March 12, 2007 Monday
By: Andrew Noyes
An Arab-American leader on Friday told the U.S. government’s commission on race that the Bush administration’s domestic anti-terrorism wiretapping “killed any chances of success” for the federal campaign to win “the hearts and minds” of people in the Middle East.
News of the electronic eavesdropping spooked Arab Americans and others in the Muslim and South Asian communities, Kareem Shora, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s director, told the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. People are afraid of calling family overseas for fear that their conversations will be misunderstood or mistranslated, he said.
The National Security Agency wiretapping initiative in question previously operated without oversight from the secret court created by a 1978 intelligence law. After a year of pressure from lawmakers and activists, the Justice Department changed the practice to operate under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court review.
The secret nature of the NSA effort prevented Shora from providing specific examples that demonstrate the negative impact it has had on the communities he represents. But he said anecdotal evidence shows that people of Middle Eastern descent have been targeted.
Jennifer Braceras, a Republican appointee on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, said “law enforcement has to go where the evidence points.” “There will always be investigations on the facts that are reported, [and those] may or may not include a racial component,” she said.
Certain populations may receive more scrutiny because suspected terrorists typically do not communicate in Polish; they speak Arabic, Braceras said. “That doesn’t mean there’s been discrimination or that someone has been erroneously singled out,” she added.
Gregory Nojeim, chief legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office, also testified. He commended the commission for holding the hearing and said he regarded it as “an important first step.”
He urged commissioners to conduct an official inquiry into the wiretapping, which he called a “gross violation” of the law and of civil rights. “Americans deserve to know what has been done with the information about them that was collected illegally,” Nojeim said.
John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University, said he believes that a resolution adopted by Congress after the terrorist attacks authorized both the use of military force in the war on terror and NSA’s spying program.
The panel’s staff director, Kenneth Marcus, said he asked representatives from the office of the national intelligence director and Justice Department to attend, but neither agency believed it could contribute due to the “highly classified” nature of the NSA program.
March 12, 2007 Monday