The inspiration for this article came from, of all places, a fortune cookie at lunch today. It said, “Trust, but verify. — Ronald Reagan.” I’ve run across this saying from Conservatives from time to time and on occasion, from “birthers”. I thought it might be interesting to apply it to the birther controversy by describing my own experience trying to trust, but verify.
The most basic weapon in any birther’s arsenal is the belief that Barack Obama’s maternal step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, said on tape that she was present when Obama was born in Kenya. While it doesn’t appear on the recording, “hospital in Mombasa” is often added to the story. My first step was to try to verify that the audio recording was itself authentic and over time it became clear that it was; however, in my search to verify its authenticity, I came across the fact that it was incomplete. When I heard the complete tape, it became obvious that the earlier comment by Sarah Obama was simply misunderstood. She states quite plainly (through her translator) later on that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. The complete audio recording and the transcript are in my article: Sarah Obama Speaks!
Barack Obama’s campaign published a Certification of Live Birth in June 2008 that was quickly called a forgery on the Israel Insider web site and other places. One claim was that the web document was made by altering the birth certificate of Barack Obama’s sister, Maya (I was able to determine that Maya Soetoro-Ng never had a Hawaiian birth certificate). One of the two oft-cited anonymous document experts, TechDude, turned out to be a fraud, publishing a list of impressive credentials that belonged to someone else. The other anonymous document expert, Dr. Ron Polarik, published an extensive analysis that grew over the months into a massive, mind-numbing rant accompanied by many images from authentic Hawaiian birth certificates. I tried to verify the technical arguments in Polarik’s Final Analysis that claimed that the birth certificate was forgery, but I was never able to make sense of what he was saying, or to see what he claimed to see in the images. Polarik even claimed that all of the Obama school pictures from Hawaii were faked. I was never able to verify any of the forgery claims. My failure was later explained when the State of Hawaii Department of Health officially reported that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.
One of the things put forward by attorney Phil Berg in the Hollister case was the idea that Barack Obama lost his American citizenship by being adopted by an Indonesian national, Lolo Soetoro. The idea comes from handwritten school registration page from Indonesia where Obama’s name is listed as “Barry Soetoro”, and his nationality is listed as “Indonesian”. Berg put forward a number of references to Indonesian law in support of his theory. I tried to verify Berg’s argument, and came up short. The Indonesian laws didn’t say what Berg claimed. Not only that, I found that Indonesian law prevented dual citizenship, and specifically someone cannot become an Indonesian citizen unless there exists a mechanism for then to renounce their former citizenship. It is well-known from the Supreme Court decision in Perkins v Elg that the action of parents cannot expatriate someone, nor can a child expatriate himself. I wrote about my experience in the article Hollister v Indonesian Citizenship Law.
Another frequently-cited birther idea is that Barack Obama has spent millions trying to seal his records. This is another claim that I was unable to verify. There are 70+ birther lawsuits, but many of them do not name Obama as a defendant, and as such he has no legal expenses for them. At least one of the lawsuits Obama did defend in California was handled pro bono by attorney Frederic Woocher. More importantly, my extensive reading of the legal complaints showed that none of these lawsuits could be satisfied by Barack Obama producing a document, and that none of them asked that any record be “sealed.” What I found is that the record availability of any Obama document is exactly the same as it was two years ago before the first lawsuit; nothing got “sealed.” Birthers claim that now President Obama is represented by the US Attorneys Office and the taxpayers are paying the astronomical legal bills. One US Attorney described their effort as “not taking too long.” I wrote about my experience trying to verify this idea in my article: More information on Obama’s legal bills.
A number of claims center around President Obama’s citizenship related to his Kenyan father. The claim I spent the most time on was the idea that the Constitution requires that a US President have two US citizen parents (which Barack Obama does not). I really worked hard on this one. I read old books full of early state legislation, early textbooks, early commentaries on the Constitution, Congressional testimony, and state and federal court decisions (such as Lynch v. Clarke and US v Wong). The two-citizen requirement is just not in the mainstream public record. Simply being born in the United States makes one a natural born citizen (except for a few uncommon technical exceptions). I’ve probably written more on this than anything else in dozens of articles here.
I could go on through pretty much every claim made by the “birthers,” from postmarks on selective service registrations to Hawaiian vital records law, but the experience has always been the same. Either the claim is false, or the claim is true but irrelevant. I tried my best to verify, but these things are just not true.