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AMERICAN MONITORING OF IRAQI IMMIGRANTS A PRELUDE TO INTERNMENT?

Get ready for more secret detentions and even the possibility of concentration camps. Is there a GITMO coming to a neighborhood near you?
Moves to monitor Iraqis in US likened to internment

WASHINGTON, Nov 19: US government monitoring of Iraqis in the United States has fuelled unease among Arab Americans, who say their treatment in the United States recalls moves which led to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two.

News that US intelligence agencies are tracking the activities of Iraqi citizens and Iraqi-Americans, meant to identify potential threats from Baghdad supporters, was seen by rights advocates as a sign war in the Gulf could lead to recriminations for Arabs and other Muslims in America.

Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, likened attempts to target the American Iraqi community to policies which imprisoned thousands of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.

"There has been a return of systematic suspicion by ethnicity, which is the first step on the road," Ibish said on Monday. "The community is exposed and people are aware of their vulnerability. The feeling is one of tremendous unease."

Arab and Muslim groups say their communities have come under intense scrutiny since the Sept 11 attacks.

They say Arab immigrants to the United States, many of whom fled the Middle East as refugees, have been intimidated by heightened security measures which followed the attacks, including controversial detention hearings and deportations.

FEAR OF NEW MEASURES: Jean AbiNader, managing director of the Arab American Institute, said the Iraqi community feared the new measures would further alienate them from the mainstream. "In this policy, suspicion is being attached to ethnicity," AbiNader said.

"The logic behind the internment of Japanese Americans was that the pool of potential spies was limited to that community. We are now seeing the idea that the major terrorists are restricted in their pool to Arabs and Muslims."

The US government has formally apologized and given compensation to the Japanese for its war-time camps and stated that internment had not been necessary for national security.

AbiNader said although widespread internment was unlikely, a war in Iraq could prove harmful to Muslim Americans. "I don't think we are headed toward camps, but it is very possible we will see a new round of secret detentions.

"People fear being taken from their homes to come in for interviews where they have no access to an attorney and may disappear for several months," AbiNader said.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters all monitoring would follow due legal process.

"The strict adherence to the Constitution, and an observation of the responsibility of this government to safeguard the rights of all individuals regarding the Constitution, is at the highest level of the priorities of this department and of the government and Administration," he told reporters.

"Any surveillance that is done will be done in strict accordance with the law and only done in ways which we believe respect the Constitution fully," he said. But rights advocates said although the US conducted interviews of Iraqis on American soil during the last Gulf war, in 1991, new surveillance powers made legal after the Sept 11 attacks had pushed the envelope of acceptability.

"It is true they have done interviews before but the new powers that exist now, and the plans we are hearing about, should make people even more afraid of what the government might do," said American Civil Liberties Union counsel Tim Edgar.

"So far there has been no large-scale internment programs, but the labeling of people based on their nationality is what leads to internment," he said. "It's not surprising people are feeling under threat."

RESERVISTS FATIGUE: A senior US military official voiced concern on Tuesday about what might be termed call-up fatigue among reservists, since the same police, fire-fighters and others activated after Sept 11 last year could be called up again in a war with Iraq.

"When there are reservists that work for an employer ... mobilized the first time, now it's probably OK," said Thomas Hall, assistant defense secretary for reserve affairs. "When they're mobilized the second time, it might be OK. When they are mobilized the third time and three years running, this causes a particular problem for both the reservists, their family and the employers."

Of the approximately 51,000 reservists now serving, some 4,000 are into their second year of service, Hall said at a Defense Department briefing.

Big corporations can often weather reserve call-ups, while reserve activation of employees has the greatest impact on small businesses and professional practices, such as small medical or law offices, Hall said.

While stressing that no mobilization plan is in place for a possible war with Iraq and offering no idea of how many people might be involved, Hall said the aim is to give reservists 30 days' notice before they are activated, though that period could be reduced to zero days in a crisis.

Beyond any possible conflict with Iraq, Hall said some members of the reserves are in civilian jobs deemed essential to homeland security since the Sept 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

"You have the very people, not just the law enforcement, you have the fire people, you have all the emergency techs, you have ambulance drivers, the same people who are critical in communities that might be Guardsmen and reservists," he said.-Reuters

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