US President-elect Donald Trump announced three new appointments, slowly building his new team in preparation for January 20 when he officially takes over from President Barack Obama.
The Republican US president-elect named Alabama senator Jeff Sessions for the position of US attorney general and Kansas representative Mike Pompeo as the director of the CIA – both candidates require senate confirmation before they take up their posts. Retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn has been appointed the national security adviser.
They will be replacing Loretta Lynch, John O. Brennan, and Susan Rice respectively.
All three appointments have raised red flags for human rights groups as the three men have made comments which have been termed both racist and Islamophobic.
"Unfortunately, after stating in his acceptance speech that he wanted to unite America, President-elect Trump's initial appointments indicate that he's headed in exactly the opposite direction," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Calling Trump and his new colleagues "ideological extremists," Hooper expressed concern "their extremism would be expressed in policy".
Sessions was born in 1946 in Selma, Alabama, the birthplace of the historic civil rights march to Montgomery in 1965.
Earlier in 1986, he was up for a federal judgeship, but Congress rejected him over allegations by several attorneys of racism against black people. He was serving as the US attorney for the southern district of Alabama at the time.
He was accused of calling a black lawyer "boy," a racist insult harking back to slave plantations, an accusation which Sessions denies. Sessions did not deny saying he thought the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan "was OK until I found out they smoked pot," the New York Times reported.
"Jeff Sessions has a decades-long record – from his early days as a prosecutor to his present role as a senator – of opposing civil rights and equality," NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill said in a statement, expressing doubt whether he is the right person for the job.
Pompeo comes with star credentials, having served in the US Army and graduated from Harvard Law School. He has also been on the subcommittee on the CIA among others. He has been in the House of Representatives since 2010.
Pompeo threw his support behind Trump after the primaries. He has also been bold in his criticism of the president-elect, calling Trump's hot mic comments about groping women without their consent "horrible, offensive and indefensible". However, in 2013, Pompeo voted against renewing the Violence against Women Act.
However, as a congressional candidate in 2010, Pompeo's campaign tweeted an article that called his opponent Raj Goyle, an Indian-American Democrat, a "turban topper" who "could be a Muslim, a Hindy, a Buddhist etc who knows".
Pompeo has also on the record, said the "silence" of American Muslim leaders after terror attacks made "Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts."
A retired decorated three-star lieutenant general in the US army, Flynn was a vocal Trump supporter throughout the election campaign.
Flynn has held many senior positions, including at the Pentagon and at US central command, which runs military operations in the Middle East. He also served as a top adviser to General Stanley McChrystal in Iraq and Afghanistan. Flynn ran the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) between 2012 and 2014.
Like the rest, Flynn's past is also chequered by comments about Muslims as well as controversial and extreme interrogation techniques.
Flynn tweeted in February calling a fear of Muslims "rational."
Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions... https://t.co/NLIfKFD9lU— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) February 27, 2016
He also argued in August that Islam is not a religion but a "political ideology" and compared it to cancer. His subordinates at the DIA used to call Flynn's dubious assertions "Flynn facts" the New York Times wrote.