Monday, August 4, 2008
Rights groups fear feds' terror profile
U.S. says some Arab, Muslim men who regularly travel abroad may face more scrutiny.
Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News
DEARBORN -- Border guards recently began detaining Wissam Charafeddine every time he crosses from Windsor into the United States. Without explanation, he has been handcuffed in front of his parents and held apart from his pregnant wife for hours in isolated detention.
Charafeddine says he has done nothing wrong, "not even a driving ticket." But authorities, who always release him, say there is no remedy. Charafeddine is among a large group of Arab-Americans and Muslims who are detained for undisclosed reasons whenever they cross the border.
So far, Charafeddine is affected only when he goes to Canada. But as early as this week, the U.S. Department of Justice says it will announce a "terrorist profile" by which Muslim men of Arab and Pakistani descent who frequently travel abroad and maintain extensive international contacts may be subject not only to stops at the border but also to full-fledged national security investigations, which may include electronic surveillance, detentions, searches and interrogations, regardless of whether they are suspected of wrongdoing.
"There will not be equality under the law, for me. And I don't think that's the real solution for terrorism," said Charafeddine, a naturalized American citizen who is an e-commerce business consultant. "It's not solving the roots of the problem."
Civil rights organizations are lobbying Congress, alerting their members and preparing to fight the new guidelines. While federal officials say the department will not violate the U.S. constitution, civil liberties advocates say they are alarmed.
"What is dangerous is that they've moved away from reasonable suspicion of criminality into the area of what they are calling suspicious behavior," said Michael German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., which is using lobbying resources and preparing legal challenges to the initiative.
Civil liberties advocates say the rules could eventually affect many people, including immigrants and people who do business in other countries. They call Muslims and Arab men "the canaries in the coal mine of civil liberties."
Representatives for the Department of Justice say the terrorist profile could be presented in draft form as early as this week and enacted later this summer. "It's necessary to put in place regulations that will allow the FBI to transform itself into an intelligence-gathering organization in addition to just a crime-solving organization," Attorney General Michael Mukasey told the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in July.
A spokesman said the department will proceed appropriately. "The guidelines could not, and would not purport to, circumvent constitutional limitations on the use of race, religion or other protected classes in all manner of investigations," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the National Security Division.
But a raft of civil liberties, religious and ethnic groups say the Bush administration is not to be trusted on this matter.
The ACLU, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Arab American Institute and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee say the guidelines amount to an 11th hour initiative to codify the sort of profiling the administration said, for years, that it has not executed.
"Our people contribute economically and culturally in all aspects of American life, and this is like a slap in our face," said James Allen, a Detroit lawyer who is chairman of the executive board of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.
Allen and others are particularly concerned that the profiling will discourage trade, which many local business leaders have sought to encourage as part of their livelihood, to boost the economic vitality of the state and to increase personal contacts to counter terrorism. Export trade from Michigan to the Middle East alone has increased from $690 million in 2002 to $1.3 billion in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"These guidelines are going to make it harder for people to do things to create jobs here," Allen said.
The repeated stops of men who are always cleared, the growth of the banned-travel list to more than one million names last month -- along with the new guidelines -- have further isolated the Arab and Muslim communities in Metro Detroit, amid rules that apply only to them, members of both communities say.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Arab and Muslim men often spoke out to preserve their rights. But the repeated challenges to their freedom in the intervening years have weakened the resolve. Many Muslim men of Pakistani and Arab descent who travel frequently for businesses declined to be interviewed for this report, or said it would risk their business or freedom to lend their names to the observations they were willing to provide.
Charafeddine said he was scolded by relatives for his willingness to air his views publicly.
Charafeddine crossed the border for years without incident, until about eight months ago when he was stopped for the first time.
He said he has little problem with that first stop, during which he was asked for details about his life story, fingerprinted, searched, and had names and phone numbers recorded from his business files. He was given no estimate or expectation of how long he would be detained. But it is the repetitiveness of the experience, and the fact that the authorities tell him he will be stopped every time he crosses that rankles him.
"I want to belong 100 percent in this country," Charafeddine said. "I want the generations who come behind me to be 100 percent American.
"I know that a long time ago, my friends and my relatives who are American citizens used to brag about it," he said. "They used to say that regardless of whatever you are enjoying in whatever part of the world, over here we are enjoying freedom, we are enjoying equality, we are enjoying opportunity. And, now, you see, there are more feelings in the community of not belonging, that maybe in the long run, this is not where we can settle, because we are always being profiled."
You can reach Gregg Krupa at (313) 222-2359. http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080804/METRO/808040380