Arrest of Jose Pimentel Raises Questions About Obama's Civil Liberties Record


The arrest of a would-be terrorist in New York City is a wake-up call that the threat of radical extremism is still very real. The suspect, 27-year-old Jose Pimentel, was arrested while in the middle of making a pipe bomb which police say he planned to set off. On one of Pimentel’s' blog postings, he wrote about how Army posts and police stations were legitimate targets.

At one point, Pimentel reportedly considered changing his name to "Osama Hussein" in honor of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Manhattan, he converted to Islam and was known as Muhammad Yusuf in the Al-Qaeda online magazine Inspire.

While the tenacity of the NYPD to respond and arrest Pimentel should be commended, his case will likely lead those who are too willing to forgo civil rights in the name of safety to call for more police intervention and tougher police policies.

With every arrest of a terror suspect, people seem increasingly willing to allow government and law enforcement officials to take the War on Terror one step further. But we should not get swept up in the paranoia that always surrounds terrorism; law enforcement officials charged with the task of capturing terrorists cannot be permitted to operate without a great deal of oversight.

Rolling back our civil liberties in the name of safety only further alienates the U.S. from the very countries we espouse against when it comes to human rights and conducting fair and open trial proceedings.

According to reports, NYPD had Pimentel under surveillance for two years and say he planned to test the bombs by detonating mailboxes before setting off a series of bombs throughout the city. In addition, he wanted to go to Yemen to train as a "jihadist" and at one point even emailed the infamous imam Anwar-al-Awlaki but never received a response. When Awlaki was killed during a U.S. predator drone strike in September, Pimentel became more committed to his cause.

There is no doubt that Pimentel should have arrested, but his case highlights the need for citizens to demand more transparency and accountability from our government regarding who and why "terror" suspects are monitored. Take the example of asir Afifi, a college student in Santa Monica, California who found a tracking device under his car when he went for an oil change. Or Pascal Abidor, an Islamic studies student in Montreal who was questioned and put in a holding cell when a border agent found a picture of a militant rally on his laptop (which he was using for class).

In these cases, outrage has been silent, and leniency has become the new normal. Since 9/11, police forces nationwide have become more militarized without so much as a blink from citizens or city governments.

With issues like healthcare and financial reform taking center stage, discussion about civil liberties have fallen under the radar since the Obama administration took office. But, when it comes to civil liberties, President Obama administration has not done any better than his predecessor. From extending the PATRIOT Act and continuing warrantless surveillance to failing to prosecute former Bush administration officials accused of torture, Obama has failed to reverse the Bush administration's record on these important issues.

This fact became clear when the Associated Press broke the story of the NYPD and Central Intelligence Agency working together to monitor Muslim neighborhoods in New York, a move that sent the message that little has changed since Obama took office. People who are "foreign-looking" should not live in fear of being spied upon or facing other harsh surveillance tactics in their own neighborhoods.

While it's great that another suspected terrorist is behind bars, the Obama administration must stop the tactics of the previous administration by ensuring that everyone’s constitutional rights are afforded to them.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons