ACLU-NJ Offers Legal Help to FBI Questioned

August 19, 2004

Newark, NJ-The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and the New Jersey Chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC-NJ) are critical of the government's plans to undertake another round of interviews within Muslims and Arab Communities, and are working with volunteer attorneys to provide free legal representation to anyone who is approached by the FBI or Homeland Security during the latest round of "dragnet" interviews of Arabs and Muslims.

The mobilization has come in response to recent announcements by Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller that the FBI would launch a new round of interviews in Arab and Muslim communities nationwide.  The latest announcement appears to be a resurrection of similar programs attempted in late 2001, early 2002, and in 2003, in which the FBI announced its intention to question more than 8,000 men of Middle Eastern origin. 

A General Accounting Office Report ("GAO Report"), issued in April 2003 raised a number of concerns about the effectiveness of the Justice Department's 2001 interview project, namely:  (1) though the interviews were meant to be voluntary, many of the interviewees "did not perceive the interviews to be truly voluntary," and "worried about repercussions . . . if they refused to be interviewed"; (2) concerns from law enforcement about "the quality of the questions asked and the value of responses obtained," in addition to concerns that the project "had a negative effect on relations between the Arab community and law enforcement personnel."  Lastly, according to the GAO report, none of the subjects interviewed "appeared to have any connection to terrorism," and there appear to be "no specific plans to analyze the project data." 

"Casting blanket suspicion on an entire religious and ethnic community is not only an immoral and un-American practice, but also is not an effective investigative technique or productive means of protecting national security," said Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU-NJ.  "To hold an entire community suspect and to question its loyalty and patriotism is a stark violation of the civil rights of our community and goes against the basic principles of freedom and equality that stands as the foundation of our democracy," added Aref Assaf, President of ADC-NJ.

According to reports from ACLU attorneys who have accompanied members of the targeted communities in other parts of the country to such interviews, the line of questioning can include inquiries about religious practices, views on U.S. foreign policy, as well as questions about family members.  Agents have been known to become coercive and place pressure on interviewees to respond to all questions. 

Another example of the way in which the government continues to treat Arabs and Muslims as suspects came to light in late July, when news reports revealed that the U.S. Census Bureau, at the request of the Department of Homeland Security, provided detailed statistical data about the distribution of Arabs in the United States.  Both organizations have expressed their concerns in letters addressed to Charles Kincannon, Director of the Census Bureau. 

The ACLU and ADC call on Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller to refrain from substituting national origin, ethnicity, or religion as a proxy for suspicion and to end the un-American practice of profiling.  We also call upon Congress to curb racial profiling through adoption of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), federal legislation that defines racial profiling, makes it illegal, and would require data collection on all law enforcement encounters.  This legislation is critical in preventing abuses of the Muslim community in particular, because current Justice Department guidelines on the use of racial profiling in law enforcement allow an exception for National Security reasons. 

The ACLU has also updated its Know Your Rights pamphlets, which are now available in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Somali, Punjabi, English and Spanish.  Download Know Your Rights-English. Others will be available soon.  Individuals in need of pamphlets or those who have been contacted or believe they may be contacted by the FBI and require assistance are urged to contact the ACLU-NJ at 973-642-2084 or intake@aclu-nj.org.

Category: National Security

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