DETROIT, Mich. – “We know from our clients that the FBI is once again targeting ethnic, religious, and political minority communities disproportionately,” says Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and member of the legal team heading up the ACLU’s recently filed lawsuit against the U.S. government.

In a prepared statement, the ACLU announced legal proceedings against Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller. The target of the lawsuit is the notorious USA Patriot Act, which “vastly expands the power of FBI agents to secretly obtain records and personal belongings of innocent people in the United States, including citizens and permanent residents.” The ACLU’s suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The ACLU’s legal documents state that the powers granted to federal law enforcement officials violate constitutionally protected rights against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as First Amendment protections of religious expression, political association, and free speech.

To date 143 communities across the country have voted for resolutions opposing provisions of the Patriot Act. Ann Arbor, Mich., recently passed a resolution that expresses concern about the attack on the Bill of Rights posed by the Patriot Act and requests that local law enforcement officials inform the city council of any federal investigations undertaken under Patriot Act provisions. The Detroit City Council passed a similar resolution earlier this year.

In a recent ACLU report entitled “Seeking Truth From Justice,” the ACLU accused Ashcroft’s Justice Department of leading a campaign to intentionally mislead the American people about the full scope of the Patriot Act. “Department spokespersons,” the report charges, “have consistently made statements to the media and local officials that are either half-truths or are plainly and demonstrably false.” For example, claims have been made that the Act doesn’t apply to Americans, or that it doesn’t allow seizure of personal belongings or records without probable cause.

The report continues: “The Justice Department has clear political incentives to soft-pedal the nature of the Patriot Act. But we can count on the fact that government investigators and prosecutors, when they appear before judges, will be making much bolder claims about what the Act lets them do.”

Organizations that are assisting the ACLU with the case are the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Islamic Center of Portland, Ore.

Nazih Hassan of the Muslim Community Association reiterated the concerns of many in the Arab American and Muslim communities about excesses under PATRIOT. “We are very concerned that the FBI is investigating us because of our political activities even though we have done nothing wrong,” he said.

The author can be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net

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