About Me

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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm Home, but Still Haunted by Guantanamo

By Jumah al Dossari, former Guantanamo Bay detainee
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Published in the Washington Post

Reporter/writer's note:

I've covered the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2004 as military correspondent for The Post. Jumah al Dossari first caught my attention in October 2005, when I heard the story of his gruesome suicide attempt during a visit from his lawyer. Then known as Detainee #261, Dossari clearly was making a public plea for help. Though the U.S. military has said many times that all detainees at Guantanamo are treated humanely and that Dossari had been getting the help he needed, detention in Guantanamo apparently became more than he could bear. His wish to die humanized the desperation of many detainees held indefinitely at the facility.

U.S. officials maintained for years that Dossari was a dangerous terrorist who had been arrested after going to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against U.S. forces. Dossari also spent some time in the United States and allegedly tried to recruit terrorists with fiery sermons, something that obviously raised concerns among his interrogators and jailers. Nevertheless, he was never charged with a crime, never admitted any connection to terrorism and was ultimately released to Saudi Arabia in July 2007.

His return to freedom has been smooth. He is employed, married and doing well. When I talked to him by cellphone from Dammam late last year, he spoke of a hope and a peace and a forgiveness that arose from his "black days" behind bars at Guantanamo.

-- Josh White

DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia

It has been a little over a year since I left the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but I still have trouble sleeping sometimes. On a recent restless night, I found a DVD entitled "United 93" beside the family television set. I had no idea what it was about, but I started watching. When I realized that it was about the hijacked American plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, I began to cry. It reminded me of a very simple question I had asked myself countless times during my 5 1/2 years in Guantanamo: When will humans start treating each other with respect, whatever our religion or color?

I arrived in Guantanamo in January 2002 after Pakistani forces handed me over to the United States, probably, I suspect, for a bounty. I had been in Afghanistan to assess the progress of a mosque-building project there, funded by people in my native Saudi Arabia. I knew that Afghanistan was a dangerous place, but I was paid for the trip and I needed the money, so I went. It is a decision I will always regret. When the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan in November 2001, I fled to Pakistan. At a border checkpoint, I asked Pakistani guards for help getting to the Saudi embassy. Instead, they put me in a prison, where I was kept for days with shackles on my legs.

After several weeks, I was blindfolded and flown with other detainees to a U.S. military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Upon our arrival there, we were thrown to the ground. Someone hit my head and forced his boot into my mouth. Despite the freezing Afghan winter, I spent several weeks in an open tent circled with barbed wire. I still have scars from my time in Kandahar. One is from a cigarette that was extinguished on my wrist and the other from the time I was pushed to a floor covered with broken glass.

One night about two weeks after our arrival, some soldiers came and cut off my clothes and put me in an orange suit. They fitted me with very tight goggles so that I could not see and put something over my ears so that I could not hear. I was chained to the floor of a plane for several hours, then again to the floor of another for what seemed like an eternity. When they pulled us off the second plane, we had no idea where we were.

It was Guantanamo.

We were taken to Camp X-Ray, which consists of cages of the sort that would normally hold animals. Imprisoned in these cages, we were forbidden to move and sometimes forbidden to pray. Later, the guards allowed us to pray and even to turn around, but whenever new detainees arrived, we were again prohibited from doing anything but sitting still.

Physical brutality was not uncommon during those first years at Guantanamo. In Camp X-Ray, several soldiers once beat me so badly that I spent three days in intensive care. My face and body were still swollen and covered in bruises when I left the hospital. During one interrogation, my questioner, apparently dissatisfied with my answers, slammed my head against the table. During others, I was shackled to the floor for hours.

In later years, such physical assaults subsided, but they were replaced by something more painful: I was deprived of human contact. For several months, the military held me in solitary confinement after a suicide attempt. I had no clothes other than a pair of shorts and no bed but a dirty plastic mat. The air conditioner was on 24 hours a day; the cell's cold metal walls made it feel as though I was living inside a freezer. There was no faucet, so I had to use the water in the toilet for drinking and washing.

I was transferred to the maximum-security Camp Five in May 2004. There I lived -- if that word can be used -- in a cell with cement walls. I was permitted to exercise once or twice a week; otherwise, I was alone in my cell at all times. I had nothing to occupy my mind except a Koran and some censored letters from my family. Interrogators told me that I would live like that for 50 years.

