June 20, 2006

US harasses in name of terror screening, suit says

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Dr. Elie Khoury is a Palestinian-born
physician who has been a U.S. citizen for more than 30 years,
but every time he and his wife return to the United States from
abroad they are separated, searched, and questioned for hours
-- and no one will explain why.

Khoury, 68, is among 10 plaintiffs in a class-action
lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the American
Civil Liberties Union charging that thousands of Americans have
been improperly detained, interrogated, threatened, and even
strip searched at the border in the name of tighter security.

"They treat us like criminals," said Khoury, of Detroit, on

The suit filed on Monday names the heads of the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, U.S. Customs and
Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs

According to the ACLU, a Justice Department inspector
general's report last year said the department's terrorist
watch list of more than 230,000 names was mishandled, including
many cases of mistaken identity or cases where the threat a
person posed was overstated or "over-classified."

"We don't know who is over-classified and who is
misidentified, but we do know these people are outstanding
Americans -- physicians, a pharmacist, businessmen -- who've
lived their lives in an honorable way and should not be on
government lists saying they are a terrorist or mistaken for
people on those lists," said the ACLU's Adam Schwartz.

A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said
there was a trade-off between better security demanded after
the September 11 attacks and the ease of travel.

"I think the inconvenience that some people feel should be
countered by the security," said spokesman William Anthony.
"It's been a more arduous process for some travelers."

The ACLU described the border screening as an overreaction
to government frustrations at not detecting the 19 hijackers.


Schwartz said efforts to clarify why someone is on the
watch list or is thought to be are met by vague answers.

The plaintiffs are originally from the Middle East,
Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, and eight of 10 are Muslims.

"We've got people getting handcuffed, getting documents
seized, being interrogated about their political beliefs --
'are you a Democrat or Republican?' 'What do you think of the
Iraq war?"' Schwartz said.

Some plaintiffs said they feared they would be shot by
agitated border guards -- in one case a family's car was
surrounded by border officers yelling "A and D" (armed and
dangerous) with their hands on their guns, he said.

Detentions lasted up to six hours at crossings across the
U.S.-Canada border and at big city airports. Plaintiffs were
let go without explanation, sometimes after missing flights.

One man was told by a border officer to stop traveling to
Canada if he did not want trouble.

Anthony said some officers might be flippant, but asking
improperly about party affiliation or private opinions could
prompt discipline.

Khoury said his problems began about three years ago.

"They don't bother us boarding the plane overseas, but when
we get here, that is when we are screened. I've tried to
contact Homeland Security numerous times ... they don't want to
give us an answer.

"We thought the only way was to go through legal action and
see if we can resolve this," he said. "To go through all this
is not proper."