‘Muslims targeted in US security probe’
* New guidelines to give investigators broader authority to open terrorism investigations without evidence of wrongdoing
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The US Department of Homeland Security kept an eye on more than 2,000 immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries in 2004, but most were found to have done nothing wrong, according to newly disclosed government data, as reported by the New York Times on Friday.
Documents obtained by the newspaper show that more than 2,500 foreigners in the US were sought as 'priority leads' in the fall of 2004 because of suspicions that they could be a threat to national security in the months before the presidential election and the inauguration. Some of those foreigners were detained and ultimately deported because they had overstayed their visas, but many were in the US legally, and the vast majority was not charged.
The internal reports show that immigration agents questioned the foreigners about what they thought of America, whether violence was preached at their mosques and whether they had access to biological or chemical weapons. A sampling of 300 cases turned over by federal officials showed that none of those interrogated were charged with national security offences. Fewer than one in five were charged, most of them with immigration violations. Records also show that 79 percent of the suspects were from Muslim-majority countries.
"This was profiling," said Michael Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School who helped lead the research effort. He said the findings raised questions about both the effectiveness and the propriety of the programme. "The resources devoted to this were enormous, but the results clearly were not."
The New York Times reported, "The issue of ethnic profiling in counter-terrorism programmes has taken on added significance because of new Justice Department guidelines that go into effect on December 1 and give investigators even broader authority to open terrorism investigations without evidence of wrongdoing. The American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups argue that the new guidelines will allow federal investigators to make targets of Muslims, Middle Easterners and others without evidence of links to terrorist groups."
Kareem Shora - the national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee - said he considered the findings a 'slap in the face' because they contradicted the claims of American officials. "It is very disappointing to see that despite all the reassurances that they were not profiling people, this comes out," said Shora. With nearly 80 percent of the targets in the 2004 operation coming from Muslim nations, he asked, "How can you tell us you're not focusing on people from these countries?"