Balancing homeland security and civil rights
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Newark, CA: Balancing homeland security and civil rights was the topic of discussion at the American Muslim Alliance civil rights forum in March 2002. The panelists included Mr. Preston Moore, International Dispute Resolution Attorney, Lay Leader, First Unitarian Church, Oakland; Ms. Stacy Tolchin, Civil Rights Attorney and Coordinator National Lawyers Guild Immigration Committee; Mr. Saad Ahmad, Civil Rights Attorney and Military Historian; Ms. Mia Chester, Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Dr. Bruce Lassignun, Prof. Department of Engineering, Stanford University.
The National Coordinator of AMA, Ms. Samina Faheem, welcomed the audience and introduced the Civil Rights panelists. She said that the civil rights issue has become very important for the American Muslim community after 9/11. The AMA national chair, Dr. Agha Saeed, speaking next observed that President Bush, in his address to the Congress, had said that the US will not impose its culture on anybody and yet it will not compromise on non-negotiable items like civil liberties, human rights, religious tolerance, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and also free enterprise. He added: “The question I want to ask the whole panel, particularly the FBI representative, is that those values that the US President is asking (upholding the civil rights and human rights of the people) will apply to the people in the United States. We are concerned about the civil rights of people in this country. We are concerned when the FBI calls at our doors and investigates about matters that are not related to prevention of crime but pertain to Islam and religion. We find it a violation of our rights.”
Mr. Saaed Ahmad said one of the main concerns of the immigrants is the automatic stay. If a man is in custody and an immigration judge allows him to leave the country, the INS in 10 days decides to appeal that decision, and the person can be detained indefinitely while the appeal is pending.
Mr. Preston Moore argued that the executive order establishing military commissions is a repudiation of every basic element of accurate fact-finding and correct ruling that has been established over a period of hundreds of years. He added: “Article 3 judge is very special. He/she is appointed for 10 years and his/her salary will never be reduced. Why we created such protection is because the judge will be immune to political or public opinion pressure. But in military courts there will be no article 3 judges. The judges will be employees of the Defense Department.”
Prof. Lassignun said that the paranoia about Muslims has been created by the war on terrorism. “I think it is important to recognize that this is a broad attack on our freedoms.”
After the brief speeches, a question and answer session followed.
Q. If you are approached by the FBI what will be your response? How would you handle it?
Ms. Mia Chester: “You are under no obligation to speak to us. If someone comes to your house and wants to talk to you, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It depends on your circumstances. If you are under arrest, you have a right to an attorney, you will be advised about your rights and you will be advised accordingly, if there is a problem. If you want to cooperate, that is up to you. But understand, when you are cooperating, what you are telling us, what you may not be telling us, may hurt you down the road if you have problem.”
Ms. Stacy Tolchin: “This is a very good advice. I have to say that we never heard the FBI giving us such advice. There are many people approached by the FBI for voluntary questioning and people wanted to talk to them. If you are not a citizen, it is very important that you consult a lawyer before you talk to the FBI because in many instances, we have seen people who voluntarily spoke to the FBI, were asked such things as not doing enough credits. There were many minor issues which would have been resolved easily, the FBI handed them over to INS. And unfortunately when we tried to talk to the FBI and to local authorities about giving some sort of immunity to immigration violation, the FBI would not get the immunity. If you got an immigration problem or you are not a citizen first consult a lawyer before you talk to the FBI.”
Q: Has any anti-Muslim culture taken hold in the FBI and the Department of Justice in post-9/11 as many in our community seems to feel? If so then what should the Muslim community do to change this attitude and regain our civil rights of fair, just and equal treatment that we are entitled to under the US law? Attorney General Aschcroft has said that Islam is a religion in which God asks to sacrifice your son for him, and Christianity is a religion in which God asks for sacrificing your son for you. Given that he made this statement, later on he was asked to clarify and he said this is what I don’t remember. Now the question is how does a particular community feel safe when the Chief of law enforcement officials is making such statements?
Ms. Chester: “We don’t make laws. We have to follow orders. But how the laws are being enforced, for that you should go to your congressman. For the Muslim community to get their civil rights of fair, just and equal treatment, you should address your congressman. I heard speakers saying about elections, go out and vote. I think that you should work with the press and change their perception of the Muslim community because that in part, in other ways, is the beginning of the fallout of 9/11. I can’t comment on Ashcrot’s remarks. It is unfortunate if that is happening.”
Mr. Moore: “Just one piece of evidence whether there is, or not, anti-Muslim culture in the FBI and the Department of Justice. No one of course is going to say that there is an anti-Muslim culture so we have to follow the old maxim that actions speak louder than words. Let me just bring you a recent action. You may have read in the New York Times in the last two weeks. An Algerian Muslim was arrested in the United Kingdom and imprisoned for five months at the behest of the FBI, on the insinuation that he was the trainer of the pilots who made the 9/11 attacks, and they asked for his extradition. He languished in prison for five months. The FBI intimidated, insinuated and defamed this individual for doing this and when the UK magistrate eventually pressed them for hard evidence, it became very clear that they had none. As the NY Times reported: ‘Every attempt of the US to link Mr. Raeesi to the attacks of the Trade Center was disproved or withdrawn during this five months of extradition hearings. He was arrested on Sept. 21, 2001’.
“I submit that this is anti-Muslim attitude. The suggestibility that someone Algerian and Muslims must have done something wrong here and even after the UK magistrate threw this out that it was frivolous, the FBI persisted that this individual remain in custody because he had committed a technical contraction on pilot license application that he had filed.”
Ms. Chester: “You can’t pass the buck to the congressman. Congressmen don’t enforce the laws. The question here is how to exercise the discretion by people who are entrusted with this delicate trust to enforce the law in a color blind way.”
Q. Do I have access to information on me with the FBI? I have been photographed and interviewed during the demonstrations. After returning from Iran I lost my security clearance. So the question is do people have access to their FBI file? The second question is, if there is a sensitivity training, cultural training for law enforcement agencies?
Ms. Chester: “You can have access to FBI information by the information office. If you are interested what the FBI has on you, you can apply for that. However, depending on the type of information in there, it is a source information or classified information, that will be blacked out. Sensitivity training: I received sensitivity training as part of the civil rights program that I was investigating. Since September 11 you have an average single agent working in communities. So those who are familiar with the Muslim religion and ethnic groups will normally do these interviews.”
Q. Many organizations are raising funds. How can one find out that they are not on the terrorist organizations list?
Mr. Ahmad: “If you go to the State Department website www. State.gov, it has a list of the organizations that the Secretary of State designates as being terrorist. It has about 20 names. If you knowingly give to those organizations you might get into trouble. But if you unknowingly give money you will have no problem.”
Dr. Agha: “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 restricted the judicial review of the Attorney General’s decision or action to commence proceedings/adjucating cases or executable orders against anybody under this act. The issue before us is that whether, as petitioners contend, this provision deprives the federal court of jurisdiction over respondents’ suit. So basically in 1996 the right of judicial review has been suspended. Another thing that came out is that whether the people who are not the citizens of the US have a right to appeal against the discriminatory application of law? That is number one question.
“Since September 11 every organization that has been banned is principally affiliated with the issue of Palestine. So it seems to me that it is not Al Qaeda that is being targeted but the Holy Land Foundation and other charities that are banned - they were all dealing with Palestine. It seems to us that this is political profiling that the people who stand to support Palestinians are the ones who are being targeted. So it is not dealing with crime but actually dealing with the right of people to seek freedom and support. I don’t see here Al Qaeda being targeted.”
Pakistan Link – April 19, 2002