LOS ANGELES - More than a year ago leading Muslim Americans requested basic information about FBI surveillance in Southern California, seeking to calm community fears of spying at mosques and surveillance of community groups and community leaders. To date, the government has turned over only four pages of documents.
Today, the ACLU of Southern California filed a federal lawsuit claiming the government's incomplete and long-delayed response violated the Freedom of Information Act.
'The government has squandered an opportunity to build trust with Muslim Americans and broken the law by failing to release information in a timely and complete way,' said ACLU/SC staff attorney Ranjana Natarajan. 'If the FBI is serious about addressing the concerns of Muslim Americans in Southern California that their religious rights are protected, they should release the records this lawsuit seeks.'
In May 2006, 11 Muslim American leaders and community groups filed a joint FOIA request to the FBI for all records concerning the agency's surveillance and investigations of themselves or their groups since January 2001. They hoped to shed light on practices that have been reported in the press, such as nuclear radiation monitoring at mosques and alleged spying on mosques by federal agents.
'We are disappointed in the government's response, particularly because community understanding is crucial to the goals we share,' said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of the Greater Los Angeles Area. 'National security is a great concern for American Muslims, and we take it seriously. In the same way, we take our religious freedom seriously.'
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI has stepped up its counter-terrorism investigations, particularly of Muslim Americans. After the attacks, the FBI interviewed thousands of Muslim men and detained many who had not been accused of a crime. Several of the plaintiffs in the ACLU/SC's lawsuit have been personally questioned by federal agents.
'We are only exercising our Constitutional right and fulfilling our civic duty in demanding transparency and accountability by filing this lawsuit as a last resort," said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.