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Racial profiling, secret hearings and indefinite detentions
Ashcroft's war at home

May 24, 2002 | Pages 6 and 7

THE "WAR against terror" will last for years, says the Bush administration. And as long it does, the list of victims of the government's witch-hunt against Muslims and people of Arab descent will grow. NICOLE COLSON reports on how Attorney General John Ashcroft has ripped up the Constitution and violated basic civil liberties in the investigation into the September 11 attacks.

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"WE BELIEVE that we have conducted this investigation in complete accord with constitutional guidelines," John Ashcroft had the gall to tell reporters recently.

Which constitutional guidelines is he talking about? Innocent until proven guilty? Due process and a fair trial? Well, no. Not those.

Within days of the September 11 attacks, authorities began a massive roundup--targeted specifically against young male immigrants, mainly Muslims and Arabs. Ashcroft won a massive expansion of powers for law enforcement--with barely a peep of opposition from politicians, Republican or Democrat.

As William Goodman, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, put it, it was now "policy on the part of the American government to look at Muslim males and call them terrorists whether they were or not, and in almost every circumstance, they were not."

Lawyers and civil liberties groups estimate that more than 1,200--perhaps as many as 2,000--immigrants have been detained since September 11. Hundreds have been deported and approximately 300 remain in custody. Of course, that's just a guess, since the Justice Department refuses to say exactly how many people it's still holding.

The feds also insist on the right to keep hearings for detainees secret--in the interest of "national security." And they argue that it's perfectly fair to use "secret evidence"--meaning that detainees can't even defend themselves.

Even a few pillars of the establishment are having a hard time buying the Bush line. As one immigration judge told the New York Times, the "secret cases" have nothing to do with terrorism. "I'm sure there are plenty of terrorists, but I haven't seen any," he said. The detainees who came before him, said the judge, "were at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Like Syed Ali, a Pakistani immigrant and businessperson who was held for 105 days without any charges. Syed used to be a fan of the Bush administration. He donated money to Dubya's presidential campaign, and took his children to watch the inauguration.

Then he became a target. "They said I was at the World Trade Center two weeks prior to the incident," Syed told the Village Voice. "I could hear the entire courtroom hissing, and hatred was coming out of people."

Syed went to prison. "All my assets were frozen. Everything was taken out of my house--every family picture, every family video. Everything right down to our EZ Pass. Our cars were taken. It was just a nightmare. I was arraigned--I couldn't make bail of $250,000. We didn't have any money. We couldn't use anything we owned."

Syed was finally released when the FBI failed to find any evidence of terrorist activities. But there are plenty more detainees who haven't won their freedom yet.

Take Mirwais Ali, for example. Mirwais, a 23-year-old Chicago resident, came to the U.S. with his family from Afghanistan when he was 3 years old. But now, because he was convicted of felony marijuana possession five years ago, the courts say that Mirwais has to go back.

Why? Mirwais never became a naturalized citizen, so his felony conviction means that he's no longer considered a legal U.S. resident and must return to Afghanistan--even though he only speaks English and has no relatives living there anymore.

"This decision is not a xenophobic response to the events of September 11," claimed the judge overseeing the case. But that's exactly what it is. Mirwais and others like him are victims of John Ashcroft's racist war at home.

It's really a war on all of us--on all of our rights. We have to fight these attacks--and tell the Bush gang that we won't stand for racist scapegoating!

How the feds framed Islamic charities

JOHN ASHCROFT thinks a picture is worth 10 years in prison.

Based on little more than a few photos, the federal government is trying to railroad Enaam Arnaout, director of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The BIF is a Muslim charity--one of several targeted by the government for supposedly giving money to "foreign terrorists."

In December, the Justice Department froze the assets of the charities, claiming that they funneled money to Islamic militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Russian republic of Chechnya. The BIF and Arnaout fought back, filing a civil lawsuit against the government, which refuted allegations that they financed terrorism.

Ashcroft's Justice Department decided to make an example of them. The feds arrested Arnaout on April 30 on charges of perjury, based on his statements in the civil suit.

According to lawyers, it's unheard of for prosecutors to pursue a civil perjury case so aggressively. In other words, this is a calculated attempt to send a warning: Don't fight the government's witch-hunt, or else.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald recently told reporters that the government "alleges Benevolence International Foundation was supporting violence secretly." But if the Feds had any real evidence that the BIF was connected to terrorism, you can bet that prosecutors would have filed a more serious charge.

In fact, the most that the government could manufacture was decades-old photos allegedly restored from a computer found in one of the BIF's Bosnian offices. One photo is of Osama bin Laden; another is of Arnaout, apparently in the same location.

Even if the pictures are real, they date from when bin Laden was an ally of the U.S. government in Afghanistan's war against the former USSR. Still, prosecutors figured the photos were a good enough excuse to accuse Arnaout of lying when he said that the BIF had no connection to terrorist groups.

Unfortunately, a few activists believe that the BIF opened itself up to this attack by filing a lawsuit against the Feds. This misses the point completely.

The arrest of Enaam Arnaout is the Bush gang's attempt to send a message--that no one has the right to even defend themselves if they get caught in the "war against terror."

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