Police: Modern Day Slave Catchers and the Private Prison Industry

Modern day police in the United States evolved primarily, from slave patrols in the South and city guards in the North; both were concerned with the control and containment of Black people.  The comparison of police officers to slave catchers goes against the grain of what most people reflexively think about police.  Thus, it can be difficult for some to critically analyze them and their function.  The common cultural image of police is that they are our benefactors  doing the dangerous job of protecting us.    This, among other notions, is not as true as one might think.  For example, according to the 2010 national census of fatal occupational injuries, garbage collectors have a more dangerous job than police officers.  Inversely, Garbage men pose no threat to the rest of us.  To the contrary, they provide an essential public service.  Police officers on the other hand, kill almost 5 five times as often as they are killed [see here].

The fact of the matter is, any benefit that society, particularly poor communities and Black or Immigrant communities, derives from police officers is in spite of their unofficial mandate as modern day slave catchers.  Their job is to preserve society through the method of law enforcement.  Law ENFORCEMENT.  Nevermind if the law is fair, just, moral, or equitable — its the law!  For example, if you’re poor in this country, you don’t have a legal right to a job, a home, or food, or money, but you can be arrested for taking it (theft) or even asking for it (pan-handling/solicitation).  Kristian Williams, in his magnificent book Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America writes,

“To the degree that a social order works to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others, its preservation will largely consist of protecting the interests of of the first group from the demands of the second.  And that, as we shall see, is what the police do…… The history of America’s police is not the story of democracy so much as it is the story of the prevention of democracy.”  He also quotes James Baldwin from his essay Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter From Harlem; “Their very presence is an insult, and it would be, even if they spent their entire day feeding gumdrops to children.  They represent the force of the White world and that world’s real intentions are, simply, for that world’s criminal profit and ease, to keep the Black man corralled up here, in his place.”

The “place” of Black people in this country may change from era to era, but essentially, their place is to serve the interest of the “first group” that Williams referred to.  That may mean total assimilation in which case a loyal Black person can be a great asset to the country (even be president) or, in the alternative, even a hapless illiterate Black body will not go to waste, it will go to prison, where it can be useful.  The premise of the argument contained in this writing is that there is a direct correlation between the resource of Black bodies on the plantation 150 years ago and in the prisons today.  The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the bridge for this connection.  It states that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

If read critically, it is apparent that slavery in America was never abolished.  To the contrary, it was nationalized and regulated.  Today, slavery may not be an institution that any entrepreneur can  take advantage of , but it is still present and prevalent as a government run operation.  Enslavement is no longer a strict question of racial status, but civic status; who is the criminal.  Those designated as criminals are subject to slavery and, quite perversely, the body with the authority to designate who is or isn’t a criminal is the same body that stands to benefit from the enslavement of the “duly convicted”.  On the basis of this analogy, police is to slave catcher as criminal is to slave.  Police are deployed into the community to catch ‘the bad guy’; upon capture, the bad guy, if “duly convicted”, will be subject to slavery.  The quintessential element of slavery is the ownership of labor and in prisons, just as on plantations, the labor of the captive is appropriated.

Although the institution has been nationalized, in recent decades, the prevalence of prison privatization has steadily increased.  This has created an industry with extremely perverse incentives.  Whereas slavery and profitability take a back seat to social control and punishment within government administered prisons, they enjoy primacy within private prisons.  In other words, private prisons are primarily concerned with the profits of their stockholders and increasing their bottom line year after year.  This can only be done by obtaining a growing stream of human capital and reducing the ratio of profit to expenditure as much as possible.  This fact is not lost on these companies.

In its 2010 Annual Report, the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) is very explicit about where its interests lie.

The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

A recent report by the Sentencing ProjectToo Good to be True: Private Prisons in America, outlines the proliferation of private prisons over the past decade.  According to the report, in 2010, the total number of prisoners in private prisons was 1.6 million, up 17% since 1999.  Much more staggering is the increased use of private prisons by the federal government, up 784% over the same period.  The use of private prisons is not entirely new, but the practice took modern form and ballooned in the 1980s commensurate with the incarceration boom that resulted from the ‘War on Drugs’.  In the 30 years between 1979 and 2009, the prison population grew from 450,000 to 2.3 million.  Today, the United States imprisons more people than any other country in the history of the world.

Last year, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, noted that there are more Black men are in jail today than there were enslaved in 1850.  There are almost 10 times as many Black people in prison now as there were in 1954 at the time of Brown v. Board of Education.  At this rate, 1 and 3 Black males born today can expect to go to jail in their lifetime [see here]. These Black men (and women), just like their enslaved ancestors, are human resources, feeding a malicious cycle where the incarceration industry is reaping big profits.

Two companies in particular run over half of the private prisons; CCA and GEO Group (previously known as the Wackenhut Corporation).  In 2010, they made almost $3 billion and have established themselves as prime stock.  The price of stock in either company comparable in price to companies such as Citigroup, Dell, Yahoo, Intel, and Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins.  Notable over the past six months are the efforts of the National Prison Divestment Campaign.  As pointed out on their blog, “Since the divestment campaign began on May 12, 2011. CCA’s stock value dropped from $26.02 to $20.67, a 21% drop at year’s end.  GEO Group stock has taken a similar plunge, from a high of $26.12 on May 12 to $16.75 on December 31, 2011, a drop of over 34%.”  God-willing, this trend will continue.  The article goes on to say that, “These for-profit prisons have a long history of lobbying for laws that increase penalties and incarcerations for immigrants and people of color, supporting controversial bills like the 3 strikes laws and minimum mandatory sentencing that has created massive profits for these corporations and their investors.”

Rania Khalek, an editor for Alternet, pointed out in a December 2011 blog post that,

Just a decade ago, private prisons were a dying industry awash in corruption and mired in lawsuits, particularly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison operator.  Today, these companies are booming once again, yet the lawsuits and scandals continue to pile up.  Meanwhile, more and more evidence shows that compared to publicly run prisons, private jails are filthier, more violent, less accountable, and contrary to what privatization advocates peddle as truth, do not save money.  In fact, more recent findings suggest that private prisons could be more costly.

In a recently published report, “Banking on Bondage: Mass Incarceration and Private Prisons,” the American Civil Liberties Union examines the history of prison privatization and finds that private prison companies owe their continued and prosperous existence to skyrocketing immigration detention post September 11 as well as the firm hold they have gained over elected and appointed officials.

This all leads back to the point of the de facto function that police play in society which is actually nothing new.  After the 13 Amendment was ratified, States began to develop new laws, later known as Black Codes, to utilize the exception clause contained in the Amendment.  For example, Black men and women who were now “free”, were targeted and arrested for such benign offences as ‘vagrancy’; in other words, wandering around without a job.  And what were the jobs available to Blacks in an emancipated world? Plantation labor, housework, etc.; basically all of the same things they were doing the day before.  The prison population exploded during this period and the practice of ‘convict leasing’ became ubiquitous.

Today, there are no ‘Black Codes’ or laws that explicitly target populations of people of color.  However, though the explicit intent may be one thing, the effect may be decidedly different; and the effect, the objective reality, is what matters.  According to the International Covenant to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect [emphasis added] of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists.

Moreover, ‘criminal’ is often a euphemism for ‘Black’.  Similarly, the ‘War on Drugs’ is a war on the Black community, just as the immigration laws are an attack on the Immigrant community.  Sadly, the victims of these wars are not only prisoners of war, but spoils of war.  At the forefront of these wars are the local police and though they may not fancy themselves as slave catchers, the reality is a tragedy that belies the motto, “serve and protect”.  To be fair, some police have taken notice of the disconnect between what they signed up for and what their actually doing.  One notable group is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).  Unfortunately, officers with that kind of integrity are discouraged, to say the least, from saying or doing anything about the injustice that they witness.  In some cases, they have even been fired for such treason.

Last year, The Global Commission on Drug Policy (report here) declared the War on Drugs a failure worldwide.  In no place is that more evident than in the Unites States.  At some point this year, the US may hit the $5 trillion mark for the amount of money spent on the drug war and all there is to show for it is a booming incarceration industry and the largest drug market in the world.  Meanwhile countless communities and lives have been ruined by this “war” that is little more than a racketeering scam.  If police really want to protect the communities that they serve, they would stop stealing people as part of an obviously, if not deliberately, unjust and racist agenda.  Unfortunately, as long as the 13th Amendment mandates that they serve this function, it stands to reason that their hands are tied and ours are shackled.


On Human Rights; an interview

Conducted at the US Human Rights Network December 2011 Conference in Los Angeles

1.  How, specifically, are Human Rights defined and shaped by social movements today, (i.e. Rights of Indigenous, Rights of Mother Earth)?

NAJI: I dont think that Human Rights (HR) are defined and shaped by social movements; I don’t agree with that assessment. I think that Human Rights (with regard to international law, etc.) are a co-optation of peoples struggles. I don’t necessarily think that that is a bad thing… it just is what it is. I think social movements may provide the inspiration or the impetus, but once the government or NGOs take it on, ultimately, they are the ones that shape and define it. I conclude this from my Western-centered vantage point, perhaps social movements elsewhere have had more direct influence, but in the US, I think it has been somewhat minimal.

I’m not familiar with the struggles that led to the two examples you mentioned, however, I think that there were genuine peoples movements that pushed the issue to the fore. Examples of peoples movements effecting change with regards to Human Rights, are most likely going to be found outside of the US. It is my opinion, that the claimed successes of peoples movements in the US are somewhat exaggerated. However, the (white) populist struggles of the early 20th century were exceptional. These struggles led to a lot of gains as far as labor and workers rights are concerned. The Women’s Lib movements and suffrage movements were also successful. White movements [tend] succeed; Black ones [usually] only give the illusion of success.  It doesn’t take long for the same issues that they address to morph into some other related form of oppression or discrimination.  That’s why Black people have been fighting for the same things [for the most part] since slavery ended.

2.  Briefly what brought about the social movements in this country that led to the adoption of civil and political rights.  Why was that revolutionary in the context of the Original American Constitution and why was important for those in power in this country to allow Civil and Political rights and not Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights?

