The Definitive Birther Takedown

July 28, 2009 10:07 am ET

A growing chorus of fringe conservatives, ranging from members of Congress to Lou Dobbs, have started echoing the "birthers'" claims that Barack Obama's eligibility for office needs to be examined. Media Matters Action Network decided to take up the challenge. Needless to say, we found their evidence rather uncompelling.

MYTH: The Certification Of Live Birth Is Not Enough Evidence To Confirm His Birth In Hawaii

Birther Movement Claim:

Obama has NOT provided a certified copy of an original, typed, vault copy, long-form, birth certificate, signed by his mother and delivering doctor with the name of the hospital thereon, to be used to conclusively prove one of the two key elements used in determining his "natural born" citizenship status per the U.S. Constitution, i.e., where he was born. All he has provided to the electorate and public to see is a digital image on the internet of a purported copy of a short, summary, computer printed form called a Certification of Live Birth, aka COLB, which is not a Birth Certificate. No one in any controlling legal authority and official expert capacity has ever been allowed to examine the purported computer made paper document displayed in the digital images and digital pictures on the internet. [ObamaCitizenshipFacts.org, accessed 7/27/09]

FACT: Not Only Has The Certificate Of Live Birth Been Verified By Numerous Officials, Other Primary Source Documents Verify Contents

FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as "supporting documents" to this article. [Factcheck.org, 11/1/08]

But the evidence of Barack Obama's birth in Hawaii does not stop there. Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Hawaii's State Health Director, examined the document.  As reported by the Honolulu Advertiser:

So, in what likely will be a vain attempt to halt the inquiries, Fukino yesterday issued a statement saying that she and the registrar of vital statistics personally inspected Obama's birth certificate and found it to be valid. . . .

Fukino issued her statement to try to stomp out persistent rumors that Obama was not born in Honolulu - and is therefore not a U.S. citizen and thus ineligible to run for president.

Fukino, however, repeated the Health Department's position that state law prohibits her or any other officials from actually releasing the birth certificate, which Obama's campaign says shows he was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961.

"There have been numerous requests for Sen. Barack Hussein Obama's official birth certificate," Fukino said in the statement. "State law (Hawai'i Revised Statutes ¤338-18) prohibits the release of a certified birth certificate to persons who do not have a tangible interest in the vital record. ... No state official, including Gov. Linda Lingle, has ever instructed that this vital record be handled in a manner different from any other vital record in the possession of the State of Hawai'i." [Honolulu Advertiser, 11/1/08]

Furthermore, the other evidence of Obama's birth in Hawaii continues to pile up. This includes:

  • Barack Obama's Indonesian School Record, posted on the site of  birther lawyer Orly Taitz as "evidence" of his Indonesian citizenship:

Note line "2" which states, in Indonesian: "Tempat dan tanggal lahir," which translated means "The place and the date of birth." The form clearly states Honolulu.

MYTH: Barack Obama Can Direct The State Of Hawaii To Release His Long Form Birth Certificate

Birther Movement Claim:

The lawsuit has not been dismissed (and others, including one in Hawaii, have been filed). But it could be quickly settled by Obama and the DNC. All they need to do is show a certified, long form "Certificate of Live Birth" to the court. [WorldNetDaily, 10/28/08]

FACT: The State Department Of Health No Longer Issues Copies Of Paper Birth Certificates

As reported by the Honolulu Star Bulletin:

No, you can't obtain a "certificate of live birth" anymore.

The state Department of Health no longer issues copies of paper birth certificates as was done in the past, said spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

The department only issues "certifications" of live births, and that is the "official birth certificate" issued by the state of Hawaii, she said.

And, it's only available in electronic form.

Okubo explained that the Health Department went paperless in 2001.

"At that time, all information for births from 1908 (on) was put into electronic files for consistent reporting," she said. [Honolulu Star Bulletin, 6/6/09]

MYTH: The Certificate Of Live Birth Posted By The Obama Campaign (And Above) Is Forged

Birther Movement Claim:

Additionally, statements by Ron Polarik and private investigator Jose Barro, showed numerous signs of forgery on the short version COLB posted by Obama/Soetoro, and Forensic Document expert Sandra Line has issued an affidavit that Obama's place of birth cannot be ascertained without seeing the original birth certificate. [DefendOurFreedoms.org, accessed 7/27/09]

FACT: FactCheck.org Viewed The Original Document, Attested To Its Authenticity

Recently FactCheck representatives got a chance to spend some time with the birth certificate, and we can attest to the fact that it is real and three-dimensional and resides at the Obama headquarters in Chicago. We can assure readers that the certificate does bear a raised seal, and that it's stamped on the back by Hawaii state registrar Alvin T. Onaka (who uses a signature stamp rather than signing individual birth certificates). We even brought home a few photographs. [FactCheck.org, 11/1/08]

