King endorses ethnic profiling

Newsday Washington Bureau

08/17/06 "Newsday" -- -- WASHINGTON -- Declaring that airport screeners shouldn't be hampered by "political correctness," House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King has endorsed requiring people of "Middle Eastern and South Asian" descent to undergo additional security checks because of their ethnicity and religion.

Discussing the recent revelation of an alleged plot in England to blow up U.S.-bound airliners, the Seaford Republican said yesterday that, "if the threat is coming from a particular group, I can understand why it would make sense to single them out for further questioning."

King, who has said that all Muslims aren't terrorists but that all recent terrorists are Muslim, favors an ethnic and religious profiling scheme that would include foreign and American-born travelers. "I would give the investigators and screeners a lot of discretion as to where it ends," he said.

Despite King's endorsement of such a process, it is a technique that has been widely dismissed as a legitimate law enforcement tool.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, a childhood friend of King's whom the congressman calls one of the nation's leading counter-terrorism officials, has previously called racial profiling "nuts" and "ineffective," and eliminated the practice when he oversaw the U.S. Customs Service.

The U.S. Justice Department issued a policy three years ago banning racial profiling and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said yesterday that he doesn't favor the practice.

"I think that, you know, taking action against someone solely because of their race and solely because of their religion I think is problematic," Gonzales said.

Bob Levy, senior fellow in constitutional studies with the Washington-based Cato Institute, a conservative-libertarian think tank, said racial profiling gradually came into disfavor among law enforcement officials because "they discovered that this kind of profiling was very rarely effective in ferreting out useful information."

He said targeting people based on a range of criteria is a more operative and constitutionally legitimate tool to stop wrongdoers than relying on a blanket profile.

"Simply to profile all Muslims with nothing more than that, I think, would be considered a constitutional problem," Levy said. "Besides, if you are using a profile it doesn't follow that a profile is always effective."

Besides being ineffective, profiling ostracizes a community that could be essential in helping to combat terrorism, said Ahmed Younis of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

"In many ways, it is allowing the terrorists what they want, which is the betrayal of our constitutional principles and the disenfranchisement of the communities that we need the most in the war against extremism and terrorism," he said. "American Muslims are on the front lines in the war on terrorism and Mr. King's approach deprives America of her strongest weapon."

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