NAJI: The creation of the UN (1945) and the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), was a response to the end of World War II (1945). At that time, because of the Holocaust and other atrocities against various European peoples, the world wanted to ensure that nothing like that ever happened again. However, if I’m not mistaken, input from Black and Brown countries did directly influenced the process. Human Rights then, developed as means for the European powers to exercise moral superiority over others. The split between Civil and Political Rights and Economic Social and Cultural Rights came as a result of the burgeoning Cold War and a power struggle between Communist Russia (proponent of ESCR) and the United States (proponent of CPR). Its really not my understanding that the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was particularly revolutionary. With regards to the ICCPR and the Constitution, one of the reasons that the US got behind it was because it is inherently aligned with the Constitution; much more so than the International Covenant of Economic Social and Cultural Rights which the US has yet to sign.

3.  What are the benefits of a human rights paradigm? i.e. proactive and positive rights, state obligations?

NAJI: In theory, I think that the benefits have a tremendous upside. If smaller countries can acquire more influence and power within the UN. For the US specifically, because the US promotes itself as the beacon of liberty and moral superiority in the world, it is a means to hold them accountable for their proclamations. The civil rights struggles didnt gain traction until the abuses perpetrated against African-Americass became international knowledge and it exposed the hypocrisy of this country. I’m not aware of any cases where international HR has been used in court to anyones advantage. Creating a culture of positive rights would be a welcomed change, but in this country, you have a significant push towards cutting back social welfare programs.

4.  How is the HR framework elitist, and why even still should social movements adopt it?

NAJI: It is elitest because of its use and cooptation by former colonial countries. Most often, rather than being a tool for the people to use to protect themselves from government repression and negligence, it is used by more powerful (Western or NATO) countries against their former colonial subjects or enemies. Nevertheless, it should still be used because it has potential. Also, we dont have much else, unless we’re ready to kill and be killed. The state exercises power and authority because of its monopoly on violence. So unless groups are prepared to challenge that monopoly, it is only prudent to try to use existing channels to our advantage.

5.  Why is it important from a solidarity standpoint for social movements in this country to adopt HR in their work from the perspectives of social movements around the world?

NAJI: Because, the world needs to see that the same struggles going on around the world are going on within the US. The US has the same unresolved problems that it claims to be going around the world to solve and admonishing other countries about. The hypocrisy of the US government must be made clear to everyone, including those within the US.

6.  Why do HR mean something substantive for real people?

NAJI: Because the majority of the issues speak to the basic needs of people, that’s why they’re called “Human” rights, it is really indicative of the miserable state of the world and so-called civilization. HR are bare minimum standards for human equity and dignity; it shouldn’t even be a question. The rights don’t lack substance, the application of those rights lacks substance. Its the fear that we could go through all this trouble, but not receive the benefit. But that doesn’t mean the human rights struggle lacks substance, it means the legal and judicial system do; but thats another issue.’


Naji Mujahid
Professor El-Khawas
World Civilizations 1
April 6, 2010



In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All praise is for Allah, the ‘Lord’ of the Worlds. The Compassionate, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. O’Allah! You Alone we worship and You Alone we call on for help. O’Allah! Guide us to The Right Way. The Way of those whom You have favored; not of those who have earned Your wrath, or of those who have lost The Way. [Surah (1) Al-Fatihah][1]

Islam[2] literally means submission and the connotation of it is submission to the will of God, hereafter referred to as Allah[3], the Creator of all[4]. Therefore, to discuss the Islamic Civilization it is necessary to understand the depth of what this means to Muslims (which literally means those who submit). Belief in Islam as a way of life makes the civilization based on this precept unique in that without this core belief, the civilization does not exist because it is not based on the development of technology, art, literature, economics, or any other marker of human progress. However, Islam, as a way of life envelopes and influences the progression of humanity in these other respects. For Muslims, there is no civilization without Islam and anything before or after it is considered jahilliyah[5].

To say that all else is jahilliyah might seem pretentious, but Muslims do not consider that there was ever a time when Islam didn’t exist. As mentioned, Islam means submission to Allah’s will, to Allah’s divine order as the creator. Therefore, the submission of nature and all things to its natural order is Islam. This means that the orbits of the celestial bodies, the seasons, the reproductive processes of flora and fauna, and the laws of physics are all examples of Islam. In this context Islam exists even in the absence of human progress, or human beings for that matter.

For their part, human beings are forced by natural law to submit to Allah’s order in matters of anatomy and physics (e.g., humans cannot levitate, survive without water or oxygen, or maintain their physical bodies forever), but it is their disposition of free will[6] that ultimately determines their level of civilization. In other words, the Muslim barometer for civilization is their adherence to Islam as a way of life; anything other than this is uncivilized.


Today the unbelievers have given up all their hope of vanquishing your religion. Have no fear of them, fear Me. Today I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you and approved Al-Islam as a Deen (way of life for you). [Surah (5) Al-Ma’idah, v. 3]

Islam does not fit within the narrow English definition of the word religion and it is best described with the Arabic word deen, which I will use within this paper. Deen can be translated to mean a complete way of life. As such, Islam is not a dogmatic canon of beliefs, but it encompasses the spiritual, social, economic, and political spheres of human existence. “Islam cannot fulfill its role except by taking a concrete role in society, rather, in a nation; for man does not listen, especially in this age, to an abstract theory which is not seen materialized in a living society” (Qutb 1978, 11). Islam informs the proper mode of interaction that humans should have with Allah, each other, and the world around them. Knowledge of Islam is best derived from Allah in the form of the Holy Qur’an[7] and the Hadith[8]. Beyond that Muslims can be informed through the fatawa (plural for fatwa[9]) of learned scholars and through their personal processes of ijtihad[10].

Muslims believe that the Arabic Qur’an is the direct and infallible word of Allah dictated to His final Prophet, Muhammad ibn Abdullah beginning in the year 610 C.E. Before going further it should be clarified that Muslims do not consider Muhammad (PBUH)[11] to have been the first Prophet, only the last; the Seal. The first would have been Adam who is believed to have been the first man. This idea of Adam as the first Homo Sapien Sapiens is echoed in Judeo-Christian mythology. In fact, Muslims have a common belief with their Christian and Jewish counterparts in many of the same prophets and stories. Collectively, they have been referred to as the three Abrahamic faiths because of the common belief in Abraham[12] as a religious patriarch.

The core of Islam is Tawheed[13] (Allah’s unique one-ness) and this is the essence of the divine revelations and subsequent teachings of all of these divine Prophets and Messengers. Our focus in this work will be Islam as explained by, Muhammad (PBUH),because he laid the foundation for the emergence of the Islamic civilization. “There can be no doubt that the essence of Islamic Civilization is Islam; or that the essence of Islam is Tawheed, the act of affirming Allah to be the One Absolute, transcendent creator, Lord and Master of all that is.” (al-Faruqi 1986, 73)


These are the revelations of Allah; We recite them to you in truth. Surely you, O Muhammad, are one of Our Messengers. [Surah (2) Al-Baqarah, v. 252]

To fully appreciate and adequately assess progress you have to have a reference point. You must know where something came from to know how far it has come. Similarly, to understand Muhammad (PBUH) and the revolution that he led in Arabia towards an Islamic Civilization, we must know the environment that he came out of in Mecca. He was born into the tribe of Quraysh as part of the Banu Hashim clan and was orphaned in his infancy. The Quraysh tribe traces its lineage back to Ishmael[14] (Ismail) the first born son of Abraham and at the time of Muhammad’s birth in 570 CE they were the most powerful tribe. The clan of Banu Hashim (sometimes called Hashimites) was a prestigious one charged with the responsibility of caring for the pilgrims as they arrived to Mecca annually to visit the Ka’ba[15]. The Ka’ba was home to scores of idols that were visited by hundreds of pilgrims and this was a source of revenue and power for Mecca’s elite. Given the monotheistic teachings of Islam, this contradiction would become a major source of contention.


Ha M’im. This Book is revealed from Allah, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. Surely in the heavens and the earth there are signs for the true believers. and in your own creation and that of animals which are scattered through the earth, there are signs for those who are firm in faith, and in the alternation of night and day, in the sustenance that Allah sends down from heaven with which He revives the earth after its death and in the changing of the winds, there are signs for those who use their common sense. These are the revelations of Allah, which We are reciting to you in all truth. Then, in what report will they believe if not that of Allah and His revelations? [Surah (45) AL-Jathiya, v. 1-6]

Muhammad (PBUH) grew up, under very humble conditions, as an orphan under the care of his uncle and, despite being illiterate, he became a successful merchant with a reputation for his honesty and trustworthiness[16] (Khan 1996, 61-62). He was always a very spiritual person and would regularly retreat from the world and spend days and nights in a cave (Mount Hira) contemplating on the natural and supernatural. On one such night, it is said that he was visited by the angel Jibril[17] who revealed to him the first words[18] of the Qur’an, commanding this illiterate merchant to read and recite. Following this, he received further revelations, periodically at auspicious moments, over the course of 23 years[19], and together they were compiled as the Qur’an (Haykal 1995, 73).

After this initial contact, he was very disturbed, he thought that he was going crazy and likened himself to the local soothsayers that he didn’t care for. Seeking comfort from his wife, Khadijah, he went home. She affirmed the righteousness and sincerity of his character and assured him that he could not be going crazy. The next day, she went to speak with her cousin Waraqa, a Christian, and after hearing what happened he declared “Muhammad must be the Prophet of this nation. Tell him he must be firm.” (Haykal 1995, 77) Not too long after this, Waraqah and Muhammad (PBUH) happened upon one another at the Ka’ba and Waraqah questioned him about his experience.  After listening he then exclaimed that,

“By Him who dominates my soul I swear that you are the Prophet of this nation. The great spirit that has come to Moses has now come to you. You will be denied and you will be hurt. You will be abused and you will be pursued. If I should ever live to see that day, I will help the cause of God. God knows that I will.” (Haykal 1995, 78)

He could not have been more right. However, Muhammad (PBUH) was not alone. Along with his wife, his friend, Abu Bakr[20], and young cousin, Ali ibn Abu Talib[21], were the first to accept this new faith by testifying that there was no god except for Allah and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His Messenger[22]. (Khan 1996, 73-74)

At this point, it is imperative to view Muhammad (PBUH) not only as a preacher, but as an organizer and a revolutionary. His teachings of monotheism shook the foundations of the idolatry that pervaded Mecca and benefited the ruling class (and the populace in general) politically and economically. As Muhammad (PBUH) shouldered the responsibility of his Prophethood, he experienced the polarizing effect of any revolutionary at any time or place in history. Some people joined with him with sincerity and conviction and others joined against him with vehement hostility.

