Published August 3, 2003

The American Civil Liberties Union, along
with six other civil liberties and social services organizations,
chose Detroit a few days ago as one of the two cities in which to
challenge the constitutionality of the USA PATRIOT Act. This is a
positive step in the fight to take back basic civil liberties
stolen away in the frightened haze following the first harrowing
attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor. Unless this lawsuit is
successful or legislators realize the Orwellian nature of the
PATRIOT Act, it will serve as a stain on U.S. democracy. Since its
inception, the act has not only allowed the FBI powers that
blatantly violate the Bill of Rights, but those new capabilities
have also been unfairly directed against Muslim and Arab Americans
in a manner that shows the unaccountability of those actions. This
lawsuit is desperately needed.

The lawsuit is directed specifically at the record-seizure
provision of the act, which librarians, of all people, first
assailed. This provision allows the FBI to request of librarians
information regarding the reading interests of patrons. At the same
time, the librarian would be barred from informing that patron of
the investigation, giving the provision the distinct characteristic
of violating both the First and Fourth Amendments simultaneously. A
different provision also allows the FBI to obtain court orders
without probable cause that the person in question has something to
do with terrorism or a foreign government. Another provision
originally allowed FBI agents the "sneak-and-peak" option, which
would have granted the ability to investigate a person's house or
business without ever telling them. The U.S. House, however,
recently voted 309-118 to remove funding from agencies that partake
in this, which is a positive development.

The organizations' choice to file suit in Detroit was
particularly poignant because Michigan, with its large Arab
population, is at the center of counter-terrorism efforts by the
FBI and therefore has been subjected to some of the worst treatment
under the PATRIOT Act. A total of 50 field agents have been
assigned to the Detroit area. Their techniques to stop terror,
however, have led many in the Arab population to distrust them. If
the United States has any hope of stopping actual terrorists, the
help of Arabs and Muslims who do not ascribe to radical philosophy,
yet are active members in their community and speak a variety of
languages, is essential. An example of the U.S. government hurting
Muslim goodwill can be seen in the case of Rabih Haddad. Haddad was
recently incarcerated for 18 months without ever being formally
charged of a connection with terrorism before finally being
deported on a visa violation. Although the public is not familiar
with the proceedings of this special-interest immigration closed
court and cannot be sure of his guilt or innocence, it is
unacceptable for anyone to be held in legal limbo for such a
prolonged period of time. Of the 661 cases of this type, absolutely
no one was charged with terrorism.

It is a cruel irony that the "PATRIOT" Act would violate our
nation's founding identity of freedom. At this point in time, 143
communities in 27 states have somehow expressed criticism of it,
and members of both political parties have started to show
skepticism. This lawsuit should act as a lightning rod around which
people can rally to show their dissatisfaction.