Rights advocates condemn infiltration of Muslim houses of worship
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Demands for answers from the FBI regarding reports that it sent a paid informant into Muslim mosques have reached beyond a national coalition of Muslim organizations and civil liberties groups and into the U.S. Congress.
Advocates warn the activity is another sign of troubling government intrusion into the lives and violations of the rights of Americans.
“These allegations are deeply troubling to me. The fact of the matter is that we live in a post-9/11 world. I wholeheartedly endorse outreach programs by the FBI and other agencies that foster better relationships with the Muslim community. To be successful, these relationships should be guided by mutual respect and understanding,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, in an e-mail response to questions from The Final Call.
Rep. Ellison said the Justice Department should investigate the allegations and get on with the important work of building relationships based upon mutual trust and respect.
“There are several cities where the Muslim community works closely with law enforcement officials, including the FBI, to ensure that our rights as citizens are upheld, and our religious practices are respected and protected from rogue individuals pursuing an agenda,” Rep. Ellison said.
During a March 25 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the FBI, lawmakers questioned Director John Mueller about the mosque infiltrations, and sought answers about then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s plans to revise guidelines to allow the FBI to implement intrusive investigative methods with no probable cause or compelling evidence.
Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) told Mr. Mueller he was disappointed to learn that some Muslim groups were threatening outreach suspension. He specifically asked Dir. Mueller to disclose whether FBI agents under the Attorney General Guidelines entered mosques, and if so how many.
“I, uh, there are a number of questions in there. I, I, uh, would hesitate to, uh, uh, provide information on ongoing investigations. Quite obviously I will say that we do not focus on institutions. We focus on individuals. And I will say generally that if there is evidence or information as to an individual or individuals undertaking illegal activities in religious institutions, with appropriate high level approval, we would undertake investigative activities, regardless of the religion,” Dir. Mueller said, during the hearing. He stuck to his answer when asked if that included entering a Muslim mosque under a different identity.
In a recent statement commemorating the FBI’s 100th anniversary, Dir. Mueller said, “It is not enough to stop the terrorist–we must stop him while maintaining his civil liberties, and civil rights.” Critics told The Final Call sending agent provocateurs into Muslim houses of worship not only violated civil liberties, but also violated the sanctity of these sanctuaries. The last thing needed is for people who attend mosques to feel insecure and like they are being watched; the FBI has infringed on their religious freedoms, critics said.
Lawyers Guild blasts violation of Constitution
Jim Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, labeled the FBI’s use of agent provocateurs a disgraceful violation of the Constitutional right to freely practice one’s religion, religious and racial profiling at its worst, and a perpetuation of the myth that Muslims are less patriotic and more likely to commit acts of violence than others.
“It is exactly what the FBI did in the ‘60s and ‘70s under its discredited and outlawed COINTELPRO policy. It seeks to disrupt, discredit and criminalize the Muslim community. And as is now clear from the testimony of the agent provocateur used by the FBI in Southern California to infiltrate mosques, it is designed to provide the FBI with an excuse to prosecute those who are guilty of no crime, based upon the perjured testimony of the agent provocateur … who in this case was, himself, a convicted criminal with a long criminal record! And it serves to further spread the false idea among the American population as a whole, that Muslims are not to be trusted,” Atty. Lafferty told The Final Call.
He recommended that the Southern California Muslim community stop cooperating with the FBI, since their years of doing so has resulted in nothing other than more violations of their rights by the FBI. Instead, he said, the mosques that were spied on should sue the government and protest the rights violations.
“If the general public does not speak up against that repression, one day we can wake up to find the repression is complete and that none of us are safe to pray in our churches, or assemble in our union halls, or express our opposition to government policy when we disagree with what our government is doing. So we must come to the defense of our Muslim sisters and brothers now, for their sake and for our own sake, as well,” Atty. Lafferty warned.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said when news broke about the mosque infiltrations, he quickly reflected on the plight of seven Black Muslim males that were set up for entrapment by the FBI in Liberty City, Fla.
Six of the “Liberty City Seven” were brought to trial twice for allegedly planning to bomb Chicago’s Sears Tower and FBI offices. They faced 70 years in prison, but both cases ended in mistrials. The seventh member was acquitted altogether.
“The recent events in Southern California are McCarthy Era-type tactics that the FBI has used at various times in its history, so it was very disappointing to hear about it and the situation. But at the same time, it wasn’t a total surprise because the FBI has a history of such behaviors going back to COINTELPRO under its late Director J. Edgar Hoover,” Mr. Walid said.
