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Iranian pulls out of medal match with Israeli in Youth Olympics

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

SINGAPORE (WJC)– At the Youth Olympics, officials of the Iranian team have reportedly forced a 16 year-old taekwondo fighter to withdraw because he was pitted against an Israeli competitor, Gili Haimovitz,  in the final.

Mohammed Soleimani withdrew from the final, saying he had a leg injury. He was also absent from the medal ceremony as he claimed that he had to go to hospital. Soleimani was to stand on the silver medal position as the Israeli flag was hoisted in the highest position. 

A spokesman of the International Olympic Committee said an independent doctor had confirmed that Soleimani suffered an injury: “What we know factually is that the athlete injured his ankle and was sent to the hospital for an X-ray. Tests revealed he did not suffer anything broken, and he is all right now. So unless more factual information is available, it is mere speculation.”

Germany’s badminton coach Holger Hasse said: “I heard about what happened with Iran and Israel and it’s very disappointing that the athletes must follow some political rules and I can’t understand this. This is a chance for countries to be peaceful and for the next generation to change things. Athletes are not political, they just want to have fun and meet friends.”

Nigerian coach Jones Adakole told reporters:  “This should not happen here, and it’s unfair. The Youth Olympics are about unity.” Malaysian badminton coach Wong Tat Meng agreed, saying: “What’s the purpose of the Youth Olympics? It’s to get everybody to enjoy sport and they should put aside politics. They should have carried on for the good of the sport.”

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Preceding provided by the World Jewish Congress

Assessing U.S. Counterterrorism Strategies: An Interview with Michael Chertoff

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

-Reprinted from Summer 2010 issue of inFocus Quarterly

On May 27, inFOCUS editor Matthew RJ Brodsky interviewed Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security from 2005-2009. As secretary he developed and implemented border security policy, homeland security regulations, and a national cyber security strategy. He also served periodically on the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council, and on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Prior to his appointment to the Cabinet, Mr. Chertoff served as the assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he oversaw the investigation of the 9/11 attacks. Today, he is senior of counsel at the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, DC.

iF: The Obama administration decided to abandon the term “war on terror” in favor of “overseas contingency operation.” Is this a semantic shift, or does it have practical consequences?

MC: Actually, I don’t know if that’s accurate. I don’t know that they have abandoned it. Sometimes I hear them use it and sometimes I hear them not using it, so I don’t want to characterize what their position is.

I think that the problem with the war on terror is that it is treating terror as a tactic. Although I think we all know what we mean when we say it, but I mean if you want to be literal it’s not literally accurate because terror is a tactic. I think that we are at war. I do think that the enemy is radical Islamist ideologues and their network. Obviously, al-Qaeda is part of that network but there are other parts of that network as well. And, we are in different degrees of war. We are in a hot war with some and a cold war with others. So it’s a little more complicated than the sound-bite but I think it is more accurate.

iF: Just yesterday the president’s top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, described the violent extremists as victims of political and economic social forces. But he said that those plotting attacks in the U.S. should not be described in religious terms. So if America’s adversaries are very clear in how they define us as enemies, why is it so difficult for the U.S. to identify with whom we are at war? Is the administration currently missing the boat here?

MC: Well again, I spent a lot of time when I was secretary talking to people, including many Muslims, about what is the right way to refer to adherents to the ideology that we’re fighting. And, there is an Arabic term, takfirism, which means basically the view is that everybody who disagrees with me is an apostate and should be killed, which is probably the most accurate but unintelligible. I don’t think you can avoid the fact that the people in this ideology are arguing, incorrectly, but nevertheless arguing, that they are reflecting a religious mandate. And so what I like about the term “radical Islamism” or “extremist Islamism” is that it makes it clear that we’re talking about Islam not as a religion but as a political doctrine – and that we’re talking not about all political Islam but extremist political Islam.

That being said, if we are not willing to be candid about the fact that it is a self-described movement that claims religious roots, then we’re not being honest about what it is we’re facing. Similarly, when I was a prosecutor, we did organized crime. I’ll never forget Governor Cuomo criticized us for using the term “La Cosa Nostra mafia.” Then I was the U.S. attorney prosecuting a case called the “Commission Case,” and we had tapes where the guys on the tapes said: “we’re the mafia, we’re La Cosa Nostra.” And so when the tapes got played in court, Cuomo got embarrassed. And Rudy [Giuliani] was Italian. But nevertheless he acknowledged that the group itself, while not emblematic of Italians by any means, did select only Italians or people of Italian lineage to be made members, and that was a self-imposed rule. So you can’t ignore that; that was part of how the group set itself up. So, to me, radical Islamism or extreme Islamism is probably the right balance to have.

iF: Do you see a pattern in the recent spate of terrorist incidents at Fort Hood, the Christmas Day bomber and Times Square. What do these mean?

MC: Well, we’ve had homegrown terrorists before. If you go back to 2002-2003, the Lackawanna Six – the people that we convicted up in Oregon and Washington. It does seem like there’s an uptick. And I think it’s attributable to two reasons. First, there’s been a self-conscious effort on the part of the extremists to recruit Americans or lawful residents because its gotten much harder to bring foreigners into the country. And second, I think that there’s been a tendency for some populations that have been alienated in this country to become a little bit more active. I think we’ve got much less of that than the Europeans have, by a considerable measure. But we’re a large country and you’re going to find some people who are alienated, and this ideology is one attractive way for them to deal with their alienation.

iF: In January the Pentagon released its report on the Fort Hood massacre carried out by Major Nidal Hasan. Defense Department Secretary Gates said there were “shortcomings” in the Department’s ability to defend against internal influences. In his speech after the failed Christmas Day bombing, President Obama said there were “systematic failures.” Janet Napolitano said, “the system worked.” Which is it? What is the state of our counterterrorism capabilities?

MC: I think our counterterrorism capabilities are good and they’re very much better than they were prior to September 11. They are not perfect, and I think in some cases what you see is human error – people who just didn’t see something they should have seen or perhaps didn’t work as urgently as they should have worked. And that’s what my focus would be. You need to drive this as a matter of leadership; it’s got to be a front-burner issue. The second piece is that you need to continually adapt. The tactics and strategies that worked last year are not all going to work this year because the enemy has adapted. So there’s a need for continuous improvement and focus. And you also finally have to support your field operatives. You know, the people you’re sending out in the field – you’ve got to have their back.

iF: Are we doing that?

MC: Well, I think the decision to go back and revisit the issue of prosecuting CIA agents after that was previously declined was probably not a helpful message. Right now, according to the newspapers, we’re using armed force against people in Pakistan and Yemen. So assuming that to be true, I hope and I would expect that we have the backs of the people who are doing that and in a year or two somebody’s not going to come back and say: “Whoa, wait a second. This is murder and we’ve got to investigate that.” To me, it’s leadership, it’s adaptation, and it is supporting your troops. Those are the three pillars of staying ahead of this.

iF: Did the decision to quickly pivot to charging the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal interfere with investigators’ ability to obtain the maximum amount of information? Was it the right decision?

MC: I can’t answer that because I wasn’t in the room. I think what they did with the Times Square bomber shows a more deliberate and thoughtful approach. Now, sometimes the answer may be that you give a person his Miranda rights because you’ve exhausted everything you can get out of him and, you know, in some of the cases we had we had been investigating people for months. So we had wiretaps and stuff, so we knew everything. The point is that it’s got to be a thoughtful decision; it can’t be a reflex to automatically default to the criminal justice system.

iF: The attempted car bombing in New York on May 1 has been traced back to a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen who spent five months in Pakistan last year. The Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the attack. What do you make of the fact that nearly every attempted or successful terror attack on Western targets in recent years has been traced back to Pakistan in some capacity?

MC: Well, the Christmas Day would-be bomber was Nigerian who went to Yemen. And we’ve had cases of Somalians. I think that Pakistan is probably still the epicenter of where this extremism is planning and training. But I think we have to watch Somalia, we have to watch Yemen, and we even have to start watching North Africa. I was in North Africa about a week ago and there’s a growing concern there about al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, which is involved in drug trafficking and kidnapping. That group could become the next Yemen. So this is a spreading problem; this is not limited to one geographic area.

iF: The United States has been using unmanned aerial drones to target al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas. Some have questioned the legality of these “targeted assassinations” while the Obama administration has insisted they are lawful acts of war done in conjunction with the Pakistani government. What is your take?

MC: Well, assuming this to be true, what’s reported, I’m not going to confirm anything, but assuming that to be true I don’t have a problem legally with using force when you’re at war. But some people on the left have not at least hitherto accepted that we are at war, so they’re going to have to figure out how they deal with this issue. I don’t have a problem with it.

iF: Attorney General Eric Holder has been widely criticized, first for deciding to try terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court in New York City, and then for reversing his decision earlier this year. What do you think is the appropriate venue for trying terrorism suspects – civilian court or military tribunal?

MC: I think for people who are captured oversees, I would put them in a military commission. Unless they’re American citizens who under the current law are not allowed to be in a military commission. But if you’re not an American and you’re captured oversees, I see no reason to import you to the United States. Now, people captured in the United States present a different set of issues…

iF: Even if they’re foreign-born?

MC: Even if they’re foreign-born presents a different set of issues. But, certainly if you’re captured oversees I think it’s the right course to put them in a military commission. And frankly I don’t think you need to bring them into the U.S. to do that. I think you can try them somewhere else.

iF: What do you make of the decision to close Guantanamo Bay?

