Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Securing Iraq - but What about Homeland?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Securing Iraq - but What about Homeland?

Article excerpt

It's hard to argue with the success of the war in Iraq on most fronts. After a brief pause, the US ground troops on the southern front have now reached Baghdad. On the northern front, the inability to use Turkey as a staging ground may have slowed the effort, but reports indicate steady movement toward the Iraqi capital.

It is the third front in the war that's puzzling, however - the one that sits south of Canada between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As things roll along in the Persian Gulf, some of the headlines concerning homeland security have been the most vexing.

Shortly before the war got under way, the FBI announced it was seeking voluntary interviews with 11,000 Iraqis living in the US.

Immediately, cries of protest went up from Arab-American groups who claimed the move was racial profiling, with some even drawing para-llels to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The FBI responded that because the interviews were voluntary, they weren't violating anyone's civil rights.

Of course, the word "voluntary" may suddenly take on a different meaning when the FBI is knocking at your door. But the civil rights discussion, while important, masks another important point.

The sheer number is the most amazing. After more than a year of planning to possibly go to war with Iraq - watching and listening and homeland-securitizing - the government decided its best course of action was to essentially ask the equivalent of a small town to come in for a talk. For the record, these interviews turned up a "handful" of arrests and detentions.

The government may have a 21st- century security apparatus designed to help "to disrupt, and to punish terrorists before they strike," as the president said when he signed the Patriot Act, but its tactics smack of Louis Renault in "Casablanca": "Round up the usual suspects."

That voluntary interview plan alone is enough to raise concern, but there are quieter actions that also raise questions. In mid- February, the federal government told employees of the Washington- based Iraq Foundation, a nonprofit group working for democracy and human rights in Iraq, that because of increased security, no one who worked there would be allowed in the same building as President Bush, except the group's head. …

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