For 13 years this hostility took various forms. In the beginning, the Quraysh ignored him and when this didn’t work they tried to compromise and reason with him, but for Muhammad (PBUH), when truth is set against falsehood, there could be no compromise. They tried to bribe him with money, women, and power, but to no avail (Haykal 1995, 96-97). When diplomacy failed, they turned to slander, setting the equivalent of a propaganda machine against him. He was ridiculed, mocked, and in some instances assaulted (Haykal 1995, 116-118). His followers faced the same and some were tortured or killed. Muhammad (PBUH) could not easily be killed because he came from a prestigious and influential tribe and clan. Therefore, his assassination would invite retribution on the clan/tribe of the assassin; in the worst case scenario it could ignite a civil war of killings and responses in kind. With assassination off of the table for the moment, they resorted to a boycott that was designed to starve the Muslims into submission.


Those who believed (embraced Islam), migrated and made Jihad (exerted their utmost struggle) with their wealth and their persons in the cause of Allah; as well as those who gave them asylum and help, are indeed the protecting friends of one another. [Surah (8) Al-Anfal, v. 72]

It was during this time that Muhammad (PBUH) sent a portion of his followers into exile in Abyssinia within the Christian kingdom of King Negus who was known to be a righteous king. When contacted by the Quraysh in regards to the fugitives, he refused to extradite them and told them that they could stay as long as they like (Haykal 1995, 97-101). Later still, as the oppression intensified, a decision to emigrate was made. Muhammad (PBUH) formed an alliance with some Muslim converts[23] from Medina, a city to the northwest, and they signed a treaty that stipulated their pledge to protect him, among other things (al-Mubarakpuri 1996, 154-158). Upon hearing of his imminent sojourn, the Quraysh decided that they had to stop him and conspired to kill him. They figured that if they formed a party than all would be equally responsible for his death and, thus, no one could be sought for retribution. The assassination failed as Ali risked his life to pose as a sleeping Muhammad (PBUH). Meanwhile, Abu-Bakr and Muhammad (PBUH) slipped out of Mecca and set out on the road less travelled to Medina (in fact, they took a detour south before heading north) (al-Mubarakpuri 1996, 168-170).

This mass emigration was known as the Hijrah and marks the beginning of the Islamic lunar calendar[24]. It is not the focus of this paper to explicate all of the formative years of Islam, but its humble beginnings should be understood. Once settled in Medina, the Muslims began to consolidate their power and influence and fought many battles against the Quraysh. Emissaries were sent throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond to the Byzantine[25] and Persian[26] empires inviting them to submit to Allah and accept Muhammad (PBUH) as His Prophet. Needless to say, they denied the invitation, Heraclius dismissed it and Khosrau called for Muhammad’s head. However, as will be discussed later, both empires were enveloped by Islam eventually (Haykal 1995, 374-376).


And Muhammad is but a Messenger. Surely, all Messengers have passed away before him. Would you recant if he dies or be killed. And he who recants shall do no harm to Allah, and Allah will surely reward the grateful. [Surah (3) A’lay Imran, v. 144]

Ten years after the Hijrah, the Muslims returned to a subdued Mecca victorious. It would not be long before the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) passed on to the next stage of existence at the age of 63. This was a very ominous time for the Muslims and the most prominent issue was succession, who would lead? Notwithstanding the fact that Islam is not a monarchy, he had no living sons[27]. Some traditions state that Muhammad (PBUH) had made clear that his cousin, son-in-law, confidant, and first student, Ali, was to be his successor (Tabataba’i and Campbell 2000, 85)[28], but while Ali was planning the funeral and grieving with their family, a hasty conference and election was held that moved the leadership to Abu Bakr. Initially, Ali refused to pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr, but after a civil war ensued between the Muslims and the apostates, Ali acquiesced for the sake of unity (Chirri 1996, 186-190). This set in motion successive leadership known in Islam to be the Khulafah Rashidoon (the four Rightly Guided Caliphs[29]), Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman, and Ali ibn Abu Talib respectively.

The reign of the Khulafah Rashidoon ended with the martyrdom of Ali in 661 CE/39 AH. This also ended what could be considered a golden age in Islam. Never again would there be a leader that was one of the Messenger’s companions. By this time, a mere 50 years since Muhammad’s Prophethood began, Islam had spread eastward to Afghanistan, Westward along the north coast of Africa to Tripoli, and northward to the Armenian region between the Black and Caspian Seas (al-Faruqi 1986, 212). Following the demise of Ali, his son (and Muhammad’s grandson), Hassan, assumed leadership with the support of his father’s followers.  However, his reign was brief before his power was usurped by Muawiyah (Tabataba’i and Campbell 2000, 128), the Muslim Governor of Egypt who established the Ummayad Dynasty (Jordan 2002, 67). It is ironic to note that concomitant to the unprecedented spread of Islam during this time, the descendents of Muhammad’s greatest enemy in Mecca, Abu Sufyan, had secured power and encouraged a visceral hatred against Muhammad’s direct descendents[30].


O believers! Obey Allah, obey the Messenger and those charged with authority among you. Should you have a dispute in anything, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day. This course of action will be better and more suitable. [Surah (4) An-Nisa v.59]

This dynasty that was established and perpetrated by the Ummayads ran counter to the spirit of Islam. Islam does not condone monarchal governments, “The form of government of the Ummayads and the Abbasids, and the political and administrative policies they pursued, were anti-Islamic. The form of government was thoroughly perverted by being transformed into a monarchy…..For the most part, this non-Islamic form of government has persisted to the present day” (Khomeini 1981, 47-48). Government in Islam is predicated on the system of Khilafah in which case the Khalif is elected democratically, “Rule by inheritance is forbidden in Islam, for the heir of the ruler would be imposed on the people without their will” (Chirri 1996, 524).

As with anything relevant to Islam, the Prophet was a paragon of propriety. He was at once a father, a husband, a neighbor, an organizer, a general, a judge, a diplomat, a politician, and an executive (and even more). Therefore, to see how the Islamic State is to be governed, one must look at governmental organization under Muhammad (PBUH).

Acceptance of Islam is the basis of the Islamic society and this is one of the first lessons that can be gleaned from the precedence set in Medina, a city that was plagued by civil war until belief in Islam united the people. This revolution in behavior is all the more meaningful in consideration of the nature of the Arabs at this time; unity was drawn on tribal lines. However, with unity established on the lines of Islam, the responsibilities and rights of the people, of the Ummah[31], were then codified in a constitution (Siddiqui 1988, 4-10).  Islam then spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula as a religious and political ideology and within 10 years the majority of Arabia was ruled by a centralized government in Medina. “Never before had the whole Arabian Peninsula been ruled, controlled, and administered by a central authority” and in Muhammad’s hands were “concentrated all powers, legislative, executive, military, and judicial.” (Siddiqui 1988, 210)

Though Muhammad (PBUH) wielded great power, he was not a tyrant[32] and there were many positions within the government over which he presided. They are outlined in great detail within Dr. Muhammad Siddiqui’s work, Organization of Government Under the Holy Prophet.  One such position is that of Commander-in-Chief of the military apparatus; in this position he had the power to choose/dismiss his commanders. It was with great skill that Muhammad (PBUH) developed and led the army. Had it not been for a strong military force, the Muslims would not have survived themselves, let alone expand their influence. As for the civil administration, there are two kinds, the central administration and the provincial administration.

The central government was comprised of deputies, advisors, secretaries, envoys/ambassadors, commissioners, and miscellaneous petty officials.  Additionally, there were official poets/orators who functioned in a capacity somewhat akin to the media or propagandists. “Since the Arabs were a ‘people of the tongue’, who took extreme pride in their language, their poets and orators commanded great respect and prestige in their society.  They could create, mold, and shape opinions.” (Siddiqui 1988, 239). The provincial government on the other hand was comprised of governors, various administrators, representatives of the people (tribal chiefs), judges, and market administrators; “The Prophet paid personal attention to the reform the corrupt commercial and mercantile practices” (Siddiqui 1988, 275).

Towards that end, he instituted a financial system particular to the Islamic State. As Abul A’la Maududi explains, the financial system of Islam is founded on three basic principles. First, that it should be reflective of natural order of things and consistent with human nature. Second, in recognition that external regulation is insufficient, a strict morality should be encouraged as an internal regulation “so that evil in the mind of man can be suppressed at its root” (Maududi 1994, 29). The third point is that coercion by the government should only be done as a last resort.

The government depends on charitable contributions, zakat[33], jizyah[34], and other taxes; of course this required a government post of tax-collectors and bookkeepers. The government also maintains a system of land distribution that is too complex for elaboration, but the point of it is too benefit the needy and make efficient use of land-holding within the state for the good of all (Siddiqui 1988, 335-344). Another unique facet of the economic system is the strict outlawing of usury as an accursed financial practice, “Allah has laid His curse on usury and blessed charity to prosper” [Surah (3) A’lay Imran v. 276].

The economic system itself has elements of capitalism and socialism. In fact, it is somewhat of a merger of the two. There is free trade and during the time of the Prophet all tariffs on imports and exports were abolished. There is also private ownership and people are free to accumulate wealth provided that the wealth is earned by acceptable means and is spent in acceptable ways. Therefore, the temper that is put on these capitalistic elements, are restrictive moral codes, some of them encouraged and others enforced. This gives way to the socialist aspects, namely that the rights of the community outweigh those of the individual. Accumulated excess wealth is encouraged to be redistributed back to the central treasury to fund social welfare programs, etc. Needless to say, with the socio-economic system hinging on adherence to a moral code, religious instruction was a big deal and there were many posts to be filled as teachers, preachers, Imams[35], and muezzins[36]. There was also a specific post for the organizers of the annual Hajj.


