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State of the Union: America, Land of the Free No More

“A federal judge ruled Thursday that the NYPD’s secret spying on Muslims in schools, restaurants, and mosques with no evidence of wrongdoing is perfectly legal, and it was the media’s exposure of this surveillance that was the real cause of harm. The decision prompted outcry from civil rights and racial justice advocates.

“The idea that the only harm was that you found out you are being spied on is ridiculously absurd logic,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in an interview with Common Dreams. “When a judge says it’s okay for a government to do any level of spying on a religious community, that has a chilling effect,”

U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark, New Jersey, on Thursday tossed out the lawsuit Hassan v. City of New York, brought against the NYPD by a group of New Jersey-based Muslims—including an Iraq war veteran and the former principle of a Muslim girls’ grade school—who had been directly targeted by the surveillance. In a complaint filed by the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates and counseled by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the plaintiffs charged they had been unlawfully targeted on the basis of race, religion, and country of origin, causing them direct harm.

Martini—a Bush appointee and former Republican congressman—rejected their argument, writing, “The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies.”

The judge went on to argue that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press investigations of the NYPD’s spying on Muslim communities—not the surveillance itself—caused harm to the plaintiffs. He wrote,

None of the Plaintiffs’ injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents. Nowhere in the Complaint do Plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents by the Associated Press. This confirms that Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries flow from the Associated Press’s unauthorized disclosure of the documents. The harms are not “fairly traceable” to any act of surveillance.

“Martini essentially said that what the targets didn’t know didn’t hurt them,” writes Dan Froomkin for The Intercept.

Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy slammed the ruling: “In addition to willfully ignoring the harm that our innocent clients suffered from the NYPD’s illegal spying program, by upholding the NYPD’s blunderbuss Muslim surveillance practices….”

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