Losing Liberty: The State of American Freedom 10 Years After the Patriot Act is a comprehensive new report from the organization Muslim Advocates. There is a lot to think about in this report, available for download at the Muslim Advocates website. Having worked with the legislators on Capitol Hill during the drafting of the Patriot Act, and now as President & Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, Farhana Khera is in the rather unique position of intimately knowing what the Act’s intention was – and now, of leading an organization that advocates for those victimized by it.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Farhana Khera, Muslim Advocates[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: In the 10 years since the attacks of 9/11, a great deal has changed in our nation, and in our world. We’ve all been affected by some of those changes, even if only in small ways. But one population that truly saw everything change is Muslim-Americans; and a new report out from the organization Muslim Advocates contends that much of US policy has remained mired in immediate post-9/11 fears and assumptions for the intervening decade. Muslim Advocates has just issued a new call for change, a comprehensive report titled Losing Liberty: The State of American Freedom 10 Years After the Patriot Act. You need to read this report, first; but I am so very pleased that the release of this report brings to our microphones Farhana Khera, President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates – she’s been on State of Belief Radio before, it’s always a pleasure to work with her – Farhana, welcome back. [FARHANA KHERA, GUEST]: Thank you for having me again, Welton. Thank you. [WG]: Prior to your work with Muslim Advocates and the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, you were Counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights. You worked extensively with Senator Russ Feingold on civil rights issues directly related to the Patriot Act. So, you are really uniquely positioned to be deeply familiar with both the intent and the effects of this legislation. Farhana, what went wrong? [FK]: Thank you for that introduction, Welton. As you mentioned, I was in the halls of Congress on September 11th 2001, and in the subsequent days and weeks after those horrific attacks on our nation. And my colleagues and I were not only in that realm of Americans who were targeted on that day – September 11th – but a few weeks later, we would also be affected by the anthrax mailings that also affected many Senate employees, including myself. So I am very personally familiar with what it feels like to be worried about safety and security. [WG]: I can’t let go the irony of what you’ve just said. Here is a Muslim woman, working for a committee of Congress, trying to defend the civil rights of Americans – and your rights are being violated. [FK]: It was certainly a very unique time, because for the first time in my public service, the issues affecting my faith community were now squarely in the crosshairs. So it was certainly a very unusual feeling to be having there.
But you know, as a result of being a long-time lawyer, working on the Hill at that time, I also recognize that we have something pretty special in our country. The freedoms that we have that our founding fathers had the infinity wisdom to write into our founding charter, are unique; and those are values that are certainly values that we need to be working hard every day – as Americans – to be ensuring that our country is actually living up to those ideals. And that’s why my organization Muslim Advocates is so concerned about one of the first major pieces of legislation that was enacted by Congress back in 2001, purporting to address terrorism, the USA Patriot Act. But our concern is this bad law, and subsequent laws and policies enacted by federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have actually done the opposite: they’ve actually eroded America’s freedoms, and they waste precious resources.[WG]: I’m curious, Farhana: were you – I mean, you were inside – were you surprised at how ugly that proposed helpful legislation got? [FK]: I was. I still remember fairly vividly at this time some of the conversations that were happening before the bill ever actually even made it to the Senate floor, where some of the early proposals were basically harkening back to the Alien and Sedition Acts, to Japanese internment. The idea that people could be, basically, held without charge for weeks by the government, those were obviously ideas that run absolutely contrary to our founding principles of innocent until proven guilty, and the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers. So these were… I remember those were quite dark days. And there was really a need for people to be able to say, you know: “Hold on a minute here. Yes, our country is facing some unique, unprecedented security situations; but at the same time, history has shown that our country loses when we give in to fear, and when we change our fundamental character and our fundamental values.” [WG]: Farhana, just in case some people don’t go to the website and read this report – or find it somewhere else – summarize, if you will, some of the findings of Muslim Advocates that you report that really verify we still have work to do related to the Patriot Act. [WG]: Yeah. So basically, our report Losing Liberty illustrates the ways in which the Patriot Act really opened the floodgates to a number of different activities in which Americans – innocent Americans – are targeted for surveillance, for investigation without any evidence of wrongdoing, and some examples include: it’s not uncommon for Americans – American Muslims in particular – to get a knock on the door, or to have the FBI show up at their workplace suddenly asking them about something they’ve posted on their Facebook account, like an article about political events.
We also hear from a lot of American Muslims who are being asked at the border, when they’re returning home from overseas travel – and these are US citizens – who are being asked questions like: “What mosque do you attend? How often do you pray?” questions that are, frankly, just Orwellian in nature; that, in a country that was founded based on principles of religious freedom, that’s really… Those are questions that are just, frankly, none of the government’s business. And these are people who are being asked questions where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. And what we describe in this report is: we need law enforcement focused on actual threats, actual criminals, not innocent Americans. And if they do that, and if Congress does its job in holding the FBI accountable, in amending the Patriot Act and other bad laws, I think that will serve all of us better in terms of ensuring our safety while upholding our founding values as Americans.[WG]: Just this past couple of weeks, several stories in the New York Times lifted the curtain a little bit on what life is like for Muslim Americans today. I think that many non-Muslim Americans have no idea of what it’s like. There was the report of wholesale NYPD infiltration of virtually every Muslim organization and event in the city. There was also a story about special scrutiny being given to Muslims who applied to change their names, as you mentioned. These are snapshots, but they are representative of life for Muslim-Americans in post 9-11 America. I wish you could answer this question positively, but I want you to answer it honestly. Will these kinds of stories stir more people in this country to stand up and say: “This just isn’t right”? [FK]: You know, it’s certainly my hope that these types of revelations, and as more and more Americans are starting to understand what life has been like for the American-Muslim community for the last several years, that it will prompt more and more Americans to step up and say: “This is not right,” and to press government officials, their local officials, members of congress to do their job and to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for, essentially, bad policing practices. So it is certainly my hope, and I think the excellent reporting by the Associated Press that you are referencing is a huge step in that direction. [WG]: You, in the report Losing Liberty, do an excellent job of identifying the problems that we’re facing. Honestly, where do you see solutions to these problems coming from? [FK]: I think, ultimately, the responsibility lies with Congress and the President; the Patriot Act was enacted by Congress, signed into law by then-President Bush, and the subsequent expansive surveillance activities have been primarily coming out of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security… And then we have local law enforcement agencies that we believe are, basically, modeling themselves after the federal agencies; the agencies like the New York police department – and it’s not just the New York police department we’re concerned about, we’re concerned about that other police departments maybe taking cues from the federal government – so I think there is an enormous responsibility for Congress to act, to actually demand full transparency, for example, from the FBI, exactly how it has been using the Patriot Act. A lot of what we know, unfortunately, is very limited – about how the FBI has used the Patriot Act because they…it’s been shrouded in secrecy. And I think Congress and the American people have a right to know how these unprecedented surveillance powers have been used by our nation’s top law enforcement agency, and how those activities are being modeled at the local level. [WG]: Farhana Khera is President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, an organization working to foster the civic participation and civil liberties of every American. They’ve just issued a stunning report called Losing Liberty: The State of American Freedom Ten Years after the Patriot Act. It is recommended reading for all of us who are concerned with the state of liberty in this country today. You can download this report from their website www.muslimadvocates.org
And I want you to know that the person you’ve been listening to is a person that is not just a good speaker. She, every day, goes to work to try and secure the kind of civil rights for everybody that she’s talking about. The Muslim community is interested not just in the Muslim community, but in all Americans being treated like Americans. Farhana, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us again today on State of Belief Radio.[FK]: Thank you so much, Welton, for your kind words.