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October 11, 2001

Lecturer says crisis offers opportunity for U.S. to rethink its foreign policy

On Sept. 14, three days after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, James E. Jacob boarded a commercial airplane in Florida. Told that the plane wouldn't leave for 10 minutes, Jacob strolled up and down the aisle, looking into the faces of his fellow passengers.

If he had spotted four or five Arabic-looking men on the plane, Jacob would have alerted the captain.

"It was a premeditated process of ethnic profiling on my part," said Jacob, a political science professor at California State University-Chico and a U.S. Department of Defense consultant, during an Oct. 5 lecture at Pitt's law school.

He defended his action on the grounds that groups of four-to-five Arab men had hijacked each of the airplanes in the Sept. 11 attacks, and other terrorists linked to those attacks reportedly were still at large in the United States.

"One of the questions I would pose for you students of law is: Is there any circumstance in which ethnic profiling would meet the test of legality?" Jacob asked.

He argued that short-term discrimination against Arabs on U.S. commercial flights was justified in the wake of last month's attacks, but institutionalized profiling — such as police harassment of African-Americans for "driving while black" — is not.

Jules Lobel, a Pitt professor of international law who moderated Jacob's presentation, said the United States must be cautious about ethnic and racial profiling, given the country's unjust internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"Profiling of Arabs and Muslims is a natural reaction, but that doesn't mean it should be institutionalized as federal law," Lobel said.

As a recent New Yorker magazine article attested, increasing security on U.S. commercial flights "only serves to weed out the amateurs," Lobel said. "As security is heightened, sophisticated hijackers find ways around it."

In fighting terrorism, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies are supported by a pair of federal acts, said Jacob:

* The Federal Immigration and Terrorism Statute, which allows the president, on the attorney general's recommendation, to deport foreigners based on secret evidence.

* The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which granted the U.S. government standing powers to eavesdrop electronically on agents of foreign intelligence organizations. "The act was primarily aimed against the KGB, although the most active foreign intelligence organizations in the United States are run by the French and the Israelis," Jacob said.

FISA established a Star Chamber-like court composed of seven federal judges appointed by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The FISA Court meets in Washington, D.C., every other week for two days. In closed sessions, it reviews federal government requests (which must be signed by the U.S. Attorney General or his/her deputy) for "enhanced authority" to spy electronically on suspected foreign agents.

Evidence gathered in FISA Court-approved investigations often can't be released to the public, Jacob said. "That's why, in the last 20 years, the United States government has failed to prosecute, on a number of occasions, people who are unquestionably guilty of espionage against this country…because the evidence against them was derived from sources that the government chose not to reveal."

Jacob wondered aloud whether the United States, in its war against terrorism, should adopt national identity cards for its citizens and rescind the country's ban on assassination as a tool of foreign policy.

"One thing I would ask is, do we already have, in effect, a national identity card?" Jacob said. "Can you cash a check without showing your driver's license?"

Jacob noted that Attorney General John Ashcroft was on the brink of an agreement last month with Congress for national I.D. card legislation, but the deal stalled when lawmakers insisted that the system expire in 2003, so it would not become permanent.

Gerald Ford's 1976 presidential directive banning assassination as a foreign policy tool includes exceptions "large enough to drive an 18-wheel truck through," said Jacob.

For example, the law allows assassinations in the country's self-defense, he said. "Secondly, if there's a military campaign and somebody dies collaterally, you're also off the hook."

One complication in suspending civil liberties in America's terrorism crisis is that, legally speaking, the country is not at war, Jacob pointed out. He said that, to his knowledge, the last time one nation formally declared war against another was when the Soviet Union entered World War II against Japan in August 1945.

Jacob, a self-described hawk on national security, said the current crisis represents "a real danger to American values" but also offers opportunities: to rethink U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, to gain a better understanding of Islamic fundamentalism, and to build a world-wide anti-terror coalition — "not the least of the advantages of which would be to bring Russia into the fold as an ally of the United States for the first time since World War II."

For the last 20 years, Jacob has been a Department of Defense consultant on terrorism, Western versus Arab values, cross-cultural communication and U.S. civil and military relations. He emphasized that Osama bin Laden and members of his global terrorist network aren't the only Muslims who believe America supports Israel at the expense of Palestinians and other Arabs. On Sept. 11, Jacob pointed out, the Bush administration itself was on the verge of announcing a sea change in U.S. foreign policy: The position that creation of a Palestinian state is essential for a lasting Middle East peace.

On the other hand, Jacob said, the anti-Israel side ignores the fact that Yasir Arafat visited the White House more times (12) during the Clinton administration than any other foreign leader, "receiving nearly state honors on some occasions," and that Arafat has failed to prepare Palestinians to accept anything less than 100 percent of their goals — including driving Israelis into the sea.

Peace in the Middle East will require a U.N. peacekeeping force (similar to the one in Cyprus for the last 30 years) as a buffer between Israel and a Palestinian state, Jacob maintained. More fundamentally, he said, "it will require both sides realizing that they have more to gain from peace than from war."

In the meantime, Jacob dismissed fears that a terrorized America will abandon Israel. "The defense of Israel is central to America's foreign policy, and you would see a wholesale defeat of members of Congress if that would ever be suggested. That will never happen," Jacob said. "The issue is, can we love other countries besides Israel? Can our alliance with Israel co-exist with our standing up for Arab interests?"

Muslim terrorists hate America for what we do — most grievously, shoring up the 30,000-member House of Saud as rulers of Islam's holy land — and for what we are, Jacob said. To many Muslims, the United States symbolizes obscene materialism and globalization of a lewd popular culture. "Madonna and Michael Jackson have both been called terrorists because of their evil influence on youth in traditional Islamic countries," Jacob said.

Ironically, Mujahedeen veterans remain embittered at their reliance on U.S. assistance against the Soviet Union, according to Jacob. Seeing "U.S.A." stamped on weapons and food supplies "made them resent their relative weakness," he said.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 4

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