MC: I think it’s going to turn out to be a lot harder than was originally projected. Part of the problem is this: In a way, the easiest way to deal with it is that if someone’s been convicted and they’ve gotten life imprisonment or execution, that’s the easiest thing. You could then put them in a U.S. facility; lock them up at a place like Florence and that would be that.

The people who have not been tried yet or who are being detained, that’s the hard problem because what do you do if at the end of the day you can’t make a criminal case under U.S. criminal law? Do you release them in the U.S.? Do you deport them? Well, look what just happened in Great Britain. A week ago an immigration court in Britain said we have two terrorists that were acquitted, or there was insufficient evidence to charge them with a terror plot. But the court said: these are terrorists. One is clearly a member of al-Qaeda and the other is clearly ready to carry out al-Qaeda’s orders. But, under European law, because there is a slight risk they can be mistreated back in Pakistan, we’re not going to send them back but they have to remain in Great Britain. Now what? Are they going to put them under these control orders? That’s controversial, too. Well, we don’t want to have that in the United States. I can guarantee you that would be a huge mistake. So, before you start bringing people from Guantanamo into the United States you better have all the legal ducks in a row as to what happens if people can’t be convicted. And I don’t think we’re there yet.

iF: What do you make of the report of the transfer of Scud missiles from Syria to Lebanon-based Hezbollah? Is this a “game-changer,” as the Israeli’s have insisted? How should the U.S. respond and does Hezbollah present a threat to the United States or American interests?

MC: Without commenting on the specific report, I think Hezbollah, as I think I’ve said publicly before, is in terms of sophistication the most powerful of the terrorist groups. I mean, they are much more sophisticated than al-Qaeda. They have not attacked Americans directly to my knowledge since the Khobar Tower in 1996. But they do have a growing presence in this hemisphere, which they’ve been in the process of gaining over a period of decades now. I think that the issue has always been: at what point would they engage in hostilities with the United States? I think a lot of that is frankly tied to where we are with Iran. So I think they’re a piece of a larger geo-political issue having to do with Iran and its relationship with the United States and its relationship with the other countries in the region.

iF: Some have argued that the creation of the Homeland Security department merely adds one more level of bureaucracy and red tape to the government. How essential is the department to keeping the U.S. safe? Does it help or hinder the flow of information between governmental agencies?

MC: Actually, it made it much easier. We used to have the various pockets of things that were involved with border and infrastructure security scattered in different departments. So you had a piece of the border stuff in the Department of Justice, another piece in Treasury, another piece in the Department of Transportation, and they never worked together. They had uncoordinated plans. By bringing this department together, we for the first time built a coordinated border plan, which is one of the reasons that – contrary to what you hear on the news – we’ve actually had significant decreases in flow across the border in the last couple of years. We now share platforms between the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection. They share intelligence, they have joint planning, and they have joint exercises. So I think like any other maturing organization there are some growing pains, but I think it is significantly far ahead in terms of coordinating on border and infrastructure security than was the case when they were in separate departments.

iF: Excellent. Thank you very much for your time.

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Preceding reprinted with permission from inFocus Quarterly published by the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Commentary: Israelis divided on fate of children of foreign workers

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — The New York Times headlines  its article about a recent Israeli government decision dealing with the children of illegal immigrants, “Israelis Divided on Deporting Children.” Its first paragraph claims that

“Deep divisions emerged here on Monday over the fate of about 400 children of foreign workers who have no legal status in the  country and are slated for deportation. The issue has touched on sensitive nerves in Israel, which sees itself as a nation of Jewish refugees and defines itself as a Jewish and democratic  state.”

The issue does stir emotions. However, the results of one media query seem short of “deep divisions.” The country’s most popular news web site asked about the government decision that would allow approximately 800 children of foreign workers to stay in Israel, and deport about 400.” The criteria employed by the government would take into consideration length of residence, fluency in Hebrew, and enrollment in public school.

Of more than 1500 respondents,  17 percent thought the decision an appropriate compromise, 54 percent chose the option “Disgrace; there is a need to deport them all,” and 29 percent chose “Shameful; the government should allow all to stay.”

The issue of illegal immigration touches the same buttons here that it does in the United States and Western Europe. Israel is the only well-to-do western country having a land border with Africa, and the route from Egypt over the Sinai with Bedouin guides has resulted in substantial illegal foreign worker communities in Eilat and the poorer neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. Official estimates of close to 150,000 illegal residents include these migrants, as well as individuals who came as part of official agreements with several Asian countries (especially the Philippines, Thailand, China), and overstayed their visas. European prostitutes also come over the Sinai, typically  organized by Israeli criminals whose own origins are in the women’s homelands of the former  Soviet Union.

As elsewhere, businesses and families have trouble attracting menial workers who are legal, and provide jobs despite threats of inspections and fines. Egyptian police and soldiers make occasional sweeps against Bedouin traffickers, but their practice of shooting and killing the migrants does not go down well with Israelis.

Israel’s media has cooperated with activists who portray many of the African migrants as refugees seeking asylum from Darfur, although there may be few if any who have documented such origins. The vast majority are economic migrants, with large numbers coming from Eritrea and Nigeria. Efforts to arrange orderly programs of work permits with those governments along with procedures for returning illegals have not succeeded. While Israel’s government was pondering the issue of deporting children and their families over the course of several weeks, the media provided coverage for children who spoke, in Hebrew, about their love of Israel, their aspirations to become Israelis and eventually to serve in the army, and their lack of any connections with any other place. Media personalities press individuals speaking for the government, or Knesset Members in favor of deportation, with questions like, “How can you deport such children?”

Israelis do have sensitive nerves, but it is not clear how they differ from other populations. Perhaps 100,000 have expressed concern for Gilad Shalit, the soldier held prisoner in Gaza more than four years, but there are no overt signs of a movement to undercut the government’s refusal to free all the prisoners demanded as his price by Hamas. 

More likely to be emotional than other events is the death of military personnel. When an IDF helicopter crashed with the loss of six lives during a training mission in Romania, the media devoted extensive coverage of the incident over the course of several days: from the first report of a missing helicopter missing to the funerals of the men on board. There were numerous interviews with experts speculating about the cause of the crash, and reports about the technicians, officers, and military rabbis sent to Romania in order to collect material for inspection and to identify the remains. As has occurred in the case of other military loses, there were stories about each of the individuals, interviews with friends and family members. Thousands of people attend these funerals, many of whom have no direct connection with those killed. 

While there are Israelis who feel strongly about pleasant looking Africans and other children of illegal immigrants, there is no indication that they are able to shape public policy. It is hard to argue with the statement, expressed by several in the government’s majority, who said that an excess of leniency would only add to the problems of a small country, wanting to remain Jewish, and having a border with the poorest region of the world.

Among those quarreling with this sentiment was a prominent television personality who held forth on the value of ethnic variety, and the greater willingness of these immigrants than the ultra-Orthodox to work and to serve in the army.

The government has taken initial steps to build some kind of barrier through the long wasteland that is the border between the  Sinai and Israel, but the Bedouin will be crafty at poking holes in whatever Israel builds. And it is cumbersome at best to deport individuals who have no  documents, may not report truthfully about their origins,  and are not likely to be accepted by whatever homeland Israel would decide is theirs. 
Israel has approached European countries with a request to accept some of these people. So far there are no reports of success. 
Anyone think that the United States would cooperate?

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Jerusalem tourism waxes and wanes with international politics

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–More than two million overseas visitors arrived in Jerusalem during a recent year. The attractions are well maintained places linked to individuals and events featured in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and a functioning Old City enclosed by walls built in ancient times and last reconstructed in the 16th century. The Old City offers sites and shopping for tourists, and four distinctive neighborhoods that are the homes of 30,000 Jews, Muslims, Armenians and other Christians. Only a short ride away is Bethlehem, equally compelling for those wanting to see the roots of Christianity. Jericho is not much further in another direction. It offers winter visitors a chance to dine comfortably in an outdoor restaurant, while ten miles away in Jerusalem it may be raining and close to freezing.
While the numbers coming to Jerusalem are impressive, and often a nuisance to locals having to cope with crowds and traffic, the city ranks lower than 50 others in the numbers of tourists it attracts. London, New York, Bangkok, Paris, and Rome attract from three to seven times the number of international tourists as Jerusalem. Dublin, Amsterdam, and Prague get twice as many, while even Kiev and Bucharest, plus resorts near Bangkok attract 50 percent more international visitors than Jerusalem.

Jerusalem may have more of a mystic pull than these other places. The “Jerusalem syndrome” is a documented condition whereby some visitors believe themselves to be biblical characters. Jewish and Christian sufferers act as David, Jesus, or some other figure associated with their faith. I am not aware of visitors to London and Paris thinking that they are Henry VIII, Napoleon, or any of the other figures associated with local history.
Why does Jerusalem rank only #51 on a sophisticated ranking of international tourism? 
Distance has something to do with it. Visitors to Western Europe can avail themselves of numerous attractive destinations as part of the same trip from home. There are decent beaches and other features in Tel Aviv and Netanya, but they attract only 60 and 10 percent of the overseas visitors as Jerusalem. Tiberias is on the Sea of Galilee and close to sites important to Christians, but draws only 25 percent of the number of visitors to Jerusalem. 
 
There are other sites in countries close to Jerusalem, notably Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, but the borders of the Middle East are not as easy to cross as those of Western Europe. For some years now Israeli security personnel have not allowed Israeli Jews to visit Bethlehem or Jericho without special permits, and others have to pass through barriers and inspections meant to protect us.

