Response to domestic surveillance suit ruling

Today, attorneys representing American Muslims responded to a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney granting a Department of Justice request to dismiss their civil rights lawsuit against the FBI.  Although the Court’s ruling dismissed the lawsuit against the FBI, it permits the suit to go forward against the individual government agents under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“We are pleased that the Court allowed our claims to proceed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but deeply disappointed that the Court has permitted the United States government to escape responsibility for its actions,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Southern California. “Under today’s ruling dozens of law-abiding Muslim Americans in Southern California will never know if the government violated their constitutional rights.  Every American should be deeply troubled when the government can win dismissal of a case involving the most basic constitutional rights by claiming that it is acting, in secret, in the interests of national security.  The notion that our basic safety requires relinquishing our most cherished liberties is as inconsistent with the Constitution as it is frightening.”

“Despite today’s disappointing decision, I am encouraged by all the work we’ve done so far to hold the FBI responsible for how it surveilled our community, and we will continue to work hard to make sure that the government does not continue to abuse our constitutional rights,” said plaintiff Yassir Fazaga.

“It is deeply troubling that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have more access to judicial review than U.S. citizens,” said Reem Salahi, associate attorney with Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick.  “Where plaintiffs and the informant himself describe act after act of illegal government surveillance, the government should not be allowed to skirt liability by using its wild card — state secrets.”

Fazaga v. FBI was filed in February of last year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Council on American-Islamic Relations—Greater Los Angeles Area (CAIR-LA), and the firm of Hadsell, Stormer, Richardson and Renick.  It alleges that during 2006 and 2007, the FBI collected extensive records about the religious practices of hundreds of Muslim Americans who attended various Southern California mosques, including hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings of discussion groups, prayers, religious lectures and social and cultural events. Many of those targeted were American citizens.

The DOJ’s decision to invoke the state secrets privilege to dismiss a domestic civil rights suit against the FBI’s unlawful infiltration of mainstream mosques in Southern California is unprecedented. Attorney General Eric Holder filed a declaration as part of the DOJ request – a move that serves to prevent the FBI from explaining its actions regarding the surveillance of the Southern California mosques and prevents it from having to defend against the charge that it targeted Muslim Americans because of their religion.

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