Prominent attorney who refused to betray Arab and Muslim clients speaks on civil liberties, life on terror watch list
By Nick Meyer
The attorney-client privilege assuring confidentiality between the two parties is one of the most cherished rights of the American law system, but according to internationally recognized lawyer, author and professor Francis A. Boyle of the the University of Illinois-Champaign, government agents violated that privilege in a jarring summer 2004 visit.
Speaking to The Arab American News, Boyle confirmed recent reports that he was visited by two agents from a joint FBI-CIA anti-terrorist fusion center located about a 90-minute drive away in Springfield, Ill. in his office in Champaign, who attempted to persuade him to become an informant on his Arab American and American Muslim clients.
He said he repeatedly refused their requests to violate his clients' constitutional rights, only to find himself placed on the U.S. Government's terrorist watch list.
"There's five or six of them, and my lawyer informed me that I'm on all of them," Boyle said
"I filed an appeal but they told me, sorry, I would stay on the watch list forever until the agencies that put me on there took me off."
Boyle, who has represented several high profile Arab and Muslim clients in the past, also said the agents repeatedly questioned him about interviews he has given in various international media outlets that were critical of U.S. foreign policy towards Arab and Muslim countries. Similar reports have also come out including a recent one about agents allegedly spying on University of Michigan professor and writer Juan Cole.
Boyle's visit began innocently enough as the two agents introduced themselves to Boyle's secretary, he said.
They identified themselves as businessmen who wanted to speak with him about matters of international law and were wearing suits and ties, looking reputable. Boyle let them in.
"They misrepresented who they are and what they're about to my secretary," Boyle said.
They also gave him no indication that Boyle would be placed on the terrorist watch list after leaving what Boyle called a "nearly hour-long interrogation."
Speaking of interrogations, Boyle was subjected to one an hour and a half long upon returning from a lecture in Canada at the end of the summer of 2004.
The pattern has continued for Boyle, who has a Ph.D in Political Science from Harvard University specializing in International Relations and has authored books such as "Biowarfare and Terrorism," which links the U.S. biowarfare development to the October 2001 post-9/11 anthrax attack on Congress, and "The Palestinian Right to Return Under International Law," which was released in March 2011.
"I was flying in from Malaysia and two armed federal agents on the jet port saw me and my passport and took me into custody; they said 'You're coming with us,' and two guys with guns you're not going to argue with," he said.
"After searching me they said they were looking for someone on the watch list but not you, of course; how many Francis Anthony Boyles are there in America?"
Other extensive searches of Boyle occurred in Switzerland and Chicago.
He's still waiting for an explanation as to why he was placed on the terrorism watch list and concerned about the future.
"I'm not supposed to talk about clients' business to anyone let alone to become an informant on them, that violates their constitutional rights and also my ethical obligations as an attorney to maintain privacy," Boyle said.
"Whether you like lawyers or not, we're sort of the canaries in the mineshaft of democracy, the first line of defense."
An article in Criminal Justice Magazine in Summer 2002 said that immediately following the September 11 attacks against the U.S., then-Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a controversial order that permits the government to monitor all communications between client and attorney when there is 'reasonable suspicion' to 'believe that a particular inmate may use communications with attorneys or their agents to further or facilitate acts of violence or terrorism.' The order raises constitutional concerns under the First, Fourth Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments according to authors Paul Rice and Benjamin Saul.
Boyle believes that the rights of attorneys and anti-war critics as well are under attack, as is the Constitution in general as many analysts have been saying.
"They've gone after many other lawyers, and what they did to Juan Cole doesn't surprise me either," Boyle said.
"We're living in a police state now and what people really need to understand, especially Arabs and Muslims, is that the police are not their friends," Boyle said.
"No Arab or Muslim should talk to the FBI without a lawyer present, you have to be very careful dealing with these people."
Boyle noted that about 1,200 non-citizens were rounded up immediately after the 9/11 attacks and that the only charges brought against them were actually for routine immigration violations or in some cases ordinary crimes as asserted in the 165-page report "America's Challenge" about civil liberties, domestic security and national unity after the attacks, released by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
More than one million people are currently on watch lists according to a USA Today report in 2009, but Boyle believes he's in more exclusive company on a list of about 5,000 people who were asked to be informants.
Guarding against unjust tactics in the name of security is something that should drive Arab Americans and Muslims, and others, he said.
"Arabs and Muslims and their supporters have to get organized and stop assuming the FBI is their friend, and to set up watch committees and inform themselves as to their rights under the law., and fight back in court," he said.
"It's only going to get worse...the FBI and the CIA are completely out of anyone's control. And Arabs and Muslims are going to have to sit down and figure out how to combat this," he said.
Boyle said they should band together to demand that the Department of Justice re-institute the Edward Hirsch Levy Guidelines, which terminated the FBI COINTEL spying program and were revoked after 9/11 by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. He also said the communities need more lawyers and journalists to fight on their behalf.
He remains concerned about the possibility of retribution against he and others should another attack occur but plans to remain firm in his commitment to his country and its ideals of freedom.
"It feels sort of like a loaded gun sitting there," he said. "But I was born here and I will stay here as a U.S. citizen, and stand and fight for the rights and future of this country."
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