Feds Defend Partnership With Islamic Group Under Scrutiny

Fred Lucas | Staff Writer | Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Feds Defend Partnership With Islamic Group Under Scrutiny

(CNSNews.com) - Federal government agencies are defending their continuing cooperation with the nation's most high-profile Islamic organization at a time its alleged ties to terrorists have come under renewed scrutiny.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has historic links to a U.S.-based group charged with terrorist funding, and several individuals associated with CAIR have been jailed for terror-related offenses ( ).

Its critics also charge that while CAIR officials condemn terrorist attacks, they commonly refuse to condemn terror groups by name, particularly the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese-based Hizballah.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is the latest lawmaker to criticize the organization, based on concerns raised in law enforcement circles that CAIR gives aid to international terrorist groups.

At the same time, CAIR describes itself as the "go to" civil rights organization for federal agencies that deal with Muslims.

CAIR works on "sensitivity training" projects and outreach programs with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and other agencies.

That's a situation some believe should change.

"We wish the federal government was more aggressive at looking into CAIR, or at least stop working with them and providing them a platform," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group in Washington.

"CAIR is not a legitimate ... civil rights organization," Fitton said in an interview. "The federal government needs to stop treating it as if it is."

The TSA recently reproduced on its own official website an unedited CAIR press release. In the release, CAIR praised the TSA for providing sensitivity training to airport workers ahead of the Hajj, or the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

Judicial Watch and others criticized the TSA's publication of the press release, arguing that taxpayer dollars were being misused to subsidize the group's public relations message.

TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa told Cybercast News Service the posting of the unedited release had been a mistake, resulting from "a miscommunication with technical personnel."

"Hajj training is a policy we've had in place for some time," Kudwa said. "This is not a new policy." For example, the U.S. airport security staff was advised to relax the usual no-liquid-or-gels regulation, as Muslim travelers carried holy water back from Mecca, she added.

'They never bring these issues up'

CAIR's partnership with government agencies goes a lot further.

Officials with the organization - which has 32 local chapters and more than 50,000 members - have met with Bush administration officials, members of Congress, state lawmakers and local officials across the country.

The organization points to numerous cases of working closely with federal law enforcement, including:
After the August 2006 arrest in Britain of men accused of planning bomb attacks on U.S. bound airliners, the FBI invited CAIR along with other Muslim organizations to participate in a joint press conference;
In July 2006, CAIR-New York sponsored a meeting between some 50 Muslim leaders and officials from the FBI and Immigration Customs Enforcement;
CAIR conducted sensitivity training and education programs for FBI offices in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Arizona and Michigan;
FBI officials attended CAIR-Arizona's annual banquet;
FBI and officials from the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis visited a mosque open house;
In July 2004, CAIR conducted a sensitivity and diversity training workshop at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., which was broadcast live to all NASA employees;
In 2003, CAIR officials spoke at a joint press conference with the FBI in Miami urging residents to assist law enforcement; and
In November 2002, the State Department hosted a Ramadan dinner that included several Muslim groups, including CAIR.

While collaborating in these ways, CAIR also opposes certain U.S. policies, including the USA Patriot Act, which was passed by Congress to counter the terrorism threat. CAIR also is a party in a lawsuit demanding that the federal government do away with the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.

Last month, the group hosted a meeting featuring speaker Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, who criticized the U.S. war in Iraq.

CAIR is proud of its work with the government, said the group's spokesman Ibraham Hooper.

"I can't tell you the number of times we have done sensitivity training when we've worked with the TSA, the DHS," Hooper told Cybercast News Service. "I can't keep up with the number of meetings we've had with the FBI. They never bring these [terrorism] issues up. They know who we are, and they know what we do."

As for the CAIR statement reproduced on the TSA website, Hooper explained that the federal agency simply informed its employees about Islamic traditions in a bid to avoid any "unfortunate incident."

Working with CAIR is an important part of the counter-terrorism campaign, said FBI spokesman Bill Carter.

"Law enforcement doesn't operate in a vacuum," Carter told Cybercast News Service. "The FBI works with them to investigate civil rights matters and to ask for their cooperation in fighting the war on terror at home.

"There are elements in any group that might be a concern," Carter added. "You could say that about every group. Just because some are criminals doesn't mean everyone is a criminal."

Congressional critics

Boxer recently became the latest lawmaker to level criticism at CAIR.

She had previously referred to CAIR as "an advocate for justice and greater understanding," but when she asked her staff in December to research the group, the senator rescinded a "certificate of accomplishment" awarded earlier to a CAIR official.

Boxer's press office did not provide a statement to Cybercast News Service, but in an earlier one provided to CNN, Boxer explained that "we reached out to CAIR because we wanted to send a message about community and inclusiveness. But I believe when a mistake is made it has to be set straight."

Other congressional critics include Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who has been quoted describing CAIR as a group "which we know has ties to terrorism," and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who reportedly said CAIR is "unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect."

Though CAIR regularly dismisses critics as bigots or "Islamophobes," Hooper said the senators had been duped. "Politicians have been misled by anti-Muslim smears. You throw enough smears against the wall and something will stick," he said.

"Politicians don't call us to refute the charges. They don't check the charges. They have a lack of knowledge and are unwilling to stand up to the anti-Muslim bigots."

At least one organization that believes the U.S. government should be more careful about partnering with CAIR is itself a Muslim group.

"The federal government should not be associating with any Muslim group until it gets the lay of the land first," said M. Zhudi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a body that calls for reform in Islam.

"CAIR is more of a political organization than a civil rights organization," he said.

Backgrounder: What The Critics Say About CAIR (Jan. 16, 2007)

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