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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Panelists speak on civil rights

By Zenaida Serrano Espanol
Advertiser Staff Writer

Injustices committed against Japanese Americans during World War II should not be repeated against Muslim and Arab Americans during the war on terrorism and a possible war on Iraq, civil libertarians here said yesterday.

"We have to be more vigilant than ever" about curtailment of civil liberties during impending war on Iraq and against terrorism, Chris Iijima said.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Members of the Honolulu chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, the nation's oldest Asian American civil rights organization, were among the nearly 100 people in attendance at Harris United Methodist Church for the annual Day of Remembrance.

It is a nationwide observance of the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, issued in 1942 by President Franklin Roosevelt that led to the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

"The JACL, especially this chapter, is looking for ways to promote civil rights and to identify abuses of civil rights and civil liberties," said the league's outgoing president, Clement Bautista. "There are increasing abuses of (civil rights and civil liberties) by the government and probably by individuals, too, who see certain groups as potential enemies."

Panelists at the event, titled "From 'Military Necessity' to 'National Interest': from Executive Order 9066 to the Patriot Act," explored parallels between what took place during World War II and current terrorism-related events. There are "certain scary similarities between what happened 61 years ago to the Japanese and what's pending now," said Hakim Ouansafi, president of the Muslim Association of Hawai'i.

Chris Iijima, a professor at the University of Hawai'i's William S. Richardson School of Law, said the Japanese internment "was a tremendous abuse of civil liberties in the midst of the wartime environment and I think it holds lessons for this time of impending war on Iraq and war against terrorism.

"There has been a real curtailment of civil liberties and ... we have to be more vigilant than ever," said Iijima, who also referred to the USA Patriot Act. The act, which was approved in October 2001, gave the government powers to obtain personal information about U.S. citizens and allows the government to detain aliens deemed threats to national security and hold them without public acknowledgment.

In addition to the panelist discussion, attendees watched a rough cut version of a film by Casey Peek titled "Hidden Internment: The Art Shibayama Story" about the more than 2,000 Japanese Latin Americans who were removed from their home countries and interned in American concentration camps.

Event organizers also asked attendees to sign petitions calling upon the INS to abolish the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, and to demand the resignation of U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., as chairman of the subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. Coble recently defended the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in comments made in response to a suggestion that Arab Americans be similarly incarcerated.

The Remembrance Day event was sponsored by JACL, the Church & Society Commission of Harris United Methodist Church, and the UH Office of Multicultural Student Services.