Criticizing what it calls the Justice Department’s “dragnet approach” to investigating potential terrorists in the wake of Sept. 11, the American Civil Liberties Union has issued a pamphlet “that offers guidance” to people – particularly Middle Eastern men – who are “stopped by law enforcement.”
“The pamphlet, ‘Know Your Rights: What to Do If You’re Stopped by the Police, the FBI, the INS or the Customs Service,’ contains information for citizens and non-citizens alike,” the organization said in a press release Wednesday.
Its release comes on the heels of the department’s “plan to interview thousands of men from Middle Eastern countries,” the group said.
Published in seven languages, including Arabic, Hindi and Spanish, the pamphlet “is intended for those who feel at risk of becoming innocent targets of a government investigation in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks,” said the ACLU.
“The ACLU created the ‘Know Your Rights’ pamphlets because we are concerned that many people, especially non-citizens, are not fully aware of their rights when being questioned or detained by the government,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said in the statement.
“That concern has been heightened by the government’s latest dragnet approach to its investigation and by the attorney general’s apparent unwillingness to respect the checks and balances that are so central to our democracy,” he said.
On Sept. 13, just two days after terrorists connected to Osama bin Laden crashed hijacked airliners into both World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, Ralph F. Boyd, assistant U.S. attorney general, said the Justice Department would not tolerate discrimination against Arab-Americans or Arabs visiting the U.S.
“[Attorney General John Ashcroft] has made clear that any act of violence or discrimination against a person based on the perceived race, religion or national origin of that person is contrary to our fundamental principles and the laws of the United States,” Boyd said. “His statement is a reminder to all Americans that Americans of Arab or South Asian descent and people of the Muslim faith were also injured and killed in Tuesday’s attacks.”
The ACLU and other civil-rights groups have been troubled by some provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, which grants federal law enforcement officials enhanced powers in intelligence gathering, criminal procedure and the ability to investigate and prosecute immigration violations.
“The American people can be assured law enforcement will use these new tools to protect our nation while upholding the sacred liberties expressed in the Constitution,” Ashcroft said Sept. 26, the day President Bush signed the act into law.
“The ACLU has criticized a Justice Department ‘dragnet’ plan to pick up and interview at least 5,000 foreigners — all men ages 18 to 33, from mostly Middle Eastern countries — who entered the United States on non-immigrant visas from Jan. 1, 2000, to the present,” the group said, in its statement.
ACLU officials say Freedom of Information Act requests for information about the individuals arrested or detained since Sept. 11 have been ignored.
“To date, the FBI has denied [the ACLU’s] request, while requests to the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have so far gone unanswered,” said the group. “An appeal to the FBI denial was filed on November 9, which is required before going to court.”
A Justice Department spokesman said that the government was not ignoring the request.
“We continue to process the FOIA request made by the ACLU,” Dan Nelson, a spokesman for the department, told WorldNetDaily.
In October, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division created an initiative to combat post-9/11 discrimination and violence.
“Let there be no mistake: The Department of Justice will not tolerate acts of violence or discrimination against people in this country based on their national origin, religion, or race,” said Ashcroft when announcing the initiative Oct. 16, during a meeting of Muslim, Arab and Sikh groups at the Department of Justice.