When there comes the help of Allah and the victory, you see the people entering Allah’s religion (Islam) in multitudes. So glorify your Lord with His praises, and pray for His forgiveness: surely He is ever ready to accept repentance. [Surah (110) An-Nasr]

And so it was that Islam began in the Arabian Peninsula. It is a considerable miracle in and of itself that these mean and isolated people would bring light to the rest of the world.  Indeed, only 30 years after the Prophet’s death did Islam replace the Byzantine and Persian empires and spread all the way east to Afghanistan, west along the northern coast of Africa to Tunisia, and north to Armenia.  By 750 AD it had gone even further west to Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula (where Islam ruled from 711-1492) and eastward into India.  Over the next 500 years[37], Islam spread to China, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and all over the Sahel, Maghreb, and Horn of Africa (al-Faruqi 1986, 222-228). The spread of Islam is sometimes attributed to the sword, however, Tim Wallace-Murphy says,

“while these vast territorial gains were undoubtedly made by the sword, the spread of Islam as a religion was not. The newly subject peoples who became the followers of Islam in such vast numbers were attracted to that religion by its natural purity and the relevance of its mission to people’s daily lives. Forcible conversion was against all the fundamental principles of choice that Islam espoused.” (Wallace-Murphy 2006)

Furthermore, it is stated in the Qur’an that,

There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has been made clearly distinct from error. Therefore, whoever renounces Taghut[38] and believes in Allah has grasped the firm hand-hold that will never break. Allah, Whose hand-hold you have grasped, hears all and knows all.  [The Holy Qur’an, Al-Baqarah (2), v. 256]

During this same time period there were many developments in various fields, science and art in particular. The Holy Qur’an itself, served as a catalyst for much of the intellectual and scientific developments. Within it, Muslims are exhorted towards learning as a form of devotion, partly because studying Allah’s creation increases one’s reverence for its creator. “Knowledge of nature and knowledge of religion were inseparable twins, complementing and supporting each other (al-Faruqi 1986, 325)”. This is in stark contrast to some western philosophies that prefer to contrast god and science. Another way the Qur’an spurred learning was simply because literacy was necessary to read it and, as a Muslim, reading the Qur’an is imperative. The spread of Islam and Arabic along with it drove Arabic to become the lingua franca of this vast region.

One of the great developments was scientific medicine. Though the Muslims didn’t invent it, they made great strides in further cultivating it. They began by learning from Christian physicians who had fled the Byzantines and translating their books. Soon they were building hospitals and medical schools. They developed the sciences of surgery, psychiatry, pharmacology, botany, and chemistry. Physics also became highly developed and the Muslims turned out several meaningful inventions such as the compass, astrolabe, clock pendulum and methods of distillation. They’re most influential contributions to the field of mathematics were the inventions of the decimal and the zero. Study of astronomy produced the theory that the heavenly bodies were moving orderly around the sun, that the earth was round, and a measuring of the Earth by creating demarcations of latitude and longitude. They also became excellent cartographers. (al-Faruqi 1986, 323-334) Beyond the hard sciences, there were very significant contributions made to world art. Most notable of these, is the art of calligraphy and beautiful architecture all over the world.


Now, special mercy is assigned to those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet (Muhammad) – whom they shall find described in the Torah and the Gospel. Who enjoins them what is good and forbids what is evil; makes pure things Halal (lawful) for them and impure things Haram (unlawful); relieves them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that were around their necks. Therefore, those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the Light which is sent down with him, will be the ones who will be successful in this life and the hereafter.[Surah (7) Al-A’raf, v. 157]

Art and architecture usually reflect culture and this can be seen in Islam. No matter who wrote the calligraphy, what part of the world they are from, you know it when you see it; same with the mosques, unless its in a very non-descript building operating as a mosque. However, thought there are many common threads within Muslim communities, you will find that the culture is as much heterogeneous as it is homogeneous. For instance, though it is customary for women to dress modestly (and men for that matter) and cover their heads, you will notice that in Iran the customary dress for a woman is in all black. In contrast women in Senegal wear very colorful clothes. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once said that Islam did not come to change peoples’ culture, but to improve it. Therefore, in different parts of the world, people tend to develop an Islam that reflects the previous culture, adding the homogeneous aspects of Islam and ridding themselves of those practices that are unislamic.

Morality, as outlined in the Qur’an and Hadith, is a pervading aspect of the culture; “enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong” is a common phrase to be found within the text. “Islam establishes the values and morals which are ‘human’… it develops human characteristics progressively and guards against degeneration towards animalism” (Qutb 1978, 182). Modesty, honesty, forgiveness, selflessness (community needs factor first, rather than individual), helping the oppressed, fighting against oppression, and propagating the deen are all common themes. There are certain prohibitions that are one size fits all; no gambling, consumption of alcohol and pork, adultery/fornication, lewd behavior, slander/backbiting/gossip, lying, stealing, unjust killing, mistreatment of the orphan, and above all shirk[39]. These tenets are geared towards developing solid individuals which leads to strong families.

Family life is a critical component of the Ummah. As the individual goes, so goes the family, so goes the community, and so goes the Ummah. Everyone in the family has rights and responsibilities[40]; man, woman, and child. The family structure is patriarchal and polygamy (up to four wives) is permitted though rarely practiced. Polygamous marriage relationships are also predicated on the man’s ability to care for multiple wives and children equally as the man is expected to be the maintainer and provider for his family; a woman is expected to take the lead on child-rearing and managing the household[41].

This leads to the topic of gender relations. Islam was a revolution in many ways in Arabia (and later the world). It was a revolution of thought and practice; no less so was it a revolution for women’s rights. Women were raised from a position of sheer inferiority to one of equality. Islam declared that as human beings, all women and men are equal before Allah.  However, equality does not mean uniformity.

“No doubt, woman, as a human being, is born free like any other human being and in that capacity she has equal rights. But, woman is a human being with certain peculiarities, as man is a human being with certain other peculiarities. The traits of their characters are different and their mentality is distinct….Nature has purposely made them different and any action taken against the intention of nature would produce a disastrous result.” (Mutahhari unknown, 5)

This means that, though men and women are equal, they have been endowed with certain strengths and weaknesses that serve to complement each other so that the relationship between man and woman becomes one of interdependence. Niaz Shah argues that, “the intention of the Koran was to raise the status of women in society, not to relegate them to subordination.” (Shah 2006, 868)


O believers! Whoever among you renounce Islam, let them do so; soon Allah will replace them with others whom He will love and they will love Him, who will be humble towards the believers, mighty against the unbelievers, striving hard in the way of Allah, and will have no fear of reproach from any critic. Now this is the grace of Allah which He bestows on whom He pleases. Allah has boundless knowledge. Your real protecting friends are Allah, His Messenger, and the fellow believers – the ones who establish Salah, pay Zakah and bow down humbly before Allah. Whoever makes Allah, His Messenger and the fellow believers his protecting friends, must know that Allah’s party will surely be victorious. [Surah (5) Ma’idah, v. 54-56]

According to this doctrine, woman were given rights to inheritance, encouraged to become educated, treated equally before the law, and protected from transgression. However, as with many facets of the Islamic Civilization, idealist philosophy does not always translate into practice. This paper has been a study of the operation of Islam during the time of and directly following the life of the Prophet. In 2010, there are arguably no examples of this model. “The world of Islam has been parceled into small nation-states. These nation-states have been awarded a dubious ‘independence’ and a fraudulent ‘sovereignty’. In fact these nation-states are neither Muslim nor ‘Islamic’….. [they] are creations of imperialism and serve the purposes of imperialist powers.” (K. Siddiqui 1996, 141)

Many contemporary Muslim scholars consider the Islam to be in a state of global revival and that a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam is underway and will positively end with Islam asserting its dominance. A great scholar in Islam, Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by PM Gemal Abdel-Nasser in 1966 for his involvement in the Muslim Brotherhood wrote that because Islam “proclaims the freedom of man on the Earth from all authority except that of [Allah] it is confronted in every period of human history (Qutb 1978, 105-106). In that regard, Kalim Siddiqui wrote, “The victory of Islam was and must always be over its hostile environment” (K. Siddiqui 1996, 165) and it is the triumph of Islam over jahilliyah that is the hallmark of the Islamic Civilization.



Al-Asi, Muhammad H. “The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture”. The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought; Vol.1. Canada and South Africa. 2008.

al-Faruqi, ismail R. al-Faruqi and Lois Lamya. “The Cultural Atlas of Islam”. Macmillan Publishing Company. New York. 1986.

al-Mubarakpuri, Saif-ur-Rahman. “The Sealed Nectar”. Dar-us-Salaam Publications. Riyadh. 1996.

Al-Qudsy, Dr. Diyaaud-deen. “True Muslim” HAQ Publishings. http://www.haqyayinlari.com/en/books/read/truemuslim/truemuslim05.htm (accessed November 12, 2012).

Chirri, Mohammad Jawad. The Brother of the Prophet (The Imam Ali). Qum: Ansariyan Publications, 1996.

Haykal, Muhammad Husayn. The Life of Muhammad. Delhi: Crescent Publishing Company, 1995.

Jordan, Michael. Islam: an illustrated history. London: Carlton Books, 2002.

Khan, Dr. Majid Ali. Muhammad the Final Messenger. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1996.

Khomeini, Imam. Islam and Revolution. Translated by Hamid Algar. Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1981.

Maududi, Sayyid Abul A’la. Economic System of Islam. Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1994.

Mutahhari, Ayatullah Murtada. Woman And Her Rights. Translated by M A Ansari. Tehran: Islamic Seminary Publications, unknown.

Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones. Beirut: The Holy Qur’an Publishing House, 1978.

Shah, Niaz A. “Women’s Human Rights in the Koran: An Interpretive Approach.” Human Rights Quarterly, 2006: 868-903.

Siddiqui, Kalim. In Pursuit of the Power of Islam. Edited by Zafar Bangash. London: The Open Press, 1996.

Siddiqui, Muhammad Yasin Mazhan. Organization and Government Under the Prophet. Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1988.

Tabataba’i, Mohammad Hosayn, and translated by R. Campbell. Islamic Teachings: An Overview. New York: Alavi Foundation, 2000.

Vallely, Paul. “How Islamic Invenbtors Changed the World.” The Independent, March 11, 2006: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/how-islamic-inventors-changed-the-world-469452.html.

Wallace-Murphy, Tim. What Islam Did For Us: Understanding Islam’s Contribution to Western Civilization. London: Watkins Publishing, 2006.

Young, Gayle. Fast-Growing Islam winning converts in the Western World. April 14, 1997. http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9704/14/egypt.islam/ (accessed April 8, 2010).

[1] All quotes of The Holy Qu’ran will be taken from the English translation by F. Malik.

[2] Islam is supported by the “5 Pillars” of the religion. These are 1. Shahadah (the declaration of faith): to bear witness that there is no deity except for Allah. 2. Salah (prayer): five times a day at prescribed times. 3. Zakah (charity): 2.5% of one’s surplus wealth per year given to help the needy. 4. Saum (fasting): performed once a year during the month of Ramadan. 5. Hajj (pilgrimage): every Muslim should make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Some consider Jihad to be the 6th Pillar. Jihad literally means striving/struggling. This can refer to an internal struggle or an external one. Either way, it connotes a struggle to solidify Islam.

