John Tateishi, who spent three years in a U.S. concentration camp from 1942 to 1945, sees a parallel between the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the attacks on immigrants from the Middle East today.

“We were sent to relocation centers simply because of our ancestry,” he told the World. He said immigrants of Middle Eastern heritage are being hounded, arrested, held without bail and denied contact with lawyers and family for the same reason: “They look like the terrorists who flew those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”

He said the government invoked Presidential Executive Order 9066 as its authority to detain Japanese families in 1942 and was using the Patriot Act today, adding “in that regard, little has changed” in 60 years. He added that 60 percent of those detained were U.S. citizens and that nearly 40 percent had been born in this country.

Tateishi, now national director of Japanese American Citizens League, was three years old when he and his family were interned at California’s Manzanar camp located in the desert between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Death Valley. The camp – there were several others that, together, held 120,000 people – was home for nearly three years for people of Japanese decent who lived in Washington, Oregon, California and part of Arizona.

Housing consisted of tar-paper barracks measuring 20 by 100 feet, with space allocated by family size. “They were ringed with barb wire, illuminated by searchlights at night and patrolled by soldiers. Tateishi said medical care was “non-existent” except for that provided by doctors from the camp population. He said medicines were provided by friends on the outside, and the American Friends Service Committee helped find teachers for the children.

In the days following Sept. 11 about 1,200 Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners were rounded up because of minor visa violations, as possible material witnesses against the terrorists.

One man died of a stress-induced heart attack; another claims guards goaded other prisoners to beat him up because he was a terrorist. Most have been held without having adequate access to lawyers and family. Although the Immigration and Naturalization Service has refused repeated requests for information about the number of detainees, it is known that a number have been deported or have been allowed to leave at their own request, while others have been released. However, hundreds still remain under arrest.

The treatment of Asif-Ur-Rehman Saffi’s, a Pakistani-French citizen, is typical of that meted out to those who were rounded up and detained: repeated interrogation, beatings, denial of medical treatment and of the right to observe religious practices. He was never been charged with a crime and was found to have no links to terrorism and was eventually released and returned to France.

In April, several hundred former Manzanar internees held a reunion commemorating the 60th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 which “authorized and directed … the Secretary of War … to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded.” The order also authorized the Secretary of War “to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary.” The order was issued by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942.

Many of those at Manzanar April 27 said they saw ominous parallels with people of Middle Eastern descent being detained after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. “We have to stop that. There has to be a reason to put people in jail,” said Archie Miyatake, whose late father, Toyo, made camp history by smuggling in camera equipment to secretly document life at Manzanar.

Sam Hakim, a member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, drove up from Los Angeles to share his message. He described past raids when Arab-Americans were taken into custody after Sept. 11. “You understand our humiliation,” he told the crowd.