Saturday, December 16, 2006

ACLU honors Arab & Muslim leaders

By: Khalil AlHajal / The Arab American News
Detroit - The American Civil Liberties Union honored members of the Arab American, American Muslim and activist communities on Thursday in a celebration of the national Bill of Rights Day at the Swords into Plowshares Gallery in downtown Detroit.
Plaintiffs in the federal court case to halt warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Administration were presented the ACLU's Bernie Gotfried award for their "courageous efforts."

"To be a plaintiff means having your name in the papers," said ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss. "If you have concerns about your family, about your business… it requires risk, it requires courage, and it requires a commitment to values."

In August, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the U.S. District Court in Detroit ruled that the surveillance program - launched secretly by the Bush administration in 2001, allowing the NSA to listen in on phone calls and emails of U.S. citizens without a warrant - violates the rights to free speech, privacy, and the separation of powers. It was the first and only federal ruling to strike down the controversial program. The Bush administration has since asked to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to throw out the decision. The court has allowed the program to be kept in place pending appeal. Further hearings are expected to be held in late January.

The ACLU sued the National Security Agency last January on behalf of journalists, activists, scholars, and lawyers who say the surveillance has hindered their ability to communicate with clients and contacts overseas.

"We made a very compelling case," said Moss.

She said that the plaintiffs in the case being academics, lawyers, and journalists allowed for effective articulation of the issues and violations involved, and that they were being honored as "people who have stepped forward time and again."

Honoree Noel Saleh, ACLU civil rights attorney and president of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, said he felt that Congress had "fallen down on its job," and that it was critical for him to have gotten involved in the case.

"On a professional level I was concerned about my ability to communicate with clients… and as a citizen I felt it was critical to step up and participate… that this be challenged because as Judge Taylor said, we don't have an imperial presidency with unbridled, unrestricted power.
Judge Taylor said in her opinion on the case "There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution."

Saleh said he felt vindicated by the strength of the decision.

"One success of the litigation is that it empowers individuals and their representatives in Congress to ask questions…"

Nabih Ayad, of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and another plaintiff and honoree, also spoke of community empowerment through the court case and through various organizations and communities reaching out and cooperating with each other.
"Dialogue, communication, and bridge-building are absolutely key," he said. "Civil rights is a struggle for all… what good is our Constitution if when we need it, we can't use it?"
Dawud Walid, of the Council on American Islamic Relations was also honored.

"We're thankful for the ACLU's leadership in this issue as well as in other issues," said Walid.
He said he felt CAIR may have been targeted for surveillance because the organization is often in contact with foreign, often demonized media agencies such as Al Jazeera.

"We comment on various issues, sometimes not in favor of certain (U.S.) government practices and policies, including issues on the war in Iraq or the Patriot Act… that gets us on the radar to be surveiled… We have a lot more fighting to do."

A fourth honoree, William Swor of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said about the lawsuit "It’s important not just for our community, it's important for America. We are Americans."

December 15 was declared national Bill of Rights Day by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941 on the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
For information on joining the ACLU, visit

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