[3] Allah: Usually considered the Arabic translation of the English word ‘God’. However, the Arabic word ‘Allah’ is unique in that it refers to only one specific thing. The word ‘God’, on the other hand, could mean different things to different people. ‘God’ also has a connotation of sex, its derivative being ‘God-ess’; Allah has no gender qualification.

[4] Al-Khaliq: This is one of the 99 characteristics attributed only to Allah and literally means, ‘The Creator’.

[5] Jahilliyah: Ignorance of Divine guidance. Sayyid Qutb refers to it as rebellion against Allah’s sovereignty on Earth.

[6] Free will: The ability of human beings to adhere to Allah’s code of conduct or follow their own fancies.

[7] Holy Qur’an: The Qur’an was delivered in Arabic, thus, that is the only language in which it is authentic. Translations into other languages are subject to human error. It is critical to note, that one of the main reasons The Qur’an was so amazing to the Arabs has to do with its “literary aesthetic” (as al-Faruqi puts it)’ meaning that they recognized the high quality of language usage and considered that it must have “divine authorship”.

[8] Hadith: The related traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (ex. So-and-so asked the Prophet such-and-such and he said… or the Prophet was once seen doing…..), also referred to as his Sunnah. As the Prophet was said to be a living Qur’an, the hadiths are the second authority in Islam.

[9] Fatwa: A religious edict issued by a high level learned scholar of Islam.

[10] Ijtihad: The act of determining the propriety of a particular phenomenon in relation to Islam where there is no previous precedent; usually performed by scholars who reach a conclusion in the form of a fatwa.

[11] It is proper etiquette that following a Prophet’s name one says, “may Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon him” (PBUH), or, in Arabic, Sallalahu Alahi  wa Salaam.

[12] Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic): Lived in Ancient Mesopotamia and sired Jacob (Ishaq) and Ishmael (Isma’il). Jacob was the patriarch of the 12 Tribes of Israel and Ishmael of a particular line of Arabs of which Muhammad was a part.

[13] Tawheed: The essence of Tawheed is in the phrase “there is no god, but Allah”. This means that there is nothing else worthy of worship, obedience, admiration, etc. except fot the One God, Allah, creator of all the universe. This belief also connotes that Allah is the only true reality as everything else only exists by Allah’s leave and depends on Allah for sustenance.

[14] Ishmael: First born son of Abraham who was conceived by his second wife, Hagar (Hajure). The bible refers to her as his concubine/consort. The jealousy of his first wife (who was barren at the time), prompted her to force Hagar and her son into exile.

[15] Ka’ba: A Holy temple in Mecca believed to have been constructed by Abraham and Ishmael

[16] He was often called by the name “al-Amin” (the Trustworthy)

[17] The archangel familiar in Judea-Christendom, Gabriel the Messenger.

[18]Read! With the name of your Lord Who created (all of the universe), Who also created human beings from a congealed clot of blood. Proclaim, for your lord is the most benignant…..” [Surah (96) Al-Alaq, v. 1-5]

[19] It is important to bear in mind that the revelation did not occur all at one time. The Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad on a need to know basis, so to speak, as he and the Muslims interacted with one piece at a time until it was complete.

[20] Abu Bakr: Close friend of Muhammad and one of the first to accept Islam. Later he became the first Caliph (Khalif) after Muhammad’s death.

[21] Ali: One of the first to accept Islam and the first minor. He was Muhammad’s young cousin and eventually his son-in-law. He became the fourth Caliph. Some traditions say that he was announced by Muhammad to be his successor and that this right was usurped by the three Caliphs before him (Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman). This is generally held as a Shia (the 2nd largest Muslim denomination after Sunni) belief.

[22] This is utterance is known as the Kalimah: The phrase “La ilaha ill Allah”, there is no god except for Allah.  In order to become Muslim, one simply says this, with conviction and understanding, along with the accompanying phrase, “Muhammadan Rasululah”, Muhammad is His Messenger.  Together they are called the Shahadahtayn, the two Shahadahs, the two testimonies.

[23] The tribes of al-Aus and al-Khazraj were bitter enemies that were engaged in a perpetual civil war in Medina. Their acceptance of Islam changed this and they were unified. The first of them to become Muslims were the ones who met with Muhammad and formed the pact of Aqabah. They were inclined to him because they had heard from the Jews in Medina that a prophet was to arise soon. However, the Jews were not expecting that this prophet would come from amongst the Arabs.

[24] Also called the Hijri Calendar, the years count from the year of the migration which is considered 1 A.H.  It is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months in a year of 354 or 355 days. Being a purely lunar calendar, it is not synchronized with the seasons. With an annual drift of 10 or 11 days, the seasonal relation repeats about every 33 Islamic years.

[25] Emperor Heraclius ruled the Byzantine Empire from 610 to 641 CE

[26] Khosrau II was the twenty-second Sassanid King of Persia and he ruled from 590-628 CE

[27] The Prophet Muhammad had three sons that all died before reaching adulthood, Qasim, Tahir, and Ibrahim.

[28] At the pond of Ghadir Khumm, on their victory march back to Mecca in 633 CE/10 AH, the Prophet Muhammad stopped to give a pronouncement at which time, according to Tabataba’i, he took Ali’s hand and announced him as his successor as 120,000 Muslim pilgrims looked on.

[29] Caliph/Khalif=ruler

[30] By 680 CE Imam Ali, Imam Hassan, and Imam Husayn had all been killed. Ali by a Kharijite and his sons by the Umayyads.

[31] Literally translated, this word means community, but refers specifically to the Muslim community and by extension the Islamic State.

[32] It is often said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This was a magnificent exception.

[33] Zakat is a binding tax on all Muslims and is one of the five pillars that upholds the faith. It stipulates that 2.5% per annum of your accumulated wealth be given in charity. Under the Islamic State, that money would go to the state and be redistributed to the needy.

[34] Jizyah is a tax levied against non-Muslims that are under the protection of the Islamic State.

[35] Congregational prayer leader

[36] Caller to prayer. The first one was Bilal, an African slave turned Muslim. He wrote the adhan (call to prayer).

[37] Currently, Islam is now the second largest religion in the world, after Christianity and the fastest growing in the West[37] (Young 1997).  In the United States, for example, nearly 80 percent of the more than 1,200 mosques have been built in the past 12 years.

[38] The Arabic word taghut[Tah-goot] literally means to, cross the limits, overstep boundaries, or to rebel.  Imam Muhammad Al-Asi defines it simply as “concentration and abuse of power (Al-Asi, 423).

In a applicable context, Dr. Diyaaud-deen Al-Qudsy describesit as everything that dissuades and deviates one from the worship of Allah and also prevents one from faithfully and sincerely obeying Allah and His messenger; whether it be “Satan”, man, trees, stones, women, [spouse], [idols]; or an oppressive dictator or an outstanding group that people selected, an assembly, a group of scientists that enacts laws other than Allah’s laws. It may be a custom, a habit, or an ideology that has not originated from the Book of Allah and one who ascribes to himself the right of enacting laws and setting limits.

Entering into this meaning without a doubt is ruling by foreign laws and abandoning Islam and its legislations, enacting laws and setting limits like permitting interest, fornication and adultery and intoxicants. The laws that these people legislate and enact are taghuts itself and those people that legislate and lay down these laws are also taghuts.

Taghut is every nation that seeks judgment from other than Allah and His messenger or follows the taghut or obeys it in that which he does not know is obedience to Allah alone. (Al-Qudsy n.d.)

[39] Shirk is to associate anything with Allah’s sovereignty or propose that Allah has an equal or rival. To imagine that Allah has offspring or that anything else is anything more than a creation of Allah. Allah is the only divine and Allah is omnipotent, in need of nothing. Shirk is the only sin for which Allah has declared there is no hope of forgiveness or mercy. Furthermore, Muslims worship Allah alone and to obey is to worship. Therefore, any authority in the life of a Muslim must receive his/her authority from Allah and execute that authority in harmony with the Qur’an and Sunnah.

[40] In any situation, Islam emphasizes ones responsibilities above ones rights.

[41] These are customary/preferred/advised roles. Women are in no way prohibited from working anymore than men are prohibited from doing the dishes.

Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched 100 Years of Federalism

Naji Mujahid
Phil. & Meth. Of History
Professor Jowers
December 1, 2012

Book Review

Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched 100 Years of Federalism. By Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips Jr. (New York: Faber and Faber, c. 1999. Pp. xviii, 394. $30.00, ISBN 0-571-19952-6.)

In Contempt of Court, the authors, Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips, Jr., produce an impressive historical narrative.  They come from two professional backgrounds; Curriden as a journalist and Phillips as an attorney and legal historian.  What they exhibit in their collective work are in-depth research of sources that were almost 100 years old and an impressive ability to imagine and recreate scenes for the reader, based on the available evidence.  The sources used include court records, newspaper accounts, and the private papers of some of the people involved.  Missing from their research are many of the court records from the Hamilton County Courthouse in Chattanooga, where the lynching took place.  Unfortunately, it burned down.  Nevertheless, the story is a seemingly accurate portrayal of the events.  “Unlike many books documenting the travels of cases through the state and federal court systems, this book spends a great deal of time on the characters and sequence of events surrounding the litigation. This is not a story, but rather a full-blown documentary told with detail and amazing clarity. This is quite a testament to the research underlying the story.”[1]

In 1906, Nevada Taylor, a young white woman was raped by an unidentified assailant.  Her initial account of her assault was that she did not know who her attacker was, or even his race, however she “thought” it was a Negro.  In the days to come, the authorities, led by Sheriff Joseph Shipp attempted find the rapist, but to no avail.  Eventually, they had a breakthrough in the case after a reward of $375 was offered.  In an effort to claim the reward, a local main came forth with a tale of how he saw a “suspicious looking Negro” at the train station near the crime scene.  He later identified Ed Johnson.  Johnson was subsequently arrested and the following night, a mob attempted to steal him from the local jail but was thwarted by Sheriff Shipp and Judge Samuel McReynolds.  McReynolds appeased the mob by promising a speedy trial and conviction.

It was this promise that doomed Johnson because McReynolds gave this promise primacy over Johnson’s right to a fair trial.  Johnson was hastily convicted in three days and given the death penalty.  His lawyers, who had been threatened and attacked during the course of the trial, encouraged Johnson to waive his right to appeal, reasoning that, “You can accept the verdict of the court and die in an orderly, lawful manner.  Or you can die horribly by the hands of the mob…. Do you want to die in an orderly fashion or do you want a lynch mob to take you from your cell, drag you into the streets, beat you, and hang you in front of everyone….?”  It is a lawyer’s duty to inform their client of all the possible consequences of their decisions and, unfortunately, a lynching was a distinct possibility, but the lawyers “had betrayed their client by encouraging him to waive his rights to appeal.”

