Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Nine: Syrian Refugees and the Conflict in the Middle East

America is a nation of immigrants. We have always held that American freedom will attract the best and the brightest from all over the world.

Sometimes we have lost our way. Between 1924 and 1965, an immigration quota system was in force that overwhelmingly favored people from northern Europe. Now-whites were kept out almost entirely. The United States did not officially allow refugees from war-torn nations into the country until after World War II. Although thousands of Jews fleeing Hitler's Europe reached the U.S. by 1941 under the relatively generous immigration quota for Germans and Austrians, many more would have come had they been allowed.

Why were boatloads of refugees turned away from American ports? Why did the U.S make it more, rather than less difficult for them to come to America as the war dragged on? One reason was pure prejudice. There was widespread bigotry in America towards Jews. A 1939 poll showed that most Americans were against allowing even a modest number of Jewish refugees into the country.

The U.S. government also had groundless fears that Jewish refugees posed a security risk, and raised an increasing number of barriers to Jewish immigration. Otto Frank, father of world-famous diarist Anne Frank sought her entry to the U.S. in 1941. Had he succeeded, Anne Frank might be a 77-year old writer living in Massachusetts today. But that was not to be. From Patricia Cohen of the New York Times,

"By June 1941, no one with close relatives still in Germany was allowed into the United States because of suspicions that the Nazis could use them to blackmail refugees into clandestine cooperation. That development ended the possibility of getting the Frank girls out through a children's rescue agency."

To date, the U.S. has accepted fewer than 2,000 refugees from the civil war in Syria. In September, President Obama announced plans to resettle 10,000 refugees in the country in 2016. In the wake of the recent attacks on Paris and other cities, the President's plan has created a firestorm of anger, bigotry and lies among Republicans and conservative leaders who believe the refugees represent a threat to America. Those who have forgotten the mistakes of the past are, as always, doomed to repeat them.

For the record, the current refugee vetting process is incredibly thorough. From Stephanie Condon of CBS News:

"The process for any refugee begins with the processing of biographic information (such as an applicant's name and date of birth) and biometric information (such as fingerprints). The information is checked against databases in several different U.S. agencies including the FBI, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

If an applicant has applied for an overseas visa in the past, their biometric information should be on record. It can be used to ensure that the applicant has had a consistent story about the circumstances that prompted them to seek asylum. 

After that, applicants go through a lengthy, in-person interview process overseas. The interviews are conducted by specially-trained DHS officers who spend at least eight weeks learning skills like how to question applicants and test their credibility. These adjudicators receive special training for interviewing refugees from Iraq or Syria."

And with that dose of reality, let's move on to fantasy with:

Part Nine: Syrian Refugees and the Conflict in the Middle East

: Congressional Republicans have cited gaps in the screening process for Syrian immigrants. The bill recently passed by the House halts the President's refugee program until those gaps are closed.
Fact: Asked to cite the dangerous gaps in question, Republicans have nothing to say. From Jennifer Steinhauer and Emmarie Huetteman of the New York Times:

"When pressed, most Republicans could not specify which aspects of the rigorous refugee vetting program that they found inadequate. Mr. Ryan’s staff members cited a Bloomberg poll of 1,002 adults released on Wednesday, conducted by Selzer & Company, that found that 53 percent of those surveyed said the resettlement program should be halted."

"The bill, which received the full support of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, would require that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq poses no threat. The bill did not go into specific measures; rather, it said that officials "shall take all actions necessary" for a "thorough" background check."

FBI Chief James Comey has condemned the House bill, while endorsing the current refugee vetting process. From Evan Perez of CNN:

"Comey has told administration and congressional officials that the legislation would make it impossible to allow any refugees into the U.S., and could even affect the ability of travelers from about three dozen countries that are allowed easier travel to the U.S. under the visa waiver program, the officials say.

There are always risks in allowing any foreigners into the U.S., Comey told the officials, adding that the FBI believes it has an effective process with intelligence and other agencies to conduct vetting of refugees."

Myth: Refugees represent a serious, demonstrable threat to American security.
Fact: Of the nearly 750,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. since 9/11, the number arrested on domestic terrorism charges is zero.

: "Opposition to Jewish refugees (during WWII) was “racial”; opposition to Syrian refugees is based on security concerns." - Joel E. Pollak,
Fact: The core of opposition to Syrian refugee is bigotry against Muslims. Senator Ted Cruz has said that America should welcome Christian Syrians while banning Muslims. Jeb Bush has also said our "focus" should be on Christian refugees above others. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal would like to exclude Muslims from immigrating to the U.S. based on a test of their political beliefs. Outside the realm of (relatively) mainstream political leaders, bigotry is even more widespread. Influential Christian evangelist Franklin Graham would like to ban all Muslim immigration, as would Daniel Horowitz, Senior Editor of the Conservative Review.

Myth: "At least one Syrian refugee who had recently entered Europe was among the seven terrorists who carried out the deadliest attacks in France since World War II, according to authorities." - Yaron Steinbuch, the New York Post, 11/15/15, in an article regarding the Paris bombings.
Fact: All the attackers identified so far in the Paris bombings were European nationals. It is true that a fake Syrian passport was found near the body of one unidentified attacker. If that document did in fact belong to the attacker in question, records show he arrived in Greece from Turkey on October 3, posing as a visiting Syrian national loyal to the Assad regime. There is no indication that the man was in fact Syrian, and he was not posing as a refugee.

