In its bid to win new members and public support, the American Civil Liberties Union has shrewdly camouflaged its true objectives in the War on Terror. Ever since 9/11, the ACLU has publicly portrayed itself as a middle-of-the-road institution fighting to protect the constitutionally guaranteed privacy rights of ordinary Americans from the U.S. Justice Department’s "overzealous" war on terrorism. And the ruse has worked: membership rolls have swelled by 55,000 since September 11th thanks to a focused, highly choreographed campaign that has kept the ACLU in the news on an almost daily basis for the last 20 months.
Behind this deceptive mask that reflects a red, white and blue institution fighting to protect the American way, resides the real ACLU: the fifth column organization that engages in a vehement and relentless campaign to harass John Ashcroft’s Justice Department and to obstruct the Bush Administration’s war on terror.
You won’t read about what this ACLU is up to on the organization’s national website or hear about it during press conferences held with groups like the conservative Eagle Forum and American Conservative Union. That’s because the organization’s old-style leftist activism is now mostly being handled by its state organizations and mention of its other activities rarely makes it beyond state, if not local boundaries.
The ACLU and the liberal media want you to believe that the Patriot Act and legal rulings won by the Justice Department have given the government broad new powers to spy on ordinary Americans in the name of fighting terrorism. Hundreds of pages of this rhetoric, the most scintillating parts of which have been usurped by national newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times almost word for word, can be downloaded from the ACLU’s national website.
The message is always the same. “Under the new Ashcroft guidelines, the FBI can freely infiltrate mosques, churches and synagogues and other houses of worship, listen in on online chat rooms and read message boards even if it has no evidence that a crime might be committed,” reads an ACLU press release.
This is true. But what the ACLU doesn’t want “ordinary Americans” to know is that the FBI had the ability to do all of the above long before Bush ever took office. The ACLU also doesn’t want you to know that before it could wiretap you, me or the nice Muslim family next door, the FBI would first be required show probable cause before a U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance court that the target is an agent of a foreign terrorist group or government, the same requirement the government has faced since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was passed in 1978. These requirements have not changed one iota since the Bush Administration took office.
So what “trampled rights” is the ACLU really fighting the Justice Department over, then? The real issue is a set of Clinton-era intelligence gathering guidelines that have severely hampered federal law enforcement terrorism investigations since Janet Reno – not the courts or the constitution – put them in place. Called “the wall,” these absurd guidelines created multi-layer bureaucratic walls barring agents gathering intelligence on terrorist threats from speaking to those investigating crimes related to terrorism. Under the guidelines, which were lifted by a review court in November at the request of the Justice Department, two FBI agents investigating al-Qaida and working out of the same office could not talk to each other about the same terrorist if one of them was surveiling him by wiretap and another was working on a criminal investigation against him and his associates, even if these terrorists were plotting a terrorist act.
Before September 11, the wall blocked two such agents who desperately sought permission to search the possessions of Zacarias Moussaoui and launch a manhunt for al-Qaida operative Khalid Almihdar. Justice Department bureaucrats denied both requests. In the case of Almihdar, they cited wall guidelines in forbidding the agent to track Almihdar because the agent was a criminal investigator, not an intelligence investigator, and thus a manhunt would violate Almihdar’s rights. A few weeks later, Almihdar crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
Despite this, the ACLU has been fighting a visible public battle since November to reinstate the wall guidelines on behalf of “ordinary” Americans whose Fourth Amendment rights it says are now threatened. So who are these “ordinary” Americans whose privacy the ACLU is trying so hard to protect?
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the ACLU’s challenge to the government’s expanded powers to wiretap and search people suspected of having links to foreign terrorists, a fact the new “populist” ACLU was quick to publicize. That the organization fought this legal battle on behalf of Arab Americans and others who believed that they were being secretly monitored – i.e. suspects in ongoing terrorism investigations – was obscured by both the mainstream media and the ACLU.
It’s just one of the many battles the ACLU is quietly fighting at the state level on behalf of “ordinary citizens” who also happen to be suspected or known terrorists currently under federal investigation or indictment. As for bonafide “ordinary” Americans unfairly harassed by the Justice Department, well, the ACLU hasn’t yet produced any.
