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Pakistan Link – December 26, 2003

AMV Executive Director speaks
 at the Los Altos forum on the USA Patriot Act

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Los Altos Voices for Peace, together with the Los Altos Library and the Mountain View-Los Altos League of Women Voters, organized a forum on the USA Patriot Act and the threats it poses to civil liberties. About 200 people gathered at the Hillview Center in Los Altos on Dec. 4 to listen to lucid and moving analysis of the Act and its consequences for the people. Former mayor James Thurber moderated the forum. The panelists were Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar of Stanford, Ms. Samina Faheem, Executive Director of American Muslim Voice, and Ms. Cheryl Houts, Community Librarian.

The speakers stressed that the act was adopted  with little discussion and short notice two years ago, and the scope of the powers it grants the government and takes away from civil liberties was not immediately recognized. “This year, a long list of states, cities, and organizations have expressed their opposition to key elements of the act, in many cases asking their peace officers not to participate in unconstitutional activities when asked to do so by federal agencies.”

Ms. Samina Faheem Sundas said that as an American citizen, she was very concerned about our homeland security but how far will our current Administration go in the name of protecting it? “How much of our civil liberties will they revoke before we stand our ground, unified, and protest, “Enough is enough”? How many more dreams will be shattered before we lose faith in all that we thought we stood proud for?” 

She pointed out that the Patriot Act while threatens the rights guaranteed in the constitution, vastly expands the power of federal investigators, not only for investigating terrorism suspects, but also for probing into the lives of ordinary Americans. “The Act also compel libraries and bookstores to assist federal investigators in monitoring the reading habits of suspects.”

"Over 200 towns have taken a look at it," said Ray Schuster of Voices For Peace. "In general, there's concern over invasion of privacy and a violation of civil rights."

Voices For Peace members hope to eventually lobby Los Altos City Council to pass a resolution opposing the act.

After the presentations by the panelists, there were many questions from the audience. The forum participants were clearly moved by the lucid analysis of the Act by Professor Cuellar, by the horrifying experiences of immigrants in this country since the Act was adopted as related by Ms. Faheem, and by the resolute position of the community library as well as the national American Library Association on defending the right of the people to read what they choose and to do so with full privacy. Many in the audience expressed their concern about the Patriot Act through questions to the panel.