Politics and tension are more likely to figure in a decision to visit Jerusalem than other cities. The number of overseas tourists to Israel dropped from 2.4 million in 2000, which was mostly prior to the onset of the latest intifada, to a bit over one million in 2003, which was one of the bloodiest years. Numbers increased to 1.9 million by 2005 when the violence had diminished significantly. No other country included in the regions of Europe and the Mediterranean surveyed by the United Nations tourist agency showed comparable variations in the same period. Even on a mundane issue like this, the U.N. is unable to consider Israel part of the Middle East region, which includes all of the countries bordering it and Palestine.

Jerusalem has drawn more tourists that some well-known sites in Europe. It does better than Florence and Venice, and is pretty much tied with Athens. Why less than Kiev and Bucharest? There are mysteries in the world of tourism that may boil down to nothing more than current fashion or a lack of precision in the numbers.

Tourist flows change with politics and economics. Thirty years ago there was virtually no direct travel between Israel, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Now Russian visitors are in second place behind those from the United States; there are sizable numbers from Ukraine and Poland. Thousands come each year from India, Korea, Japan, China, and Nigeria. Indonesia and Morocco receive Israelis and send visitors to Israel, even though there are no formal diplomatic relations. There are even a few hundred visitors annually from Malaysia and Iran, whose officials are usually among our most intense critics .

My latest Jerusalem experience may be part of a multicultural gesture to attract overseas visitors, or it may reflect nothing more than the lack of experience or attention by the person responsible. While I usually pay no attention to the music piped into the exercise room at the university gym, this morning I became alert to something familiar. It was Silent Night, in the English version I was required to sing many years ago at the Highland School. But only in December. Never in July.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Roll call on Gaza flotilla portrays the values of international community

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Israel was victimized twice this week, first by terrorists hiding yet again among the civilian population (one Turkish-sponsored jihadi boat traveling with five more-or-less civilian boats) and second by a world all too ready to blame Israel for the violence engendered by those who sought a bloody death for themselves and any Jews they could take along. By the end of the week, things began to look more normal-those who are already against remained against; those who try to split the difference split it (consider the “abstain” list below); and a few stood honorably above the rest.   

1) Italy, Netherlands and the United States voted against resolution A/HRC/14/L.1, “Grave Attacks by Israeli Forces against the Humanitarian Boat Convoy” in the UN “Human Rights” Council. It is of note that the major Italian newspapers supported Israel editorially as well. In the United States, public opinion ran strongly in Israel’s favor, as usual. 
 
After a nasty and public denunciation of Israel by President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner, France abstained, probably reminded that in 1985 French commandos sunk a Greenpeace ship in what was called Opération Satanique. (You know what a threat those satanic environmentalists pose to Paris.) France was joined by Belgium, Burkina Faso, Hungary, Japan, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Ukraine and UK.
 
Voting in favor of the commission whose conclusion is in its title were Angola, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, and Uruguay. 
 
Surprised?
 
2) President Obama: He almost got it right in a TV interview, but missed the essential point. “You’ve got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel-Gaza border. I’ve been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people’s bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there.  On the other hand, you’ve got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.”
 
The President doesn’t know, or didn’t say, that Hamas is responsible both for the attacks on Israel and for the misery of the Palestinians in Gaza. Instead, he wanted to “work with all parties concerned-the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis, the Egyptians and others-and I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process once we’ve worked through this tragedy. And bring everybody together…”
 
Aside from the fact that Turkey is fully complicit in the incident and thus should forfeit any seat at any future table, the Palestinian Authority has not represented Gaza Palestinians since Hamas evicted it in a bloody putsch in 2007. Instead of hoping to “bring everybody together…” the President should be working to evict Hamas from Gaza, for the sake of the Palestinians as much as anyone else.
 
3) The Czech Republic: Small countries that know what it means to disappear when others find them inconvenient stick together and we are grateful that they do. The President of the Czech Senate, Dr. Přemysl Sobotka, told Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, “As a doctor, I certainly regret any loss of life, but there is no doubt that this was a planned provocation designed to drag Israel into a trap… Many in the European community feel as I do, but they are afraid to speak out publicly… I support the position that views Hamas as a terrorist organization… It is too bad that European countries present an unbalanced position on this matter. Unfortunately, the positions of the international community are not always to my taste, particularly in Europe.”
 
We are reminded that 18 months ago, the Czech foreign minister issued this statement: “I consider it unacceptable that villages in which civilians live have been shelled. Therefore, Israel has an inalienable right to defend itself against such attacks. The shelling from the Hamas side makes it impossible to consider this organization as a partner for negotiations and to lead any political dialogue with it.”
 
And finally…
 
4) Mesheberach: During the Jewish Sabbath service, there is a prayer is for those who are ill or injured.   The “Mesheberach” includes the name of the person for whom the prayer is offered and, in an unusual practice, the name of the person’s mother rather than his or her father. Whether in the synagogue or not, we hope readers will remember the six soldiers injured while protecting the people of Israel:

Dean Ben (son of) Svetlana
Roee Ben (son of) Shulamit
Daniel Lazar Ben (son of) Tina Leah
Yotam Ben (son of) Dorit
Ido Ben (son of) Ilana
Boris Ben (son of) Eelaina

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

Counter-terrorism specialist says greater efforts needed in host countries

May 22, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C (Press Release)–Following is a speech that Daniel Benjamin, coordinator of the counter-terrorism office in the U.S. State Department, gave on Friday to members of the Washington Institute:

Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to be back at the Washington Institute and see so many familiar faces in the room. Thanks to Matt Levitt for inviting me. A few weeks ago Matt and I shared a panel at the Anti-Defamation League. For 25 years now, the Washington Institute has been putting out quality scholarship on the Middle East – work that I read regularly when I was in the think tank world, but is perhaps even more valuable for me now as a senior U.S. government policymaker. Rob Satloff’s fascinating book and the follow on documentary on the Muslims in North Africa who helped save Jews during the Holocaust shed new light on the events of that era, and has relevance for today as well.

I’m also pleased to be participating in the Washington Institute’s counterterrorism lecture series, which my predecessor Ambassador Dell Dailey kicked off in December 2007, and I know you’ve had at least 20 of the USG’s top counterterrorism officials. I’m particularly glad to have the chance to be here today because as I think most people in this room recognize, there have been some important changes in the nature of the threat in recent months. So I want to discuss with you what those changes are and on how the Obama administration is adapting and re-shaping the way the U.S. combats terrorism both in the short- and in the long-term.

Let me begin with the baseline: Over the last year, al-Qa’ida has suffered a number of important setbacks. As you’ve heard from the leaders of our intelligence community recently, the group remained under pressure in Pakistan due to Pakistani military operations aimed at eliminating militant strongholds in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the FATA. It’s had a number of leadership losses and is finding it more difficult to raise money, train recruits, and plan attacks outside of the region. As my friend and colleague Treasury Assistant Secretary David Cohen noted here last month that AQ is now in the “worst financial shape it has been in for years.”

Of course, this by no means suggests that we can signal the all clear on conspiracies driven by al-Qa’ida’s senior leadership – we know full well that they are still a highly capable, highly innovative and very determined group. But even outside the FATA, the environment is becoming more challenging. Al-Qa’ida has also suffered from popular Muslim disaffection due to recent and past indiscriminate targeting of Muslims by its operatives and allies in Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, and any number of other countries. The number of conservative clerics and former militants speaking out against the organization increased and that’s very good news indeed.

Despite these setbacks to the core leadership, the broader AQ threat is becoming more widely distributed and more geographically and ethnically diversified among affiliates and among those who are inspired by the AQ message. We saw this most dramatically with the attempted December 25th bombing of a U.S. commercial airliner. This incident demonstrated that at least one affiliate – al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula – has not just the will but also the capability to launch a strike targeting the United States at home. We have every expectation that we will hear more from AQAP.

We’ve learned something else important this year: The assumption that Americans have some special immunity to al-Qa’ida’s ideology has been dispelled. While our overall domestic radicalization problem remains significantly less than in many Western nations, several high profile cases demonstrate that we must remain vigilant. As you all know, five Americans from nearby Virginia were arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorist ties. We also have seen Americans traveling to Somalia, ones who ultimately ended up joining al-Shabaab.

We have seen U.S. citizens rise in prominence as proponents of violent extremism. The native Californian Adam Gadahn has become an AQ spokesman, enabling the group to increasingly target its propaganda to Western audiences. Another individual, Omar Hammami, an American citizen who grew up in Alabama, has become an important al-Shabaab voice on the internet. The most notable is Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaqi, who has become the most influential voice of Islamist radicalism among English-speaking extremists and has catalyzed a pool of potential recruits that others had failed to reach. The alleged Ft. Hood attacker Nidal Hasan sought him out for guidance, and the December 25 bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, visited him at least twice in Yemen. We should make no mistake about the nature of Awlaqi: As his recent video declaration of allegiance to al Qa’ida suggests, this is not just an ideologue but someone who incites acts of mass violence against Americans and others, and someone who is at the heart of a group plotting such action.

Another domestic dimension of the changing threat: In the last few months we’ve seen two high-profile law-enforcement cases, individuals who appear to have been trained and handled from the FATA, operating within our borders. Najibullah Zazi, a U.S. lawful permanent resident and airport shuttle driver, trained in Pakistan and recently pleaded guilty to charges that he was planning to set off several bombs in the United States. An American citizen, David Headley, has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to crimes relating to his role in the November 2008 Lashkar e-Tayyiba attacks in Mumbai, which killed more than 160 people – including six Americans. Yes, it’s important to note that we found these people and that our intelligence and law enforcement tripwires worked. But that is not reason enough for complacency. The threat we face is dynamic and evolving.

