Civil liberties groups denounce new government plans to investigate without a cause or clue
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – The American Civil Liberties Union has called for federal inquiries into news reports that by the end of summer, the Department of Justice will issue new guidelines unleashing the Federal Bureau of Investigations to investigate Americans based on racial profiling and without any evidence of wrongdoing.
The Attorney General Guidelines are policies that regulate FBI investigations. The Associated Press reported in early June that new guidelines being crafted by U.S. Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey would let agents open terrorism investigations, gather, and store data on people to build a profile of traits that collectively can be deemed suspicious.
In addition to race and ethnicity, two other factors that would trigger a probe by the FBI are travel to countries or areas tagged for terrorist activity and having access to weapons or military training, the AP reported.
Critics argue the revised guidelines provide a gateway into unbridled surveillance and harassment of innocent people, as evidenced by the proposed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which will allow government eavesdropping and provide a shield to telecommunications companies utilized as aides in the process. President Bush signed the bill into law July 10.
Calls for a congressional investigation
Some say the issue is when, not if, the new policies will be enacted, and civil liberties groups say that consistent, widespread efforts to avert them are crucial to maintaining freedom. Law enforcement experts say some basic freedoms Americans enjoy that will dissipate under Atty. Gen. Mukasey’s plan include being able to take pictures or video footage with no apparent artistic value, drawing diagrams and taking notes, taking measurements, expressing extremist views or simply getting out of your car.
In a July 9 letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, the ACLU urged lawmakers to vigorously investigate reports that the new AG Guidelines will target people based on race, religion and ethnicity. It also asked Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Spector (R-Penn.) and Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), to hold hearings into how the Bush administration intends to reconcile its previous position against racial profiling.
According to the ACLU:
– In February 2001, Pres. George Bush pledged to end racial profiling in America;
– Then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said that using race as a proxy for potential criminal behavior is unconstitutional and undermines law enforcement by undermining people’s confidence;
– FBI Director Robert Muller said “it is abhorrent to the Constitution in any way, shape and form.”
Empowering the FBI to use race or ethnicity to gather private data about American citizens “with no evidence of criminal activity will not make us safer,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office in a statement.
She pointed back to the aftermath of 9/11 when hundreds of Muslims and Arabs were detained without due process, and added, “Remember that two of the worst terrorists in American history, Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh were two White Americans. Racial and ethnic profiling is not just wrong, it is not smart law enforcement.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Arab American Institute, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee contacted John Miller, FBI assistant director for public affairs, to verify the news reports and present their concerns. “If implemented as described in media reports, these new guidelines will make suspects out of our communities and strike a blow to more than seven years of constructive engagement with law enforcement officials,” said Salam Al-Marayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council executive director.
According to the Islamic groups, Mr. Miller said nothing in the AG Guidelines can authorize what the law or Constitution prohibits and the FBI will always adhere to that principle.
Expert: Profiling doesn’t work
Mike German, policy counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, echoed sentiments that racial profiling is a completely ineffective law enforcement technique. The former FBI terrorism agent told The Final Call that there is no terrorist profile according to terrorism experts, and that the purpose of the strategy is to foil any attempt to identify what terrorists would look like.
“The successful terrorist isn’t going to do exactly what the guy before him did; he’s going to try to do something new because the whole idea is to surprise, so it’s not just illegal and inappropriate from a democratic governmental standard where these agencies are supposed to work for us, the people, and not the other way around, it’s a terrible erosion of our rights,” Mr. German said.
According to Mr. German, the first AG Guidelines were developed to correct initial abuses by the FBI Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) by preventing the FBI from engaging in investigations of purely political activities and making sure the agency focused on criminal activity and not First Amendment-protected activity.
FBI up to old tactics, tricks?
“A lot of the tactics that they are engaged now openly they’ve always been engaged in behind the scenes with Blacks and so it’s not shocking in the sense that it might be for the average White American–where they can’t imagine that the government would try to impose itself on their privacy in that way. But African people we’re used to the government imposing itself on our privacy and we expect, we joke when we hear clicks on the phone, like, ‘There they go again. They’re listening,’” said Nana Gyamfi, L.A.-based civil and human rights attorney.
The fact that the U.S. is allowing these practices to occur openly shows that it regards the Constitution as worthless, she said. Although many Blacks feel they have no rights under the Constitution, they still rely on the hope that it will be available, the attorney added.
As usual, she said, the fight is to organize against White supremacy and a federal government that is increasingly creating its own definition of innocent behavior and criminalizing people.
“If they could see Barack and Michelle Obama do a fist pound and decide it’s a terrorist fist jab, try to figure out where it comes from and talk about it for a week, doing scholarly articles tracing the roots to see where it comes from, you can imagine what they’re going to do with the different symbols, discussions and shortcut words that people are using in their communication,” Atty. Gyamfi said.
Unified effort needed to stop profiling
Activists say a strong collaborative effort will be needed to challenge the potential racial profiling component of the new guidelines, which was still being formulated at Final Call press time.
Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association, believes the bill presents risks because even some Democrats are fuzzy on whether racial profiling should be allowed in the context of homeland security.Racial profiling is wrong under any circumstance, whether homeland security, public safety, and especially as an official policy of a law enforcement agency, Mr. Hampton said.
“It’s going to take a coalition and huge effort from traditional and non-traditional civil and human rights organizations, if we’re going to be successful in turning this back. Because once they build up full steam ahead, it’s going to be very difficult to get in between them and stop this from coming into affect and having a negative effect on Black and Brown and poor communities,” he continued.
One way voters can fight is by putting pressure on their presidential candidate, Mr. Hampton noted. “I’m cautiously optimistic, although I’ve been disappointed in this Democratic Congress and its behavior regarding issues that they’ve traditionally stood for.I thought the Democrats had a mandate coming into office that amounted to getting out of Iraq and changing some of the other legislative matters before the House and Senate for the people of this country, but they’ve been hesitant about it,” he said.
For now, said Kareem Shora, executive director of the National Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, pressure must be kept on the Justice Department, which must know people are watching. “It’s not just people here in Washington, but it’s across the board, and it’s not just Muslims and Arabs, but all Americans that care about this issue,” he said. Mr. Shora urged contacting members of Congress and asking whether the guidelines profile people based on religion, ethnicity or national origin.“We want members of Congress to be asking those questions and any of them can do it.If things get more serious and we become aware of more details, and they finalize the guidelines without changing them, then obviously we will have to reconsider and take stronger action in either the form of litigation or much more advocacy with Congress,” Mr. Shora told The Final Call.
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich), chair of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Carolyn Meeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), could not be reached for comment by Final Call press time. Rep. Conyers has been a stalwart on civil liberties and Rep. Meeks chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.