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A Positive Step on Biased Anti-Muslim Counterterrorism Training Materials

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November 30, 2011

UPDATE/CORRECTION: ACLU Senior Policy Counsel Mike German has responded to criticism of this post and the ACLU analysis it was based on. The analysis and this post have been changed to remove the citation of an essay that was used as an example of biased training material, which upon review should not have been used to illustrate the broader problem of biased materials.

The Obama administration is trying to clean up its act on counterterrorism training materials, which have been found to contain outrageous claims associating Islam with violence. The FBI has promised a “comprehensive review of all training and reference materials.” Now Wired reports that last month, the White House ordered a government-wide review, including the military.

Spencer Ackerman writes, “The ongoing review will examine whether counterterrorism training material throughout the government is accurate and relevant, and will make sure the briefings given to federal field offices and local cops meets the same standards as FBI headquarters or the Pentagon.”

The ACLU, through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, has uncovered numerous FBI counterterrorism training materials that falsely portray American Muslim and Arab communities as monolithic, violent and supporters of terrorism. A prime example is a 2008 counterterrorism textbook called Terrorism & Political Islam: Origins, Ideologies, and Methods, which was produced by the FBI and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Biased materials like these mislead law enforcement officers with flawed facts and analysis, and unfairly cast suspicion on innocent Americans, leading to civil rights violations and misdirected investigations.

The newly ordered review is certainly a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. The ACLU has called on the FBI to immediately remove all biased training materials and intelligence products, and to establish effective standards and procedures both to vet trainers and analysts and to ensure that training is aimed at actual threats, not prejudice.

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