The U.S. Justice Department is considering a change in the grounds on which the FBI can investigate citizens and legal residents of the United States. Till now, DOJ guidelines have required the FBI to have some evidence of wrongdoing before it opens an investigation. The impending new rules, which would be implemented later this summer, allow bureau agents to establish a terrorist profile or pattern of behavior and attributes and, on the basis of that profile, start investigating an individual or group. Agents would be permitted to ask “open-ended questions” concerning the activities of Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans. A person’s travel and occupation, as well as race or ethnicity, could be grounds for opening a national security investigation.
The rumored changes have provoked protests from Muslim American and Arab-American groups. The Council on American Islamic Relations, among the more effective lobbies for Muslim Americans’ civil liberties, immediately denounced the plan, as did James Zogby, the president of the Arab-American Institute. Said Zogby, “There are millions of Americans who, under the reported new parameters, could become subject to arbitrary and subjective ethnic and religious profiling.” Zogby, who noted that the Bush administration’s history with profiling is not reassuring, warned that all Americans would suffer from a weakening of civil liberties.
In fact, Zogby’s statement only begins to touch on the many problems with these proposed rules. The new guidelines would lead to many bogus prosecutions, but they would also prove counterproductive in the effort to disrupt real terror plots. And then there’s Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s rationale for revising the rules in the first place. “It’s necessary,” he explained in a June news conference, “to put in place regulations that will allow the FBI to transform itself as it is transforming itself into an intelligence-gathering organization.” When did Congress, or we as a nation, have a debate about whether we want to authorize the establishment of a domestic intelligence agency? Indeed, late last month Congress signaled its discomfort with the concept by denying the FBI’s $11 million funding request for its data-mining center. . .
Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans, along with members of some other ethnic groups, are therefore understandably alarmed that the Department of Justice may soon have the tools to bring them under investigation without any proof of wrongdoing. As CAIR national legislative director Corey Saylor noted in a statement, “Any new Justice Department guidelines must preserve the presumption of innocence that is the basis of our entire legal system … Initiating criminal investigations based on racial or religious profiling is both unconstitutional and un-American.”
Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans have already suffered from being profiled in a de facto sense. Unsurprisingly, to have that injustice become policy concerns them. The protests would be even louder if so many in the community were not afraid to speak up and draw attention to themselves, as one of my Muslim American Facebook correspondents pointed out to me. Another remarked sadly that not only had George W. Bush not brought democracy to the Muslim Middle East, but he had also damaged its prospects in America itself. (MORE)