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Dalia Hashad Advocates Against Racial Profiling

Dalia Hashad is an advocate in the ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling, focusing specifically on issues confronting Arab, Muslim and South-Asian Americans following September 11, 2001.

Dalia received her B.A in Environmental Policy from the University of California at Berkeley and her law degree from New York University's School of Law. While studying at NYU, she was a staff editor of the Journal of Law and Social Change. She also founded and served as Chair of NYU's Middle Eastern Law Student Association. Upon graduating from NYU, Dalia worked as a litigator at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. As a member of the Palestine Peace Project, Dalia worked in the West Bank with LAW: Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment.

In her capacity as an advocate at the ACLU, she works closely with Arab, Muslim and South Asian organizations in the US to coordinate national campaigns and events. She runs a flexible and inclusive campaign so that the organization can best serve the needs of these communities. Her work focuses on civil liberties advocacy and protection; the plight of detainees; community outreach and empowerment; and racial profiling.

In this interview with Asia Society, Ms Hashad discusses, among other things, the curtailment of civil liberties, the USA PATRIOT Act*, illegal detentions, racial profiling and INS registration.

 

What are the important elements of the USA PATRIOT Act? And how does this infringe upon civil liberties in this country?

With great haste and secrecy and in the name of the "war on terrorism," Congress passed legislation that gives the Executive Branch sweeping new powers that undermine the Bill of Rights (and are not necessary to keep us safe). This 342-page USA PATRIOT Act was passed on October 26, 2001 with little debate by members of Congress, most of whom did not even read the bill. The Administration then initiated a flurry of executive orders, regulations, and policies and practices that also threatened our rights.

The USA PATRIOT Act expands terrorism laws to include "domestic terrorism" which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political advocacy. It expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, gives them wide powers of phone and internet surveillance, and access to highly personal medical, financial, mental health, and student records with minimal judicial oversight. It allows FBI Agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause of crime if they say it is for "intelligence purposes". It permits non-citizens to be jailed based on mere suspicion and to be denied re-admission to the US for engaging in free speech. Suspects convicted of no crime may be detained indefinitely in 6 month increments without meaningful judicial review.

This lack of due process and accountability violates the rights extended to all persons, citizens and non-citizens, by the Bill of Rights. It resurrects the illegal COINTELPRO-type programs of the '50s, '60s and '70s, where the FBI sought to disrupt and discredit thousands of individuals and groups engaged in legitimate political activity.

It contains a number of provisions that civil libertarians have been fighting against for years, such as "sneak and peek" warrants and open records of what books we read at libraries and buy at bookstores, online and offline. These provisions infringe upon civil liberties and do not do anything to protect people against terrorism.

Normally, a search warrant must specify exactly what the police can look for and where. If they take things they are not permitted to, or if they search in places not on the warrant, then the individual being searched has recourse to the law and can fight in court against an illegal search. But under the "sneak-and-peek" warrant, the police can just walk in as soon as the person in question leaves for work, execute a warrant without their knowledge, and not tell them for what they call a "reasonable" period of time afterward: it could be weeks, months, or years. The warrant still says specifically where the police can look, but since there is no one to monitor where the police are looking and if they are properly executing the warrant, there is no question of having recourse to the law.

The Patriot Act also allows the government to go to public libraries and bookstores and request every book that a particular individual -- any individual -- has checked out or bought. Librarians and shopkeepers are not allowed to tell you that your reading habits are being spied on. Many librarians are very angry about this, and we know of some who have been threatened with criminal charges if they tell their patrons that their reading habits are being investigated by the authorities.

There has been a huge backlash against the Patriot Act. As I mentioned earlier, it is a very large document that was touted by Bush and Ashcroft as a response to September 11th, but in fact the 342-page document was presented on September 17th, only six days later, and it is doubtful that a document this size could have been drafted in six days.

Recently we discovered that for months John Ashcroft and his staff at the Department of Justice have been drafting in secret a "PATRIOT II," that is in many ways even more frightening than the first, with even more disturbing provisions. It is called the Domestic Surveillance Enhancement Act of 2003 and it adds 15 new categories to the death penalty. Under PATRIOT II, among other things, John Ashcroft wants the unilateral power to strip US citizens, whether naturalized or American-born, of their citizenship.

See the ACLU website for a Section-by-Section Analysis of Justice Department draft, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, also known as "PATRIOT Act II".

So do you think that this kind of legislation is something the Administration had in mind well before September 11th, 2001?

It seems likely that the Administration had a wish-list of things they wanted and used one of the most vulnerable points in American history to scare people into accepting a lot of these new laws and policies which American legislators would not otherwise support, and the American public would not want. It is not truthful and it is not honest to say that these laws are keeping us safer; they are not. All they are doing is impinging upon our freedom.

John Ashcroft, the Attorney General of the United States, testified at a congressional committee in December 2001 that, "to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists." He went on to say that criticism of the administration "gives ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends." Similarly, White House spokesman Ari Fleisher warned "all Americans … to watch what they say [and] watch what they do." What, in your view, are the implications of this kind of intimidation by the present Administration?

These thinly veiled threats, made by high level government officials, are shocking. In an open democracy, discussion and debate of government policies should not only be encouraged, but required. As Americans, it is our right and responsibility to speak out against injustice. Right now, it is an injustice that the government is taking measures that do not make us safer, but destroy our liberties.

The measures that are taken need to have some relationship to our safety. Racially, religiously and ethnically profiling people is not going to make us safer; this just takes away our freedom and gives us nothing in return. And we need to talk about that. Everyone at the ACLU, like most people, just wants to be safe. We are just as hurt by this as other Americans and we are just as terrified of terrorism. But that is not an excuse to take away our liberties because it does nothing to keep us safer, and simply makes us less free.