United against an unconstitutional ban

A week after President Donald Trump signed an immigration ban, U.S. judges from at least five states have ruled against the executive order, barring all federal authorities from enforcing it.

The order banned all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely and citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen—all predominately Muslim countries—for 90 days. If enforced, this order could affect more than 20,000 refugees, in addition to thousands of students across the nation.

Following the lead of U.S. District Judge Anne Donnelly from Brooklyn, New York, who ruled in favor of two Iraqi men who were being held at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, judges from Massachusetts, California, Virginia, and Washington state issued similar orders.

On Friday, Feb. 4, Judge James Robart of Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington temporarily blocked the immigration ban from being enforced. Robart’s order allowed those from the seven listed nations who had previously been authorized to travel, and all vetted refugees, to enter the U.S.

The White House promptly released a statement following the court order, pledging to file an emergency stay of the ruling to reinstate the president’s “lawful and appropriate order.”

“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” said the statement.

On Sunday, Feb. 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco rejected the request submitted by the Justice Department to immediately restore the travel ban. The court said that they expected a response from the Trump administration by the following day.

With the constant battle between the courts and the administration, many are left questioning the legality of the ban.

The Anti-Discrimination statute of 1965 outlaws the discrimination of a person based on “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence,” which Trump’s order inherently does, according to the judges that have ruled against it. Of course, Congress could choose to amend or repeal the statute, like it can with any law.

Another argument highlighted by the recent court orders is that the ban violates due process and equal protection under the Constitution. Due process states that all people, even illegal immigrants, are entitled to certain legal rights before the government can force them to leave. Equal protection requires the government to treat all people equally regardless of race, alien status, nationality, etc.

Because of how quickly this order was put into place, many argue that there was no opportunity for affected individuals to practice their right to due process and make their case. Much more troubling is the question of whether the order violates equal protection by intentionally discriminating against Muslims. 

Trump has denied accusations that the order is a “Muslim ban,” based on the argument that the seven countries that were chosen have been home to conflict in the recent years and present a significant terrorism threat to the U.S. The order also cites the changes to the visa waiver program that were made by Obama administration in 2015 that placed those persons who had recently visited any of the listed seven countries under greater scrutiny before being permitted to enter the U.S.

The president’s argument is flawed, however, due to the fact that he has openly prioritized Christian refugees. The order does this by stating that once the 120-day ban is lifted, preference goes to those of “a minority religion in the individual’s country.” Being that the order specifically applies to seven predominately Muslim countries, it is clear to what the “minority religion” is. In fact, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he planned to prioritize Christian refugees, mere days before signing the order.

More far-reaching than due process and equal protection combined, is the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which enacts the separation of church and state and declares that the government cannot favor one religion over another. While due process and equal protection can only aid those persons who are already in the U.S., if it is decided that the order violates the Establishment Clause, a court could easily rule against the ban entirely.

Following the court rulings, the U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have taken immediate measures to reverse the ban.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the State Department’s Director of Refugee Resettlement Lawrence Bartlett sent an email stating that steps are currently being taken to rebook travel for refugees, including those from Syria.

A State Department official also told The New York Times that until a new order is issued in the courts, the Department “will go back to vetting refugees, booking their travel and bringing them to the United States.” The arrival of these refugees is expected to begin as early as this week.

‘Global Gag Rule’ counterproductive to its purpose

As one of his first acts as president, Trump reinstated a Reagan-era policy that prohibits United States funding for global health providers who perform or discuss abortion as a family-planning option.

The global gag rule, formally known as the Mexico City Policy, was first enforced under the Reagan administration in 1984 and has since been reinstated by every Republican president.

This time, however, the policy extends to “to global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies,” as stated in a Presidential Memorandum released on Jan. 23.

Activists fear that this far-reaching policy could affect various nongovernment organizations (NGO) that provide lifesaving treatments outside of family planning, such as those that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, combat ebola and Zika, etc.

According to analysis from PAI, a global health NGO, the gag rule impacts over $9 billion of U.S. funds, compared to $575 million when George W. Bush reinstated the policy in 2001.

The U.S. funding of abortions in foreign countries as a method of family planning has been outlawed since 1973 by the Helms Amendment.

This means that, in reality, the global gag rule prevents women from accessing basic sexual and reproductive services, like gynecological exams, H.I.V. prevention and contraception. Instead of curtailing the rate of abortion, research has shown that when the policy is in place the rate for unsafe abortions actually increases, especially in rural areas.

After Bush reinstated the policy in 2001, a study conducted by Stanford University found that there was a surge in abortion rates in 20 sub-Saharan African countries. In developed countries, the rate remained relatively unchanged.

