By Munir K. Nasser
Arab American groups have vowed to fight and defeat new recommendations urging the federal government to take more aggressive steps to prevent "terrorism," including monitoring all foreign students in the United States and loosening restrictions on the CIA.
The proposals by the National Commission on Terrorism, created by Congress two years ago, have triggered controversy among civil libertarians, including the Arab American community and others who question the government's expanding antiterrorist effort, already a $10 billion annual enterprise.
The commission's 64-page report, released on Monday June 5, calls for fighting terrorism with more spending, tighter controls on suspected terrorist fundraising in the United States and increased pressure for cooperation from other countries.
Among its specific recommendations are that President Clinton consider designating the US military--not the FBI--as the organization that should lead the government's response in the event of a catastrophic terrorist attack on US soil.
Major Arab American organizations criticized the report and charged that it poses a serious threat to civil liberties of all Americans, including Arab Americans.
"This is a throwback to the darkest days of the McCarthy era," declared Jim Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute in Washington. He told Albawaba.com this report is an effort being made by some groups in the Jewish community "to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict home, and to institutionalize in public law the years of negative stereotyping and campaigning against Arab American political involvement."
Zogby predicted these recommendations will not be implemented and most of them will be overturned in the courts. He pledged that he would fight against them with other civil liberties groups and defeat them. "What they want to do is unconstitutional," he said, adding: "we are fighting, not only for ourselves, but we are fighting for America. We are fighting to restore the Constitutional integrity and the protections of the Bill of Rights for everybody."
Zogby said Arab American groups worked with civil liberties groups in the past to achieve certain reforms during the seventies which lead to reigning in the FBI and checking the CIA. "But slowly and surely the law enforcement forces have been making an effort to get back to were they were," he pointed out. "It is devastating that these guys are making an effort to undo all of the positive reforms that have been so important to us."
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) charged that the report poses a serious threat to civil liberties in the United States. ADC President, Hala Maksoud, told Albawaba.com her organization is going to fight this through members of Congress and will cooperate with various ethnic groups who will be affected by it
Maksoud believes these recommendations, if implemented, will be a serious threat to Arab students studying in the United States. "Most importantly they are proposing to follow students," she said. "Learning and knowledge are supposed to be universal and accessible to everybody. Our community has produced Noble Prize winners in physics and chemistry. To be denied that because we are perceived as possible "terrorists" is frightening."
Maksoud sees another area, which will be affected by the report: legitimate fundraising. "It will affect fundraising by legitimate humanitarian groups because people will be wary of supporting fundraising events because they wouldn't want to be suspected," she noted.
But the real motive behind these efforts, according to Maksoud, is political. "To equate opposition to a peace that is imposed on the Palestinians with terrorism is again frightening, she said. They are trying to stifle any kind of dissent, which is supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution, on the basis that the United States supports the peace process. This is unheard of."
In a related development, Arab American groups welcomed a court's ruling this week concerning secret evidence of Arab American detainee Mazen El-Najjar, who has been held in solitary confinement for more than three years on the basis of secret evidence.
Al-Najjar has been in detention and denied bond, as part of a deportation proceeding since May 19, 1997. The government has alleged he is a threat to national security, giving Al-Najjar one non-specific sentence of evidence that accuses him of an "association" with a terrorist organization. He remains in jail waiting for a new hearing to determine eligibility for bond in front of an Immigration Judge.
Secret evidence has been employed against more than 100 individuals, the majority of whom are of Arab descent. US courts in New York, New Jersey, and California have consistently ruled against the use of secret evidence. In several cases, individuals held for prolonged periods were freed after it was revealed that the secret evidence against them consisted of inadmissible hearsay or inconsequential newspaper clippings.
Zogby said that for the fourth time, a US court has rightly ruled against the use of secret evidence. "Secret evidence is an unconstitutional practice and the nightmare it has created for its victims and their families must end," he said – Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)