ACLU of Southern California Plans to Represent Muslims and Others Targeted for New Round of FBI Questioning

July 27, 2004 12:00 am

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Arab-American and Muslim Communities Brace for New Round of Racial and Religious and Ethnic Profiling Interviews


LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today announced that it is offering free legal representation to all persons in the Southern California area who are questioned by the FBI in its latest dragnet interview program.

“None of the interviewees is a suspect, but going in alone for an FBI interview can be very scary, no matter who you are,” said Ahilan T. Arulanantham, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “Having an attorney present helps calm a person’s fears and ensures that his or her rights are protected.”

The ACLU announcement came in response to statements from local FBI officials that they plan to question — and in fact are in the process of questioning — at least several hundred Muslims and other persons of South Asian, Middle Eastern and North African descent in Southern California as part of a national initiative to interview several thousand people, none of whom are suspected of any criminal activity.

The ACLU noted that the interview program appears to be a resurrection of the failed 2001 and 2002 initiatives in which the FBI questioned first 5,000 and then 3,000 Muslims and Arabs. All public accounts indicate that the questioning did not yield apprehension of a single terrorist. Instead, such interviews are reported to have alienated the very communities the government is attempting to gather information from.

“The FBI once again appears to be targeting people for questioning based on their religion, ethnicity, or national origin, even though it suspects them of no wrongdoing whatsoever,” said Arulanantham. “This kind of profiling spreads fear and mistrust throughout the community.”

In a 2003 report examining the FBI’s previous interview programs, the General Accounting Office concluded that, “although aliens were not coerced to participate in the interviews, they worried about the repercussions, such as future INS denials for visa extensions or permanent residency, if they refused to be interviewed.”

The ACLU also announced plans to assist Muslims and other individuals called for questioning in other communities nationwide and called on the FBI to inform interviewees of their options for legal representation.

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