Now we have the Times Square incident to add to the list. You’ve seen the public remarks from Attorney General Holder about Faisal Shahzad and his links to the Pakistani Taliban, and reports of search warrants that have been executed in several locations in the Northeast in connection with this investigation. Because this is an ongoing investigation I can’t say more but what I can say is that the significance of this case cannot be ignored.

Obviously, these changes that we have seen in the threat challenge us in important ways. A Nigerian suicide bomber – someone with virtually no prior record of involvement in terrorism who can be effectively launched at us from Yemen – this presents a real intelligence and security challenge; and, so too does the appearance of operatives in the U.S. who are legal residents or citizens but are connected with AQ or another radical group in South Asia.

Clearly, there is a requirement to improve our intelligence, and without going into details here, I can assure you that the Intelligence Community is working hard on this. And there are challenges for our defenses – especially our aviation security, since aviation remains at the top of the list of al-Qa’ida’s targets – as they have demonstrated recently through both successful and unsuccessful plots directed at aircraft. The United States has taken steps, both on its own and with international partners to bolster aviation security in the wake of the failed bombing on Christmas Day.

Under Secretary Napolitano’s leadership, we have been working closely with the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization, the G8, and other multilateral fora to lead a global initiative to strengthen the international aviation system against the evolving threats posed by terrorists. Over the past several months, the USG has signed joint declarations with numerous foreign partners on improving information sharing, strengthening aviation security measures and standards, and working together to develop and deploy new security technologies to airports around the world. We have also strengthened the watchlisting system and developed new, more flexible security protocols based on real-time, threat-based intelligence. These measures consist of multiple layers of security, seen and unseen, which are tailored to intelligence about potential threats.

Defenses, of course, are an essential part of the equation. But another equally vital part of the equation is engaging with the other countries that are being used as platforms by terrorists and working with them to contain, reduce, and eliminate these threats. Given what we have seen over the last year and the years before, Pakistan and Yemen are today the countries of greatest concern. So let me turn to our efforts with them.

First Pakistan: Pakistan, we should all remember, is a front-line partner in fighting extremists. We provide a spectrum of assistance to Pakistani counterterrorism campaigns which range from police training to anti-money laundering efforts. Undoubtedly the hundreds of millions of dollars directed to Pakistani counterterrorism efforts have saved American lives and we shouldn’t forget that Pakistan has put out-of-business more al-Qa’ida operatives than any other country.

Over the past year, the U.S. government has seen very encouraging signs that Pakistan not only recognizes the severity of the threat from violent extremists, but is actively working to counter and constrain it. Pakistani military operations in Swat and Waziristan have eliminated militant strongholds and damaged the operational abilities of extremist groups. Moreover, we are seeing increasing cross-border cooperation with Afghanistan and ISAF forces, which is instrumental in the reduction of key militant safe havens. And in the wake of the operation in Swat, we have seen public opinion turn more decisively against the militants.

In late March, with the beginning of the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan, we started a new phase in our partnership; with a new focus and a renewed commitment to work together to achieve the goals we share: stability, prosperity, and opportunity for the people of both Pakistan and the United States. While this wasn’t the first Strategic Dialogue between our countries, it was the first at the ministerial level, and it reflects the Administration’s commitment to its success. Under the Kerry-Lugar legislation we will be providing Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year for 5 years to address key developmental issues.

The discussions in the Strategic Dialogue generated new momentum and mutual trust to jointly tackle the extremist groups who threaten both Pakistan’s security and the U.S.’s security. And I should mention that under this new Dialogue, I will travel to Islamabad for the second time in three months with an interagency team in June to discuss terrorism with the Pakistanis. During the trip, both countries will discuss how to better use non-military capabilities to fight extremism.

We have seen tangible evidence of Pakistan’s commitment to clamping down on extremist networks operating within its borders. As you know, several top Afghan Taliban leaders – including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – have been apprehended, and we are grateful to the Pakistani authorities for this.

Immediately after the Times Square incident, we also began working closely with the Government of Pakistan on the investigation and they’ve been cooperative in assisting our efforts and we will continue to work with Islamabad on this important prosecution.

Let me turn to Yemen. It’s important to remember that Yemen did not turn into an al-Qa’ida safe haven overnight. In fact, Yemen was arguably the very first front, since the December 1992 al-Qa’ida attempt to bomb U.S. troops was probably the first genuine al-Qa’ida attack in Aden. Those troops, you may recall, were en route to Somalia to support the UN mission there – almost eight years before the USS Cole attack in 2000. Al-Qa’ida has had a foothold in Yemen since the organization’s earliest days and it’s always been a major concern for the United States.

When the Obama administration came into office, it was clear that the Government of Yemen was distracted by other domestic security concerns, and our bilateral cooperation had experienced real setbacks and al Qa’ida was on the rise. In the spring of 2009, the administration initiated a full-scale review of our Yemen policy. The review has led to a new, whole-of-government approach to Yemen.

To advance this strategy, we’ve engaged consistently and intensively with our Yemeni counterparts. Senior administration civilian and military officials – including Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, General Petraeus, and myself –visited Yemen to discuss how we can jointly confront the threat of al-Qa’ida. The result has been a significant – and we hope enduring – turn by the government in taking on al-Qa’ida consistently. Those actions, it is important to emphasize, began before the December 25th plot, and have continued ever since.

Now, Yemen has conducted multiple operations designed to disrupt AQAP’s operational planning and to deprive its leadership of safe haven within Yemeni territory.

We recognize that al-Qa’ida has taken advantage of insecurity in various regions of Yemen that have been worsened by internal conflicts. We also know that Yemen is grappling with serious poverty – it is the poorest country in the Arab world. This lack of resources inhibits good governance, the delivery of services, and the effectiveness of the security that is needed to deal with terrorism. So to have any chance of success, U.S. counterterrorism policy has to be conceived in strategic and not merely tactical terms and timelines. That’s why the administration has adopted a two-pronged strategy for Yemen – helping the government confront the immediate security concern of al-Qa’ida and mitigating the serious political, economic, and governance issues that the country faces over the long term. Not only are we working to constrict the space in which al-Qa’ida can operate in Yemen by building up the Yemeni capacity to deal with the security threats within their borders, we are also working to develop government capacity to deliver basic services and economic growth.

This dual strategy will help Yemen confront the immediate security concern of al-Qa’ida, but also to mitigate the serious political and economic issues that the country faces in the longer term. It is a strategy that requires full Yemeni partnership. It is a strategy that requires working closely with regional partners and allies. It is a strategy that requires hard work and American resources. The challenges are great, and they are many; but the risk of doing nothing is far too grave.

What we are doing in Yemen, what we are doing in Pakistan, is what we are doing in many other countries: building capacity. Consistent diplomatic engagement with counterparts and senior leaders helps build political will for common counterterrorism objectives. When there is that political will, we can address the nuts and bolts aspect of capacity building. We are working to make the training of police, prosecutors, border officials, and members of the judiciary more systematic, more innovative, and more far-reaching. Capacity building also includes counterterrorist finance training; it represents a whole-of-government approach. This is both good counterterrorism and good statecraft. We are addressing the state insufficiencies that terrorism thrives on, and we are helping invest our partners more effectively in confronting the threat–rather than have them look thousands of miles away for help or simply look away altogether.

Ok, I’ve focused on the some of the diplomat’s traditional tools – engagement, building political will, and capacity building. I think we’re deploying these tools well. But the diversification of the threat I’ve described means that we can’t stop there. We need to both use all of the tools in our toolbox, and to innovate and create new ones, to continue to stay ahead of the threat and to maintain and strengthen our defenses.

For example, we need to advance our agenda of building international security cooperation against the terrorist threat. Our allies in Europe have become central partners in the counterterrorism arena, as a number of the plots in recent years illustrate dramatically just how intertwined U.S. and European security interests have grown.

With American and European fates so closely linked, it is essential that we work together even more closely to prevent al-Qa’ida and its affiliates from carrying out a successful attack. The Treasury’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Program and DHS’s Passenger Name Record program are both critically important tools in this effort, and have proven instrumental in protecting the security of both Americans and Europeans alike.

Given the importance of these programs to both U.S. and European security, we and the Europeans have a longstanding partnership to protect both the security of our citizens and their personal data. We know our two approaches to protecting privacy have more in common than divides them and we both share a strong commitment to protecting human rights. The challenge is to reach agreement on the proper balance between security and privacy without impeding the operation of vital programs and creating security gaps that have the potential to harm not only American citizens, but individuals from Europe and beyond as well.

There is one more key area in which we need to innovate. In the past eight years, the United States has made great strides in what might be called tactical counterterrorism – taking individual terrorists off the street, and disrupting cells and their operations. But an effective counterterrorism strategy must go beyond efforts to thwart those who seek to harm the United States and its citizens, allies, and interests. Military power, intelligence operations, and law enforcement efforts alone will not solve the long-term challenge that we face – the threat of violent extremism. Instead, we must look as well to the political, economic, and social factors that terrorist organizations exploit and to the ideology that is their key instrument in pushing vulnerable individuals down the path toward violence. As President Obama succinctly put it, “A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone.”

Quite simply, we need to do a better job to reduce the recruitment of terrorists. To combat terrorism successfully, we have to isolate violent extremists from the people they pretend to serve. In the government, we refer to this as Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE. Many have attempted CVE efforts over a number of years from a number of different agencies but without sufficient focus. Now we have an administration that is committed to cutting down on radicalization and recruitment.

