Fact Checkers: No, There Was No 'Bowling Green Massacre' and Obama Didn't Ban Refugees

Kellyanne Conway joined Donald Trump in trying to hide behind Obama to deflect criticism over his executive order, but fact checkers are proving them wrong.

Kellyanne Conway at Trump Tower in New York, November 17, 2016.
Carolyn Kaster, AP

Kellyanne Conway continued the Trump administration's attempts to deflect criticism over Trump's recent travel and immigration ban by comparing the action to Obama administration policies.

Conway told Chris Mathews in an interview Thursday night, "I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a 6-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.” But in reality, no such massacre or ban took place. Conway appears to be referring to a 2011 foiled terror attack in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which led to Obama delaying, not banning, Iraqi refugee visa approvals for a period of time.

MSNBC

Conway echoed President Trump who made a similar statement earlier in the week that fact checkers have shown not to be accurate.

"My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting," Trump wrote in a January 29 statement.

Demonstrators spell out "# No Muslim Ban" during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

That is “Mostly False," says the fact checking website Politifact.com, while the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” blog gave Trump three out of four “Pinocchios," dubbing the statement, and later ones to the same effect, “a facile claim.”

Trump is correct in insisting that his policy is not a full-out "Muslim ban," though he had explicitly campaigned on one. Trump's policy bans all travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, and bans all refugee admissions for 120 days, and Syrian refugee admissions indefinitely.

Politifact takes issue with the statement on three major points: Trump was wrong to say Obama “banned visas for refugees”. He misrepresents Obama’s position on the seven countries named in the executive order. And while Obama took the actions he did in response to a specific threat, Trump’s actions can be described only as preemptive, at best.

Obama’s State Department did stop processing Iraqi refugee requests for six months in 2011, though it did not say so, and ABC only reported on it two years after the event.

However, Obama’s halt on processing refugee requests was not a blanket ban, and did not stop Iraqi refugees from being granted asylum. They continued to enter the U.S. throughout the Obama administration’s time in office.

Another major departure between Trump and Obama's policy, says Foreign Policy, is that Obama's policy originated within the Justice and Homeland Security Departments after a dozen committe meetings. Trump's order was drafted by White House "political officials and then presented to the implementing agencies as a fait accompli."

Further debunking the claim that Obama “banned visas for Iraqi refugees,” the Post’s Fact Checker quotes Jon Finer, director of policy planning in the Obama State Department: “There was not a single month in which no Iraqis arrived here,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. “In other words, while there were delays in processing, there was no outright ban.”

Furthermore, Obama’s policy did not prevent all the citizens of Iraq, or of any other country, let alone the green-card holders among them (which Trump reversed on two days later), from entering the United States. “Trump’s policy is much more sweeping, though officials have appeared to pull back from barring permanent U.S. residents,” according to Fact Checker.

As for declaring the seven countries to be “the same countries identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror,” Trump misrepresents the designation and action taken by Obama.

Trump is referring to a 2015 act in which Obama amended the visa waiver program to exclude nationals from 38 countries who had traveled to any of those seven countries to be eligible to enter the U.S. without a visa. “Obama’s actions dealt with people who had visited Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, not citizens of those countries, and it did not prohibit them from entering the United States,” explains Politifact. That is significantly different from Trump’s implication that Obama had designated the populations of those countries as a threat.  

Finally, possibly the most important difference between Trump’s executive action and Obama’s Iraqi refugee-processing delay is the fact that Obama was responding to a specific threat, and his actions were methodical in dealing with that threat.

Obama was responding to a foiled plot by Iraqi nationals living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to send money, explosives and weapons to al-Qaida. Trump has not cited a similar “triggering threat” underlying his policy - if anything, as the Fact Checker notes, Trump’s staff has only pointed to attacks unrelated to the countries named in his order.