MYTH: Foreign-Born Children Could Acquire Hawaiian Certificates Of Live Birth (COLB)

Birther Movement Claim: According to the Orange County Weekly:

Taitz and others say they have reason to doubt the veracity of Obama's COLB. Forensic experts have set up web pages and signed affidavits saying it's a forgery. There's a law on the books in Hawaii that allows foreign-born children to obtain a Hawaiian COLB. And the information on a late-registered COLB doesn't need to be verified by anyone; it's based solely on the testimony of one parent. [Orange County Weekly, 6/18/09]

FACT: The Law In Question Did Not Exist Until 20 Years Later

The law allowing foreign-born children to obtain Hawaiian COLBs didn't exist until 20 years after Obama was born, while Obama's published COLB says his birth information was recorded four days after his birth in 1961. [OC Weekly, 6/18/09]

MYTH: Obama Renounced His Citizenship While In Indonesia

Birther Movement Claim:

The problem Obama has with that issue is whether his step-father, who moved the family to Indonesia after marrying his mother, legally "adopted" him or "acknowledged" him as his son in Indonesia with the mother's concurrence, thereby renouncing his U.S. citizenship while living in Indonesia. [ObamaCitizenshipFacts.org, accessed 7/27/09]

FACT: Barack Obama Never Renounced His Citizenship

The primary piece of evidence birthers cite to support this claim is Barack Obama's Indonesian School Record referenced above. Line 3 of the document does ask for Barack Obama's country of citizenship and does say Indonesia. However, Barack Obama's parents' completion of this document does not mean he renounced his citizenship. In fact, Title 8 > Chapter 12 > Subchapter III > Part III > Section 1481 of the U.S. Code is very clear on this point:

§ 1481. Loss of nationality by native-born or naturalized citizen; voluntary action; burden of proof; presumptions 

 (a) A person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality-

(1) obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon his own application or upon an application filed by a duly authorized agent, after having attained the age of eighteen years; or

(2) taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after having attained the age of eighteen years; or

(3) entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if

(A) such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States, or

(B) such persons serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer; or

(4)

(A) accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after attaining the age of eighteen years if he has or acquires the nationality of such foreign state; or

(B) accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after attaining the age of eighteen years for which office, post, or employment an oath, affirmation, or declaration of allegiance is required; or

(5) making a formal renunciation of nationality before a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States in a foreign state, in such form as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State; or

(6) making in the United States a formal written renunciation of nationality in such form as may be prescribed by, and before such officer as may be designated by, the Attorney General, whenever the United States shall be in a state of war and the Attorney General shall approve such renunciation as not contrary to the interests of national defense; or

(7) committing any act of treason against, or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, violating or conspiring to violate any of the provisions of section 2383 of title 18, or willfully performing any act in violation of section 2385 of title 18, or violating section 2384 of title 18 by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, if and when he is convicted thereof by a court martial or by a court of competent jurisdiction.

In addition, according to the State Department website:

B. ELEMENTS OF RENUNCIATION

A person wishing to renounce his or her U.S. citizenship must voluntarily and with intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship:

1.      appear in person before a U.S. consular or diplomatic officer,

2.      in a foreign country (normally at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate); and

3.      sign an oath of renunciation

Renunciations that do not meet the conditions described above have no legal effect. [State.gov, accessed 7/27/09; emphasis added]

Furthermore:

Parents Cannot Renounce U.S. Citizenship On Behalf Of Their Minor Children. Before an oath of renunciation will be administered under Section 349(a)(5) of the INA, a person under the age of eighteen must convince a U.S. diplomatic or consular officer that he/she fully understands the nature and consequences of the oath of renunciation, is not subject to duress or undue influence, and is voluntarily seeking to renounce his/her U.S. citizenship. [State.gov, accessed 7/27/09; emphasis added]

Update: The relevant law at the time was the 1952 Immigration and Naturalization Act. (However the conclusions are the same.)

LOSS OF NATIONALITY BY NATIVE-BORN OR NATURALIZED CITIZEN

SEC. 349. (a) From and after the effective date of this Act a person is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by

(1) obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon his own application, upon an application filed in his behalf by a parent, guardian, or duly authorized agent, or through the naturalization of a parent having legal custody of such person: Provided, That nationality shall not be lost by any person under this section as the result of the naturalization of a parent or parents while such person is under the age of twenty-one years, or as the result of a naturalization obtained on behalf of a person under twenty-one years of age by a parent, guardian, or duly authorized agent, unless such person shall fail to enter the United States to establish a permanent residence prior to his twenty-fifth birthday:

Since a school application filled out by his parents meets none of the above requirements, and a parent cannot renounce citizenship on behalf of a minor, the birthers' point is moot.

