Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dimples on the Ass of American Justice

I’ve come across two horrifying stories that everyone interested in civil liberties, equality before the law, freedom from persecution, and other trivial little “dimples on the imperial derriere” should consider. (“Dimples” is Rebecca Solnit’s term for the various faults/delicts/crimes of Obama, in her linked article excoriating his critics.)

The first, as told by Glenn Greenwald, concerns Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American professor of nuclear engineering who came to the US in 1985 to study for his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine.  Loathe to return to Saddam’s repression, he stayed here, was hired by the university as a research professor, became a citizen, and raised five American-born children. 

Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, with his four sons Photograph: Hamoodi family (as posted by Greenwald)

Between 1993 and 2003, while, as Mother Jones (cited by Greenwald) reported, American-inspired sanctions against Iraq were killing, "more civilians than all the chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons used in human history," Dr. Hamoodi set up an account to send “small amounts of money - between $20 and $100 …each month to his family members,” including his blind mother and his 11 siblings.  Other Iraqi nationals in his Missouri community eventually joined in, and, through Hamoodi’s account, sent “an average of $25,000 each year back to Iraq, totaling roughly $250,000 over the decade: an amount that fed and sustained the Iraqi relatives of 14 families in Columbia, Missouri, including his wife's five siblings.”

There was not the slightest inkling of support for Saddam or “terrorism”: "Nobody, including the US government, claims that these amounts were intended for anything other than humanitarian assistance for his family and those of others in his community. Everyone, including the US government, acknowledges that these funds were sent to and received only by the intended recipients - suffering Iraqi family members - and never got anywhere near Saddam's regime, terrorist groups, or anything illicit.”  Nonetheless, this criminal activity was clearly a blatant violation of the righteous war-on-terror sanctions.  Never mind that “The reason [Hamoodi’s] relatives were starving and living in abject misery was precisely because the US government enforced years of brutal sanctions.”  After all, the law’s the law.

Out of this deep respect for the law, then, in 2006, three years after the sanctions had been lifted, Dr. Hamoodi was arrested by 35 armed federal agents carrying out an ostentatious raid on his home.  The case dragged on for another six years, until, on May 16 of this year, nine years after the sanctions had been lifted, a Clinton-appointed judge (US District Judge Nanette Laughrey), under pressure from an Obama DOJ prosecutor (Garrett M. Heenan), sentenced the 60-year old Hamoodi to three years in federal prison, plus three more years of probation.

This triumph of American justice occurred despite the fact, as Hamoodi’s son Owais points out: "There were like five other cases involving much greater amounts sent to Iraq, some with accusations that the money had reached the regime, and very light sentences were given, including by the same judge in my father's case, who had just given another Iraqi national probation for having sent more money than my father."  Surely, this discrepancy in sentencing did not occur because Dr. Hamoodi had also been an outspoken opponent of the American invasion of Iraq.

It did occur, however, despite the fact, as the Judge herself pointed out: "'He obviously has a model family, a lovely family, lovely children . . . I am sure it is largely as a result of your leadership in the family.”  But, as she continued, “you decided not to comply with the law. That does not show respect for the rule of law, which is the foundation of this country.'"   Tough love for the law from Nanette and Garrett.

Of course, as Greenwald reminds us, Harwood was “punished for the payments he sent to his suffering family nine years ago” by “the same agency [Obama’s DOJ] that shielded all Bush-era criminals from even an iota of accountability on the ground that we must ‘Look Forward, not Backward.’”

It turns out that the law is not always, you know, “the law,” and “respect for the rule of law” is not always, you know, actual “respect.” It depends, it seems, on one’s perspective, on who’s, you know, “looking.”  For torturers and war criminals, whose families are all well-fed, it’s “Look Forward, not Backward”; for the man who was feeding his starving family, it’s "Don’t Look Now.” The quality of mercy, strained.

