Arab and Muslim Engagement
Protecting Civil Liberties is a Vital Goal
The upcoming anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks was on the minds of many at the April 2011 International Counter-Terrorism Conference in Los Angeles where national security experts gathered to compare strategies.
Since 9-11, we have learned that terrorists can strike anywhere, anytime, and without warning. To meet this asymmetrical threat, we have studied terrorist organizations and their tactics, and developed strategies for combating them. The counter-terrorism conference reflected this work, addressing topics such as recruitment and radicalization, counter-insurgency strategies and the emerging threats to the Internet, collectively known as "e-terrorism."
One workshop at the conference was of special interest to me: "Civil Liberties in Post 9-11 America." This workshop was a powerful reminder that, even as we affirm our resolve to use all our tools to stop violent extremists who plot against us - as demonstrated by the Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that led to the death of 0sama bin Laden - we must also acknowledge the vital importance that civil liberties play in our society.
As United States Attorney for the Central District of California, I am tasked with both combating terrorism and protecting civil rights - responsibilities I view as complementary, not conflicting.
From San Luis Obispo in the north to San Clemente in the south, I see the daily efforts in our district to combat those who would support and engage in terrorist activities, much of it by our local Joint Terrorism Task Force, on which prosecutors from my office serve. Their work is aimed at disrupting and dismantling global terror networks and the violent extremists who support them.
At the same time, my office pursues criminal and civil cases against those who would violate others' civil liberties. To broaden this effort, I created a Community Outreach Team within my office to reach out to those communities within the district most impacted by threats to their civil rights, including the Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities, and to listen and learn from them.
When we meet with the Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities in our district, we send the message that the Justice Department's fight against terrorism has not dimmed our commitment to protect civil liberties. In this regard, President Barack Obama's reminder that America is not at war with Islam and that Osama bin Laden was a mass murderer of innocent Muslims, spoke volumes.
Meeting with, listening to and learning from our Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities on this and other public safety issues, is vital. There are several reasons for this.
First, our law enforcement efforts must be designed around the specific needs and threats confronted by our local Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities, including allegations of hate crime, racial profiling, and bullying. We can only understand those needs and those threats when we engage and share information with each other. While I was inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Department, I learned that we are only as good as the information we receive.
Second, even the best-crafted enforcement efforts cannot alone solve the problems of terrorism and violent extremism. Terrorist organizations target for recruitment and radicalization the alienated and angry in whom violent extremism can take root and thrive. To genuinely succeed in combating terrorism, we must work with the communities we serve and gain their trust. In order to gain the trust of Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities, the leaders and members of those communities must see law enforcement as part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Finally, trust is the foundation for all effective partnerships. We can only forge meaningful partnerships when those of us with the responsibility for public safety demonstrate, in word and deed, that we understand the issues that matter to our Muslim-, Arab- and Sikh- American communities. Those issues include more than national security matters, but also civil rights, access to fair housing, education and health care, and other matters not traditionally associated with law enforcement. This process begins with education - for both law enforcement and the public.
As lecturers at the conference observed, threats to our safety can come from halfway around the world or halfway down the block. The work of counter-terrorism practitioners like those who gathered in Los Angeles is more vital than ever. Equally vital is the continued protection of our civil liberties and the work we do with local communities to form trusting partnerships.
By rededicating ourselves to these aims, we put ourselves in the best position to combat the challenges that face us.