While I was in Camp Five, the military gave me a piece of paper that laid out the allegations against me. I had been in Guantanamo at that point for 2 1/2 years. My lawyer later told me that I had received this paper as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that detainees were to be allowed to have court hearings. We never got the promised hearings; instead, we went through military hearings at Guantanamo in which we were not shown any evidence or allowed to have lawyers. All we got was the piece of paper.

Some of the allegations were silly. One said that I had gone to Afghanistan for military training in 1989. The truth was that I had told an interrogator about a trip I had made to Afghanistan for a weekend as an overweight 16-year old after the war with the Soviet Union there ended. This trip was sponsored by the Saudi government, which had helped fund the Afghan mujaheddin and was celebrating -- with the United States -- the defeat of the Soviets.

Only one of the allegations seemed to be directly related to what is called the "War on Terror." It said that I had been "present at Tora Bora." No other details were provided. I had never heard of Tora Bora (although I later learned that it was Osama bin Laden's suspected hiding place, where U.S. forces battled the Taliban in December 2001). Later, I learned that a Yemeni detainee had told interrogators that I had been there, along with many others, because he hoped to be released if he was seen as cooperating with the U.S. military.

I know that there have been newspaper stories saying that I recruited people to go to al-Qaeda training camps. But the sheet of paper the military gave me said nothing about recruiting, which is not something I have ever done.

There were many times in Guantanamo when I felt as though I was falling apart, like a sandcastle being washed out by the tide. I lost all hope and faith. The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I was destroyed. I decided that I preferred death to life, and I attempted suicide several times.

Once, during a break in a meeting with my attorney, I cut my arm with a razor and tried to hang myself. I do not remember it, but apparently my attorney returned earlier than I had told him to and found me suspended by my neck from the cell wall, unconscious and covered in blood. I broke a vertebra but survived with surgery.

Between suicide attempts, I tried desperately to hold on to the few fleeting moments of light that presented themselves to me. I met every few months with my attorneys and felt better whenever they were in Guantanamo, but my despair would return within a day of their departure. On occasion, I was helped by compassionate guards. After the beating in Camp X-Ray, a young female guard appeared at my cage, looking to make sure that no other guards were watching. "I'm sorry for what happened to you," she whispered to me. "You're a human being just like us." These words were a temporary balm for my bruises and loneliness. Ultimately, though, I believe it was God who did not allow me to die.

In July 2007, a colonel told me that I was going home. He did not explain why I was suddenly no longer too dangerous to live in freedom. Four days later, I was put on a Saudi government plane. When we landed in Riyadh and I saw my family, I was overwhelmed. We all cried and hugged. I said hello to someone I thought was my sister only to hear her say, "Daddy." I looked at her face again and saw that it was my daughter, who had grown from a 7-year-old child to a 13-year-old young woman while I'd been gone.

In Guantanamo, I was very angry with the people who had decided to hold me thousands of miles from home without charging or trying me. I was very angry with the people who kept me in isolation even when I was at my most desperate. I was very angry about having no rights at all. I was not angry with Americans in general and I even drew comfort from some, such as my lawyers and the kind soldier. But I could scarcely comprehend how U.S. policy had allowed me to be treated as I had been.

On the plane ride home, though, I decided that I would have to forgive to go on with my life. I also know that Sept. 11 was a great tragedy that caused some people to do dark things that they would not otherwise do. This knowledge helped me forget my miserable existence in Guantanamo and open my heart to life again, including to my recent re-marriage.

When I was watching "United 93," I thought of the soldier who had offered me compassion in Guantanamo. Her words reminded me that we all share common values, and only by holding on to them can we ensure that there is mercy and brotherhood in the world. After more than five years in Guantanamo, I can think of nothing more important.

CAIR Asks Studio to Change ‘Towelhead’ Film Title

The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) today called on Warner Bros. and Warner Independent Pictures to consider changing the title of the soon-to-be-released film “Towelhead” because that derogatory term is offensive to American Muslims and Arab-Americans. CAIR says Muslims and Arab-Americans view the term “towelhead” as a racial and religious slur.

In a letter sent last week to studio executives, the Islamic civil rights and advocacy group asked that the film be called “Nothing is Private” – a title previously used in some markets.

In the letter to Warner Bros Chairman and CEO Barry M. Meyer, CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said in part:

“The title…is of great concern to us, since the word is commonly used in a derogatory manner against people of the Muslim faith or Arab origin…We have no desire to inhibit the creative process or your right to produce any film you wish. However, I ask you to take the above concerns into consideration and examine the social implications of releasing the film under its current title, ‘Towelhead.’”