This is where Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins came in to the picture.  Both of them were Black lawyers in Chattanooga and they were appalled at the way the trial was carried out and they convinced Johnson to let them handle the appeal.  Johnson accepted and the two lawyers set to the business of filing the appeal with the Tennessee Supreme Court.  The court ruled that it was not within their jurisdiction to extend the federal protections of the Bill of Rights to State cases.  However, they were willing to give Johnson a stay of execution in order to give his new lawyers time to appeal to the federal Supreme Court.

Parden eventually made his way to Washington, DC and was given an audience with Associate Judge John Marshall Harlan.  Parden cited the Constitutional violations that had taken place in the Johnson Case, including the Fourth Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments among them.  He went on to explain that two of the lawyers appointed to represent Johnson had never handled a criminal case before, that the defense was “denied enough time to investigate adequately and research properly the case against their client”, that Blacks were systematically excluded from the jury, and that the case should have been moved to another jurisdiction because “the atmosphere in the community was so poisoned that there was no way that Ed Johnson could have received a fair trial from an impartial jury.”  Furthermore, he pointed out that the jury was clearly tainted and biased because two of them made derogatory remarks and threatening gestures at Johnson during the trial.  “Parden was asking the Court to intervene directly in a state-court criminal trial for the first time in the nation’s history”.

After careful consideration and conference with the other Judges, the Supreme Court of the United States did exactly that.  And this is where the plot thickens.  The following day the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee in general, and Sheriff Shipp and Judge McReynolds in particular, were in for a rude awakening; the Supreme Court had decided to hear the case and were suspending Johnson’s death sentence.  This did not go over well.  The press, the public, and the elected officials of Tennessee verbalized their contempt of the Supreme Court intervening into their State’s business.  And then they went beyond verbal contempt.  The Sheriff, the Judge, and the District Attorney all stood idly by while a mob gathered to apprehend Johnson who was now under state protection.  Johnson, who had adamantly maintained his innocence from the day he was arrested until the moment he died, was lynched that night. His last words were, “God bless you all, I am an innocent man”.

Frustrated, the Supreme Court pondered what to do.  Eventually they decided to charge the members of the mob, Sheriff Shipp, and others with contempt of court and convene a trial where the Solicitor General would serve as prosecutor and the Judges as judge and jury.  This has never happened before or since.  Shipp, et al. were found guilty and given short sentences.  In this way, the Court fortified its power and influence in the hierarchy of American law and order.  However, because Johnson was killed, his case was never heard and therefore the Constitutional issues were not decided.

One of them, the right to counsel, was not established until another Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainright (1963), established that “The right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner’s trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment.”[2]  Then, in 1970, the Court held in McMann v. Richardson that “[T]he right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.”  In other words, that counsel for the defendant is able to give due diligence to the case.  More recently, in March of 2012, the Supreme Court further extended this Sixth Amendment right to the plea bargain process.

This book has been highly regarded, even winning the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award.  It’s accolades notwithstanding, Contempt of Court has not been without some criticism, “The story of the Johnson litigation testifies powerfully to the pervasiveness of racist poison that saturated the unreconstructed South. But Contempt of Court exaggerates its legal significance”[3].  However, in stark contrast to this view, former Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall was of the opinion that the “The import of the Sheriff Shipp case on the federal court’s authority over state criminal cases should not be underestimated”.  In this writer’s opinion, this book should be of interest to anyone interested in post-reconstruction era American history, legal history, or because of its narrative style, anyone inclined towards John Grisham style legal drama.

[1] John B. Gates. Article 10.  Santa Clara Law Review: 2000; Vol. 40. 4.

[2] Gideon v. Wainright.  US Supreme Court Center.  Justia.com.  http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/372/335/case.html.  Accessed December 1, 2012.

[3] Hugh Davis Graham.  Book Review: Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism.  The American Journal of Legal History , Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 91-93.  Accessed December 1, 2012.  http://www.jstor.org.proxydc.wrlc.org/stable/846268.

CIA Complicity in Cocaine Trafficking: Implausible Deniabiliy

Naji Mujahid
US History post-1865
Professor Asch
University of the District of Columbia
April 27, 2010

CIA Complicity in Cocaine Trafficking:  Implausible Deniabiliy

Blame Reagan for making me [in]to a monster//Blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra//I ran contraband that they sponsored//Before these rhymes and stuff we was in concert

-Jay-Z, Blue Magic[1]

              The above song lyrics speak to a scandal in American political history that shook the nation’s trust in the executive office and the intelligence agencies.  The Iran-Contra affair[2] came to public consciousness after news reports appeared that a plane had been shot down while carrying 10,000 pounds of armaments.  The weapons were headed for Nicaragua and Iran.  It came to be known that the US government was supporting the rebels in those countries against their popular governments.  It turned out that the rabbit hole went a lot deeper and it involved the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a faction of Iranians, the President along with several people in the his cabinet, a rebel group (known as the Contras) fighting to overthrow the popular Sandanista government in Nicaragua, drug smugglers in Central America, and Israeli intelligence officials; all brought together by the unholy trinity of guns, drugs, and money.

It is a story tailor made for conspiracy theorists and muckraking journalists.  This paper will provide an overview of this scandal and will particularly focus on the complicity of the US government, and its intelligence agencies, in trafficking cocaine to the United States.  That the CIA was aware of the Contras drug smuggling activities is not disputable, however, the following research will attempt to show that, not only were they aware of it, but they were also actively involved with it.


The setting of this story is the latter stage of the Cold War which began shortly after World War II.  The Cold War evolved out of the United States and other Western capitalist[3] countries alliance to defeat the rise of Communism among the Eastern Bloc, particularly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in order to “make the world safe for Democracy”[4].  The USSR on the other hand was also involved in a campaign to spread its influence across the globe to defeat capitalism.  Towards those ends, the US and USSR began vying for influence amongst the many smaller non-aligned countries in the world and also became engaged in an intense race of weapons proliferation.  Eventually, with the advent of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, they reached a point of mutually assured destruction and could not engage each other in direct battle without risking the obliteration of both countries.  Instead, they engaged in several proxy wars by supporting opposite sides of conflicts such as in Korea, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.

Another development in the wake of World War II was the National Security Act of 1947.  This legislation created the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)[5], transformed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)[6] into the CIA, and established the National Security Council (NSC) to serve as a nexus for the JCS, CIA, and executive office to coordinate intelligence and develop strategy.  For years following the formation of the NSC, “the public and even most government officials were privy to little information about its workings.” (Johnson 1991, 3). This all changed in 1974 when New York Times reporter, Seymour Hersch, published an expose about the Agency that revealed, among other things, foreign assassination plots and widespread domestic surveillance.  This created a firestorm within the American body politic because, “Toppling Marxist regimes was one thing, even if the plans ran amok; widespread surveillance of American citizens— read voters— went too far.” (Johnson 1991, 4).

President Gerald Ford was compelled to act and created the U.S. President’s Commission on CIA activities within the United States which is commonly referred to as the Rockefeller Commission because it was headed byVice President Nelson Rockefeller.  The investigation found that the CIA had:

  • a program to open mail to or from selected American citizens generated 1.5 million names stored in the Agency’s computer bank
  • engaged in drug experiments (the MK/ULTRA Project[7]) against unsuspecting subjects (two of whom died from side effects)
  • [plotted the assassination of] at least two foreign leaders…..(none successful)
  • manipulated elections in democratic regimes (Chile was but one of several)
  • carried out burglaries in the homes and offices of suspected “subversives”
  • infiltrated religious, media, and academic organizations

(Johnson 1991, 5)

These revelations led the agency from the “Era of Trust (1947-74) to the “Era of Skepticism (1974-76) and into the “Era of Uneasy Partnership (1976-1986)” during which time “experimental forms of closer legislative supervision over the intelligence community and heightened public awareness of the CIA and its missions.” (Johnson 1991, 9).  He also identifies the current phase as the “Era of Distrust (1986- )” which began after the revelations of the Iran-Contra scandal.


               The US came to Nicaragua in 1909 to support a resistance movement against President Jose Zelaya who had executed hundreds of rebels (and more importantly to the US, two American citizens) and had interfered with American interests in the region[8].  Under the pressure of the rebels internally and the US externally, Zelaya resigned.  In 1912, the US intensified their military presence and established the Nicaraguan National Guard (Guardia), and appointed Anastosio Somoza Garcia as its leader.  Trained and financed by the US, the purpose of the Guardia was to protect and promote US interests in the region.

With the power of the Guardia behind him, Somoza would eventually ascend to the Presidency and establish a dynasty that lasted until 1979.  In 1956, President Anastasio Somoza Garcia was assassinated and his son, Luis Somoza, succeeded him.  It is hard to imagine the stranglehold Somoza’s minions had over the Nicaraguans.  “The Guardia wasn’t just an army; it had its hands in everything.  If the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, the IRS, the army, the air force, the Marine Corps, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, Customs, Immigration, and the Postal Service were all rolled into one, it would begin to approach Somoza’s National Guard in its power over the everyday lives of the average citizen.”  The Somoza family also “owned nearly all of the country’s biggest corporations—the national airline the power company, the biggest hotel, the biggest department store, the cement factory, a newspaper…you name it, they owned it” and for 46 years, “the Somozas had done nearly everything the US Government asked”.

This dubious distinction most notably included being a stalwart ally against communism south of Mexico during the Cold War.  Hardly a US backed coup or assassination attempt went down without the help of the Nicaraguan National Guard, including the “CIA’s overthrow of a liberal Guatemalan government in 1954”, providing a “secret base for the Bay of Pigs invasion”, and even sending “Nicaraguans off to fight in Vietnam.”  The Samoza regime was not without opposition.  The Sandanista National Liberation Front (hereafter referred to as SNLF or Sandanistas) overthrew the government of President Luis Somoza in 1979.

