September 20, 2004 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to release information on the agency’s latest round of questioning of Arab and Muslim men in New York. The NYCLU, along with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of NY (ADC-NY), sent a letter to the New York Field Office of the FBI in response to an announcement that it plans new questioning of thousands of Arab and Muslim men in the United States with no individualized suspicion of criminal activity.
“Casting suspicion on an entire religious or ethnic community is not only wrong but is also an ineffective law enforcement tool that does not protect national security,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “The FBI should use its resources to question people based on criminal suspicion, not based on race, religion or ethnicity.”
On May 26, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the latest round of questioning. Since then, the government has provided little information on the scope and nature of the questioning. According to some news accounts, FBI agents are contacting 5,000 Arab and Muslim men, including United States citizens. The latest round appears to resurrect FBI programs from 2001 and 2002 in which law enforcement questioned a total of 8,000 Muslim and Arab men. It has been widely reported that the past interviews created widespread fear and confusion in the communities in which those subjected to interviews resided.
“The past rounds of questioning were a civil liberties disaster,” said Monica Tarazi, Director of ADC-NY. “Literally thousands of people were intimidated, harassed and questioned without lawyers. The Arab American and Muslim communities have little reason to believe that this round of questioning will be any different. We’re concerned that this latest initiative will only worsen the fear of law enforcement that is, unfortunately, already prevalent.”
The letter asked that the FBI respond to several questions related to the scope and nature of the questioning to take place in New York City and New York State. Questions included:
- How many people in New York City and New York State does the FBI intend to question/interview?
- How will individuals be identified for questioning?
- What questions will be asked? Will interviewees be questioned about their religious or political beliefs and activities?
- Who will conduct the questioning? Will government agencies other than the FBI participate? If so, which agencies?
The NYCLU will assist individuals subjected to the latest round of questioning, and will work with communities to educate their members on the rights of individuals when approached for questioning by law enforcement.
Click here to read the NYCLU and ADC-NY's letter to the FBI.