With the region-and the entire nation-still reeling from the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, a federal appellate court is considering whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) should be punished for surveilling Muslims in a nearby southern California county.
The case centers around a federal surveillance program that focused on the Islamic Center of Irvine, situated just 55 miles from the recent massacre in San Bernardino. A leftist civil rights group and a terrorist front group, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), sued the federal government for violating Muslims’ civil rights by indiscriminately targeting them for surveillance. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 and alleges that during a two-year period the FBI collected extensive records about the religious practices of hundreds of Muslims who attended various southern California mosques. The records include video and audio recordings of prayers, discussion groups and religious lectures as well as social and cultural events, according to the complaint.
In 2012 a federal court dismissed most of the lawsuit against the FBI because the judge agreed with the government that matters vital to national security would be disclosed if it went forward. Before ruling, the judge, Cormac J. Carney, reviewed classified information that was not made public. Attorneys representing the Muslims vowed to hold the FBI responsible for surveilling their community and abusing their constitutional rights. In a statement, they blasted the government for invoking state secrets privilege to dismiss the FBI’s “unlawful infiltration of mainstream mosques in southern California.” Muslim Americans were targeted for surveillance because of their religion, the lawyers assert.
Now, just weeks after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 was executed in nearby San Bernardino, a federal appeals court is considering the case. This month the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Pasadena, California which is situated in Los Angeles County about halfway between Irvine, which is in Orange County, and the site of this month’s attack in San Bernardino County. The proceedings lasted a little over an hour. One of the appellate court judges, Marsha Berzon, expressed doubts to Justice Department attorneys about the government’s state secret defense. The creed bans litigation that could unmask information involving national security. “I just am having real trouble seeing where the line is drawn in this very difficult situation we are in now,” Judge Berzon said.
It could be months before the court rules but the case could not have been revived at a worse time, especially in a venue so close to a recent attack by Islamic jihadists. Even a prominent and notoriously liberal federal lawmaker who represents the area, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, has publicly admitted that a significant minority of Muslims support terrorism to establish an Islamic caliphate. Sanchez, who sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Armed Services Committee, is running for U.S Senate to replace veteran Democrat Barbara Boxer. After the San Bernardino attacks she said that “there is a small group-and we don’t know how big that is, it can be anywhere between five and 20 percent, from the people that I speak to-that Islam is their religion and who have a desire for a caliphate and to institute that in any way possible, and in particular go after what they consider Western norms, our way of life. They are not content enough to have their way of looking at the world. They want to put their way on everybody in the world. And, again, I don’t know how big that is, and depending on who you talk to, but they’re certainly, they are willing to go to extremes. They are willing to use, and they do use, terrorism. And it is in the name of a very wrong way of looking at Islam.”