The indiscriminate targeting of Muslim civilians by violent extremists that I mentioned before in Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere has alienated populations, led to a decline of support for al-Qa’ida’s political program, and outraged influential clerics and former allies – who in many cases have spoken publicly against terrorism.

But we cannot count on al-Qa’ida to put itself out of business. So we are also focusing our efforts on undermining the narrative and preventing the radicalization of vulnerable or alienated individuals.

We are working to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of the communities in which violent extremism has taken root. Every at-risk community possesses unique political, economic, and social factors that contribute to the radicalization process. For this reason, we know that one-size-fits-all programs have limited appeal. Instead, programs need to be tailored to fit the characteristics of the audience. “Micro-strategies” need to be customized for specific communities – and even neighborhoods – and they will have a better chance of succeeding and enduring.

We also know that credible, local voices have to take the lead in their own communities. They are the ones best placed to convey counter-narratives capable of discrediting violent extremism. The U.S. government is simply not going to be the most credible interlocutor in this conversation so we are working to identify reliable partners and amplify legitimate voices. The United States can help empower these local actors through programmatic assistance, funding, or by simply providing them with space – physical or electronic – to challenge violent extremist views. Non-traditional actors such as NGOs, foundations, public-private partnerships, and private businesses are some of the most capable and credible partners in local communities. The U.S. government and partner nations are also seeking to develop greater understanding of the linkages between Diaspora communities and ancestral homelands. Through familial and business networks, events that affect one community have an impact on the other.

With the aid of credible messengers, the United States is trying to make the use of terrorist violence taboo and to trump the radical narrative, and also hope to offer something more hopeful. President Obama’s effort to create partnerships with Muslim communities on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, as he outlined in speeches in Ankara and Cairo, provides an opportunity to promote a more positive story than the negative one promulgated by al-Qa’ida.

Clearly, we have not figured it all out. Al-Qa’ida is a nimble adversary, and we have a never-ending race to protect our country and stay one step ahead. Because of the flatness of their organization, a high-level of inspiration, and ingenuity, we need to be on top of our game all the time. We need to keep mind the words of the 9/11 Commission Report, which in this respect got it precisely right: “It is crucial”, they wrote “to find ways of routinizing and even bureaucratizing the exercise of the imagination.” This is really the paramount and enduring challenge we face. Staying sharp, innovating our defensive systems and maintaining our intellectual edge – these are all essential.

Well, I know a speech at the Washington Institute would be incomplete without some discussion of the other side of the terrorism coin, the state sponsors of terrorism. And they are among the USG’s highest priorities as well. Together with Matt Levitt, I spoke at length on this exact subject recently at the ADL conference, and I’d refer you to my remarks from that event, which are posted on the State Department website.

It’s important not to forget that Iran remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, supporting Hizballah, HAMAS, and other terrorist Palestinian groups. And Syria has also provided political and material support to Hizballah in Lebanon and allowed Iran to resupply it with weapons. In early April, we reiterated our grave concerns and alarm to the Syrians over reports that they may have provided SCUD missiles to Hizballah.

We have spoken out forcefully about the grave dangers of Syria’s transfer of weapons to that group. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms and have expressed our concerns directly to the Syrian government. Transferring weapons to Hizballah – especially longer-range missiles – poses a serious threat to the security of Israel. It would have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the region. And if such weapons cross into Lebanon, it would absolutely violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans the unauthorized importation of any weapons into Lebanon.

We do not accept such provocative and destabilizing behavior – nor should the international community. President Assad is making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region. We know he’s hearing from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. It is crucial that he also hear from us directly, so that the potential consequences of his actions are clear. That’s why we are sending an ambassador back to Syria. There should be no mistake, either in Damascus or anywhere else: The United States is not reengaging with Syria as a reward or as a concession. Engagement is a tool that can give us added leverage and insight, and a greater ability to convey strong and unmistakably clear messages aimed at Syria’s leadership.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I look forward to your questions.

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Preceding transcript provided by the U.S. State Department

Illegal immigration is a global problem

May 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Ira Sharkansky

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–You want to look at a conundrum? (a problem without a solution)

Immigration reform is a good example.
A NYT article describes efforts at producing some kind of amnesty along with “tougher enforcement.”
Can any country control its borders, and also preserve its morality?
Tougher enforcement will mean random deportations while pressure in the source countries will keep the migrants flowing.
And as the NYT article indicates, the ideological desire of conservatives to guard the borders comes up against another ideological principle of the same people: no national identity cards.
It may be possible to cobble together what politicians will applaud as a reform. It might clean the books of some millions presently defined as illegal, and manage to keep a bit of the continuing flow south of the border or on the other side of the barriers in international ports. Then the next generation or half-generation of observers will notice that there are millions of others who have slipped through the safeguards.
Would anyone out there prefer remaining in Mexico, where some 22,000 people have been killed in an undeclared civil war over the last four years? The people most likely at risk if they stay in Mexico are those most likely to risk a great deal in order to reach someplace better. 
European countries are no better off. Their problems are not with Hispanics but with Muslims and other Africans. Perhaps they are a tad worse, insofar as at least some of the Muslims are nastier than Hispanics.
While Hispanics may turn the American White Protestant paradise into something else, the migrants to Europe may extend the Islamic conquest throughout what had been Christian Europe.
Israel’s problems are with Africans who come through the Sinai and over the border from Egypt. Occasionally Egyptian soldiers shoot migrants before they get to the border. It is not the best solution for Israeli moralists. 
Illegal immigrants to Israel aspire to sympathy by saying that they come from Dafur. Some few may actually be Sudanese, but most are  Nigerians, Eritreans, Ghanaians, and a scattering of other Africans.
As elsewhere, the problems are what to do with them? Humanitarians do not want to send them back. Often they cannot be sent back because they come without any documents that would indicate where they should be sent, or what countries should accept them. Some come from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. 
Generally they are allowed to work. As in Europe and America, Israeli restaurants need dishwashers, hotels need maids, and the better neighborhoods need gardeners, house cleaners, and care providers for children and grandparents.
There are occasional sweeps by the immigration police, but random justice does not solve much of the problem. Often it puts individuals in confinement who cannot be sent any place. That keeps the unfortunate from working and supporting themselves, while it provides work for journalists and social activists who lament their treatment.
Illegal immigrants also have children, either with the help of one another or with proper Israelis. Kids born here have citizenship, and present the problem of confining or deporting a parent without the child.
Some illegal immigrants bring children with them. They retain their illegal status while going to school, learning Hebrew, and in some cases serving in the army. They identify as Israelis rather than with a place they do not remember. The messiness of the Law or Return produces situations where non-Jews who immigrated with a Jewish spouse find themselves subject to deportation after a divorce. 
Each of these oddities provides material for the media and problems for the authorities.
And let’s not forget the other significant class of illegal immigrants: Eastern European women.
Some claim to have been duped into thinking they would be waitresses or models. That excuse may have been valid for the first lot of girls leaving their villages in Moldavia or the Ukraine, but is not persuasive as the trade is well beyond its first decade.
Honesty requires one to admit that this migration is no less useful than that of African dishwashers, cleaners, gardeners, and care givers. Some  may claim that the ladies serve Arabs and sailors, but there is also a market among ultra-Orthodox men and other Jews, present company excluded. 
The NYT article suggests that immigration reform is a plaything of politicians trying to please inspired constituents. They want solutions now, without reckoning with next year, or what it might take to actually solve a problem that seems endless, with many Americans who benefit from the work done by the migrants.  
Better to enjoy those restaurant meals, neat gardens, clean houses, and well tended children and grandparents. 
No country that I know of has found an acceptable solution, and it ain’t gonna to come from the US Congress.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Schmooze and News for all us Jews

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

 By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — Okoronkwo Umeham and his wife, Gail Feurzeig Umeham, have heard rumors that the Mexican government may apologize for his wrongful incarceration in a Tijuana Federal Detention Center earlier this month, but so far that is all that the reports have turned out to be – rumors.   To my way of thinking, far worse than the fact that the Nigerian-American was detained for carrying soup vegetables that Mexican Marines mistook for drugs, was his being chained hand and foot even as he was being taken back to the U.S. border to be set free.  Why should a man be humiliated with shackles and manacles when it already has been determined that he is innocent?   That’s the biggest outrage. 

*
I’ve received a press release from District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis (who is Jewish) that she’s supporting  a member of her staff, Deputy District Attorney Richard Monroy, for the Superior Court judgeship from which Bob Coates is retiring.  With the flap about how Dumanis frequently has exercised the right of peremptory challenge to prevent certain out-of-favor judges from hearing criminal cases, it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to her own handpicked candidate for the bench.  If there is any backlash against Dumanis’ policies, the Monroy judgeship (assuming he draws an opponent) may be a test case.

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In the race for the 6th District seat of the San Diego City Council being vacated by Donna Frye, we were pleased to read that an old friend and a member of our community, Deputy State Attorney General Howard Wayne, has taken the lead in fundraising.  Given the crowded field, he will need television time to remind everyone of his records of accomplishments during the six years (maximum three terms) he served this area as a state assemblyman.

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My guess is that a lot of Jews who voted for Barack Obama for President will go over to the Republican side next election—assuming that the Republicans nominate someone who seems to be a reasonable choice.  John McCain, in my opinion, would have gotten more Jewish votes than he did, but for the fact that Sarah Palin seemed to so many of us to be an off-the-wall choice for vice president.  Now, with bad feeling between the leaders of Israel and the United States near an all-time high, many Jewish Democrats and independents will hope the GOP will find someone who is moderate on domestic issues and willing to stick by the Israelis even though the rest of the world is ganging up on them.

