FBI surveillance of Muslims in the spotlight in Supreme Court case

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Ali Uddin Malik welcomed Craig Monteilh to his congregation with open arms in 2006. As a Muslim, he felt a sacred duty to help the man, who claimed to be a recent convert, to understand their common faith.

Over the course of several months, the couple often met to pray and talk. There was only one problem: Monteilh was obsessed with jihad.

“During one of our meetings… he (asked) me explicitly if vigilante violence was sanctioned within religion and I said absolutely no. He continued to investigate and asked if the Imam (…) was an advocate for violence or if I knew other (Muslims) in Southern California who supported the violence and I said no ” Malik said during a recent press appeal.

Monteilh dropped the topic that day but picked it up later. He urged Malik to say more about jihad and when violence is OK.

“I told him that our faith does not punish violence and that he should focus on prayer and faith,” said Malik.

Malik was so shaken by Monteilh’s emergency that he turned to his imam and others for help. They too were alarmed and urged Malik to avoid the man “at all costs”.

After hearing similar reports from other members, community leaders became so concerned about Monteilh that they called the FBI. They hadn’t realized the FBI had sent him.

Defense of State Secrets

About 2.5 years after Monteilh entered the Islamic Center in Irvine, the Muslim community in Southern California began to see the troubling episode in a whole new light.

Monteilh, fresh out of prison for an unrelated charge, exposed his previously confidential connection to the FBI. For Malik, it was like a slap in the face.

“I felt betrayed by the very institutions that were supposed to protect and honor the Constitution of the United States,” he said during the October 27 press appeal, co-sponsored by the ACLU, the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; and the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at UCLA.

Along with two other men, Malik filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the FBI and some individual agents. They alleged that they had been illegally targeted for surveillance solely because of their faith.

Ten years later, the trial is still ongoing and no judge has ever considered their claims for religious freedom. Instead, court proceedings have focused on what’s known as “state secret privilege,” which the government can invoke when a case raises national security concerns.

According to court documents filed with government officials, the FBI and its agents are unable to defend their actions in Southern California without endangering the country. For this reason, they asked for the dismissal.

In 2012, a district court sided with the government, ending the case. But then the 9th Circuit appeals court overturned the decision, ruling that a law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act created a path on which the trial could proceed.

This summer, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and clarify the limits of the defense of state secrets. The pleadings are scheduled for Monday, November 8.

The government maintains that allowing the case to continue would put the country at risk. The 9th Circuit misinterpreted and misapplied the law on oversight of foreign intelligence, officials say.

The surprising consequence of the appeal court’s decision is to transform a limited provision of FISA designed to protect national security information into a mechanism to bypass the executive’s invocation of state secret privilege. ”, Argued the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court. To research.

Malik and the other plaintiffs, on the other hand, say the 9th Circuit decision should stand. The entire country suffers when people wrongly monitored by the government cannot seek legal redress, said Ahilan Arulanatham, faculty co-director of UCLA’s Law Center for Immigration Law and Policy, during the appeal. October 27 press release.

“The question, at the end of the day, for the court is really very simple: will the people we represent ever have their day in court? ” he said.

Wider meaning

Oral arguments, as well as the Supreme Court’s final decision, are unlikely to dwell on the religious aspects of the case. Most of the discussion will focus on state secret privilege and surveillance laws, said Arulanatham, who will be arguing on behalf of Muslim men in court.

However, he still sees the case as a chance to raise awareness. Few Americans understand the pain of being viewed with suspicion because of your faith, Arulanatham said.

Even to this day, officers still request to meet with mosque leaders in order to obviously spy on them, visiting people in their homes for ‘voluntary’ interviews and taking various other measures, which all combined send a very clear message. to this community: “We don’t trust you. You are not like us, ”he said.

This negative attention complicates Muslims’ relationship with their religious community, Malik said, noting that Monteilh’s actions have caused him to seek to distance himself from his friends.

“I stopped going to the Islamic Center for fear of seeing Craig. I changed my appearance to appear less “Muslim,” he said.

The case will also raise awareness of the rules governing national security operations. Government officials hope it will become clear that the privilege of state secrets is never “lightly invoked.”

“The (legal) procedures serve to ensure that the privilege is invoked only when – and to the extent – necessary to protect national security,” wrote government lawyers in one of their memoirs.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected by the end of June.


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