The battle of the Oregon ACLU on behalf of a “local businessman” didn’t make national headlines. The ACLU and protestors who held rallies on behalf of Intel software engineer Mike Hawash initially condemned the Justice Department for holding Hawash, a Palestinian born in Jordan who became a U.S. citizen in 1990, for a month as a material witness without formally charging him with a crime. The Oregon ACLU yelled louder when he was finally charged two months ago with illegally attempting to provide material support to the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorist organizations. Prosecutors say after September 11, Hawash signed over the title to his home and power of attorney to his wife and joined five other men traveling to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban.
The ACLU’s new, “mainstream” members would no doubt be surprised to learn that the organization has spent time and money in Florida fighting for a fresh change of underwear for federal prisoner Sami Al-Arian, who claims he has been hygienically disenfranchised while awaiting trial on charges that he was the top organizer for the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In an April article in the Tampa Tribune, Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said that Al-Arian’s claims that he was only allowed by prison officials to change his underwear once a week and his jumpsuit every two weeks represent “the disgusting raw exercise of power by John Ashcroft.”
Exactly how Ashcroft exercised influence over Al-Arian’s hygienic situation was never elaborated upon in the story. Prison officials deny the charges.
ACLU leaders like Simon continue to make vague allegations in local papers that Ashcroft has somehow authorized the harsh treatment of illegal aliens awaiting deportation or trial, as Simon did in a Miami Herald article in June. (Once again, he failed to elaborate on Ashcroft’s exact role or exactly what the “harsh treatment” included.)
Meanwhile, the ACLU continues to aid in the legal battle to thwart the government’s continued investigation in the Al-Arian case, including the FBI’s ongoing investigation of the Al-Arian’s co-conspirators and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), one of the largest contributors to a Middle Eastern think tank federal investigators believe helped to fund PIJ suicide bombings in Israel. In court briefs filed by the ACLU, it has argued that the search warrants used in the raid on the IIIT were overly broad and that the materials taken, which the government is still using in its investigation, should be returned.
Judging by its actions, it’s clear that the ACLU is determined to keep Muslims and those of Middle Eastern descent who are illegally living in this country right where they are.
The ACLU has offered legal advice and organized local protests against an INS and Justice Department registration system that requires males over the age of 16 who are “temporary visitors” to the U.S. from 25 mostly Arab and Muslim countries to register with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services or face deportation. In state after state, ACLU leaders have called the practice “discriminatory” in interviews with local reporters and accused the Justice Department of using the mandatory registration as an excuse to round up Arab and South Asian men and throw them out of the country.
Because failure to show up is grounds for deportation, the ACLU has accused the Justice Department of deliberately failing to adequately attempt to reach these men and inform them of the new registration requirements as a backdoor way of deporting them. The fact that many of these “unaccounted for” visitors were already in violation of their immigration status when the registration drives were launched is apparently immaterial to the ACLU. Nor is it interested in informing its followers that many of the Muslims and Middle Easterners it insists the government is targeting due to their race, religion or ethnicity were deported by the government as part of a year-old crackdown on at least 5,900 illegal aliens from countries where al-Qaida is active. Most were targeted because they ignored deportation orders.
But the ACLU hasn’t been satisfied with merely protesting deportations. It has fought the Justice Department and other federal agencies at every turn in the government’s battle to track potential terrorist threats. It protested the FBI’s plans to document and count every mosque in America.
In March, the ACLU protested after the Justice Department acknowledged that FBI and Homeland Security agents were targeting and rounding up illegal Iraqi immigrants they consider dangerous. Dalia Hashad, the Arab, Muslim and South Asian advocate for the ACLU told the Sun-Sentinel news the roundup was “at odds with their general message that the FBI is there to help them,” she said. It’s worth noting that the FBI has never assured Iraqis living illegally in this country that it would “help them,” only that it would investigate hate crimes against them.
In response to the government’s crackdown on illegal Iraqis in Illinois, the ACLU quickly mobilized a legal team and opened a legal hotline to offer them free “advice” on how to avoid deportation.
It has also fought the Justice Department in court in California to allow non-citizens to work as airport screeners, an issue the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will soon rule on. At the time the provision barring non-citizens from working as screeners was passed, 80 percent of privately employed screeners in San Francisco and 40 percent of those working in Los Angeles were non-citizens.
Thus, as realities demonstrate, federal agents fighting terrorism must now also fight the ACLU every step of the way.