**

Jennie Starr, who already has pioneered social gatherings for Hebrew speakers in the county, now is exploring the possibility of creating a public charter school in which the Hebrew language would be taught in secular fashion.  Starr indicates that one possible venue for such a school might be the Carmel Valley area, which can be reached by coastal communities by Interstate 5 and by inland communities by State Route 56.   Before such a school can be established, there are many hoops to jump through –not the least of which is showing that there is sufficient support in the community at large to make such a school viable.

**

Navras Jaat Aafreedi, a gentleman in India whose articles about Jewish life there have been carried by this publication, tells us:  “As I attempt to craft a course on Jewish History and Culture – which would be the first university-level course of its kind in South Asia – I am also attempting to have a section of our library devoted to Jewish Studies.”  Anyone who wishes to help him should send books or DVDs by registered mail to him at the School of Social Sciences and Buddhist Studies at Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, Yamuna Expressway, Gautam Buddha Nagar – 201 308, Uttar Pradesh, India. 
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Bruce Kesler spotted the story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the new Assembly Speaker John Perez.  Growing up in a mixed Jewish and Latino area of Los Angeles, he learned to speak a bissel Yiddish. …  The Jerusalem Post reported that when Israel sent medical teams to Haiti following the massive earthquake earlier this year, it prompted some Jews to recall how Haiti had provided refuge to their families escaping from Hitler’s Germany and nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.    

Nigerian-American shackled in Mexico in mistaken drug arrest at border

March 21, 2010 10 comments
 
 
 
 

Gail and Okoronkwo Umeham together again after his Mexican incarceration

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – Okoronkwo Umeham, 73, has led a distinguished life in his native Nigeria; in the United Kingdom where he worked as a social worker; and finally in the United States, his country of citizenship, where he counsels troubled juveniles.  Residents from the Eastern Nigerian village of Arochukwu, where he grew up, know him as an elder and mediator of villagers’ disputes as well as a contemporary and confidant of the region’s hereditary king.  From his earnings, Umeham  (Oooh-MAY-ham) supports four adults and pays the school fees for six students in Nigeria.  Known for his kindness his whole life, Umeham  has served as the elected president of the Arochukwu Association of Southern California.  He is also considered an authority on the traditions and customs of his Igbo people.

None of that mattered on Monday afternoon, March 15, when he crossed the Mexican border from San Diego to Tijuana.  Mexican Marines manning the crossing inspected his packages in which he was carrying dried fish and various kinds of dried spices that are used to make a Nigerian soup  known as Ugu—ingredients which he had planned to bring to a younger villager living in Tijuana who hungered for home cooking.   Although the soup ingredients are legally sold in African markets in San Diego and Mexico City, the border guards assumed the worst – that Umeham was smuggling into the country marijuana, or khat, or some other sort of hallucinogenic drug.

Some of the spices carried by Okoronkwo Umeham into Mexico

Two days later, after chemical tests proved that Umeham had told the truth—that he had brought nothing more dangerous from San Diego to Tijuana than some soup ingredients —he was allowed to return to the United States.   But by then, reports had been carried in Mexican newspapers and on the Internet that he had been arrested for attempting to smuggle khat, a hallucinogenic, into Mexico.  These reports besmirched the name of an honorable man.  And to make matters worse, this distinguished African-born American had been slapped into handcuffs and shackles, and forced to painfully shuffle to and from interviews in a Mexican federal detention center like a slave brought to North America in the worst days of the 18th century slave trade.

Umeham is the husband of Gail Umeham, associate editor of San Diego Jewish World, and through 36 years of marriage to her, he is a man who has become well known in the San Diego Jewish community.   His wife is a member of San Diego’s extended Feurzeig family, whose members through birth and marriage include San Diego National Bank founder Charles Feurzeig (her uncle  American Israel Public Affairs Committee leader in San Diego, Leslie Caspi (her cousin) and Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra conductor David Amos (her cousin).

On March 18, the evening after he was released without so much as an apology from the Mexican authorities, the Umehams met with me, my wife Nancy, and with David and Lee Amos, and related what had happened to him.   Anyone who travels into Mexico from the United States needs to become acquainted with his story, if for no other reason than similar outrages may befall them.

Living in Tijuana and engaged to be married there is Xavier Nnanna Nwafor, who in traditional Igbo fashion considers Okoronkwo (Oh-koh-RON-kwo) or “Mr. Okoronkwo” as he respectfully refers to him,  to be his uncle, although the relationship is generational rather than of blood.  The wife of Okoronkwo’s eldest brother is the sister of Nnanna’s father.

While ingredients for the African soup are readily attainable in San Diego, they are not available in Tijuana.  Nnanna does not yet have an American visa, so he cannot come to San Diego to buy them.  Nor is it possible on his limited income to fly to the next closest place where they are known to be available, Mexico City.   So he asked Okoronkwo if he possibly could purchase the ingredients for him.   

Okoronkwo took some to Nnanna last September without incident and kept some for himself at his home in San Diego.  He still had ingredients left over last Monday, when Nnanna again had that craving for the spicy soup, which traditionally is soaked up and eaten with a handful of farina made from pounded yams. 

Okoronkwo decided that he would drive to Tijuana, give the ingredients to Nnanna, and then return to San Diego.  He had $544 in cash with him—money he intended to take to a Western Union office in San Diego to be sent to Nigeria for school fees.  He expected to be back at his house in time to take their pet Schnauzer, Dandy, for an afternoon walk.

The ingredients that Okoronkwo packed into his recycled Trader Joe’s grocery bag were olugbu, ugu, uzaki, and oha.  Olugbu is a type of grass that is washed and dried in the sun, and washed again to reduce the bitterness.  Ugu, uzaki and oha are types of green vegetables that are also dried.  To these vegetable bases are added three types of fish—cod, catfish and tilapia—as well as some thickeners known as ahi and ogbolo.   Okoronkwo packed some of these ingredients in the original packages purchased from African Caribbean Food at 4811 El Cajon Blvd.   Others he placed in Ziploc Bags. 

He parked his car at a lot adjacent to the border and walked into Mexico through the turnstile.  A few yards after entering Mexico, he came to a table with four Mexican Marine guards behind it.  He presented his shoulder and grocery bags for what he assumed was routine inspection.

According to Okoronkwo: “They went for the olugbu—they said ‘what is this?’  I said ‘it is an ingredient for soup.’  They said, ‘Are you a hotelier?’  I said,  ‘No, I am taking it to my nephew.”  They said,’where is your nephew?’”  Okoronkwo pointed down the pathway, to where it led into Tijuana.  “I said ‘I can see him on the other side.’”

The Marines called an official who again questioned Okoronkwo.  The official pantomimed someone smoking marijuana, saying that is what the ingredients looked like to him.  Okoronkwo said he responded, “No, it is not; it is a vegetable, washed and dried.”  The official asked, “ganja?” and Okoronkwo again answered in the negative.

Another official came, took a pinch of it, and lit it with a match.  The burning odor was not that of marijuana.  Eventually, the officials laid out all the bags and walked a sniffer dog past them.  The dog was not interested in any of the ingredients.  They had the dog make a second pass.  Again, no reaction.

As the entry line behind Okoronkwo continued to back up, the Marines radioed for another dog, which arrived in the company of a full detachment of Mexican Marines commanded by an officer.   The second dog showed no interest in the substance, but the officer put it to his nose and smelled it.  He said something in Spanish that Okoronkwo thought meant “it isn’t anything” but to his surprise, some members of the detachment of Marines placed his arms behind him, tied his hands with plastic, pulled the belt from his pants, and went into his  pockets, removing his $544, credit cards, reading glasses and a gold chain. 

 “Do I get a receipt?” he asked.   “No,” they shook their heads.  Then he was placed in the middle van of a caravan of three vehicles, with a guard flanking him on either side and a driver in the front.  As they drove a distance to the federal holding facility known as the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) he counted 14 soldiers in the vehicle in front of him.  He couldn’t tell how many were in the rear vehicle.

Federal Detention Center in Tijuana

The PGR turned out to be a large building, and when the vans reached its parking lot, they effected a practiced maneuver. The Marines emerged from the first van to keep guard as Okoronkwo was directed to get out of the van.  He already had his arms behind him, but now they fastened shackles to his legs so tightly that he winced in pain. 

“I didn’t know how to walk with the shackles—I wanted to take a good stride—and I almost fell flat on my face, but they caught me,” Okoronkwo said. “And then I started shuffling, you know.  And we went up the steps – I think it was the fourth or fifth floor—it took about 15 minutes before I could get up there, with shackles on my feet.”

Once upstairs, the Marines gave to the officials at the federal detention facility all the valuables that they had taken from Okoronkwo and soon departed.  Prison guards took him to a cell measuring approximately eight feet by five feet. They removed the shackles and handcuffs, but the restraints were put back on him whenever he was taken from his cell.

“There was an internee in the cell when I arrived and he was up on top of the bunk,” Okoronkwo said. “The beds had no mattress, no bedding, no nothing.  And the toilet was filled with feces. The whole area was smelly… And I sat down there and tears came down my face.”

**
Gail Umeham, meanwhile, had picked up two of her grandchildren at their schools and had played with them at Lake Murray, unaware that Okoronkwo was even missing.  When her son, Arthur Lupsha, came in the late afternoon with his wife, Kelly, to collect the grandchildren, he asked Gail if she and Okoronkwo would like to go to a restaurant with them all for dinner. Gail told her son to call his Papa and ask him about dinner. 

