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FBI Profiling of Muslims on the Rise, Says Asian Law Caucus

Sunita Sohrabji, News Report, India West Posted: Aug 14, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. Muslim Americans are being increasingly targeted for unwarranted house searches and questioning, said Veena Dubal, staff attorney of the Asian Law Caucus, during a brown-bag seminar at the organizations headquarters here Aug. 5.

Last October in the waning days of the Bush administration FBI director Robert Mueller signed new guidelines allowing broader FBI authority in pursuing potential threats to national security. The new guidelines allow agents to consider race or ethnicity in determining whether someone is a suspect.

These guidelines which became effective Dec. 1, 2008 allow the FBI to launch a criminal investigation against someone without any factual predicate and without approval from FBI headquarters, said Dubal. Under the current guidelines, FBI agents are allowed to racially profile an individual if it is determined to be in the nations national interests, she said, adding that the guidelines may also be used ambiguously to prevent conduct.

A really negative shift has occurred, said Dubal, who received the Northern California South Asian Bar Associations Public Interest Attorney of the Year award in 2009.

The guidelines are similar to COINTELPRO, an FBI program used in the 50s and 60s to spy on civil rights, environmental and labor groups, with the goal of unearthing Communist ties those organizations may have had.

At Congressional hearings last May, Mueller who continues to serve as FBI director in the Obama administration said the guidelines simply formalized processes the FBI had begun to use, post-9/11.

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have not indicated whether they intend to scrap the new guidelines, said Dubal. The administration has stated its commitment to ending racial profiling, but it remains unclear as to whether this will include religious profiling as well, she said.

We understand the reluctance of some communities to sit down at the table with us. Oftentimes, the communities from which we need the most help are those who trust us the least. But it is in these communities that we must re-double our efforts, said Mueller in a Feb. 23 talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

Mueller and former attorney general John Ashcroft had been sued by Pakistani national Javaid Iqbal, who alleged he had been tortured and kept in confinement by the U.S. for more than 18 months, based solely on his race and religion. Iqbal was eventually deported back to Pakistan, but was never found to have engaged in any terrorist activity.

The Supreme Court dismissed Iqbals case May 18, saying he had failed to make a link between officials conduct and the abuse he allegedly suffered.

The decision will make it far more difficult for other

individuals aggrieved by post-9/11 security policies to hold high-level government officials accountable for any wrongdoing, including profiling of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and Sikhs, Dawinder Dave Sidhu told India-West.

Sidhu is a founding director of the Discrimination and National Security Initiative, which is studying the post-9/11 backlash against Muslim-Americans.

Dubal said the Supreme Court decision essentially endorsed religious and ethnic profiling as a wartime necessity.

Equally problematic is the practice of recruiting informants from within the community, said Dubal. The FBI has set up a Citizens Academy, ostensibly to train community leaders into the field-gathering techniques of the agency.

Business, civic and religious leaders, nominated by an FBI employee or previous academy graduate, are given training in several aspects of espionage, including firearms usage, evidence collection and fingerprinting.

Dubal pointed to the recent case of an Irvine, Calif., man hired by the FBI for $130,000 to infiltrate area mosques and incite people to say things about the jihad and terrorist activities.

Theres a feeling of being under siege within the community, she said, adding, People start to wonder whether their friends or colleagues are spies. New people are always distrusted and never become part of the community.

The caucus is organizing a series of town hall meetings at religious gathering places throughout the state particularly in Stockton and Lodi, which have high concentrations of Muslim American residents letting people know their rights while under investigation.

You do not have to talk to the FBI, said Dubal, adding that people have a right to and should bring an attorney along.

Federal Criminal Code 1001 makes it a crime to lie to an FBI agent, and that code is now being used to recklessly incarcerate people, said Dubal. We tell people its better not to talk to an FBI agent, because if you do and you misrepresent yourself, you could be subject to criminal penalty.

A household search can be conducted by the FBI without a warrant, noted Dubal.

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