US Tries to Reassure Local Muslims
By Niraj Warikoo
Daniel Sutherland

As the Bush administration defends its domestic surveillance measures, it also is reaching out to Michigan’s Arab Americans and Muslims, some of whom complain they are being illegally targeted in the war on terror.
Daniel Sutherland, head of civil rights in the US Department of Homeland Security, is expected to visit Dearborn to begin two days of meetings with Arab American and Muslim leaders. Sutherland said although he’s not here to specifically defend the administration’s intelligence-gathering, he wants to reassure his hosts that the government, far from threatening their civil rights, is protecting them.
Some, however, are wary.
“They’re trying to defend the indefensible by going on the offensive,” said Nazih Hassan of Ann Arbor. “This public relations campaign does nothing to change the fact that this program is illegal.”
Hassan is one of several Arab Americans in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court in Detroit to stop the program.
Plaintiffs expressed worries that their conversations have been spied on, but have no proof. Hassan, for instance, said he regularly converses with Muslims abroad and thinks that may have made him a target of the program.
Under the program, first reported by the New York Times last month, the National Security Agency eavesdropped on US residents following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks without getting court approval.
President George W. Bush has defended the program as legal and necessary.
On Monday, the former NSA head, Gen. Michael Hayden -- now deputy director of national intelligence -- said the program “is not a drift net over Dearborn” or other cities with substantial Muslim populations.
In a National Press Club speech in Washington, DC, Hayden said the program “is targeted and focused.... This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with Al Qaeda.”
On (last) Wednesday, Bush visited NSA workers to voice his support of the surveillance program in advance of Senate hearings. Arab-American leaders in Michigan say they plan to raise the issue of surveillance with Sutherland. Sutherland said that should lead to an interesting discussion.
The Department of Homeland Security has contracted with a public relations firm, in part to tout the department’s efforts to reach out to Arab-American and Muslim communities. On Tuesday, Sutherland said he plans to visit Dearborn every two months to meet with Arab-American leaders.
“We’re trying to work hard to figure out ways to make the country secure, but to do it in ways that protect our freedoms,” he said. “We think that those two concepts don’t have to be in competition.”
Sutherland is to meet t with 10 Arab-American leaders at a private, informal luncheon. On Friday he is to sit in on a meeting of the Bridges program, which was created in Detroit after the 9/11 attacks to improve cooperation between Middle Eastern communities and federal law enforcement.
Sutherland also plans to attend an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sponsored by the Michigan branch of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The head of the committee, Imad Hamad, welcomes Sutherland’s visit, but at the same time, says that government can’t be given a “blank check.”
Other local Arab Americans and Muslims are skeptical of the government’s defense of domestic surveillance efforts.
The administration is “making this a political issue, not a constitutional issue,” said Nabih Ayad, a Dearborn attorney who often deals with Arab-American civil rights cases.
US Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat whose district includes a part of Dearborn, said that although he appreciates the administration’s reaching out to Arab Americans, “the fact of the matter is, domestic surveillance by the NSA without a court-approved warrant is a matter of grave concern and something that must be thoroughly investigated.”
But Sutherland said, “The more we reach out as a department and demonstrate our good faith, I think the more we’re going to draw people into” the fight against terrorism.
Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 248-351-2998 or
Courtesy Detroit Free Press


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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