When she arrived at her San Carlos home approximately 6 p.m., Dandy barked a greeting to her at the door but Okoronkwo was not around.  Perhaps, she thought, he went to the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center for a routine EKG.   So she took Dandy for a long walk, returning about 7:30 p.m.  The phone was ringing.  It was Nnanna calling from Tijuana.  He reported that Okoronkwo had failed to arrive for their scheduled meeting.  Perhaps, Nnanna said, it had something to do with the change in American time to daylight savings time, perhaps Okoronkwo had come an hour earlier. Gail was surprised that Okoronkwo  had gone to Tijuana. She told Nnanna she would ask Okoronkwo to call him as soon as he got home.  

Gail did not become seriously worried until 9:30 p.m., still having heard no word from Okoronkwo.  She telephoned my house, and I suggested that she call the non-emergency police number to see if they had heard about any accidents between the San Carlos neighborhood and the border.  The police checked, there were no accidents, but in learning that Okoronkwo was 73 years old, and not in the habit of being away from home in the evening, they decided to send a policeman out to make a missing person report.    Nancy and I decided to go over to Gail’s house to keep a vigil with her.

As we arrived, Gail was on the telephone.  With great relief, we could hear that she was speaking with Okoronkwo. But the relief was momentary. She learned that he was in a Tijuana prison and that the authorities there thought he was carrying illegal drugs.  The San Diego policeman arrived a few minutes later, and was glad to hear that Okoronkwo had been located in apparent good health.  He gave to Gail a sheet with phone numbers that could be called in various circumstances.  Included was the after-hours number for the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana.

**

Okoronkwo had remained seated on his bed in his prison cell until the night shift came in.  He would not use the stinking toilet, and he refused tortillas and beans which had been brought to him.  Food amid such an awful smell would have sickened him.  Eventually, a guard came into the cell.  The other inmate, who was approximately 45 years old, but, according to Okoronkwo “looked 75” was snoring, groaning and mumbling loudly in his sleep.  The guard decided to move the man to another cell.  Okoronkwo indicated the toilet with disgust, and the guard called in another man and the two of them cleaned it out.   However, the stench remained.

About 10:30 p.m. he was re-shackled and brought from the cell to the detention facility offices, where he was motioned to sit down in front of the desk of Victor Flores.  The room was a typical office, with approximately five desks, chairs, computers and from two to four other personnel at various times.

One of the men present appeared to be in his mid-twenties, and in broken English he told Okoronkwo that “what I brought into the country would be sent for testing and that they cannot hold me for more than 48 hours.  The completion of the testing had to be done within 24 hours so they will know what is to be done.”  The official also told Okoronkwo that he could get his own lawyer, or a government lawyer would represent him.

Okoronkwo told Flores he wanted to be able to tell Gail where he was, and Flores obliged by having an interpreter place a phone call to her.  Okoronkwo told his wife about his situation, and, in answer to her question, acknowledged that he had not eaten.  He also mentioned that he did not have his medications for high blood pressure or shoulder pain with him.

He then was taken back to his cell, but was returned to the administrator’s office on two occasions that night.  One time was to meet with the public defender, who didn’t speak English.  A new interpreter was found, and she told Okoronkwo that he should not make any statements to the prosecutor unless a lawyer was present, and that he had the choice of untilizing public defender or his own private lawyer. 

The second time was to meet with Nnanna, who had persuaded a guard at the entrance to the facility to let him come up to speak with Okoronkwo even though it was after regular hours.  When Nnanna saw Okoronkwo, his benefactor and distinguished elder of his village, in shackles and being pushed toward him, he cried to see such a man being so humiliated.  Okoronkwo comforted Nnanna instead of vice versa.   “Why do they have you chained; you are not a criminal!’ Nnanna exclaimed.  “It is the way they do it here in Mexico,” said Okoronkwo.  “Don’t worry,  they will let me go within 48 hours.”

When Nnanna learned that Okoronkwo had not eaten anything, he volunteered to bring him some food from the outside.  He went to an all-night restaurant and purchased a chicken sandwich, bottled water, and some salad, but he was not permitted to go back upstairs to bring the food to Okoronkwo.  He persuaded a guard to have it delivered to the prisoner.  

While this discussion was occurring, Rabbi Carlos Salas Diaz of Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California, his son Elias, who is an attorney, and a female member of the congregation who coincidentally is a staff member at the federal detention center, came to the facility to inquire after Okoronkwo.

I had telephoned Rabbi Salas Diaz approximately at 11 p.m. to tell him of our emergency and to explain that, while not Jewish himself, Okoronkwo was a member of a well-known Jewish family in San Diego.   Rabbi Salas Diaz kindly offered to see what he could do.  

On the approach of the rabbi and his entourage, the prison guard at the entrance told Nnanna to hide so that whoever was coming would not see that an unauthorized person was on the premises.  Nnanna said he assumed the guards were concerned that the visitors might realize he was a Nigerian and probably there to see Okoronkwo. 

Nnanna said he could not hear the conversation between the rabbi and the prison officials but estimated that his party spent about an hour at the facility.  The rabbi was not given permission to see Okoronkwo directly, so he sent up his card, which was delivered to Okoronkwo as was the food purchased by Nnanna.  

Okoronkwo protested that he could not eat the food in the foul atmosphere of his cell, so he was permitted—again while shackled—to eat in the administrator’s office.   It was about 4:30 a.m. by the time he ate something.  

In the meantime, a medical functionary came around to visit the prisoners and to ask if they had any problems which needed attending.  There was a certain irony to this, because a similar position had been one of Okoronkwo’s earliest jobs in the United Kingdom as a social worker.  Okoronkwo told the man that he took ibuprofen for his injured shoulder and also wrote down the name of his blood pressure medicine.  The medications were delivered to him.   Unwilling to sleep, Okoronkwo sat on his cot into Tuesday morning, March 16, until a guard shook his shoulder and said that a representative of the American consulate in Tijuana was waiting to interview him.

Again placed in shackles, Okoronkwo met a man who appeared to him to be  between 35 and 40 years of age.  He was Anglo with what seemed only a halting command of Spanish, and he seemed quite standoffish, a bureaucrat dispensing with a task without showing any interest or concern for Okoronkwo personally. 

The man told Okoronkwo what the Mexican officials had already told him, that they were examining whether the contents of his bags were hallucinogenic and that they had to make a decision within 48 hours about what to do with him.  The official told Okoronkwo that the Mexicans had a different system of justice than Americans, and that he should be very careful about what he said.  Okoronkwo observed that as he doesn’t speak Spanish, he was unlikely to make any chance remark that might give offense.   The consular official gave Okoronkwo a 26-page pamphlet outlining Mexican processes and suggested that he read it.  

Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: A Guide for U.S. Citizens Arrested in Mexico contains an introduction, a short essay on key legal differences between the United States and Mexico, “Being Arrested in Mexico,” “Life Inside a Mexican Jail,” “How the State Department Can Help,” a List of Mexican criminal attorneys, a glossary, an explanation of the defendant’s Mexican constitutional rights, a place for notes and contact information.

About life inside the jail, it said: “Mexican jails usually do not provide all the amenities that U.S. jails do.  Depending on how long you are going to be incarcerated, you should consider making arrangements with friends or family to have money, food and other necessities delivered to you.  Many prisons supply only the very minimum necessities.  In others, prisoners may have to purchase their own food, clothing, bedding and even pay rent on their cell.  Although prison regulations require that prisoners have access to medical care, the standard of care varies widely….”

Okoronkwo said he told the consular official that his money and belongings had been confiscated, but no receipt had been given.  The consular official told him not to expect one in Mexico, that likely he would never see the money again.  But, in fact, the consular official would be proven wrong.  All of Okoronkwo’s belongings were returned to him by the Mexicans, without a single thing being missing.

Okoronkwo told the consular official that he had left his car in the parking lot on the U.S. side of the border and expressed concern that the car should not be towed away in his absence.   Again Okoronkwo asked for an opportunity to speak with his wife, and the consular official placed a call on his cell phone to her.   Okoronkwo reassured Gail that he was okay.  Gail asked the consular official to please call her as soon as Okoronkwo’s fate was learned, which he said he would.  He didn’t.  Nor did he ever contact Okoronkwo again about the car.

On the way out of the PGR, the consular official spotted Nnanna, and recognizing him as a Nigerian, asked if he was Okoronkwo’s nephew.  Nnanna confirmed that he was, and the official gave him another copy of the pamphlet on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System.

Nnanna visited Okoronkwo  during regular visiting hours on Tuesday, March 16, again bringing food.  Okoronkwo, required to wear a prison vest, had his handcuffs so tight that he could not lift a water bottle to his lips.   Nnanna had to hold the water bottle for his elder.  Okoronkwo said he needed a toothbrush because he had not been able to brush his teeth since he was arrested.  PGR officials, however, told Nnannna that toothbrushes were forbidden to prisoners.

**

Nnanna, Cynthia and Okoronkwo during latter’s visit to Tijuana in September

Nnanna’s fiancée, Cynthia Angelica Manzo Gonzales, accompanied Nnanna on his trips to the PGR although she waited outside.  The couple had met on-line, while Nnanna was living in Mexico City.  After a correspondence, she accepted an invitation to meet him there in December 2008.  For Nnanna, Cynthia represents an instant family: she has a 13-year-old son, Christian.  Her father, retired attorney Francisco Manzo Bedolla, is a retired  corporate lawyer.  After learning what had happened to Nnanna’s uncle, Bedolla contacted an attorney friend of his who specializes in criminal law, Julio Cesar Bustamantes Sanches.

