia and the war on terrorism. Concocted during the Bush administration, CMUs are alarmingly reminiscent of McCarthy-era practices and the Japanese American internment camps.

Although the number of inmates placed at the CMUs has not exceeded 40, around 70 percent are Muslim. The likelihood of finding another prison in the United States with similar proportions of Muslim inmates is zero. There is only one other facility under U.S. jurisdiction with similar demographics: Guantanamo Bay.

With such a high proportion of Muslim inmates, civil rights groups expressed concern about constitutional violations of equal protection. BOP officials deny CMU placement is based on religious identity. According to one government document, criteria for CMU placement includes continued misuse/abuse of approved communication privileges; history of judicial threats; and being convicted of, or associated with, involvement in terrorism. This odd mix of criteria that warrants CMU placement is applicable to hundreds of the incarcerated. Therefore, how and why specific inmates are chosen for CMU placement remains unclear.

Unlike other prisons in the United States, information about CMUs remains scarce. Few publicly available government documents mention “Communications Management Unit.” The secrecy is increased by restrictions on inmates’ communications. All communications to and from inmates are examined. If a message is not approved, it is never transmitted. In fact, in some respects CMU inmates – all of who are categorized as low to medium risk–have more restrictive conditions than inmates categorized with higher security risk levels.

While the government describes CMUs in innocuous terms, many groups have alternate theories as to the actual purpose and nature of CMUs. Some believe CMUs were created solely to house terrorists since some, though not all, inmates have terrorism related convictions. However, even the terrorism related convictions are suspect.

Take for example ACLU’s client and CMU inmate Sabri Benkahla. Benkahla, born in Virginia and a graduate of George Mason University, was studying Islamic law and jurisprudence in Saudi Arabia when he was abducted at Saudi secret police, flown back to America and charged with supplying services to the Taliban and using a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. He was found not guilty. Not satisfied with the acquittal, the U.S. government forced Benkahla to testify before a federal grand jury where he was accused and eventually convicted of perjury. Nonetheless, the presiding judge asserted Benkahla was “not a terrorist” and noted the chances of Benkahla committing another crime were “infinitesimal.”

While some view CMUs as facilities for terrorists, a majority of news articles assert the common thread uniting inmates is their strong community support and their politically unpopular views. That is, CMUs are political prisons.

I am not convinced CMUs are traditional political prisons – the sort used to silent inmates. There is growing evidence CMUs were created to extract information from inmates for the war on terrorism. Since privacy rights are reduced for the incarcerated, increasing attention to prisoners as a source of information was a logical step for proponents of sustaining a war on terrorism. And by stretching what constitutes a terrorism related charge, the government could consolidate prisoners believed to possess desired knowledge and ignore even basic civil liberties afforded other incarcerated people by invoking “war on terrorism.” To be sure, similar to the tenuous links to terrorism, the extent of any inmate’s knowledge about terrorism is questionable at best.

Ultimately, due to the secretive nature of CMUs, the real explanation continues to be a mystery. What is not a mystery is that the war on terrorism continues to be wrongfully conflated with Islam. This likely explains the disproportionate level of Muslim inmates. Although there are non-Muslim inmates at CMUs, at least one Muslim inmate claims that security guards have called non-Muslim inmates “racial balancers.” Whether or not non-Muslim inmates are mere decoys is unclear. But such a claim should heighten our concern that the government is targeting inmates based on a racial perception of who is a terrorist.

Any selective targeting of Muslims inside and outside the prison system in the name of war and national security would be dangerously similar to the selective targeting of Japanese Americans during World War II. After decades of struggle, the government officially apologized to the Japanese American community and admitted that xenophobia and wartime hysteria contributed to discriminatory policies that should never be repeated.

Granted there are differences between Japanese American internees and CMU inmates. CMU inmates have been convicted of at least one federal crime, albeit often minor crimes such as incorrectly filing taxes. However, the prison system should not strip inmates of all their constitutional rights, or segregate them in highly restrictive prisons based on religious identity.

Almost eight years after the September 11 attacks, the Obama administration has set a new tenor on the war on terrorism. But the continuing operation of CMUs that began under Bush is reminiscent of anti-Japanese policies and McCarthy era witch hunts. National security is a real concern but it can never justify the practices reportedly involved at CMUs. To do so would be a betrayal of the nation’s commitment to core civil liberties and freedoms.

John C. Trang is currently a law student at UCLA School of Law in the Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy Program with a Critical Race Studies Specialization.

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