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Pakistan Link – May 9, 2003

‘Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis’ Debated

(L to R): Patrick McDonnell, Samina Faheem and  Garbriel Lerner

By Fakhr Ahmad

Los Angeles: In a half-day long program on civil liberties last Thursday (May 1) all participants tended to agree on at least one point: nobody is clear what precisely the Patriot Act is.

The program “Covering Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis: Have the Rules Changed?” was organized by the Justice and Journalism Forum and was sponsored by USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism in partnership with New California Media (NCM) and the Los Angeles Press Club.

The program was divided into three panels followed by three workshops in separate rooms and later workshop summaries were presented, followed by concluding commentaries by Sandy Close, founder of NCM, and Seth Rosenfeld from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Participating in the storytelling panel discussion, Samina Faheem, National Coordinator for the American Muslim Alliance (AMA) described the fears among the Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslim communities in going about the routine business of daily life.

She said though personally she and her family did not receive any threat, her organization was getting constant reports nationwide on harassment in schools and workplaces.

Faheem said immigrants had been persecuted even while abiding by the laws such as coming forward for registration. The other panelists were Gabriel Lerner, Editor for La Opinion and Patrick McDonnell of Los Angeles Times.

In another panel discussion on laws and policies, the panelists discussed what journalists need to know about post-9/11 laws and policies to provide credible contexts for a public trying to assess the civil liberties costs of homeland security. What questions aren’t being asked that should be asked, and whose voices are being left out of news coverage. What could journalists do differently, and what difference would that make?

The panelists included Francisco Arcaute from Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Niels Frenzen from USC School of Law, Matthew McLaughlin from FBI, Los Angeles, and Tom Saenz, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Both Arcaute and McLaughlin came out strongly in defending their respective organizations. Arcaute blamed journalists of making stories on face value on any tsubject with some human interest angle.

He said the BCIS was not anti-immigrant but merely complying with the laws, saying many stories on harassment of immigrants were about those immigrants who were involved in criminal cases.

Laughlin in his remarks agreed with the participants that Patriot Act was highly complex as each part of it is a reference to any other law or act and that interpretation of the Act needs a full understanding of all laws.

In her concluding remarks Sandy Close suggested that there should be a daily newsbeat by wire services and newspapers on civil liberties watch.

She also expressed doubts on the veracity of different polls conducted in California and elsewhere in the US. She said without including the opinion of a diverse multicultural landscape no poll could depict a true picture as most of the polls are based on taking the opinion of just Caucasians.

Close also talked about some of the results of immigrants surveyed in multiple languages for the first time on the war in Iraq.