Peter King's Hearings Part of a Long, Ignoble Tradition

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) listens during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Peter King’s decision to hold a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security on “radicalization in the American Muslim community” embraces the grand political tradition of demonizing a minority community in times of perceived national crisis for apparent personal advantage.

In 1919 an anarchist letter-bombing campaign prompted the Attorney General and aspirant President candidate Alexander Palmer to unleash a series of raids on predominantly Russian immigrant and labor groups that flouted due process and often resulted in what even J. Edgar Hoover admitted were “clear cases of brutality.” More than 500 Eastern European immigrants were summarily deported.

The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to the internment of 110,000 American citizens of Japanese origin in complete disregard for their constitutional protections. Many white Californians benefited materially as a result, especially in the farming community. FDR’s Assistant Secretary of War, John Jay McCloy, famously remarked at the time: “If it is a question of safety of the country, [or] the Constitution of the United States, why the Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me.”


Rep. King's Terrorism Problem

Congressman Peter King

Yesterday, with the opening of the 112th Congress, Representative Peter King (R-NY) succeeded Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MI) as the Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

In the past few weeks Congressman King, no stranger to exaggerated sensationalism, has attracted a great deal of media attention for labeling Wikileaks a terrorist organization (a stretch by any definition of the term) and calling for the prosecution of the New York Times under the Espionage Act.

Congressman King has said that his first order of business as Chair will be to hold hearings on Muslim-American radicalization.

This has caused more than a little concern in the Muslim community since King made headlines in 2004 by channeling Senator Joseph McCarthy in an interview with Sean Hannity in which he claimed – without any apparent factual basis whatsoever – that 85% of the mosques in America were controlled by “Islamic fundamentalists” and went on to describe the members of these mosques as “an enemy living among us.”

Can you tell the difference?

I suppose we shouldn’t be terribly surprised by Congressman King’s antics, as he has never been particularly good at spotting real terrorists. King was a high profile supporter of the Provisional IRA for almost twenty years telling a political meeting in Nassau County, New York, in 1982:

“We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.”

In the course of more than three decades of violence in Northern Ireland the Provisional IRA is variously estimated to have killed between 1,700 and 1,900 people and to have injured thousands more.

These attacks included the bombing of a Remembrance Sunday (Veteran’s Day) Service in Enniskillen in which eleven members of the congregation died, the bombing of a MacDonald’s in Warrington that killed two small children, and the bombing of the London department store Harrods, which claimed six lives, including that of a United States citizen.


Old School Justice

Yesterday in a courtroom in downtown Manhattan nothing very special happened. A jury of ordinary New Yorkers sifted the evidence presented to them and convicted the defendant of a serious charge they felt the Prosecution had substantiated.

The defendant in question was Ahmed Ghailani who was accused of playing a supporting role in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa. The bombings were horrific. In Nairobi at least 212 people were killed including embassy staff and many local Kenyan residents. In Dar es Salaam at least 11 people were killed. Many hundreds more were severely injured by the blasts.

Ghailani has been convicted of conspiracy to destroy US government buildings with explosives. He faces a minimum sentence of twenty years and maximum sentence of life in prison. He is now a convicted felon. Due process was observed. Evidence collected illegally was excluded. Justice was done.

That’s the way it’s supposed to be. As Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss), outgoing Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, put it:

“I trust our men and women in uniform to protect the public. I trust our system of jurisprudence in America. I don’t care how bad you are, we can still put you on trial and if the evidence warrants a conviction you’ll get it.”

Susan F. Hirsch, whose husband was killed in the Tanzania attack, thanked the jury for its service, but added:

“I can’t help but feel that the case would have been stronger had Ghailani been brought to trial when he was captured in 2004.”

It’s an important point from someone directly concerned in this case – a little more police work and a lot less thuggery would have served the prosecution’s case much better.

Of course it didn’t take long for the fear-mongers to regroup and for their chorus of disapproval to reach the airwaves. Representative Peter King (R-NY) issued a statement in which he said he was “disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice” and that Ghailani’s conviction demonstrated “the absolute insanity” of trying terrorism suspects in federal court. No, I didn’t quite follow his logic either.