MYTH: Barack Obama Is Not Eligible To Become President Because Only One Of His Parents Is A U.S. Citizen

Birther Movement Claim: According to the Orange County Weekly:

Even if Obama's long-form, original birth certificate were to be made public, though, the questions from Taitz and others wouldn't stop. There's a second argument: that there's no way that Obama could fit the definition of a "natural-born citizen." By turning to Swiss philosophy texts read by the Founding Fathers, citing the infamous Scott v. Sanford Supreme Court decision as precedent (which denied citizenship to former slave Dred Scott and was later overturned) and disqualifying the presidency of Chester A. Arthur, Taitz is able to claim that a baby can only be a natural-born citizen if both parents were American citizens at the time of the baby's birth. [OC Weekly, 6/18/09]

FACT: Barack Obama Qualifies As A Natural Born Citizen Under The Constitution And Court Precedents

Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In addition, United States v. Wong Kim Ark established the precedent in this case:

Wong Kim Ark's demand for a writ of habeas corpus, however, was granted because of his contention that he was a United States citizen. He charged that the Collector of Customs of the Port of San Francisco and the manager of the steamship company had deprived him of his liberty without due process. The U.S. District Court for Northern California agreed that Wong's Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated. His detention was ruled illegal and he was released.

The U.S. government appealed the writ, implicitly challenging Wong's citizenship before the Supreme Court on 5 and 8 March 1897. Ironically, both sides accepted most of the basic facts of Wong's life. It was agreed that he had been born in San Francisco in 1873, while his Chinese parents were considered permanent residents of the city. He had visited China temporarily in 1890 and had returned to San Francisco with no difficulty in passing through customs. It was further agreed that since his birth, Wong had never had any other place of residence except California nor had he ever claimed to be anything other than a United States citizen. Although his parents had returned to China in 1890, Wong worked in San Francisco, paid his taxes, and had never participated in any criminal acts. Most significantly, the government's appeal conceded that the Chinese Exclusion Acts under which Wong had been detained should not apply to him if he was indeed a U.S. citizen.

A Question of Birthright

The government claimed that Wong's parentage should determine his citizenship. Wong's parents were subjects of the Emperor of China at the time of his birth. Therefore, Wong was likewise a foreign subject. According to the appeal, Wong was also Chinese by reason of his "race, language, color and dress." Because he did not belong to any of the classes of Chinese allowed entry under immigration rules, he was technically considered to be a laborer and liable to the terms of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

These arguments were no more successful in Washington D.C. than they had been in San Francisco. The Court rejected the appeal on 28 March 1898, over a year after hearing the case. Writing for the majority, Justice Gray noted the Constitution's deep roots in English common law. By this tradition, all persons born within England's domain could expect protection from the King, to whom they were expected to owe their allegiance. Gray traced the lineage of this concept of determining citizenship by birthplace from its English origins to standard practice in the American states.

The Court found its strongest reason for affirming Wong's citizenship in the Fourteenth Amendment. Ratified by Congress in 1868, the amendment was designed to grant the rights of citizenship to persons of African descent who had been slaves prior to the Civil War. To the majority, Section I of the amendment was unequivocal:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State in which they reside.

It should be noted that the Dred Scott case cited by Taitz and other birthers was decided in 1857, a decade before the 14th amendment was ratified.

MYTH: Barack Obama's Grandmother Witnessed His Birth in Kenya

Birther Movement Claim:

The Pennsylvania Democrat who has sued Sen. Barack Obama demanding he prove his American citizenship - and therefore qualification to run for  president - has confirmed he has a recording of a telephone call from the senator's paternal grandmother confirming his birth in Kenya. . .

"This has been a real sham he's pulled off for the last 20 months," Berg told Savage. "I'll release it [the tape] in a day or two, affidavits from her talking to a certain person. I heard the tape. She was speaking [to someone] here in the United States." He said the telephone call was from Obama's paternal grandmother affirming she "was in the delivery room in Kenya when he was born Aug. 4, 1961." [WorldNetDaily, October 23, 2008]

FACT: This Is A Myth Based On A Cropped Version Of An Interview With Obama's Grandmother Sarah:

From Salon.com's War Room:

In that interview, Sarah Obama does in fact say at one point that she was there for her grandson's birth. But that was a mistake, a confusion in translation. As soon as a jubilant McRae began to press her for further details about her grandson being born in Kenya, the family realized the mistake and corrected him. And corrected him. (The audio is available for download here.)

