The Muslim and the Patriot Act
By Alex Pierson
Edited by Jerri Ann Lewis
I write this letter from the dark confines of my solitary cell. I have been trapped in this hell, spending 23 hours a day in my dim metallic cube, for over 16 months now. I am a victim of the extreme reactionary methods of the American government from the USA PATRIOT Act. I have been torn from my wife and three children, my studies for a Ph.D., and even more so, my faith in the American dream and the freedoms and liberties that supposedly come with it.
I am not in fact an American citizen. I came to this country in the mid-nineties to earn a masters degree, and begin my Ph.D. studies in 1999. About four months before I was to earn my Doctorate, my graduate housing apartment was invaded by 100 FBI agents who came to arrest me and search my home. How and why they came, and even why I am still in prison without opportunity for bail, has been of great concern to both me and many others consider me a caring, compassionate Muslim who has been thankful for his opportunities in this country. That is, until my liberties were tossed aside and my privacy invaded.
Well, technically, my privacy was not invaded. That is, under the auspiciously named USA Patriot Act, I no longer have rights or privacy. Since its' hasty passing in Congress in the weeks following the tragic attacks on September 11, many of the civil liberties U.S. citizens and non-citizens once possessed in this country have been stripped away from our Constitutional rights. As a non-citizen, the government needs only to suspect that there are "reasonable grounds" that I have engaged in conduct that threatens national security in order to detain me without charge and for an indefinite amount of time.
Of course, how the FBI obtained the information that gave them "reasonable grounds" to arrest me is no different than the process they can use against anybody else in this country, citizen or not. It is possible that the FBI scrutinized the library books I had checked out from the University, or bought from the bookstore, and decided that I was a threat to the United States. Perhaps the FBI does not like the books you are checking out from the library. But don't think your friendly librarian would tell you if the FBI has requested your book list, for he or she can go to jail if they disclosed such confidential information.
But maybe it is doubtful that they would find evidence from just the books you read. Perhaps they might seek more information from your telephone conversations or Internet use, since the PATRIOT Act gives the government the right to tap your phone lines, your e-mails, and essentially any on-line activity without warrant or reason if they suspect you to have committed any illegal act. Furthermore, they have the capability of seeking even greater information of your on-line activities from your service provider who can volunteer all "non-content" information. If they wish to push further, all the government needs is a simple subpoena (no court review needed) to access all of your information including your IP address, bank accounts, and credit card numbers, as they did to me. If the government wanted to search further for clues to your actions, they could even get access to your credit history, medical records, or even your personal property. That's right. They searched my property and they could do it to you, though you may not find out until after it happens since the government can now enter your home and search your personal property without any notification because of the PATRIOT Act.
And if you think you have any greater rights as an U.S. citizen then think again. The USA PATRIOT Act purposefully leaves the definition of domestic terrorism broad and malleable to the circumstances put forth. It is defined as acts committed in the United States "dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws" if the government deems them to "appear to be intended" to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion," or "to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Clearly this definition runs contrary to First Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution. And clearly it is obvious how much power this law now gives the government in determining your status and fate within the country, as they did mine.
To further illustrate the abuses of the limited civil rights that are now available in this country, you must better understand the actions I took that brought me to this dismal state. As a concerned Muslim who devoutly believes that such violent atrocities such as September 11 violate the basic tenets of my religion, I led a candle-lit march and spearheaded a blood drive to help the victims and their families. I also gave my web-design skills to an Islamic education site to better educate people about Islam, hoping to help many Americans better understand my religion in the days and months following September 11, 2001. However, the FBI believed that my assistance to the educational website was just a cover for an intricate plot to recruit extremists and fund terrorist groups (despite their lack of evidence and a jury recently ruling in my favor).
Unfortunately, as the government continues attempts to sabotage my credibility in court and prolonging the trial, I remain here in solitary confinement, unable to care for my family and witness the development of my three children. Until people like you are aware of the dangers that exist from the USA PATRIOT Act, people like me will remain with their lives controlled by the whims of the government and their witch hunt for scapegoats in their war on terror.
Note: Story adapted from the unfortunate plight of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, who has now been held in prison without bail since February 26, 2003.
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