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Berkeley may not cooperate with Ashcroft’s questioning

By Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Friday January 11, 2002

Two former Berkeley residents were on Attorney General John Ashcroft’s list of people to be questioned in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to information released by the Berkeley Police Department. 

BPD Chief Dash Butler informed the Police Review Commission on Wednesday that the department was asked by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to interview two South Berkeley area residents in December. 

Butler said the department held a preliminary investigation and discovered that the two individuals no longer live in the city, and were therefore out of the department’s jurisdiction. 

“No further contact was made or attempted,” wrote Butler in a memo to the commission. 

The PRC passed a unanimous resolution at its Wednesday meeting recommending that the city not cooperate with Department of Justice requests to interview individuals on Ashcroft’s list. 

“Absent evidence linking such individuals to specific criminal acts, such targeting smacks of racial profiling and is discriminatory,” the resolution reads. 

In recent weeks, a number of cities, including Portland, Ore., Corvallis, Ore. and Ann Arbor, Mich., have made national headlines when they announced their refusal to assist the Department of Justice in interviewing people named on that list. 

Some people have held that the methods employed by the Attorney General’s office in the investigation violate constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as due process. 

Eighty-five of the 5,000 people on the Attorney General’s list live in the Department of Justice’s Northern District of California, which comprises most of the coastal region of the state north of Monterey County. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco said that they were not releasing information about which police departments they had asked for help with the interviews, nor about the departments’ response. 

However, in a press release dated Dec. 12, the San Francisco office denied that people were placed on the list for reasons of ethnic origin.  

All people on the list, according to the release, had two things in common: they entered the United States on or after Jan. 1, 2000, with a passport from a country in which al-Qaeda is believed to operate, and they are males between the ages of 18 and 33. 

On Dec. 3, the city’s Peace and Justice Commission passed a resolution that called for the city to “only cooperate with constitutionally valid requests from Attorney General John Ashcroft to question individuals.” 

The City Council will consider the resolution at its Jan. 22 meeting. 

On Thursday, Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the Attorney General’s project a threat to civil liberties. 

“Normally, in order to interrogate someone you have to have probable cause,” he said. “I think the threshold should be that there is probable cause, or a judge’s order, in each case.”  

Mayor Shirley Dean said that she would have to wait to hear a report from the police department before she could determine if any action from the City Council would be warranted. 

Dean noted that in most other cities, the decision not to cooperate in the project was made by a police chief or city manager – not by the City Council. 

“I would have to see what the police department’s general orders say right now,” she said.  

Dewayne Tully, spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department, said on Thursday that to his knowledge, the department has not yet been asked to interview anyone on the list.  

He said, though, that it was clear that the types of interviews that the Attorney General is asking for do not comport with SFPD policy. 

“Our policy is that we have to have some sort of probable cause to detain, question or arrest anybody,” he said. “It seems that in this case, the federal government wants police departments to question people pretty much because of their ethnic background.” 

Tully said that in addition to the constitutional questions that may arise from such interviews, they could have an counterproductive effect on local policing. 

“We have a working partnership with a lot of diverse communities in the city,” he said. “We feel that to comply with (the Attorney General’s) request would jeopardize that relationship in a very serious way.”