The Associated Press
SEATTLE — City police have not been asked to help interview 20 to 40 men of Middle Eastern origin in Washington state who are on a nationwide questioning list, police chief Gil Kerlikowske said.
Kerlikowske commented Thursday after meeting with members of the Arab-American Community Coalition. He said he offered to arrange a meeting between the newly formed group and those overseeing the local FBI interviews.
"We did not want to have the request from the Department of Justice chill any of the relationships that both of us, police and community, have worked so hard to establish," he said. "We want to do our part, in working with our federal partners, to prevent a future terrorist act, and we want to be the protector of civil liberties for this community."
It was unclear early Friday whether other police agencies in Washington state were asked to assist in the questioning.
In Oregon, police in Portland, Corvallis and Hillsboro have refused to participate in the program, citing concerns over civil rights.
The men, all foreign citizens holding temporary business, student or tourist visas, are among 5,000 that Attorney General John Ashcroft says are being asked to submit voluntarily to questioning on what they know about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The list for Portland includes about 200 names.
The interviews, which began three weeks ago, have been criticized by civil libertarians and Arab American activists who accuse the government of racial profiling.
Rita Zawaideh, a spokeswoman for the Seattle coalition, asked that anyone approached for questioning by the FBI contact the group.
"We’re saying that the interviews are voluntary. If you feel comfortable, go ahead," Zawaideh said, "but if you want, we will have an attorney there for you."
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