|NEWS > 03 March 2012
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Ethics and politics
What happens when national interests clash with principles?
By: Bill Kirkman
WHAT is the appropriate balance for a government to strike between ethical behaviour and the national interest? The purist answer, I would have said if asked this question a year ago, is that for any government which prides itself on setting and meeting high ethical standards, there is no distinction. Behaving ethically should reflect the national interest.
Not so sure now
I could not give the same answer now. The British government decided to call off a criminal in... Read more
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03 March 2012
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NJ Muslims, officials discuss NYPD surveillance
New Jersey's attorney general told Muslim leaders Saturday that he was still
looking into the extent of New York Police Department surveillance operations in
the state, yet stopped short of promising a formal investigation during a meeting
that both sides characterized as productive.
Leaders from different New Jersey Muslim organizations met with Attorney
General Jeffrey Chiesa and state and federal law enforcement officials for nearly
three hours in Trenton to discuss concerns over the NYPD's activities in the state.
Meanwhile, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly again defended his
department's operations in a speech Saturday at the Fordham Law School in
Manhattan, as about 60 protesters marched outside.
At the New Jersey meeting, several attendees said Chiesa told them during the
private session that he was still reviewing what legal jurisdiction New Jersey law
enforcement officials might have over NYPD operations in the state, before taking
any formal action.
A spokesman for the attorney general, Paul Loriquet, called Saturday's meeting the
start of an ongoing dialogue with New Jersey's Muslim American community.
"We will continue to reach out to the community and keep the communication
channels open as we move forward in our fact-finding," he said.
New Jersey's Muslim leaders have been demanding at least a state investigation
— if not a federal one — into the NYPD's activities following a series of stories by
The Associated Press that detailed the monitoring or recommended surveillance of
Muslims in New Jersey, the mapping of mosques in Newark and the monitoring of
Muslim student groups, including at Rutgers University and at other schools in the
During his Fordham speech, Kelly defended his department's operations in New
Jersey, saying not only were they legal under court rules, known as the Handschu
guidelines, which limit how and why police can collect intelligence before there's
evidence of a crime, but that the NYPD only monitored groups or entered mosques
when following leads.
Responding to criticism from New Jersey officials that the NYPD has overstepped
its bounds by not fully informing them of their activities, Kelly cited the fact that 746
New Jersey residents were killed in the 9/11 attacks.
"If terrorists aren't limited by borders and boundaries, we can't be either," Kelly
said. "It is entirely legal for the Police Department to conduct investigations outside
of city limits, and we maintain very close relationships with local authorities."
But several New Jersey law enforcement officials have said that they've never
sought to keep the NYPD out of the state. Instead, they are questioning why the
NYPD seems to have been operating outside established protocols for law
enforcement in both states to work together on investigations.
Kelly's comments added to an interstate war of words has been escalating
between officials over the NYPD's conduct in New Jersey.
Gov. Chris Christie, who was the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey when the
surveillance took place, said on a radio program Wednesday that the NYPD had
arrogantly overstepped its bounds by not telling law enforcement officials in the
state about the monitoring of Muslims in Newark.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker and the city's current and former police directors have
said they were notified the NYPD was in their city but misled as to the nature of
the investigation and would never have authorized such wholesale spying on
Muslims if they had known about it. No Newark officials attended Saturday's
meeting, and it's not clear if they had been invited.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has continued to defend the NYPD's
intelligence operations, saying the department had the legal right to gather
information that would be available to anyone about Muslims in the region, and
adding during his weekly appearance Friday on WOR Radio: "To say that the NYPD
should stop at the border is a bit ridiculous."
In saying Saturday that the NYPD only followed leads in New Jersey, Kelly did not
address why, in 2007, the NYPD's secretive Demographics Unit fanned out across
Newark, photographing every mosque and eavesdropping in Muslim businesses.
The findings were cataloged in a 60-page report, obtained by the AP that served
as a police guidebook to Newark's Muslims. There was no mention of terrorism or
any criminal wrongdoing.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin, the head of Masjid Ibrahim in Newark, which was one of
the mosques included in the NYPD's report, said they had always had an open-
door policy for law enforcement officials, but wanted answers as to why the
NYPD had collected information on his mosque without cause.
"We're not living in a shell, we understand some of the threats to our country, and
to pretend like we don't understand that would be ridiculous," El-Amin said. "But
there's process and there are procedures that are in place that have to be
followed so that you don't violate any of the rights of the citizens of the United
States of America."
El-Amin was among a group of leaders representing a cross-section of New
Jersey's diverse Muslim population, who entered Saturday's meeting with New
Jersey officials saying they would not settle for less than an official investigation,
but left the meeting saying although an investigation hadn't been promised, they felt
reassured that the officials were taking the matter seriously.
"It's the start; there's still a lot of unanswered questions, I'm going to be honest
with you," said Amin Nathari, of the Muslim Community Leadership Coalition of
Newark, who attended the meeting. "But the fact that we're all at the table having
dialogue and that the commitment is there, that there's a mutual concern to get to
the bottom of the issue and to get some justice, I think that we'll be OK going
In addition to the attorney general and more than a dozen Muslim leaders, the head
of the FBI's Newark field office, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey,
and representatives from the New Jersey State Police and the Department of
Homeland Security also attended.
Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, declined to comment on
whether his office or the U.S. attorney general would be launching a formal
investigation, saying only that the U.S. attorney general had already said he was
taking a preliminary look at it.
"The issues that were raised relating to the New York Police Department are
obviously of huge concern to the Arab and Muslim community in New Jersey and
we want them to know that we're responsive to their concerns and that we want
to hear what they have to say so that in determining what we're going to do, we
know what the community thinks," Fishman said.
Several groups in New Jersey and New York, including the American Civil
Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the
American Arab Forum and the Council of Shia Professionals, have sent letters
asking for formal state and federal investigations into the NYPD's activities, saying
that the surveillance plans detailed in the reports point to violations both of New
Jersey law and the civil rights of law abiding residents.
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