LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced on Tuesday that it will offer free legal representation to all persons in the Southern California area who are questioned by the FBI in its latest dragnet interview program.

The ACLU/SC's announcement came in response to statements from local FBI officials that they plan to question, and in fact are in the process of questioning, at least several hundred Muslims and others of South Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African descent in Southern California as part of a national initiative to interview several thousand people. In keeping with similar initiatives in the recent past, the FBI has stated that the persons targeted for questioning are not suspected of any criminal activity.

"None of the interviewees is a suspect, but going in alone for an FBI interview can be very scary, no matter who you are," said Ahilan T. Arulanantham, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. "Having an attorney present helps calm a person's fears and ensures that his or her rights are protected."

In past FBI interviews, subjects have complained of intrusive questions about religious beliefs and political opinions.

The ACLU/SC has offered to arrange free legal representation for all those whom the FBI seeks to interview. The organization also called on the FBI to inform interviewees of their options for legal representation.

"The FBI once again appears to be targeting people for questioning based on their religion, ethnicity, or national origin, even though it suspects them of no wrongdoing whatsoever," said Arulanantham. "This kind of profiling spreads fear and mistrust throughout the community."

The ACLU and other community groups have questioned the effectiveness of dragnet style interview programs that have taken place since the attacks of 9/11. Such interviews are reported to have alienated the very communities the government is attempting to gather information from.

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