Federal Judge Orders FBI to Provide Full Muslim Surveillance Records
Santa Ana , CA: In a legal victory for civil rights groups and advocates, a federal district court judge on Monday rejected FBI arguments seeking to withhold nearly 100 documents that detail the bureau's surveillance of 11 Muslim leaders and organizations in Southern California. Judge Cormac J. Carney directed the FBI to submit the withheld documents to him for review to determine whether they should be disclosed, and also ordered the FBI to conduct an immediate search of all of its offices nationwide and release records on the Council of American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area and its Executive Director Hussam Ayloush.
The decision marks a three-year battle against the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI by the American Civil Liberties Union and several local Muslim groups, including the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and CAIR, to obtain the records and show that the FBI is unlawfully targeting Muslims in Southern California. The court's decision came in response to a 2007 lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Southern California on behalf of Muslim leaders and groups.
"This ruling sends a clear message to the FBI that it must provide a transparent accounting of this surveillance and must cease religious profiling. We believe these surveillance records will show how the FBI infiltrated Southern California mosques and invasively monitored our clients as if members of the Muslim community were presumed criminals," said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU/SC staff attorney.
In May 2006, 11 Muslim American leaders, mosques and local organizations, who sought to allay fears of FBI spying in the Muslim community, filed a joint Freedom of Information Act request. The plaintiffs sought all FBI records of the agency's surveillance and investigations of them and other groups since January 2001. But after one year, the agency turned over only four pages of documents, with much of the information redacted.
The ACLU/SC then filed a lawsuit in September 2007 against the DOJ and the FBI on behalf of the plaintiffs. Since then, the government has provided hundreds of pages of documents, but they are still very heavily redacted.
Even so, the documents show that the FBI conducted extensive surveillance on lawful First Amendment activities of Muslim Americans. Unredacted portions of the FBI documents, for example, describe plaintiffs' political stance on immigration reform, fundraising activities to support earthquake relief in India, public statements advocating nonviolence, and Muslim student conferences.
"The American Muslim community, its leaders and institutions have been a regular target of surveillance that is unconscionable and un-American. We have faith in our judicial system to bring transparency and accountability to any unlawful practices that may have violated Americans' civil liberties," said Ayloush.
Earlier this year, news surfaced that the FBI had sent a convicted criminal named Craig Monteilh into Southern California mosques supposedly to record conversations and collect information about possible terrorist acts. Instead, he baited religious leaders and worshippers, created suspicion with his extremist rhetoric and sent a chilling effect into an already wary community.
"Recent actions of FBI, unfortunately, have created a climate of fear in our communities. In America, we should not feel like we live under a regime that persecutes people for their speech and religion, rather than a democracy that promotes these ideals," said Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the board of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
The plaintiffs in the ACLU/SC lawsuit are: Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, CAIR-Greater Los Angeles Area, Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, Islamic Center of Hawthorne, West Coast Islamic Center, Human Assistance and Development International, Inc., Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Shakeel Syed, Hussam Ayloush, Mohammed Abdul Aleem, and Rafe Husain.