Arabs in U.S. could be held, official warns
Rights unit member foresees detainment
July 20, 2002
BY NIRAJ WARIKOO
A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said in Detroit on Friday he could foresee a scenario in which the public would demand internment camps for ArabAmericans if Arab terrorists strike again in this country.
If there's a future terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," commission member Peter Kirsanow said.
The reason, he said, is that "the public would be less concerned about any perceived erosion of civil liberties than they are about protecting their own lives."
Kirsanow, who was appointed to the commission last year by President George W. Bush, said after the session that he personally doesn't support such camps and the government would never envision them. He said he was merely saying public opinion would so strongly favor the idea that it would be difficult to prevent. There would be a "groundswell of opinion" for the detainment, he said.
The remarks came during a raucous commission hearing in Detroit in which Kirsanow and another conservative member, Jennifer Braceras, defended U.S. antiterrorism efforts after Sept. 11.
"They had their own political agenda," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to Braceras and Kirsanow.
A White House spokesman said Friday night that he could not respond specifically to Kirsanow's comments without seeing a full transcript of them, but said that the possibility of Arab internment camps has never been discussed at the White House.
"The president has said repeatedly and often that this is not a war against Arabs or Islam, this is a war against terror," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said. "We have very close allies in the Arab world who are integral partners in the war against terrorism. . . . The president has said that ours is a war against evil and extremists and that the teachings of Islam are the teachings of peace and good."
Stanzel said that as of Friday he was "still looking into the matter" of Kirsanow's comments.
The seven-member commission, based in Washington, D.C., was at the Omni Hotel in Detroit for its monthly meeting, and heard testimony from Arab-American leaders who said the government abused civil rights following Sept. 11.
"It's becoming really ugly," said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, during his testimony.
Hamad and others expressed concern about mass interviews of Arab men, secret immigration hearings and profiling of drivers and airplane passengers.
Kirsanow was unmoved, arguing that Arab and Muslim Americans should accept the country's new antiterrorism laws and complain less about infringements to their civil rights.
If there's another attack by Arabs on U.S. soil, "not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling," Kirsanow said.
"There will be a groundswell of public opinion to banish civil rights. So the best thing we can do to preserve them is by keeping the country safe."
At one point during the hearing, Roland Hwang, a Lansing attorney, recalled how Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II and said this country needs to prevent that from happening again.
It was at this point that Kirsanow broached the possibility of a rising public sentiment for internment camps if the U.S. were attacked again.
Braceras, another Bush appointee, said:"There's no constitutional right not to be inconvenienced or even embarrassed."
Kirsanow, a Cleveland labor attorney, is the former head of the conservative Center for New Black Leadership.
After the meeting, Hamad said he felt insulted by some of the commission's remarks.
Braceras said she didn't intend to upset the Arab-American community of metro Detroit, the largest concentration in the United States. "I was trying to be a devil's advocate," she said.
Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 734-432-6501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.