Ayloush said that although Warner Bros. executives have made it clear they intended no offense, the use of such a derogatory term by a major film studio will serve to increase its acceptability in public discourse.

“It is unfortunate that a major film studio would choose to exploit an ethnic slur as a sensational promotion for a movie,” said Ayloush. “Mainstreaming a bigoted term in this manner will only serve to legitimize and normalize anti-Muslim prejudice in our society.”

Commenting on Muslim Youth Leadership

Three Inland teens attend Muslim Youth Leadership Program

August 21, 2008, By DAVID OLSON, The Press-Enterprise

Malik Jiffry came back from the annual Muslim Youth Leadership Program on Sunday pumped up and ready to help dispel myths about fellow Muslims. "It was amazing," the Redlands High School senior said. "It changed my life. People there showed an interest and a want to help Muslim-Americans."

Jiffry was one of 35 high school juniors and seniors -- three from the Inland area -- who traveled to Sacramento to attend the fourth annual conference, which was sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The four-day conference featured a mock legislative session -- in which students took roles of state legislators -- and workshops on public speaking, media relations and community organizing and advocacy.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the council's Southern California office and a Corona resident, said his group hopes to get more young people interested in politics, journalism and community work.

"The goal is to demystify these fields and provide tools to be effective speakers, strong leaders and confident organizers in their own communities," he said.

Jiffry is considering whether to one day go into politics. At age 16, he already is active in his high school and community. He tutors and plays with children at a Christian-run center, and is a member of the volleyball team, speech and debate team and Spanish club.

Monsura Sirajee, a junior at Chaparral High School in Temecula and incoming co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, said that as Muslims get more involved in their communities and take leadership roles, non-Muslims will see the true face of Islam.

"If they're able to clear up misconceptions, which they can do through the media and through government, the word will get out that mainstream Muslims are not like the radical Muslims that Americans hear about," said Sirajee, 17, who also attended the conference.

Another conference participant, Aatif Sayeed, said one reason more Muslims are not involved in politics is that many are immigrants who know little about the U.S. political system. Sayeed said Muslims like him who have grown up in the United States need to fill the gap.

"Frankly, if we don't get involved in making laws, we don't have a right to protest," said Sayeed, 15, a junior at Centennial High School in Corona.

Many voters hold politicians' Muslim beliefs against them. A 2007 Pew Research Center poll found that nearly half of Americans were less likely to vote for a Muslim presidential candidate.

People who oppose Muslims holding political office because of a fear of them bringing a Muslim agenda to office "know nothing about Muslims," said Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minneapolis Democrat who in 2006 became the first Muslim in Congress.

"There are some (Muslim) people who would say it is anti-Islamic to do this or do that, just as there are a lot of Christians and Jews who say it is wrong to do this and do that," Ellison said by phone. "Extremists and authoritarians are in every faith, and people who are progressive and who believe in love and inclusion are in every faith."

Ellison is a strong supporter of abortion rights and same-sex marriage even though the major branches of Islam view abortion and homosexuality as immoral. Ayloush said voters shouldn't be surprised that Muslims have varying viewpoints on such issues.

"Muslims, like all other followers of faith groups, are not monolithic," he said. "They will have different levels of practice and have different interpretations of religious teachings."

Jiffry said the elections of Ellison and Rep. André Carson, an Indianapolis Democrat elected in March to replace his late grandmother in Congress, have made Muslims more likely to get involved in politics.

"It shows it's not impossible for a Muslim-American to rise up to public office and represent the people," he said.

Reach David Olson at 951-368-9462 or dolson@PE.com

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wrong...Wrong...Wrong: Obama Lets Muslim Advisor Resign

This is a good piece by Steve Clemons commenting on the recent resignation of Barack Obama's Muslim-outreach coordinator, Mazen Asbahi. It is worth reading so I decided to share on my blog. Please post your comments on the original post at:


Barack Obama needs to make a statement loudly, clearly, and with passion that he embraces Muslims as much as any other Americans of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish or other religious persuasions. It wouldn't hurt for him to embrace devout secularists like me for that matter.

But I'm irritated and saddened by news that Barack Obama's Muslim-outreach coordinator, Mazen Asbahi, has resigned "amid questions about his 'involvement' in an Islamic investment fund and various Islamic groups."

Let's tally up Obama's Muslim outreach record:

~ Obama campaign apparatchiks ask young Muslim women not to stand in photo with Obama because of head scarves (Obama campaign later apologizes).

