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A war on Arabs and Muslims
John Ashcroft's racist hysteria

March 14, 2003 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON reports on the Bush gang's war on our civil liberties.

THE BUSH administration's homeland insecurity trio was whipping up a Code Red anti-immigrant frenzy last week. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller delivered an update to Congress on the "war on terror."

Full of pompous rhetoric and bile, the three crowed about their "accomplishments"--which mainly consist of expanding government spy powers, issuing conveniently timed color-coded terror alerts and carrying out a witch-hunt against Arabs and Muslims.

Ashcroft patted himself on the back for disrupting terrorist networks and capturing people in the U.S. who have been "materially aiding" terrorists. He spoke specifically about Sami Al-Arian, the University of South Florida (USF) computer science professor who was one of eight men recently arrested for supposedly funding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that the State Department has designated a terrorist organization.

The charges are part of an ongoing campaign against Al-Arian in particular, who has been an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights--and critic of Bush's "war on terror." Al-Arian was promptly fired from his job at USF, which has been trying to ditch him for years--even though repeated investigations by both federal government agencies and the university itself had found no evidence linking him to terrorism.

Still, Al-Arian must not have seemed like so much of a "terrorist" back in June 2001. That's when he attended a White House briefing for 150 Muslim activists and listened to political director Karl Rove talk about George W. Bush's "outreach" efforts to the Muslim community.

The Bush administration will manufacture whatever evidence that they need to railroad these men. But with the USA PATRIOT Act now in place, they won't have to work very hard. In the case of one of the eight, Ghassan Ballut, part of the so-called "evidence" against him consists of comments he supposedly made to a reporter. The Feds say that because Ballut allegedly expressed sympathy with a Palestinian suicide bombing, that's evidence that he himself is a "terrorist."

Phrases like "freedom of speech" and "innocent until proven guilty" don't mean much in John Ashcroft's America.

The detainees aren't the only ones being made to suffer under the "war on terror." The families of the men behind bars have had their lives torn apart by the government witch-hunt, too. After Ballut was arrested, his family received threats over the phone and had their phone line cut and windows broken.

At a recent demonstration calling for his freedom, Ballut's children displayed a poster that they had made to support their father, which read: "We believe in you Dad, 100% innocent." "My dad is an honest, loving and caring man," Ballut's 13-year-old daughter read to the protesters. "I just want everyone to know that my father has never done anything criminal or wrong."

As Hanan Ballut, Ghassan's wife, told Socialist Worker: "They're making people lose their freedom of speech. It's like if we hear something on the news, we have to shut our mouths and not talk about it. They're not just targeting my husband or some other people, they're targeting the whole community…I'm getting support from the community and from friends, but I'm also working very hard to support four kids at home, work around the house, go work outside and be a psychologist for my kids. It's not easy."

Activists plan to step up the pressure to free the detainees with a rally set for March 21--days before Ghassan is scheduled to appear in court. As Hanan told Socialist Worker: "It's important [to protest], not just for my husband, but for all innocent people--for all innocent people. Because if it wasn't my husband, I would still go [to demonstrate], because if I believe someone is innocent, I should defend them, I should support them for their innocence. No one is supposed to be accused of something that he's never done…it's like he's guilty until proven innocent."

If Ashcroft gets his way, more and more people will be rounded up in the coming months in the government's drive to silence dissent. We have to stand up now--and build the fight to protect our civil liberties.

Tortured to death by the U.S. military

JOHN ASHCROFT told Congress that the Bush gang's "war on terrorism" would "protect Americans from a fanatical, ruthless enemy." But he failed to mention who's supposed to protect people in Afghanistan from the ruthless fanatics in the U.S. military.

Last week, press reports revealed that two prisoners being held for interrogation at the U.S. military base in Bagram were murdered in December. Autopsies that labeled the deaths "homicides" ruled that the men had been beaten--probably either by or under the watch of U.S. soldiers.

Dilawar, one of the two dead prisoners, was a farmer and part-time taxi driver who died as a result of "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease," according to his death certificate. In other words, he was beaten or kicked to the point that his heart gave out.

These two men aren't the only victims, either. U.S. officials freely admit that their "interrogation techniques" include depriving suspects of sleep and light, keeping them in painful physical positions for hours and using psychological intimidation.

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, "Former prisoners at the base claim that detainees are chained to the ceiling, shackled so tightly that the blood flow stops, kept naked and hooded and kicked to keep them awake for days on end," Britain's Guardian newspaper reported. And the U.S. has also turned over suspects to intelligence agents in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, where police forces are known to use more "aggressive forms" of torture.

And while prisoners of the U.S. military face a grim, uncertain future, for civilians on the ground in Afghanistan, the "war on terror" is bringing a fresh wave of indignities and horror. In late February, U.S. forces bombed the Baghran Valley, and hundreds of U.S. troops performed village-by-village searches for al-Qaeda and Taliban troops.

Col. John F. Campbell, commander of the task force in southern Afghanistan, said his forces took measures to protect villagers "so we don't leave a bad taste behind." But in one village, people said that the Americans rounded up and handcuffed elders and ransacked and looted houses.

"We hate them for this," Abdul Wahab, who was in a four-man delegation that traveled to Kabul to protest the operation, told the New York Times. "President Bush said he wants peace and law and order in Afghanistan. This was outside the law and human rights."

Witch-hunter in charge

NO ONE can be surprised that John Ashcroft is leading this racist war at home. The Attorney General is known for puritanical stunts like ordering a naked statue in the lobby of the Justice Department covered up. But most of Ashcroft's record is too sickening to make fun of.

As a former senator and governor of Missouri, Ashcroft built his political career "out of opposing school desegregation in St. Louis and opposing African Americans for public office," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As a senator, Ashcroft was one of three cosponsors of the Human Life Amendment--which would have outlawed all abortions (even in cases of rape and incest) and even some forms of contraception.

Like his boss, Ashcroft is a big fan of the death penalty. And he hasn't even tried to hide his ties to organized racists.

In 1998, he gave an interview to Southern Partisan magazine in which he praised the Civil War heroes of the slave-owning Confederacy. "Your magazine also helps set the record straight," Ashcroft said. "You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis."

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