CBS Looks at Plight of PLO Donor Who “Blames the Patriot Act for Ruining” Marriage

The CBS Evening News on Thursday night used President Bush's signing of the Patriot Act renewal as a chance to run a full story on, as anchor Bob Schieffer worded it, “a Texas couple that blames the Patriot Act for ruining their marriage.” Really. Schieffer had first noted how “the new law does include some additional protections for civil liberties,” but “some critics still don't like it.” Reporter Kelly Cobiella looked at the plight of the wife of Mahmoud Alafyouny, who “has been in prison for two years but never charged with a crime. He's a Palestinian fighting deportation back to Jordan because the Department of Homeland Security says he's a terrorist and a danger to national security." Rae Alafyouny, a TSA agent, must drive four hours to visit the prison holding her husband who “raised money for the Palestine Liberation Organization.” Cobiella relayed how his ACLU attorneys “argue it's a double standard” since “the U.S. government has given the PLO's successor, the Palestine Authority, $1.3 billion since 1993.” But there's a big difference between government policy toward a foreign entity -- in this case money to try to maintain a stable society and reduce terrorist attacks on Israelis -- and what individuals are allowed to do. (Transcript follows.)

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed captioning against the video for this story, video of which is now on the CBS Evening News Web page.

Over video of President Bush at the signing ceremony, Schieffer introduced the March 9 CBS Evening News story which quickly switched to the married couple:
"After months of battles with Congress, President Bush today signed legislation that renews the antiterrorism Patriot Act. The new law does include some additional protections for civil liberties. Even so, some critics still don't like it. And in one case, we found a Texas couple that blames the Patriot Act for ruining their marriage, and she is a government security worker. Kelly Cobiella has the story."
Kelly Cobiella began, over video of Rae Alafyouny in a car:
"A four-hour road trip to a minimum security prison on a dusty west Texas road. This isn't the way Rae Alafyouny envisioned married life."

Rae Alafyouny, wife of detainee, to Cobiella: "Well, it's our anniversary today. We've been married six years today. You know, we should be going out to dinner or something tonight, not this."

Cobiella: "Mahmoud Alafyouny has been in prison for two years but never charged with a crime. He's a Palestinian fighting deportation back to Jordan because the Department of Homeland Security says he's a terrorist and a danger to national security."

Mahmoud Alafyouny, on phone with Cobiella: "I don't know how that could be. I've been here for over nine years. I didn't do anything wrong -- not here, not in Jordan, not anywhere."

Cobiella: "As a young college student in Jordan, Alafyouny raised money for the Palestine Liberation Organization. The government didn't seem to care about his PLO connection when he first applied for U.S. residency in 1998, nor did they raise concerns after 9/11 when his wife landed a job as an airport screener with the Transportation Security Administration."

Rae Alafyouny: "They didn't want to put him in jail then. They didn't want to deport him then. They didn't, you know, they didn't care."

Cobiella: "But it all changed in October 2002 when Alafyouny applied for permanent residency based on his marriage, and the judge invoked the Patriot Act. The broader new laws meant that Alafyouny was seen as 'an alien who had engaged in terrorist activity' and was 'not admissible to the United States.' The Department of Homeland Security wouldn't talk to CBS News, but in court has claimed that Alafyouny was more than just a passive participant in the PLO. And while the immigration judge found no evidence that his charity work funded terror, the government says Alafyouny should have known better."

Judy Rabinovitz, ACLU: "He raised maybe a few hundred dollars. That's what we're talking about. We're not talking about some bigwig in the PLO."

Cobiella: "Alafyouny's attorneys argue it's a double standard. According to the State Department, the U.S. government has given the PLO's successor, the Palestine Authority, $1.3 billion since 1993. Rae Alafyouny was on duty when she learned that federal agents had arrested her husband. The TSA tells CBS News that she's a model employee and is not concerned that a sister agency has branded her husband a terrorist. She's been told her husband holds the key to his freedom: Drop all appeals and he'll be deported immediately to Jordan. For Rae, it's an impossible option."

Rae Alafyouny: "So I will have to make a choice between him or my family, and that's a choice that's very hard to make."

Cobiella concluded: "Unless the appeals court sees it Alafyouny's way, it may be the only choice left. Kelly Cobiella, CBS News, Haskell, Texas."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center