LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California together with the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Progressive Jewish Alliance, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have announced the creation of a hotline for Iraqi-Americans seeking legal assistance with FBI interviews. The U.S. government has announced that they are seeking to interview over 10,000 Iraqis throughout the nation in an effort to gather information related to the Iraq conflict.

In the past, interviews conducted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have stirred unrest and fear among the Middle-Eastern communities. Complaints of harassment and improper or intrusive questions were commonplace.

"In setting up this hotline, the ACLU is continuing in its long tradition of helping those who need assistance during times of great national crisis," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. "We want to make sure that people in the targeted communities are aware of the fact that they are entitled to have an attorney present during questioning. Together with volunteer attorneys we will work to make sure that those seeking legal assistance will not be left out in the cold."

Preliminary reports of the interviews currently taking place range from pleasant or courteous to rude and intimidating. Arab-American and Muslim-American organizations have repeatedly called on law enforcement officials to respect interview subjects' rights and refrain from treating the communities as suspects rather than partners in the war on terrorism.

"Guaranteeing and respecting the rights of those questioned, in keeping with constitutional standards, will help to enhance cooperation between American-Muslims and law enforcement," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

"We have to work to ensure that all Americans remain safe and secure, both in terms of physical safety, and also in terms of safeguarding our civil rights and civil liberties," said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. "This is not a Muslim issue, a Jewish issue or an Arab issue, this is an American issue."

"We understand the governments' concern for public safety in this time of war, and also the American Muslim community's concerns about their civil rights," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California. "This hotline provides the necessary protections to allow people to feel secure in the conversations with law enforcement agencies."

The hotline will provide callers with legal assistance including attorney referrals and general legal advice. The Southern California hotline number is: 213/977-5289.

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