The study stated that, “If women consider abortion as a way to prevent unwanted births, then policies curtailing the activities of organizations that provide modern contraceptives may inadvertently lead to an increase in the abortion rate.”

With the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating yearly that 21.6 million women experience an unsafe abortion and 47,000 die from related complications across the globe, it is evidenced by research that the rates will only increase due to the reinstatement of the gag rule.

Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Dr. Ina Seethaler expressed her discontentment about the policy’s repercussions.

“…The global gag rule is clearly attempting to prohibit women to become informed about all their reproductive choices,” said Seethaler. “As the numbers of deaths that will likely result from this policy show, this decision was not made with women’s and children’s health in mind but to take away women’s bodily autonomy. It’s a political and ideological decision that condones putting women’s lives at risk.”

Because the U.S. is the world’s largest bilateral family planning donor, when the rule is instated organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International (MSI) suffer greatly.

In a statement released by MSI, the director Marjorie Newman-Williams explained that the gag rule is counteractive.

“Attempts to stop abortion through restrictive laws—or by withholding family planning aid—will never work, because they do not eliminate women’s need for abortion,” said Williams. “This policy only exacerbates the already significant challenge of ensuring that people in the developing world who want to time and space their children can obtain the contraception they need to do so.”

Seethaler echoed this statement, stating that “the only way to prevent unsafe, ‘back-alley’ abortions is to legalize abortion.”

“Legal abortion, provided in a medical environment like at a Planned Parenthood, is safe, in fact, in many cases safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, especially in countries with high maternal mortality rates,” said Seethaler.

MSI also estimated that there will be “2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths under Trump’s first term that could have been preventable.”

MSI typically receives $30 million per year in U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding, which provides 1.5 million women in over 12 countries with family planning services.

But if they are unable to find donors, the organization will be forced to cut these programs.

“Abortion is a fundamental right for women and also very necessary public health intervention,” Maaike van Min, MSI’s London-based strategy director, told Reuters. “Aid is under pressure everywhere in the world and so finding donors who have the ability to fund this gap is going to be challenging.”

A decline in family planning programs can also lead to an increase in the risk of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to a policy review conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, in 2001, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association went from receiving 426,000 condoms to becoming ineligible for shipments, even though the organization does not provide abortion counseling. At the time, one in four women in the country were H.I.V. positive.

Recently, the Executive Director of the association Lerotholi Pheko told The New York Times that he was fearful of “a hit to his operating budget.”

“If we are not able to increase the income we get locally, it would mean that we would have to downsize,” said Pheko.

Another program that could face serious losses is The Family Life Association in Swaziland, an area that has one of the world’s highest H.I.V. infection rates.

The association, which receives a quarter of its funding from the U.S., provides abortion information to women infected with H.I.V. when necessary, even though the land-locked country only allows abortion in cases of rape and incest. If and when this occurs, patients are typically referred to adjoining South Africa, where abortion is legal.

Executive Director of the Family Life Association Zelda Nhlabatsi also expressed her concern to The New York Times about the possible negative outcomes that could arise from the newly reinstated policy.

“Our organization could definitely be affected, including our H.I.V. services, and you can imagine how detrimental that could be for a small country like Swaziland that’s been heavily affected by H.I.V.,” said Nhlabatsi.

Although the policy is in effect, Seethaler explained that there are various ways that any concerned citizen can aid in supporting the cause.

“If you want to support reproductive justice globally, including in the U.S., you can call your political representatives and voice your concerns,” said Seethaler. “You might also consider volunteering at organizations in the U.S., like Planned Parenthood, who are collaborating with other organizations overseas. Keep educating yourself about this topic. Women’s and Gender Studies courses are great ways to learn more about reproductive justice, why it is so important, and what we can do to support human rights.”

If interested in donating, visit the DKT International Family Planning and HIV Prevention at http://www.dkinternational.org/ and/or Planned Parenthood Global at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/.

ISIS in Mosul: Before, during and after

Backed by the United States, Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a campaign over two weeks ago to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS) after being under their rule for two years.

ISIS’s rule over Mosul was brought on by tensions in Syria and Iraq, giving the extremist group an opportune time to invade and occupy the city and other large surrounding cities.

Assistant Professor of Politics in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis explained that this divide gave al Qaeda a chance to regroup and form into what is now the Islamic State.

“ISIS before then was basically al Qaeda,” said Fitsanakis. “They had basically changed their name once they realized that al Qaeda was a failing brand after Bin Laden was killed, so they took their best people and basically went into hiding in Syria. In Syria there was a civil war that allowed them to recoup and recruit.”