The judge, the prosecutor, and other official authoritarians may want to spin this as a paen to the integrity of American justice.  “Progressive” Obamicans may want to spin it as another regrettable but ignorable little dimple on the otherwise fine ass of the regime of hope.  I find it sickening and shameful that our country tolerates such injustice.  I agree with Greenwald that it’s “warped sadism. I really don't see how prosecutors and judges [and politicians] who participate in these sorts of travesties can live with themselves."

The other story, told by Todd Miller at Counterpunch, concerns an Egyptian-American lawyer, Abdalla Matthews, an American citizen who grew up in Port Huron, Michigan.  It started in 2009, when he was returning from Toronto into Port Huron, a crossing he had done “a million times before.”  His childhood home, where his parents still live, is “down the street from the border bridge, and [he] used to cross the border all the time with a drivers [sic] license.” This time, he is ordered out of his car, surrounded by “to [his] disbelief … snipers, pointing their guns.”  He is handcuffed, interrogated, and detained and for two and a half hours, and asked if he has ever received any military training.  He’s told by one of the agents: “Sorry we have to do this.”

Thinking this must have been a one-off, especially since agents told him “he was detained because his name is similar to another name on a list,” he makes the same crossing some months later.  To his astonishment, the border agent, after asking whether he was handcuffed and detained previously, tells him: “I’m sorry sir, but we’ll have to do it again.”  As another agent begins to interrogate him, the following exchange ensues, as recounted by Miller:

But then the officers pauses [sic], and asks Matthews—“Do you remember me?”

Matthews looks at him, trying to remember. “’Oh yeah, yeah, I played soccer with you.’”

“I was a year younger,” he tells me in the interview, “I hadn’t seen him since high school.”

For a moment the two old acquaintances reminisce, on either side of the border security divide, though from the same community, one just as “U.S. American” as the other. Or are they?

Matthews pleads with his friend “You know who I am. I grew up here. I’ve been over the border a million times.” But his European-American friend can only reluctantly guide him to the same room with the countertop. This time the interrogators, two of them, aren’t so nice.

“They were aggressive. They told me to spread my legs. They told me to take off my shoes.”

When, after another “invasive,” handcuffed interrogation with two more officers, they finally clear Matthews to leave, he “asks an agent what would happen if he circled around, reentered Canada, and came back. The agent responds that they would have to do the same exact process—detain, handcuff, and interrogate—as if it never happened the first time.”

Thus an American citizen – a lawyer, and a schoolmate of the border agent who “has to” detain him! – becomes a perpetual target of harassment, the victim of what  the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan (CAIR-MI) calls a “strong pattern” of profiling and harassing Muslims, that includes “repeated handcuffing, brandishing of weapons, prolonged detentions, invasive and humiliating body searches at the border, and inappropriate questioning that pertains to religion and religious practices.”  This is clearly separate and unequal treatment of one religious group, what Andrew Rosenthal (cited by Greenwald) recognizes as “a separate justice system for Muslims.”  Practices like this treatment of Abdalla Matthews render Muslims not just second-class citizens, but pariahs. 

If this were being done to any other religious or ethnic group, every self-identified liberal and progressive in the United States would be raising hell.  If it were being done under a Republican administration, they would be raising holy hell.

For too many liberals, what was an outrage under Bush has become a dimple under Obama.  Obama, that is, has effectively normalized egregious injustice and the authoritarian state. (Just as he was hired to do.)

I urge you to read these two articles, to get the full, bitter taste of what is happening, invisibly, in our country. These two cases describe a polity that is impossible to reconcile with anything we have been led to honor about liberty and justice for all. 

It’s hard to believe that we've come to this.

Links Cited:

Rebecca Solnit, “The Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to My Dismal Allies” (

Glenn Greenwald, “Iraqi-American is imprisoned by US for saving his family from US sanctions”  (

Todd Miller, “Citizens in Name Only” (

Andrew Rosenthal, “Liberty and Justice for Non-Muslims” (

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