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Lawyer is set to speak at UT on dangers to citizens' rights

A lawyer who heads a constitutional watchdog group will speak in Toledo Sunday about knowing your rights and his concerns over alleged rights violations by the government in the name of national security.

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Washington-based Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said in an interview this week that the need to balance citizens' rights with national security took a dangerous and often illegal turn after 9/11.

"There has been a paradigm shift in law enforcement in the post-9/11 era. It's gone from enforcing criminal law into a pre-emptive paradigm predicting national security threats before they occur," said Mr. Buttar, whose free 4 p.m. appearance at the University of Toledo Law School Auditorium is presented by the United Muslim Association of Toledo.

He called it "appalling" that the United States violates international laws banning torture, and that those responsible are not being held accountable.

"These violations began under the Bush administration and have continued and, in a lot of cases, have grown worse under the Obama Administration," Mr. Buttar said.

By not holding the previous administration accountable for the violations, he said, "it leaves torture on the table as a legitimate option."

Failure to prosecute serves as "an invitation to torture around the world because any despot … will cite the Obama precedent," Mr. Buttar said.

While acknowledging the need to prevent terrorism and protect national security, he said those goals should not be achieved at the expense of constitutional rights.

"Nobody, even in the civil rights community, is opposed to the government's ability to have robust law enforcement. But the government is shredding the Fourth Amendment [barring unreasonable search and seizure] in multiple dimensions," Mr. Buttar said, citing as examples cell phone tracking, other secret monitoring tactics, and racial and ethnic profiling.

Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for the Muslim association, said Mr. Buttar's lecture is for all citizens concerned about their rights, not just ethnic, religious, or racial minorities. "We have seen an encroachment of the rights of every community in this country and we want to enjoy the benefits of America but also to keep it the way the founding fathers envisioned. That's why we have the Bill of Rights, to protect our rights," Dr. Hasan said. "Most of us are not aware of our rights.

"Maybe the need never arose before, but now the need is there."

Among other issues Mr. Buttar's Bill of Rights Defense Committee has been involved with is opposition to airport body scanners, saying they "violate sincerely held religious belief," and objections to the extension of the PATRIOT Act last year.

Since 2008, the defense committee also has organized 406 town, city, and county governments to pass resolutions calling for "the full restoration of constitutional rights and liberties that people who are familiar with the Constitution demand."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.

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