Up to the point of the Carter Administration, the Somoza government had been impervious to the attacks of the Sandanistas.  But, because of Carters stance on promoting human rights, the US had to distance itself from the Nicaraguan Dictators harsh dealings with the rebels and rendered them impotent against the revolt of 1979.  In the aftermath of the revolution, many of the Somoza loyalists were arrested, some were executed, and many more went into exile and sought asylum elsewhere, particularly in the United States.  In 1981, a new administration took the reins of American government led by Ronald Reagan.  Ronald Reagan sought to escalate Cold War tactics to crush communism once and for all and this included supporting the Nicaraguan contrarevolucionarios (Contras).  “The president praised them as “freedom fighters” ….. “the moral equal of our Founding Fathers.” and, together, Reagan and CIA director William Casey believed that “if the United States could defeat a Soviet proxy in just one place, the entire evil empire would “unravel.””  (Longley 2005, 26)


               Monetary and material support for the Contras was allowed until 1984 when the US Congress passed the Boland Amendment which “prohibited contra aid for the purpose of overthrowing the Sandinista Government in fiscal year 1983, and limited all aid to the contras in fiscal year 1984 to $24 million” (Iran-Contra 1987).  This prohibitive act by congress infuriated Reagan and his response was not to acquiesce.  He informed national security adviser Robert McFarlane and his deputy, Admiral John Poindexter, as well as NSC staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, “to do whatever you have to do to help these people [the contras] keep body and soul together.” (Longley 2005, 28).  This precipitated a series of covert acts organized by Lt. Col. Oliver North, et al. under the nose of Congress and without the official support of President Reagan.

The covert action directed by North, however, was not approved by the President in writing [italics mine]. Congress was not notified about it. And the funds to support it were never accounted for. In short, the operation functioned without any of the accountability required of Government activities. It was an evasion of the Constitution’s most basic check on executive action – the power of the Congress to grant or deny funding for Government programs.  (Iran-Contra 1987)

The actions taken by North were a tangled web of various interests and parties that was held together by the CIA.

Another covert development that would begin to intertwine with the covert support of the Contras was the covert relationship with Iran, specifically with self-proclaimed Iranian moderates.  Representatives of this group contacted McFarlane and claimed that if they sold them arms to support their efforts to undermine the Khomeini government in Iran, they could, in turn, negotiate the release of several Americans being held hostage in Lebanon by Hizbullah[9].  This contradicted President Ronald Reagan’s popular stance that he didn’t negotiate with terrorists[10] and these revelations eroded his credibility.

Eventually, North came up with the bright idea that they could overcharge the Iranians for the arms and use the excess profits to further their efforts with the Contras.  1986 proved to be an enlightening year for the American public.  That year, a CIA-chartered airplane was shot down by Sandanistas (October 5, 1986) and, after interrogation, the cargo handler and lone-survivor, Eugene Hassenfus, spilled the beans and revealed that he was delivering weapons to the Contras.  A month later on November 3, a Beirut newspaper (Al-Shira’a) reported the arms for hostages arrangement that had been going on.  It turned out that the arms purchasers were not moderates after all; they were loyal to the Khomeini government and had suckered the NSC.

The report from Al-Shira’a, the downed plane, and the subsequent admissions of Hassenfus opened the pandora box that became the Iran-Contra Affair.  Hasenfus reveals that this was one of many Contra resupply missions and he exposed the coordinator of these resupply missions as Felix Rodriguez (aka Max Gomez).  Rodriguez was a Cuban-American CIA agent and had been stationed in El Salvador for that purpose and to assist the El Salvadorean government with its own fight against insurgents; he is infamous for his involvement in the Bay of Pigs debacle and as the assassin of Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Webb 1999, 252).  He had been placed in El Salvador by his friend, Don Gregg, who was also Vice President George Bush’s (and former CIA director) national security advisor.  In an interview with on CBS with ‘60 Minutes’ host, Mike Wallace, Hasenfus said that Bush “was well aware of the covert arms supply operation” and that he “felt the Reagan-Bush administration was ‘backing this 100 percent’.” (Tarpley 2004, 420)


The Contras were not depending solely on funds generated from the arms deals and other donations secured by the NSC, such as the $32 million procured from Saudi Arabia (Zinn 2001, 586), but they were also trafficking cocaine and one of their biggest markets was in the US.  After the Sandanista revolution and the diasporic fleeing of Somoza loyalists throughout Central America and the US, a network of Nicaraguan expatriates had been created.  At the time, the largest supplier of cocaine to the US was the Medellin Cartel and in 1988 they are reported to have made $8 billion.  Furthermore, “All major US agencies have gone on the record stating, with varying degrees of frankness, that the Medellin Cartel used Contra forces to smuggle cocaine into the United States.” (McCoy 2003, 488).

There is no room here to broaden the discussion of CIA involvement in drug trafficking into other parts of the globe, but McCoy’s research outlines a similar process of exactly that having taken place in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and, of course, Latin America.  Allegations and evidence of this union between the Contras, drug traffickers, and US government operatives prompted Senator John Kerry to form a Senate committee to investigate.  They found a “pattern of CIA complicity in Central America strikingly similar to that in Laos ten years before—­ tolerance for drug dealing by the agencies local assets and concealment of their criminal activity to protect its covert operation.” (McCoy 2003, 492).

Beyond passive complicity, there is also evidence to support a pattern of active engagement.  In the courtroom, eyewitness testimony is one of the most powerful tools that can be used in a case.  The Iran-Contra hearings that went on for weeks in the Congress and Senate revolved around the testimony of witnesses.  However, as former DEA Agent Celerino Castillo III noted in his expose’, Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras & the Drug War, there was a third aspect to the Iran-Contra scandal that went ignored.  “Ask the damn question!”, he yelled at the tv screen as he watched the drama unfold on CNN (Castillo III 1994, 19).  But, no one did, except for Sen. Orrin Hatch who asked North if there was any truth to allegations of drug smuggling via the Contras resupply operations.  However, without further cross-examination, Hatch allowed North off of the hook after his simple response of “Absolutely false”.

Castillo has another story.  He worked as a DEA Agent for 12 years; much of his time was spent in South America.  During that time, he came to regard North as “the leader…..of Latin America’s most protected drug smuggling operation….Contra planes flew north to the US, loaded with cocaine, then returned laden with cash.  All under the protective umbrella of the United States Government.” (Castillo III 1994, 23).  Castillo’s claim was echoed in a report by the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz whose “internal inquiry corroborated a pattern of CIA complicity in narcotics trafficking” (McCoy 2003, 500).  Furthermore, Gary Webb, a journalist, wrote a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News and later published a book, Dark Alliance, in which he uncovered that “The FDN[11] had sold drugs to American citizens—mainly Black Americans—and the CIA was on the hook for it: a CIA agent had given the goddamned order.” (Webb 1999, 450).

Not only that, but when Agents like Castillo started getting too close to government protected smugglers, their investigations were thwarted.  In some cases, their targets had clearly been tipped off; Webb relates an investigation where the target taunted the Sheriff’s Deputy saying, “I got power! …..You don’t know what you’re doing.  There’s a bigger picture here.  I’m working for the CIA.” (Webb 1999, 325).  In other cases, the agents’ superiors “quietly and firmly advised me to move on to other investigations” (Castillo III 1994, 22).

The centerpiece of Webb’s research was the relationship between ‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross (the African-American street level kingpin) and his connection to the cocaine, Danilo Blandon (a Contra).  Blandon was the founder of the FDN in Los Angeles and took orders from Norwin Menesis (FDN member and cocaine supplier) and Enrique Bermudez (FDN Commander and CIA operative).  Meneses, Blandon, and Ross were the triune that brought cocaine from the coca farmers in Columbia to the junkies in Los Angeles.  However, there were other operations being run that led from Central America to Florida.  The CIA allied with American expatriates Alan Hyde and John Hull who were based in the Bay Islands and Costa Rica, respectively.  Hull’s alliance with the CIA lasted from 1984-1986, during which time the CIA and Contras used his huge ranch and its six airstrips for pick-ups, drop-offs, and refueling and the Contras paid him a small stipend of $10,000 a month as directed by Oliver North.

Gary Betzner, a drug pilot for Jorge Morales, testified to Senator Kerry’s subcommittee that on two occasions he, with Hull present, had witnessed a cache of arms being unloaded form the plane and a half-ton of cocaine being loaded back onto the plane for him to fly back to Lakeland, FL (McCoy 2003, 490-491).  Hyde’s island location “just off [the coast of] Honduras was ideally suited for both cocaine smuggling into the United States and CIA arms shipments to contra bases along the Honduras-Nicaragua border.”  And with the approval of CIA deputy director Robert Gates in August 1987, he did just that, making trips between his base and Florida.  During and before this union Hyde was a known narcotic trafficker to the DoD, DEA, customs, and CIA (McCoy 2003, 496-498).

During the CIA covert operations with the Contras (specifically from 1982-1995), the Agency was under a strange mandate that did not require “allegations of drug trafficking with respect to non-employees[12] of the agency” to be reported.  This strange mandate was an agreement between the Department of Justice and the CIA that amounted to a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and was forged “just as the CIA was getting involved in the Contra project and the conflict in Afghanistan…..They knew drugs were going to be sold.” (Webb 1999, 482-483).


Curiously, the House and Senate hearings practically ignored the aspects of the Iran-Contra Affair that had to do with drug smuggling, focusing on the arms for hostages deals.  When they filed their joint report Rep. Richard Cheney “helped steer the committee to an impotent result”.  Cheney would later become the Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration after Bush’s first nomination was not accepted by the Senate.  His first choice had been Sen. John Tower who led President Reagan’s investigation into Iran-Contra and he found no reason to bring criminal allegations against anyone and focuses a considerable amount of the report on Oliver North, despite not having North’s testimony.  Tarpley suggests that North was simply the fall guy and that Reagan and Bush were a lot more involved than meets the eye.  The Tower Commission Report barely mentions either of them.  Perhaps they had good reason.  Many of the key people, or anyone who might flip, came up dead; including the former CIA director William Casey who underwent brain surgery that left him mute, “he soon died, literally without ever saying another word” and Robert McFarlane attempted suicide (both in the same week, February 1987).

Clearly, Iran-Contra ruined some careers and buttressed others.  Dick Cheney would spend another 20 years in politics, most notably as VP to George W. Bush.  Lt. Col. Colin Powell, who supervised arms shipments to Iran became Secretary of Defense and considered a Presidential campaign.  Then CIA deputy director, Robert Gates is currently Secretary of Defense.  George H.W. Bush became president after Reagan and his son George W. Bush was a two-term president after Bill Clinton.  Then governor, Clinton was alleged to have thwarted law enforcement investigations at Mena airport in Mena, Arkansas which was believed to be a drug smuggling thoroughfare; meanwhile, his wife’s law firm is alleged to have been laundering Contra drug money[13] (Ruppert 2004, xv).

