President Barack Obama’s new Islamic envoy, Rashad Hussain, changed course Friday – admitting he made sharply critical statements about a U.S. terror prosecution against a Muslim professor after initially saying he had no recollection of making such comments.
“I made statements on that panel that I now recognize were ill-conceived or not well-formulated,” Hussain said, referring to a 2004 conference where he discussed the case.
Hussain’s reversal came after POLITICO obtained a recording of his presentation to a Muslim students’ conference in Chicago, where he can be heard portraying the government’s cases towards professor Sami Al-Arian, as well as other Muslim terrorism suspects, as “politically motivated persecutions.” Al-Arian later pled guilty to aiding terrorists.
The comments touched off criticism from conservative commentators, who questioned whether someone who held those views should represent the United States in the Muslim world.
Initially, Hussain, 31, said through a White House spokesman that he didn’t recall making the statements. Hussain also suggested that another speaker on the panel, Al-Arian’s daughter Laila, made the comments about her father.
But after POLITICO provided the quotes and others from the recording to the White House Friday, Hussain said in a statement: “As a law student six years ago, I spoke on the topic of civil liberties on a panel during which I responded to comments made about the al-Arian case by Laila al-Arian who was visibly saddened by charges against her father. I made clear at the time that I was not commenting on the allegations themselves. The judicial process has now concluded, and I have full faith in its outcome.”
The White House declined to say Friday whether the statements or the controversy affected Obama’s confidence in Hussain.
Hussain also answered another question surrounding his comments – why they were removed from the website of a magazine on Middle East issues that published a brief account of the panel back in 2004, attributing the statement about “politically motivated persecutions” to Hussain. (continues at POLITICO)