Chicago-Based Legal Coalition Mobilizes Lawyers to Offer Free Legal Services for Targets of FBI Interviews

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
December 6, 2001 12:00 am

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CHICAGO–A coalition of Chicago-area legal organizations today announced an unprecedented mobilization to offer free legal services for all persons designated for questioning by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“People targeted for investigation are undoubtedly in need of legal counsel,” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, a coalition participant. “”It is in the highest tradition of the American bar that these organizations and attorneys step forward and offer their services without compensation to these individuals. In so doing, these attorneys also fulfill our fundamental constitutional values.””

Representatives from the ACLU of Illinois, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Chicago Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the Muslim Bar Association announced the coalition effort at a news conference in Chicago this morning.

The Justice Department previously announced a nationwide effort to locate and interview as many as 5,000 persons — all men ages 18 to 33, primarily from Middle Eastern nations — who entered the United States on non-immigrant visas in the past two years.

Coalition members noted the timeliness and urgency of the recruitment effort, especially since the Department of Justice recently directed that all interviews be concluded before December 21, 2001.

Also released at today’s news conference was a letter sent to Patrick Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois by lawyers for the ACLU of Illinois. In the letter, the ACLU notified the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the efforts to offer free legal services to individuals being questioned under the Justice Department’s directive.

The letter asks the U.S. Attorney to make individuals who are targeted for an interview aware of the fact that free legal services are available. A similar letter is being sent to the United States Attorneys for the Central and Southern Districts of Illinois.

The coalition today pledged to provide lawyers with a broad range of experience across the Chicago area who will offer legal services at no cost to persons contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or other law enforcement agencies acting on behalf of the federal government, in connection with the nationwide investigation.

The groups noted that the complex nature of questions to be directed at these individuals might lead many to seek legal counsel before and during their interview with law enforcement officials.

The Department of Justice’s guidelines for these interviews — sent to all United States Attorneys across the nation — seek a great deal of information from persons questioned, including: inquiries into individual’s political beliefs and the beliefs of families and friends; whether or not an individual “supports” any cause that terrorists espouse; and, “all telephone numbers used by the individual and his family or close associates.”

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