He added that the U.S. invasion only worsened they already rising differences between the Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq at the time.

“Going back to Iraq there were a lot of tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites,” said Fitsanakis. “That kind of festered even before the U.S. went in in 2003 but the invasion made it much worse in terms of sectarian divides in the country. The Sunnis, which are the majority of the population in Mosul, felt beseeched by the Shi’ites.”

The campaign to recapture Mosul, however, will not be easy. Because other large Iraqi cities have been recaptured—Ramadi, Tikrit and Falluja—Mosul is in some ways, ISIS’s last stand.

In Ramadi, rebuilding costs are estimated in the billions.

At the time of the recapture, it was estimated by the Iraqi prime minister that 90 percent of Ramadi had explosives and still make some areas uninhabitable 10 years later. These explosive remnants of war, or ERW, had been placed by ISIS in schools, homes and hospitals.

In an interview with the New York Times, the State Department’s Deputy Director for Programs Jerry Giulbert, said that removing these explosives could be timely and costly.

“To clear Ramadi of every piece of ERW, you’re talking about a years-long effort, hundreds of millions of dollars, well beyond what we have,” said Giulbert.

Mosul is one of the largest cities in Iraq, having nearly 2 million inhabitants at the time of it being captured. Because of this, and many other reasons, it is seen as a prize to ISIS.

Not only large, but ancient as well, the city is the cultural center for Iraq. It is home to valuable, historical antiquities that are currently being threatened by the Islamic State. 

ISIS’s chemical weapons operation is also based in the city, which is just another reason that control of Mosul is a priority for them. 

With all of these factors combined, it is no surprise that many experts expect it to be some of the bloodiest fighting the Middle East has seen.

Fitsanakis said that ISIS would utilize various types of strategies when fighting.

“It is going to be bloody because it is urban,” said Fitsanakis. “They’re going to have snipers. They’re going to have suicide bombers. They’re going to have booby traps everywhere. They’re going to have civilians fighting in civilian uniform. A lot of civilians are going to die. They are not professional forces. Many of them are in militias. There are kids with guns who are trigger happy or are very frightened so they’ll shoot and ask questions later.”

If ISIS loses Mosul, it is said that the group will take on the strategy of “inhiyaz”—temporary retreat—into the desert, which is basically the same strategy used in 2007 when the group was driven out of Iraq by U.S. troops. The word first appeared in a speech in May by Islamic State spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who was later killed in an airstrike in August.

The fear is that, like before, the Islamic State will revert back to underground guerrilla warfare and have time to regroup to come back stronger than before.

Fitsanakis said that if ISIS loses Mosul, a question will be raised about how ISIS will respond.

“If they lose their territory, which is what makes them conventional, they’re going to revert back to what they used to do in the old days, which is to become an underground force,” said Fitsanakis. “If they become an underground force, they have no territory to defend, then what is the strategy going to be? That’s the big question.”

Although an attack on U.S. soil has been predicted to be possible if Mosul is recaptured, many Americans are unaware about what is going on due to lack of media coverage and/or general understanding.

Fitsanakis said that what intrigues him is way the media is choosing cover the topic.

“To me, what is interesting is not so much the lack of coverage on Iraq; It’s more the lack of coverage on certain parts of Iraq and Syria,” said Fitsanakis. “There is a lot of attention in Aleppo and a lot of criticism of Russia. People are like, ‘These people are crazy. They are going to attack a big city full of people.’ And now the same exact thing is happening on our side with the people that we support.”

He added that the war is complex, making it difficult for the media to approach the topic and present it to the public.

“A lot of Americans, I think, don’t understand what is going on over there because we are now finding ourselves supporting people that we were enemies of up until a few months ago,” said Fitsanakis. “America and Turkey aren’t doing very well because Turkey is suspicious of America. We have the Kurds, who they United States considers to be a terrorist organization. Don’t forget that the Kurds are considered terrorists in Turkey. We’ve got the Iranians who we don’t really have any relations with officially. It’s not a very clean war, like the forces of good verses the forces of evil. Everything is kind of crazy so Americans are confused about what the hell is going on so because of that I think the coverage is sort of minimal.”

Although the media has presented little coverage on Mosul and ISIS, both are prevalent issues that could present serious threats in the near future.

Fitsanakis emphasized that the world is unstable.

“I think that we are now less safe than we were before 9/11 or on the day of 9/11,” said Fitsanakis. “I think the possibility of another 9/11 on America or another developed country is almost at 100 percent. The world has become less stable, less safe and less predictable because of our response to 9/11. The way we responded was careless and in many ways, ineffective.”

