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Civil Liberties in War Time
Interview with Anonymous
The following interview was done by a paralegal
in the Criminal Section of the US Department of Justice's Civil
Rights Division who wished to remain anonymous. The Criminal Section
of the Civil Rights Division prosecutes cases involving the violent
interference with liberties and rights defined in the Constitution
or federal law.
Please describe your organization in detail.
MISSION: The Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division prosecutes
cases involving the violent interference with liberties and rights
defined in the Constitution or federal law. The rights of both citizens
and non-citizens are protected. In general, it is the use of force,
threats, or intimidation, that characterize a federal criminal violation
of an individual's civil rights. Our cases often involve incidents
that are invariably of intense public interest. While some violations
may most appropriately be pursued by the federal government, others
can be addressed by either the federal government or by state or
local prosecutors. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that acts constituting
federal criminal civil rights violations are sufficiently remedied,
whether prosecuted federally or by local authorities. http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/crim/overview.htm
The department is composed of prosecutors, paralegals, and other
support staff work together in reviewing complaints and bringing
investigations to prosecution. Our attorneys come from diverse backgrounds,
and many have prior experience as litigators -- either as prosecutors
or as public defenders -- at the federal, state, or local level.
In addition, the Criminal Section works with numerous organizations,
both within and outside the Department of Justice, which provide
additional investigative resources and substantive expertise related
to federal criminal civil rights violations and other related, potential
federal crimes or civil violations.
What, if any, changes to civil liberties have you witnessed since
September 11, 2001?
The Assistant Attorney General has released numerous press releases
addressing issues of civil liberties violations since September
11, 2001. Since this time, there has been a shift to victims of
racial violence, especially those members of the Arab American community.
The Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division has been addressing
anti-Arab threats in employment related incidents (18 USC 245) and
rights violations of Arab Americans who are discriminated in their
homes or neighborhoods.
Is the implementation of national IDs possible? How would national
IDs affect citizens of the United States?
The implementation of national IDs is possible if Congress chooses
to support such measures. The Criminal Section of the Civil Rights
Division is in strong opposition to the national ID cards because
they address a constitutional issue. People should be free to go
and come as they please without being hassled by the government.
The government has a limited role during war, and this is an example
of the government going to far.
What is a possible alternative or solution to the underlying
problem presented by national ID cards?
One solution to this problem is making sure that all foreign citizens
in the United States are in America with valid visas. Each year,
millions of individuals reside in this nation with expired identification.
This is a major failure that must be solved by Immigration and Naturalization
Services (INS). Also, there should be better screening of individuals
in airports and people coming into the country. It is essential
that we investigate the abuses by the INS and Border Patrol Agency
Do you feel democracy is sacrificed during
Democracy can be sacrificed during war. National ID Cards would
be an example of the government taking advantage of democratic principles.
In such scenarios as Japanese internment camps during World War
II, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division is responsible
for redress of citizens in the context of war.
Is there a way to strike a balance between maintaining civil
liberties and securing our nation?
The Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division is the first step
towards striking a balance between maintaining civil liberties and
securing the nation. This division is a watch dog of the Attorney
General. We investigate prisons and we seek to enforce the constitution
by ensuring that all individual rights are maintained. For example,
we look into cases of police brutality and investigate scenarios
in which a detective "beats a confession" out of someone.
Also, we ensure that no one is denied the right to council if requested.
What role can citizens play in the struggle between civil liberties
Citizens should actively come forward if they witness a problem.
It is imperative that individuals inform the government of civil
liberties violations. The enemy is not the Arab American population;
the enemy consists of Al Quada forces who destroyed the World Trade
Center. This distinction is quite important because otherwise, widespread
paranoia will cause distrust among the citizens of America. It is
important that the government defines the enemy.
What has been the biggest challenge of the FBI since September
The biggest challenge that we have faced is getting people to come
forward who feel that their civil liberties have been violated.
Often times, people are reluctant or hesitant to be interviewed
by the FBI. We believe that all individuals who reside in this country
are protected by our lawswhether or not they are American
citizensbecause they reside in our jurisdiction. Another problem
exists because people do not believe that we [the government] can
do internal investigations.
Are you personally impressed by Bush's administration in handling
our security post Sept. 11, 2001?
Yes. This administration has opened up a lot of investigations of
violence against Arab Americans. I only wish that the media would
print more of the positive accomplishments of this administration
rather than highlighting the scenarios of racial profiling or police
brutality. Our goal is to make Arab Americans feel safer in our
country and feel as if they are not the enemy. The only way that
this can continue to be maintained is if we increase security in
airports and throughout society without violating civil liberties.
Submitted by: EJ Stern, Intern, summer 2002
Read what Robert
Levy has to say to say on the subject of civil liberties in