The police chiefs of Portland (Oregon), Tucson (Arizona) and Detroit (Michigan) refuse to implement a law which suggests that 5,000 people from Middle Eastern countries be interrogated “in connection with the 11th September investigations”. The refusal is due to their belief that the law violates basic human rights and is racially discriminating.
Andrew Kirkland, the Police Chief of Portland, Oregon, declared to Spanish newspaper El Pais, that “The laws of Oregon do not authorise us to interrogate people arbitrarily just because they are immigrants”. He added that he would reconsider his position “if the FBI tells us the type of crime committed or about to be committed”.
The FBI reserves the right to interrogate immigrants in cases where the local authorities fail to do so. The new anti-terrorist law, the Patriot Act, was brought by US attorney general John Ashcroft. A man who, as governor of Missouri, had approved racial segregation in schools.
1,200 people have been detained since 11th September, after sweeping and draconian new powers were given to the US administration. These powers allow for persons to be imprisoned for an indefinite period of time, without a warrant, if the authorities consider a text to be supportive of a terrorist cause. The detainee can be stripped of all his possessions, all his personal belongings can be apprehended and examined, including computer disks and all his telephone conversations can be recorded.
The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, it will be remembered, states that a defendant has the right to secret conversation with his defending attorney. Using the September 11th acts as a pretext that the country is at war, the Bush administration has passed a series of measures giving the authorities a degree of power the country has not seen since World War Two.
Measures have been passed which protect Congressmen against investigation, exclude state documents from public scrutiny, limit civil rights, limit access to pentagon, White House and Congress briefings, setting up a Department of Internal Security which does not have to report to Congress, like the other Secretaries and which can hold detainees without a warrant, without revealing their identity for an indefinite period of time.
Last week, a law presented by Democrat party Senator Dianne Feinstein, of California, to prohibit the entry of all foreign students into the USA for at least six months, was dropped after academics complained that this would be ruinous for the country’s universities.
The reaction from the Moslem community has been swift. Many are packing up their businesses and moving abroad. “They are afraid of reprisals and police oppression”, declared Bassam Mahdawi, director of the Arab language newspaper in California, Al Watan.
Osama Elfar, an Egyptian who has lived in the USA for five years, is on hunger strike. A mechanic at a small aviation company, and an Egyptian, he is one of hundreds of suspects imprisoned under the new law.
Hajtham Bundakji, a Jordanian citizen who has lived in the USA for 33 years, in California, stated that “I do not want to live in a police state. Most of us abandoned non-democratic regimes in the Middle East and now we find the same thing here”, he declared to the New York Times, adding that he is seriously considering moving abroad.
Once the laws are passed and the government has acquired new powers, when are new laws going to be passed to revert to the previous situation, if ever?
Sergio D'Avila in collaboration with John ASHTEAD PRAVDA.Ru