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Published: Thursday, 12/6/2001

Kaptur goes to bat for Mideast men


Federal authorities have completed interviews with local Middle Eastern men, but U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur wants the Arab-American community to know those interviewed can receive free legal representation if they must face another round of questioning.

Miss Kaptur (D. Toledo) asked the Toledo Bar Association whether it could arrange to make attorneys available to counsel Middle Eastern men federal authorities and local police want to question.

David Bauer, head of the U.S. attorney's office in Toledo, said yesterday that the interviews were finished this week.

He would not say how many people were questioned, but FBI agents had said that fewer than 10 area men would be among those questioned.

Authorities said more than 5,000 visitors nationwide are being contacted for questioning, including about 100 in Ohio. The Justice Department announced its intention last month to interview the men, ages 18 to 33, here on visas from Muslim countries in the Middle East or Southeast Asia.

Last week, after learning that authorities wanted to question Middle Eastern men on the chance they may know something about terrorism, Miss Kaptur approached the Toledo Bar Association about the possibility of using its Pro Bono Legal Services Program for local Middle Eastern men.

“To be interviewed by some official from the government can be extremely frightening,” she said. “If we have people being interviewed who want to speak with an attorney, we should try to provide that.

“My concern is that nobody should be alone,” Miss Kaptur said. “We have a system of law, and we have a system that assures innocence until proven guilty.”

In response to her request, U.S. District Judge James Carr, president of the Toledo Bar Association, sent e-mails to attorneys who belong to the Toledo Bar and Maumee Valley Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, appealing for their assistance. Judge Carr received answers from 20 attorneys, volunteering to help.

“Judge Carr asked volunteer attorneys to be on call for consultation, to give persons facing questioning rudimentary understanding of their basic constitutional rights,” said Jenna Grubb, director of communications for the Toledo Bar.

The attorneys would have talked with the men before meeting with investigators, but they would not have accompanied them into the appointments, she said.

“In cases where legal problems or issues might arise, the person in question would be referred to appropriate legal counsel,” Ms. Grubb said.

Mr. Bauer said the men could have taken attorneys with them to the interviews.

Jeff Gamso, a Toledo lawyer and vice president of the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said having attorneys available as advisers would be a good idea because the men likely are unfamiliar with the U.S. judicial system.

“This is an investigation of major proportions by the chief investigation arm of the federal government. They are interrogating people who we can safely presume are not fully cognizant of their rights,” Mr. Gamso said.

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