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Posted on Sat, Jul. 20, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Rights panelist foresees internment push
Arabs tell of abuses

Knight Ridder News Service

A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said Friday that he could foresee a scenario in which the public would demand internment camps for Arab Americans 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 Bush, said that he personally doesn't support internment camps and the government would never envision setting them up. 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 such detentions, 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.''

The seven-member commission, based in Washington, D.C., was 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 argued that Arab and Muslim Americans should accept the country's new antiterrorism laws and complain less about infringements upon their civil rights.

If the United States were to be be attacked again by Arabs, ''not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling,'' Kirsanow asserted.

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