US Tries to Reassure
By Niraj Warikoo
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
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
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
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.
*FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 248-351-2998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courtesy Detroit Free Press