He has no tangible proof of agent provocateurs being sent into mosques in his area, but has often received complaints from Muslims who say they’ve been approached by the FBI to spy on mosques. Many were immigrants with green cards, seeking citizenship and their status was allegedly used as leverage to get them to cooperate, or face jail time or deportation, he said.
“I would suspect that such activities are going on throughout the United States of America, not just Los Angeles. We don’t think that such tactics were from one field office independent of direct headquarters in Washington, D.C. … It was most likely not confined to Los Angeles, but it’s possibly going on in Chicago, Detroit, New York, and other metropolitan areas with other large concentrations of Muslims,” Mr. Walid said.
“Another thing is it’s ironic that when we look at what took place in Oklahoma, it was two White men that were disgruntled with America who did the bombings in Oklahoma, a very tragic event,” observed Omar Montgomery, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Denver in Ethnic Studies and African American Studies. He is also a member of the Association of Black Psychologists.
“For some reason a lot of these White terrorist organizations seem to get a pass, but organizations that are predominantly either African American or Arabic seem to be over-scrutinized, yet these other predominantly White organizations who have historically terrorized, caused physical harm, and even on their websites they talk about the assassination of Barack Obama go under the radar. Arabic or Black organizations are paraded around on the news, dehumanized and the community is turned against the organization,” said Prof. Montgomery.
“There has to be some equity in law enforcement.If you’re going to target Black organizations, also target these White organizations that blatantly say who they want to kill, who they want to target and who they hate. I don’t recall seeing any mosque that I know of located in the United States talking about they hate Jews and they want to exterminate the Jews. Yet when Barack Obama was running for office there were several White organizations that almost put a ransom out for Barack Obama’s head.How come those organizations are not targeted and if they are it should be just as public as they do for Black and Arab organizations,” he added.
Government actions denounced
Groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council swiftly denounced the FBI’s actions and moved to prevent future infiltrations of mosques throughout the U.S.
CAIR obtained a restraining order against Craig Monteilh, who has admitted he was paid by the FBI to go undercover in Southern California mosques to track terrorists. According to Dr. Agha Saeed, executive director of the American Muslim Task Force there has been an informal suspension of outreach in that the FBI has not contacted Muslim groups, though a few groups have met with agents.
The task force demanded that the FBI:
– Stop infiltrating mosques and interfering with the religious perspective of Muslims by creating false conversions to Islam;
– Stop entrapment;
– Respect the constitutional rights of CAIR and other groups to petition the government to seek a redress for grievances;
– Stop collapsing indictments into convictions; and
– Stop using taxpayer money to create false understandings and impressions of Islam under local law enforcement agencies.
“So regardless of if the FBI does or does not behave we are going to make these five demands a set of national demands, create awareness around them among Muslims and fellow Americans and enlist their support to fix these problems. We’re not just going to sit and wait for the FBI to respond,” Dr. Saeed told The Final Call.
According to Edina Lekovic, communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, her group and the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Students Association National, the Arab American Institute and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee met with the FBI on March 17 to confront the issue head on and demand greater transparency regarding FBI guidelines, and particularly opposing the use of paid informants in mosques.
“There is a line that is crossed when houses of worship become the sites for investigations, regardless of whether we think those are legitimate or not … how do you ensure that informants, even agent provocateurs, are not crossing the line?” Ms. Lekovic asked.
During the meeting, the groups shared the importance of the FBI engaging all Muslim organizations, based on the agency’s decision to stop communicating with CAIR. Basically, the groups stressed their collective belief that the FBI, along with other government agencies, need to engage with the broadest number of Muslim organizations possible, and said it is counterproductive to disengage from an organization as mainstream and as large as CAIR, Ms. Lekovic continued.
“The FBI has had to limit its formal contact with CAIR field offices until certain issues are addressed by CAIR’s national headquarters. CAIR’s leadership is aware of this. Beyond that, we have no further comment,” Dir. Mueller said in a brief press statement.
During a phone interview, Laura Eimiller, FBI spokesperson, added that the FBI does not comment on investigative methods such as the use of informants or human resources, in order to avoid jeopardizing the safety of personnel, ongoing cases and impartial outcomes for the accused. “We do not confirm or deny claims by individuals, statements by individuals, who claim to be informants,” she told The Final Call.
The main two courses of action debated upon by Muslim organizations are the American Muslim Task Force’s call for suspensions of outreach efforts and the desire to maintain engagement by several other organizations. Ms. Lekovic believes that all of the approaches are necessary.
“We’re united in our message and we’re just adopting different approaches to getting that message across. I think there are people out there who will use that difference in approach as an opportunity to sow divisions and mislead people into thinking that we are not unified and nothing could be further from the truth,” she said.