No matter, though, because people who believe in a conspiracy theory simply hear what they want to hear. So some Birther sites have posted transcripts and YouTube clips that end abruptly with the mistranslation and don't include the corrections. McRae, for his part, included the full translation in his affidavit -- he thinks it's all just part of the conspiracy. "Some few younger relatives, including [translator Vitalis Akech Ogombe]," McRae wrote in his court filing, "have obviously been versed to counter such facts with the common purported information from the American news media that Obama was born in Hawaii."

Here's the conversation:

MCRAE: Could I ask her about his actual birthplace? I would like to see his birthplace when I come to Kenya in December. Was she present when he was born in Kenya?

OGOMBE: Yes. She says, yes, she was, she was present when Obama was born.

MCRAE: When I come in December. I would like to come by the place, the hospital, where he was born. Could you tell me where he was born? Was he born in Mombasa?

OGOMBE: No, Obama was not born in Mombasa. He was born in America.

MCRAE: Whereabouts was he born? I thought he was born in Kenya.

OGOMBE: No, he was born in America, not in Mombasa.

MCRAE: Do you know where he was born? I thought he was born in Kenya. I was going to go by and see where he was born.

OGOMBE: Hawaii. Hawaii. Sir, she says he was born in Hawaii. In the state of Hawaii, where his father was also learning, there. The state of Hawaii. [Salon.com, 6/27/09]

MYTH: Obama Travelled To Pakistan At A Time When There Was A Ban On U.S. Passport Holders Entering That Country.

Birther Movement Claim: Obama Traveled to Indonesia, Pakistan and India in 1981, when he was Twenty (20) Years Old on his Indonesian Passport

Obama traveled to Indonesia, Pakistan and Southern India in 1981. The relations between Pakistan and India were extremely tense and Pakistan was in turmoil and under martial law. The country was filled with Afghan refugees; and Pakistan's Islamist-leaning Interservices Intelligence Agency (ISI) had begun to provide arms to the Afghan mujahideen and to assist the process of recruiting radicalized Muslim men--jihadists-from around the world to fight against the Soviet Union. Pakistan was so dangerous that it was on the State Department's travel ban list for U.S. Citizens. [ObamaCrimes.com, accessed 7/26/09]

FACT: No Such Ban Existed

From FactCheck.org:

But that claim is quite false. There was no such ban. Americans traveled there without incident, as shown by a travel piece that appeared in the New York Times in 1981, dated June 14. Barbara Crossette, an assistant news editor of the Times, told her mostly American readers they could travel to Lahore, Pakistan, by air, rail or road, adding: "Tourists can obtain a free, 30-day visa (necessary for Americans) at border crossings and airports."

Her article prompted a letter to the Times from the U.S. consul general in Lahore saying he would "welcome an influx of Americans" to Lahore. He cautioned only that in addition to getting a visa for Pakistan, American visitors also should be careful to line up an Indian visa for the return trip if they planned to travel overland. The letter is dated Aug. 23, 1981.

Also, a travel advisory from the State Department dated Aug. 17, 1981 notes that Americans traveling to Pakistan require a 30-day visa, and that any staying longer must check in with Pakistan's Foreigner Registration Office. A digital copy of the advisory is archived at the Electronic Research Collection, a partnership between the State Department and the Federal Depository Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [FactCheck.org, 6/5/09]

MYTH: The Military Revoked The Deployment Papers Of A Major Scheduled To Deploy To Afghanistan After Arguing He Should Not Be Required To Serve Under A President Who Has Not Proven His Eligibility For Office.

Birther Movement Claim: WorldNetDaily wrote:

A U.S. Army Reserve major from Florida scheduled to report for deployment to Afghanistan within days has had his military orders revoked after arguing he should not be required to serve under a president who has not proven his eligibility for office.

His attorney, Orly Taitz, confirmed to WND the military has rescinded his impending deployment orders. [WorldNetDaily, 7/14/09]

FACT: Major Cook Volunteered For A One-Year Assignment In Afghanistan In May And Only Brought His Suit In June.

Lt. Comm. William Speaks, a spokesman for Centcom stated:

"Maj. Cook volunteered for the one year assignment to Afghanistan, in May of this year," said Speaks. "After he brought this stuff to the fore, the unit that owned his billet canceled his orders."

Speaks dismissed comments that Cook's attorney Orly Taitz, made to WorldNetDaily, specifically her claim that "the military has directly responded by saying Obama is illegitimate."

"This in no way validates any of the outlandish claims made by Maj. Cook or his attorney," said Speaks. "The idea that this validates those charges about the president's fitness for office is simply false." [Washington Independent, 7/15/09]

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