She went on to become a Senator and is currently Secretary of State.  Many other politicians, intelligence officials, and cabinet members have been shuffled around over the past 4 Administrations.  One more worth mentioning is John Negroponte, who was the Ambassador to Honduras and Deputy National Security Advisor under Reagan would serve as Ambassador to several different countries under Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II (notably, as Ambassador to Iraq after the war started in 2003);  later he would be Bush II’s Deputy Secretary of State and the 1st Director of National Intelligence.

Following the hearings on Capitol Hill, Lt. Col. Oliver North and VADM John Poindexter of the NSC were convicted for charges related to the Iran-Contra cover up.  Both of their convictions were vacated on appeal.  There were a few other convictions in Reagan’s cabinet, most notably Elliot Abrams who found his way onto George W. Bush’s National Security Council.  On the lower rungs of the chain Danilo Blandon and Ricky Ross were also convicted, but given remarkably harsher sentences.  This kind of disparity has, since the early 80s, plagued lower level drug dealers while the enablers at the top go unnoticed and uninvestigated.  Webb writes,

While the FDN’s war is barely a memory today, black America is still dealing with its poisonous side effects. Urban neighborhoods are grappling with legions of homeless crack addicts. Thousands of young black men are serving long prison sentences for selling cocaine — a drug that was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before members of the CIA’s army started bringing it into South-Central in the 1980s at bargain-basement prices. (Webb, America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua War 1996, 1).


In the end Communism did indeed fall and eventually the Sandanista government was voted out.  In the United States, the War on Communism had given way to the ‘War on Drugs’.  Government agencies and law enforcement bragged about their efforts south of El Paso and assured the public that everything was being done to put a stop to the import of narcotics.  Today, there are arguably more drugs coming in than there ever was, more people are incarcerated in the US than anywhere else in the world, and a vastly disproportionate number of prison inmates are Black.  When Webb’s expose came out, a firestorm swept the Black community.  A class-action law suit[14] was even opened against the CIA and DoJ, alleging that their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ agreement was illegal and subsequently responsible for the erosion of their communities.  “Legal experts gave the suit little chance of success…..the Federal courts can be a brutal arena in which to fight US Government policy.” (Webb 1999, 485)

Webb’s story, while lauded by some, was loathed by others.  It wasn’t long before the mainstream media began to attack him and the San Jose Mercury News.  One of the main attackers was veteran reporter Walter Pincus at the Washington Post; however, it turned out that Pincus was, in fact, a “former CIA agent and propagandist”.  Eventually, the SJMN has caved under the pressure and began to run detractions to the story.  Webb eventually resigned and published his book in 1999.  Five years later, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist shot himself in the head.

              The link between the Contras and the CIA, et al. is not crystal clear.  However, when you peer through the tarnished glass it is pretty obvious what was going on there.  As Michael Ruppert notes,

The CIA has been dealing drugs since before it was the CIA; already in its first days, as the OSS during World War II it was facilitating and managing the trade, and directing its criminal proceeds to the places of its masters’ choosing….. The use of the drug trade to secure economic advantage for an imperialist nation is at least as old as the British East India Company’s first smuggling of opium from India into China in the late 1600s. (Ruppert 2004, 67)

The links between the CIA and Contras are clear, the directives from the Executive office to support the Contras war are clear, the agencies willingness to deal with known drug traffickers are clear, and the agreement with the DoJ to ignore such things are clear.  It is also obvious that tons of kilos of cocaine are not going to make it through the border that regularly and under that many noses.

The revelations that came to light after the Iran-Contra scandal broke were covered up and much to the dismay of people like Castillo, the line of questioning that followed the narcotics trafficking was not taken; in fact, it was avoided.  Until, Webb’s expose came out, no investigation was done about the drugs.  Except for the overturned convictions of North and Poindexter (and a few lower level pardons) no one was held accountable for anything.  The cover-up and lack of accountability speaks volumes.  It is much more ridiculous to believe that the CIA is innocent, given the facts, than to conclude that a lack of facts is proof of their innocence.  After all, sitting before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even Sen. Paul Simon acknowledged NSC member (and career CIA agent) Don Gregg’s “career training in establishing secrecy and deniability for covert operations.” (Tarpley 2004, 424).  With that in mind, it could be safe to assume that what we do know is just the tip of the iceberg.

[1] From Jay-Z’s American Gangster album on Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam Records.  Produced by The Neptunes.  2007.

[2] Sometimes referred to as the Iran-Contra scandal, Irangate, or Contragate.

[3] In history and political thought, democracy is often used as a euphemism for capitalism.  I prefer the latter term because it is more descriptive and exact to describe the US intentions.

[4] This phrase was uttered by President Woodrow Wilson when he addressed the US Congress on April 2, 1917 to encourage their support for entering World War I.

[5] The JCS is an office that includes the heads of the US Military branches.

[6] The OSS was formed during WWII as an entity to coordinate intelligence activities between the Armed Forces.

[7] MK Ultra was a project designed to experiment with the possibilities of mind control and was funded by millions of U.S. dollars and led by a scientist named Sidney Gottlieb.  The CIA conducted experiments with a combination of hypnosis, shock therapy, ketamine and LSD.  The CIA was fascinated by LSD, and thought it a wonder drug that could be used not only to create zombie-like armies, but to drive enemy leaders like Fidel Castro insane. There were few willing subjects in the research — often, LSD was secretly given to a range of people, from CIA employees to prostitutes and the mentally ill. Sometimes, agents even posed as prostitutes and secretly drugged their clients, while fellow agents watched in two-way mirrors.

[8] Nicaragua had been a possible location for the US to construct a canal, but when they decided to build it in Panama instead, the response of President Jose Zelaya was to negotiate a canal building project in Nicaragua with Japan and Germany.

[9] Hezbollah (“Party of God”) is a political and paramilitary organization based in Lebanon. Hezbollah is also a major provider of social services, which operate schools, hospitals, and agricultural services for thousands of Lebanese and plays a significant force in Lebanese politics. It is regarded as a resistance movement throughout much of the Arab and Muslim world. Many governments, including Arab ones, have condemned actions by Hezbollah while others have praised the party. Several western countries regard it in whole or in part as a terrorist organization.

[10] “Let me further make it plain to the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices, wherever they may be, that America will never make concessions to terrorists — to do so would only invite more terrorism — nor will we ask nor pressure any other government to do so. Once we head down that path there would be no end to it, no end to the suffering of innocent people, no end to the bloody ransom all civilized nations must pay.” President’s press conference, broadcast on all major stations on June 18,1985.

[11] Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (Nicaraguan Democratic Forces): Contra faction created by the CIA and was and the largest, best trained, and most well-armed Contra faction.

[12] Non-employees are defined as agents, assets (informants, liaisons, etc.), and non-staff employees.

[13] Allegations that the CIA and Department of Justice were complicit in the flow of cocaine into South Central LA; that the Clintons were partnered with George H. W. Bush and Oliver North through the offices of the National Security Council in a little Iran Contra arms and cocaine trafficking operation in Mena, Arkansas; and that Hillary Clinton’s law firm was helping launder the local share of the profits through state housing agency securities and investments were never addressed objectively by the corporate media.

[14] Lyons v. CIA (research into the status of the case was unsuccessful)


Castillo III, Celerino and Harmon, David. Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras & the Drug War. Oakville: Mosaic Press, 1994.

Churchill, Ward. On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Oakland: AK Press, 2003.

Congress, Library of. “Country Studies (Nicaragua).” Federal Research Divisoin. December 1993. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field%28DOCID+ni0021%29 (accessed April 25, 2010).

Cooper, William. Behold A Pale Horse. Sedona: Light Technology Publishing, 1991.

International, Crescent. Issues in the Ismlamic Movement 1987. Edited by Khalim Siddiqui and M. Ghayasuddin. Vol. 7. 7 vols. London: The Open Press, 1990.

Iran-Contra, Comgressional Committee to Investigate. The American Presidency Project. November 18, 1987. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/PS157/assignment%20files%20public/congressional%20report%20key%20sections.htm (accessed April 25, 2010).

Johnson, Loch K. America’s Secret Power : The CIA in a Democratic Society. Cary: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Longley, Kyle. Deconstructing Reagan : Conservative Mythology and America’s Fortieth President. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2005.

McCoy, Alfred W. The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2003.

Ruppert, Michael C. Crossing the Rubicon : The Decline of the Aerican Empire at the End of the Age of Oil. Crossing the Rubicon : The Decline of the Aerican Empire at the End of the Age of Oil. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 2004.

Tarpley, Webster G. and Chaitkin, Anton. George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography. Joshua Tree: Progressive Press, 2004.

Webb, Gary. Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and the Crack-Cocaine Explosion. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999.

—. “America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua War.” San Jose Mercury News, August 18, 1996.

Zinn, Howard. A Peoples History of the United States. New York: Perrenial Classics, 2001.

—. The Zinn Reader. Neew York: Seven Stories Press, 2009.

Considering Restorative Justice

The United States doesn’t have a criminal “justice” system, it has a criminal punishment system.  Within this system, there is no justice for the criminal, nor is there any justice for the victim; only vengeance.  However, even that vengeance is illusory and vicarious; it doesn’t belong to the victim, it belongs to the State.  The primary focus of this system is not to to punish the offender for offending the victim, its for offending the authority of the government.  In other words, for breaking the law.

The aim of restorative justice is to create a dynamic where the parties involved in the offence (the offender, the victim, and the community), come together in an attempt to restore the damage, promote healing, and create safety.

Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to re-establish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. (Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice)

This can take many different forms and may depend on the offence and the willingness of the parties involved to work together.  In our current system, there is little to no place for the victim to participate in the process other than being a witness for the government; there is even less place for the community to participate.  This creates a dynamic where the victim is disempowered throughout the process, from the time the offence was committed to the time it is ostensibly resolved, the victim has almost no power over the situation.  The offender is also separated from the process of addressing the offence in a meaningful way.  He/she is consumed with their own well-being in defending against the allegations and looming punishment. Some common restorative justice methods include: victim-offender mediation, community group conferencing, peacemaking/sentencing circles.

The practice of restorative justice is age-old and found in many indigenous cultures, however, the appropriation of it and the discussion of it in the modern world is a relatively new development.  In order for its application to become more mainstream in the United States, it will require a transformation of values where compassion replaces contempt; more Martin Luther King and less Draco.  For those seeking more information, Restorative Justice Online is a good place to start.