tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Monday, Jul 24, 2017
Commentary

Hassan Shibly: CAIR strikes right balance between protecting security and liberty

Regarding “Don’t stifle FBI’s terror effort” (Our Views, Nov. 7):

It is easy for editors who are not attorneys and have not represented hundreds of victims of FBI abuse to give ill-informed legal advice and advise the public to waive the constitutionally protected right to have an attorney present when approached by the FBI.

America is one of the few nations in the world whose Constitution assumes that the people should take precautions to hold the government accountable. Exercising one’s constitutionally protected right to have a lawyer present when approached by the FBI helps ensure agents are behaving both constitutionally and efficiently. Meanwhile, people who feel their rights are secured with legal counsel present will have the confidence to be more open.

Our concern with the FBI selectively targeting the Muslim community for interrogation and recruitment of agent provocateurs is primarily because it has been documented that such profiling is ineffective, a waste of resources and actually makes our nation less safe and less free. Law enforcement must invest our limited public resources conducting investigations based on probable cause, not religious profiling. Having a lawyer present ensures that the FBI has a legitimate investigative purpose for interrogating Americans and are not acting based on politically acceptable biases that merely serve to intimidate religious minorities and waste taxpayer dollars.

Even though the Trib failed to request any such evidence from us, it claimed “there is no evidence local FBI agents have been abusive.” I’ll wager that the Trib’s own police reporters would find this assertion patently naïve. The Founders did not write the Bill of Rights and then reject it because there was no evidence that the new American government was going to be abusive.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has documented how the FBI has targeted law-abiding American Muslims for interrogation and coerced recruitment as agent provocateurs. According to Trevor Aaronson, executive director of the Florida Center for Investigative Journalism, such FBI tactics are similar to that used by the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) against the African-American civil rights movement decades ago and has included engaging in blackmail, extortion and threats of harm to self, family and friends. Coerced individuals are then forced into mosques to promote radical violent extremism — using taxpayer dollars — to unstable and mentally disturbed youths.

These programs are not only contrary to the protections enshrined in the Constitution, but are ineffective and make our nation less safe and less free. Even with the rise of Islamic State, those engaging in acts of terrorism on U.S. soil have more often attended churches or synagogue than mosques, and yet the FBI is not engaging in similar tactics against the Christian or Jewish communities — nor should they.

Engaging in criminal plans should make one the subject of a FBI investigation — not following a particular faith. When the FBI wastes resources in questioning individuals who have engaged in no wrongdoing, they may miss catching some of the overwhelming amount of criminals and terrorists who have nothing to do with that faith.

The Trib used Sami Osmakac as an example. The Trib does not mention that Osmakac would not have had the potential ability to harm our community without facilitation by paid FBI agent provocateurs or that in the same time frame several terrorist attacks were planned in Tampa by disturbed youths who, unlike Osmakac, were not Muslim.

Selective targeting of a religious minority by the federal government undermines the Constitution and harms America as a whole. CAIR has documented how many FBI agents have received false training that the entire Muslim community is a threat and that Muslims are not entitled to First Amendment rights. In Florida and nationwide, the Muslim community has often reported extremists espousing violence in mosques who turned out to be paid FBI agent provocateurs. Examples such as these abound.

Let us not forget that only last year an FBI agent who had a documented history of beating up suspects and witnesses and falsifying evidence, threatened several Orlando Muslims with false charges to pressure them to become informants, and then shot in the back and killed one of them after six hours of interrogation in their home three days later.

Counter-productive tactics that infringe upon the rights of religious minorities are not necessary to keep our nation safe. American Muslims are invested in the security of our nation and have a track record of voluntary cooperation with law enforcement on the rare occasion a threat should arise. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller told the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that “many of our cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community in the United States.” The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida also has repeatedly thanked the Muslim community for helping keep Florida safe.

We are not a nation of fearful people. Our rights are not things to be cast aside because someone scary threatens us. Groups such as IS strip people of their rights, and we should not do this in America. If we willingly cast aside the liberty that previous generations have bled for, then the terrorists win.

Just as taking precautionary measures to protect our security is reasonable, taking precautionary measures to protect our rights is also reasonable. That is why CAIR’s recommendation of having legal counsel present when talking to law enforcement is the right balance. Neither liberty nor security is sacrificed. Instead, both are protected.

Hassan Shibly, Esq., of Tampa is chief executive director of CAIR Florida.

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