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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.

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 (BPA).

Do you feel democracy is sacrificed during war time?

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 and security?

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 11, 2001?

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 laws—whether or not they are American citizens—because 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 war time.