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Police Accused of Violating Muslims' Civil Rights

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Jed Jacobsohn/Getty

The San Francisco and Oakland police are accused of investigating individuals without evidence that they have committed crimes, on behalf of the FBI.

Host Cy Musiker: Civil rights groups say local police departments in the Bay Area are breaking state and local laws protecting citizens' rights and violating the civil rights of Bay Area Muslims. That's happening, they say, because local police chiefs are signing deals to do counter terrorism investigations with the FBI. 

Those deals require police officers to follow expanded FBI rules and investigate people and groups without any factual evidence they've done anything wrong. If true, that's in violation of the California Constitution, which prohibits intelligence gathering by law enforcement without suspicion of criminal wrongdoing based on fact.

Veena Dubal is a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. And Mrs. Dubal police sign Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) to govern their cooperation with the FBI. Do you have a copy of one of those memos, and what does it say?

Veena Dubal: We do, we actually have a standard Bay Area MOU, and we just happened to get it in the past few weeks. We've been trying very hard to get these MOUs from San Francisco and from the city of Oakland and we've been stonewalled from the cities. They essentially have secret agreements with the FBI. Interestingly, in Oakland their agreement is secret to the city as well. The city attorney has asked for the agreement from the FBI and the FBI has refused to give it to him.

Musiker: What does this boilerplate memorandum say?

Dubal: The boilerplate memorandum essentially says that local police officers who are assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force have to abide by FBI guidelines, are supervised by FBI agents.

Musiker: And the FBI is operating under rules laid out under the Bush administration in 2008. Those rules eliminated regulations put in place following revelations of abuse in investigations by the FBI in the 1970s.

Dubal: That's correct. FBI agents are now allowed to initiate investigations on individuals without any suspicion. They call these investigations "assessments." The New York Times revealed just this past Saturday that the FBI has in fact compiled at least 70,000 files on Americans who they have no reason to believe have committed any criminal wrongdoing. These are potentially all innocent Americans.

Musiker: And I believe you've been hearing from Muslim clients, of yours, who say that Oakland police and the F.B.I. are investigating their activities.

Dubal: That's right. We have heard lots of complaints. I have a number of clients who have been assessed, again this is the term the FBI uses for low level investigation, they are being assessed by police departments and agents that have been assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In these interviews they are asked questions about their religious identity, about their political beliefs, and about their families. This is really, really personal stuff.

Musiker: Mrs. Dubal, we contacted the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI for comment, and they did not get back to us by newstime. But this morning Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said he doesn't want his officers violating the civil rights of local Muslims in their work on the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

OPD Chief Anthony Batts: I think what's critical is that people have the opportunity to report any misconduct.  We have one officer that is on the task force that's there, and if we have any misconduct then we will review that.

Musiker: But Chief Batts said that he's had no complaints about the officer's work.  What's your comment on that?

Dubal: That's right. So we have no filed individual complaints based on our clients' experiences for two reasons. One, this is a very fearful and scared community, who are frankly afraid of coming forward and making a complaint. The second reason is that if we file a complaint against the OPD it's immediately going to become subject to confidentiality rules, and frankly it's going to go nowhere. This is not about one or two complaints, this about a pattern and practice of violating civil rights.

What needs to be in place is strong oversight provisions, and an MOU that the OPD signs with the FBI that says that if we are going to be involved in these types of activities, our agents are not going to be involved with investigating people unless they have criminal suspicion.

Musiker: Thank you.

Dubal: Thank you.

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