Rabbi Salas Diaz meanwhile had telephoned Gail during the wee hours of Tuesday morning, but she had fallen into a fitful sleep.  He left a message on her phone, expressing optimism that Okoronkwo would get out the following morning.  At 7:30 a.m., he called again, still sounding optimistic.  But at 10:30 a.m., when he made a third call to Gail, the rabbi sounded pessimistic.    It was not long after that, that Okoronkwo called on the consular official’s phone.  Reassuring Gail that he was physically unharmed, he said that he was waiting for the results of the chemical test on the soup ingredients to prove his innocence.

David Amos

Concerned by what she perceived as the rabbi’s pessimism, Gail called her cousins, David and Lee Amos, to see if they could help.  David, son of a Jewish emissary from British Mandatory Palestine to Mexico, was born in Mexico City, and moved with his family to Tijuana, where he operated an import-export business even while pursuing his career as a musician and symphony conductor.  His romance with Gail’s first cousin, Lee, began when he realized that she was an accomplished musician.

With the Amoses now becoming involved,  the  number of phone calls to the offices at the Mexican federal detention center further increased beyond those being placed by Nnanna; his fiancée Cynthia’s family and lawyer friend;  Gail;  and Rabbi Salas-Diaz, son Elias Salas, and the detention center official who was a member of his congregation.  

And to add to the concern being expressed from the American side of the border for Okoronkwo’s welfare, I sought help from the office of Congressman Bob Filner (Democrat-San Diego), whose district lies along California’s border with Mexico.  Whether all this attention focused on Okoronkwo hurt or hindered him is hard to say, as will later be explained.

**

On Tuesday evening, March 16, Okoronkwo was questioned by Mexican federal officials.  Where had he obtained the materials in the bag?   He responded that the label was on the packets, that they came from the African-Caribbean Foods store.  How much had he paid for each packet?  He could not be sure, perhaps $2.90, at any rate, not very much.  The prosecutor wanted to know when Okoronkwo had purchased the foods.  He said it was about six months before, in September.  The ingredients are dried and they do not spoil. 

Okoronkwo said he was questioned several times to go over the same set of facts.

Otherwise, “nothing much happened until Wednesday,” he said.

**
That may have been true for Okoronkwo personally, but for the friends and friends of friends trying to help him, Tuesday night proved to be a night of excitement. 

With all the emissaries contacting prison officials, different people were hearing different things from different sources.   Nnanna said one person told him on Tuesday night that the chemical tests had shown Okoronkwo had not brought any hallucinogenic materials into the country. However, the paper work to release him would take some time—but it could be given priority—if a fee were paid.  Nnanna said the person told him $1,500 would be required, which he refused to pay.

Meanwhile, Elias Salas, the son of the rabbi, said he was advised, around 11 PM Tuesday, by an official that Okoronkwo’s problems could be made to go away, but doing so would cost $5,000 cash to be delivered that very night in a Tijuana parking lot. Elias passed this information onto David Amos.  They agreed that such an arrangement was out of the question.

I wondered whether by our sheer persistence and by the clamor that we had engendered we had inadvertently encouraged some officials at the holding facility to seek to extort money from us.   Obviously, if so many people cared about Okoronkwo, he was well-connected.  And, if he was well-connected, maybe these friends had money to pay…. 

With  such concern, I telephoned a member of the U.S. Attorney’s staff of my acquaintance and explained the situation.  The official said that there is a lot of corruption in Mexico, but there is nothing that the U.S. Attorney’s office can do about it. I asked if Americans would be violating U.S. law if they acceded to such extortion.  The official did not answer me directly, but repeated that the U.S. has no jurisdiction over what happens in Mexico.

During the discussion, the official said that there has been a lot of movement of money and drugs across the border—both northbound and southbound—in the wake of the arrests and prosecution of some major Mexican drug cartel officials.  I expressed surprise that anyone was accused of smuggling drugs into Mexico, but the official said those involved in the drug trade sometimes feel a need to reposition their assets.  It was possible, according to the official, that Okoronkwo attracted suspicion because he is of Nigerian birth, because people from that country have been used as “mules.”  

In fact, said my source, in the mixed-up world of drug trafficking, the least suspicious can be the most suspicious.  Cartels recruit or blackmail the least likely looking people to become drug smugglers – octogenarians in wheel chairs, pretty young girls, just about anyone.  

In such an environment, Okoronkwo’s story that he was simply bringing soup ingredients to his nephew was bound to be greeted with cynicism.

**

On Wednesday morning, March 17, while much of the rest of the world was beginning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Okoronkwo was brought to a larger office than the one he had been taken to before. When he complained about the shackles on his legs being painful, they were removed, although the handcuffs were kept in place.  This more favorable treatment augured good news: The chemical tests on the soup ingredients had come back and Okoronkwo would be released later in the day, possibly in two hours.  They still were waiting for tests on the dried fish, he was told. 

About an hour and a half later, accompanied now by the public defender, Okoronkwo was presented with a written document concerning his case, which he was asked to sign.  After it was translated to him, Okoronkwo said there was a mistake within it.  One sentence said that he had prepared the ingredients in the bags, whereas he had purchased them.   This required the document to be retyped, causing a delay in his release.  When the retyped documents came, Okoronkwo’s handcuffs were removed to enable him to sign them, and then were put back on him.  The public defender, saying Okoronkwo soon would be freed, announced he would be leaving, not to see him again.

In San Diego, meanwhile, not hearing anything about Okoronkwo, David Amos, arranged for yet another attorney, Alejandro Zamudio Quiros, to look into Okoronkwo’s case.  The contact was made through an attorney who had represented Amos’s import-export company, in much the same way as Nnanna had secured a criminal attorney,   Zamudio’s office being near the federal detention facility, he was able to promptly talk with officials there.

Pounded yam farina and spiced Nigerian fish soup

Eventually, Okoronkwo was given back his bags—with all the contents including the money still intact—and six policemen escorted him in a van to another facility in another part of Tijuana. He briefly met with Nnanna outside the facility, giving him his bags to hold onto, including the Nigerian soup ingredients.   When Nnanna heard where Okoronkwo was being taken to next, he became quite concerned because it is a place from which people are deported from Tijuana. Nnanna feared Okoronkwo’s passport would be stamped with a notice of deportation, even though he had done nothing wrong.  Such a stamp would have prevented Okoronkwo from returning to Tijuana, not even to attend Nnanna’s wedding to Cynthia, planned later this year.  Attorney Zamudio assured him that no restrictions would be stamped onto the passport, that this should not be cause for concern.

At the second facility, Okoronkwo had his restraints removed and he was ushered into a common hall where there were people of various ethnicities, including Japanese, Chinese, as well as some women in various states of undress, whom he assumed were prostitutes.  He sat against the wall on a mattress and waited for the next step in the lengthy release procedure. 

When it was time to be transported to the border, once again, he was shackled, even though he was being freed.  Such is standard procedure in Mexico. Okoronkwo passed through the  U.S. building at the border without further incident, but after crossing over to the U.S. side, he realized that there was no way for him to go to the McDonald’s restaurant on the Mexican side of the border, where he had planned to meet Nnanna to reclaim his shoulder bag, money and personal possessions. 

He decided he did not want to return to the original turnstile gate where his misadventure started, so he called Gail and asked her to telephone Nnanna in Tijuana to tell him they would arrange to retrieve his bag on another day.  As it turned out, Cynthia brought it to him in San Diego just this weekend.

*
Although Okoronkwo complained about the shackles and the filthy cell at the PGR—conditions which all prisoners there must endure—he said he had no complaints against any of the authorities or guards with whom he personally came into contact.  He was never harassed, threatened, or in any way made to feel insecure, he said.   Procedures were explained to him, and followed.  Although he never received a receipt when his belongings were taken, nevertheless they were returned to him intact.  

So, there was adherence to the law inside of the building, even as on the outside, payments were sought from people who wanted to speed up the process.  On the one hand, the justice system worked as designed; on the other, it was corrupted.

Did all the phone calls in Okoronkwo’s behalf help or hinder him?  Was he kept there longer by people who wanted to milk his supporters for bribes, or were those seeking bribes simply opportunists who understood far better than any outsider what the process was?

From the accounts of both Gail and Okoronkwo, we can see that the performance of the U.S. consulate’s office was perfunctory. At one point, an official in the consulate told a representative of Congressman Filner’s office that Okoronkwo had drugs, which he didn’t, but might get off.   Apparently, the consular official didn’t bother to even ascertain what really had happened to this distinguished American citizen.

*
The entire episode left the Umehams and their friends with a profound distrust for the Mexican justice system, yet with affection and appreciation for all the people on both sides of the border who did their best to intervene in his behalf.  As for me, I couldn’t wait to taste the soup that Nnanna had so craved.  Okoronkwo obliged by cooking it on Sunday, March 21, at his home.   It is really tasty, but not worth  the price of going to a Mexican jail.
*
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  Photos by Harrison and by Cynthia Manzo.

Abdulmutallab belongs in military custody — Senators Lieberman and Collins

January 27, 2010 2 comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release) – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Independent-Connecticut., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, Republican-Maine., urged the Obama Administration Monday to move Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from civilian to military custody because he is an enemy combatant and should be detained, interrogated and ultimately charged as such. 

Abdulmutallab, who is charged with attempting to blow up a jetliner with over 250 people heading to Detroit on Christmas Day, was interrogated, charged, and is being held by civilian legal authorities, despite having been trained and directed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula.

*
Preceding provided by Senator Joseph Lieberman