Classified pages in 9/11 report could indicate Saudi involvement

Since its completion in December of 2011, the full report from Congress’s investigation into the 9/11 attacks has yet to be published. This is due to suspicions that the 28 pages that are still being withheld contain information that could reveal that the Saudi government and citizens played a role in the terrorist attack.

Pressed by a number of victim’s families, lawmakers and U.S. officials, President Obama asked intelligence officials to complete a review of the redacted report. In a recent interview with CBS News’ Charlie Rose, the president said that by his understanding the director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper, is close to completing the process. Although this is true, 14 years is entirely too long for this vital information to have been kept under wraps. Because of this, many questions about this tragic event have been left unanswered.

Watch the interview here: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/president-obama-on-u-s-troops-in-iraq-classified-911-report-pages

It is still a mystery as to why 15 of the 19 hijackers from al Qaeda who were involved in the attack were Saudi citizens. Many, including myself, wonder if this has any indication that the Saudi government and its powerful religious establishment had a hand in supporting the plot for 9/11. Ex-Senator Bob Graham, who was co-chairman of the 2002 congressional investigation into the attacks, has repeatedly claimed there is evidence of support from the Saudi government to the terrorists and said the FBI has “gone beyond just covering up” this information in what he calls “aggressive deception.”

22fri1-superJumboContrary to this view, the 9/11 commission, an independent bipartisan panel that conducted a separate investigation in 2004, said in that although Saudi Arabia had been considered the primary source of funding for al Qaeda, they found no evidence of this being true. They also reported that they did not denounce the likelihood that charities sponsored by the Saudi government diverted funds to the terrorist group. So still, the question remains about the Saudi’s role in the attacks; a question that could be answered by the 28 classified pages of the congressional report.

The push for the release of the full report is part of a larger effort to pass a bill that will allow the U.S. government to sue members of the Saudi royal family for any involvement, including funding to terrorists, that they may have had in the attacks. The bill has met opposition from both the Obama administration and the Saudi royal family. If the bill is passed, the Saudi government has warned that it will sell off $750 billion worth of American assets held by the kingdom, which is seemingly problematic for the United States. With the large amount of investments that the United States has in Saudi Arabia, it does not seem wise to pass the bill. Although the redacted pages may reveal participation by the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks, such an extreme decision could result in major damage to the U.S. economy. President Obama has also voiced his concern that if the U.S. creates the opportunity for individuals and the country to sue other governments, there will also be an opportunity for other individuals in other countries to sue the United States.

Read more: Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill

It does not help that Saudi-American relations have been badly damaged by disputes over Iran, Syria and opposition by Americans of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith, the same extremist form of Islam that inspired Bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Even though this is true, Saudi Arabia has been a country which has traditionally aided the U.S. on counterterrorism and security. If there is in hope in repairing ties with the Saudi government, all remaining facts about 9/11 must be released to the public.

U.S. Ambassador to Iceland asks “How can we do better?”

Ambassador Robert C. Barber’s presentation at the Celebration of Inquiry challenged others to think of unique ways to create and use renewable energy.

Ambassador Robert C. Barber

Barber, who has been ambassador since January 2015, met opposition when first nominated by President Obama in October 2013.

A former Massachusetts Super Lawyer, Barber was criticized for his perceived lack of experience, not only by members of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee but by popular comedian Jon Stewart as well.

Barber was not phased by this hostility.

With previous experience working with the issues of start-up small and medium-sized companies as well as having raised over $2.9 million for President Obama’s campaigns, Barber expressed his belief that he was qualified for the position due to his ability to connect people with similar economic interests and goals.

Since given the opportunity, the ambassador has made tremendous effort in bettering both Iceland and America.

Barber said that both countries have something to learn from one another.

“Through these shared experiences, I’ve seen how both we as Americans have a lot to learn from Icelanders but also how Icelanders can learn a thing or two to learn from us,” said Barber. “Both can benefit from the way each approach and solve problems differently.”

According to Barber many studies shows that the most prevalent problem at hand is the immediate need for renewable energy due to the state of the environment.

With natural resources finite, Barber said that the necessity for renewable energy is prevalent.

“We have to come to terms with the reality that certain traditional, natural resources are finite and limited. It is important that we realize the need for renewable energy. So, I dare to be so bold as to suggest that we should constantly be asking: how can we do better?”

According to the ambassador, Iceland is a pioneer in harnessing Earth’s energy through geothermal power production.

“As you already probably know, clean and renewable energy is nothing new to the Icelanders. In fact, Iceland’s first hydro power plant was built in 1904. Today there are 48 hydro-electric generating centers in the country and 5 major geo-power plants, which are publicly and privately owned, including the third largest geo-power plant in the world.”