~ Barack Obama gives AIPAC speech that manages to run to the right of President Bush and Israel Prime Minister Ohlmert in demanding that "Jerusalem must not be divided." (Obama later recants after the fact)

~ Barack Obama not only terminates Middle East advisor Robert Malley from his team because of Malley's views that Hamas should be engaged -- but his spokesman, Bill Burton, states that not only is Rob Malley no longer advising Obama "but will never advise Obama." That's running the bus over someone and then backing it up to make sure that Malley doesn't survive and has no chance in an Obama administration. I like to remind folks that Paul Volcker and Ted Sorensen signed the same letter Malley did but have thus far missed the campaign guillotine.

~ Barack Obama gives an inspirational speech to more than 200,000 Germans in Berlin calling for a "World Without Walls." But Obama is silent in Israel when it is the wall dividing Israelis and Palestinians that is becoming an increasingly worse and impactful global ulcer.

~ Barack Obama spends 30 plus hours in Israel and 45 minutes in Ramallah during his recent trip and meets many Iraelis who have been pro-settilement expansion, solidly violating international law and US policy. Some on Obama's advisory team turn a blind eye to Israel's expanding settlements and continue to be associated with and meet with settlement zealots -- but Obama keeps ALL of these people on his team.

~ Barack Obama accepts the resignation of a mainstream Arab-American lawyer from his advisory team because eight years ago, Mazen Asbahi served on a board "for a few weeks" that included a muslim fundamentalist imam from Illinois. Asbahi resigned from the board. . .eight years ago.
What? Wait? Obama has had a many years long relationship with Jeremiah Wright -- and sat on a board with William Ayers -- NEITHER of which I think are disqualifiers for Obama's candidacy... and yet Obama's political team and Obama himself did not demand from Asbahi that he stay on the team, stand his ground, and fight back against the vile right-wing hit on him and his credibility?!

I think that this is outrageous -- and those on the left who appreciate Obama and what he may mean for this country must become as tenaciously committed to what is right and what is good -- and fighting for that -- because those on the other side of these debates are trying to compel Obama to dilute himself.

Zalmay Khalilzad is an effective and popular MUSLIM Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. We need more Muslims in our diplomatic corps. We need Muslims on the Supreme Court. We need more Muslims like Keith Ellison in the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Obama should say it. Convince the American public that he's not setting up a zero sum game between Muslims on one side and Christians and Jews on the other.

Obama is a Christian. I get that. I'm a secularist hard core -- but I won't stand by to watch more good people be flushed down the political drain because they are Muslims trying to work for a balanced and level playing field in America.

This resignation by Asbahi stinks -- and Obama and his team should immediately call him back and help him stand up to anti-Muslimism in America.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

Monday, August 04, 2008

How does a Republican-pushed bill amendment serve terrorists' interests?

By Corey Saylor

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, recently attached an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act that may unintentionally legitimize Al Qaeda and other anti-American forces.

Passed by a vote of 249-180, Hoekstra's amendment says that "none of the funds ... appropriated by this Act may be used to prohibit or discourage the use of the words or phrases 'jihadist,' 'jihad,' 'Islamo-fascism,' 'caliphate,' 'Islamist,' or 'Islamic terrorist' by or within the intelligence community or the Federal Government."

This amendment needs to be removed.

Many experts, including the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, find it misguided, and Hoekstra's arguments for it unsupported.

In January, the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a guide called "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims," and in March, the National Counterterrorism Center produced a similar publication called "Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication."

According to these recommendations, by using phrases such as "Islamic terrorism," U.S. officials may be "unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesman (sic) for ordinary Muslims." The report also urges "caution in using terms such as 'jihadist,' 'Islamist,' and 'holy warrior' as grandiose descriptions," to avoid associating acts of violence or terrorism with religious concepts.

On the House floor, Hoekstra bitterly complained that "the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security have issued memos imposing speech codes."

The DHS document actually "outlines recommendations," and the NCTC document says its suggestions are "not binding."

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote a letter to other members of Congress opposing Hoekstra's amendment, saying, "These are precisely the terms that Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders use routinely to describe their actions against the United States. We should not let them define this debate and claim a false mantle of legitimacy."

So this argument is not, as Hoekstra asserts, about creating "speech police" or "the politically correct politicization of our nation's intelligence community." It's about having America's spokespeople and soldiers smartly use language that defines Al Qaeda and other groups as thugs and criminals. This is done not because we worry about offending sensitivities, but because it serves the strategic purpose of isolating extremists and removing the false cloak of religiosity that they use to justify their barbarism.

COREY SAYLOR is national legislative director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at: csaylor@cair.com