ACLU of Michigan Condemns FBI Decision to Immediately Begin Questioning Iraqis

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
March 20, 2003 12:00 am

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DETROIT– The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today expressed grave concern about an announcement by local FBI officials that no assurances would be provided to Arab men not suspected of wrongdoing yet targeted for questioning.

“We are very concerned that the FBI will proceed with this mission to question such a large group of people without any individualized suspicion that any of these people have knowledge of terrorism or terrorist acts,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan.

The FBI announced last night that they will immediately begin questioning all Iraqis who have entered the United States since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The announcement breaks with an earlier policy that encouraged cooperation by making basic assurances to those being questioned.

The ACLU of Michigan recently asked FBI officials here to follow a practice agreed to this week by Bureau officials in Philadelphia that involves providing every Iraqi to be interviewed with a letter from a local religious leader. The letter assured those to be interviewed that they would not be considered the subject of an investigation or a terrorist; that they would not be arrested based on an immigration violation; and that the interviews would be voluntary.

Local FBI officials, however, have indicated that they will not agree to duplicate this effort in any way.

“This decision makes little practical sense given official acknowledgment by the government that most Iraqis in the U.S. are hostile to Saddam Hussein and are unlikely candidates for terrorism,” Moss said.

The ACLU of Michigan, in collaboration with the Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services (ACCESS), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) have established a hotline to provide legal information and representation to anyone contacted by the FBI.

“Metropolitan Detroit has the largest Iraqi population in the United States,” Moss noted. “This new policy of FBI questioning as the war begins is certain to increase the perception that Iraqi-Americans are our enemies or are more likely to be criminals simply based on their national origin,” Moss said.

Saying that these government actions only increase risks of hate crimes against Iraqis in the U.S., Moss reiterated that the ACLU opposes the use of profiles based on race, religion or ethnicity.

“Targeting people for investigation, interrogation or detention based on immutable characteristics like national origin, ethnicity or religion alone is, we believe, unconstitutional and inappropriate in all circumstances. Targeting people because of distinguishing characteristics due to their behavior is not,” Moss said. “While the FBI announcement asks us to view the questioning as benign, this questioning must be viewed in the context of all of the other Arab and Muslim questioning that the government has engaged in since 9/11. This is part of a targeted program of government harassment of the Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.”

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