Ambassador Robert C. Barber speaking at Coastal Carolina University’s 2016 Celebration of Inquiry

Many statistics illustrate Iceland’s commitment to innovative renewable energy.

The National Energy Authority (NEA) of Iceland reported that in 2014, 85% of primary energy use in Iceland came from renewable resources, with 66% being geothermal energy.

With a lot of experience harnessing its own renewable energy resources, Barber said Iceland is now spreading it’s knowledge and capabilities to other parts of the world.

“The U.S. Icelandic firm called Reykjavick GeoThermal is now working with the government in Ethiopia to build Africa’s largest geothermal power plant, said Barber. “Together the U.S. and Iceland are working to invest in Africa as well as in a cleaner, more secure future for the people of Ethiopia.”

The ambassador said that this project will serve as a poster child for future partnerships.

“This project will serve as the foundation for future collaboration that will open doors for renewable energy projects around the world.”

ISIS threatens social media moguls, Zuckerberg and Dorsey in recent video

A recent video made by supporters of ISIS threatens Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey for fighting back against terrorism on their social media platforms.

The group who call themselves the Sons of Caliphate released a 25-minute propaganda video titled “Flames of the Supporters.”

A team of deep web analysts at Vocativ discovered the video on the social media message-sharing site, Telegram, which ISIS frequently uses.

The video shows photos of the two social media moguls covered in bullet holes and engulfed in flames.

A screenshot from the recent video released by the Islamic State, showing Dorsey and Zuckerberg.

It also shows hackers allegedly modifying profile accounts and posting Islamic state propaganda.

The video was posted in response to the action by Facebook and Twitter to combat terrorism by suspending accounts and removing posts that encourage terrorism and could provoke violence.

Twitter announced in a blog post in February that the company had suspended over 125,000 accounts that contained threatening content primarily related to ISIS.

“We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism and the Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service,” the blog post reads.

Assistant Professor of Intelligence and National Security Studies at Coastal Carolina University, Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis, said that ISIS needs social media platforms in order to expand.

“ISIS actually is very much in need of this media in order to promote it’s national agenda,” said Fitsanakis. “One thing that makes ISIS different from other terrorist groups is that ISIS is an international group. It has an international agenda. It has international followers. So it needs these platforms, the online platforms, in order to reach them.”

In the video the group claimed to have hacked over 10,000 Facebook accounts, 150 Facebook groups and 5000 accounts on Twitter and said that a number of these accounts have been handed over to their supporters.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 8.36.38 PM
Screenshot taken from the Islamic State’s video showing the alleged number of hacks made by the group.

The video concludes with a direct threat to the CEOs and their companies.

“You announce daily that you suspend many of our accounts, and to you we say: Is that all you can do? You are not in our league,” the video clip reads.  “If you close one account we will take 10 in return and soon your names will be erased after we delete your sites, Allah willing, and will know that we say is true.”

In a recent interview with the CEO of Axel Springer, Mathias Dopfner, Zuckerberg expressed uneasiness that spans beyond the recent video threat.

“I am very concerned but not because of the video,” he told Mathias Döpfner. “There have been worse threats.”

Similar threats were made to Zuckerberg by a Pakistani extremist a few years ago. The extremist called for Zuckerberg to be sentenced to death because the company refused to remove a group that encouraged the illustration of the prophet Mohammad, an act that is illegal in Pakistan.

Related: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reveals 2010 Pakistan death threat

After the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, a kosher grocery store in Paris, Zuckerberg responded in a post on Facebook that encouraged the “need to reject a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone  else around the world.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 9.26.33 AM
Screenshot of Zuckerberg’s comments on Facebook following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris on January 7-9, 2015.

In the interview with Dopfner, Zuckerberg identified an underlying common theme in previous and current threats.

“I think the bigger issue is that what Facebook stands for in the world is giving people a voice and spreading ideas and rationalism,” said Zuckerberg.

Similar threats were also made to Twitter’s Dorsey when a self-identified group of ISIS supporters claimed that Dorsey and Twitter started a “war” against the Islamic State after suspending hundreds of the group’s social media accounts.

Related: ISIS supporters threaten Twitter founder Jack Dorsey

The Islamic State’s ultimate goal is much more complex than a war on social media.

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Coastal Carolina University, Dr. Jeffry Halverson, explained what the terrorist group is trying to achieve.

“ISIS wants to create a homogenous Sunni Muslim state that governs according to their puritanical, reactionary form of “Islamic law,” said Halverson. “The state would serve as base for attacks against regional governments deemed unacceptable or to be enemies of ISIS, as well as against foreign states that involve themselves in the region or that interfere with their ambitions, such as the United States.”