Myth: 77 percent of the refugees who have gone to Europe are young men, and "The director of national intelligence has said that among those refugees coming into Europe are no doubt ISIS terrorists." - Senator Ted Cruz. The majority of Syrian refugees are, "young males." - Presidential candidate Ben Carson.
Fact: Republicans would like you to believe that most Syrian refugees are actually Muslim jihadists or young men who are otherwise dangerous. Some facts: Among Syrian refugees, women outnumber men, and children 11 years old and younger account for 38.5 percent. Furthermore, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper has never said that the refugees are "no doubt ISIS terrorists." Instead, Clapper said that it’s a, "huge concern" that ISIS could attempt to infiltrate the refugees, but he's expressed confidence in the government’s ability to screen the refugee applicants. 

Myth: Young Syrian men, "have left their wives, young children and elderly relatives in the face of the ISIS threat." The media portray them as refugees, "when they are more accurately described as economic migrants." - Donna Rachel Edmunds,
Fact: The refugees are undoubtedly seeking better lives. But many young men are fleeing Syria in order to avoid being drafted into the fighting by dictatorial regimes that they do not support. For example, the PYD, a Kurdish nationalist party that has assumed power in parts of Syria with the tacit consent of the al-Assad regime, is prohibiting men over the age of 18 from leaving the country so that they can be drafted into the fighting.

Myth: On November 16, eight Syrian illegal aliens were apprehended attempting to enter Texas from Mexico.
Fact: From ABC News, KTXS 12: "DHS confirms that on Tuesday, members of two Syrian families, two men, two women and four children, presented themselves at a port of entry in Laredo.  They were taken into custody by CBP and turned over to ICE for further processing." In other words, the families simply traveled to the U.S. border and asked for asylum. They were not apprehended as illegal aliens. Donald Trump of course immediately jumped on the false report and tweeted, "WE NEED A BIG & BEAUTIFUL WALL!" and Ben Carson from stated, "our worst nightmare may be unfolding before our eyes." (For the record, there is no illegal immigration crisis at our border with Mexico. See part three in this series.) 

Myth: President Obama plans to bring 100,000 or 200,000 or 250,000 refugees from Syria to the United States, according to, respectively, Carly Fiorinia, Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
Fact: The President has no such plan. Current law allows the U.S. to accept up to 70,000 refugees from around the world in 2015. The U.S. State Department has suggested this number will increase to 100,000 by 2017. However, only 30% of refugees coming to the U.S. are from the Middle East, and most of these are from Iraq. The President has asked only that at least 10,000 be accepted from Syria in 2016.

Myth: Saudi Arabia has refused to accept Syrian refugees.
Fact: Saudi Arabia has given residency to 100,000 Syrian refugees.

Myth: TV news reports showed "thousand and thousands" of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the terrorist attacks on 9/11. "It did happen. I saw it. It was on television. I saw it. There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down." - Donald Trump, 11/22/15
Fact: This simply did not happen. Trump's delusion appears to stem from old, debunked newspaper reports of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the attacks.

Myth: President Obama gives Muslim refugees priority over homeless military veterans.
Fact: I see this one a lot. It's an easy excuse for Islamophobes, "Hey, as long as there are vets in need, we shouldn't spend money on anything else." That is not the worst idea. However, when conservatives are given the chance to help veterans, they consistently refuse to do so. In 2014, Senate Republicans stopped Democrats from advancing a bill that would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans. Between 2009 and 2012, those same Senate Republicans blocked seven different bills that would have provided jobs for veterans and assistance to homeless veterans. Meanwhile President Obama has actually done a great deal for homeless vets. His Opening Doors plan has reduced homelessness among veterans by 50% over the past four years.

Myth: The torture of detainees during the war in Iraq yielded valuable intelligence, including information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden.
Fact: Donald Trump can't wait to bring back waterboarding. The idea that torture yielded information that led to the capture of bin Laden is a favorite of former Vice President Dick Cheney. In fact, the vital intelligence leading to bin Laden was obtained without torture, and torture did not provide good intelligence during the war. Experienced interrogators have said that torture actually prolonged the hunt for bin Laden. An exhaustive five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects was released in 2014. That report’s central conclusion was that harsh interrogation measures, deemed torture by program critics including President Obama, did not work. Khalid Sheik Mohammed was waterboarded  a staggering 183 times. The torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced only false and misleading information, while the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee, information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden, was obtained through standard, noncoercive means. In 2014, 17 former top CIA, FBI and military intelligence officials to signed a public statement denouncing harsh interrogation techniques as morally reprehensible and ineffective.

Myth: The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was justified, as the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction cited by the Bush administration were eventually found.
Fact: No they weren't. First let's recall the Bush administration's case for invasion, which we can summarize entirely through quotes of Vice President Dick Cheney: "We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon," "Hussein is reconstituting his biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs," and from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "(Saddam) has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, and mustard gas." All of this was a pack of lies of course; the administration's own intelligence showed no evidence of WMD.

While it's true that America troops in Iraq discovered what had been  roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs in the scrapyards of Iraq, this stuff was a lot of rusty junk, not WMD. From C.V. Chivers of the New York Times:

"All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.

In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find." 

Myth: As a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton voted for the disastrous war in Iraq.
Fact: There was never a vote, "for the war." There was a vote to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq, an authority Bush lied that he needed, "to keep the peace." Clinton talked pretty tough regarding Saddam Hussein, but she never endorsed the Iraq invasion. On October 10, 2002, she said, "My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of preemption, "I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our Nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President. And we say to him: Use these powers wisely and as a last resort."

Final Thought: President Barack Obama urged Americans to show generosity to Syrian refugees in a Thanksgiving message on Thursday, reminding them that the Pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were themselves fleeing persecution.

1 comment:

Mike N said...

Well to be fair, the "Pilgrims" were fleeing "persecution" because they were their generation's equivalent to the Westboro Baptist Church, so there's that...