The Associated Press has revealed the New York City Police Department monitored Muslim college students at schools throughout the Northeast, including Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. In one case, the NYPD sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York, where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed. We speak to one of the students on the trip, Jawad Rasul. He is the only student who was under surveillance to now publicly speak out about his experience. "[This is] hurting NYPD’s try and attempt at finding homegrown terrorism, because these kind of tactics actually create more hatred towards them and the other law-enforcement agencies and really destroys the trust that any youth might have developed with the government," Rasul said. We’re also joined by Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is calling for a state probe into the spying on Muslims. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the latest in the scandal around the New York City Police Department’s spying on Muslims. The Associated Press has revealed the New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students at schools throughout the Northeast, including Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania. In one case, the NYPD sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.
The report is just the latest revelation by the Associated Press into secret intelligence operations set up by the New York Police Department following the September 11th attacks targeting Muslim neighborhoods. Hundreds of mosques and Muslim student groups were investigated. Dozens were infiltrated. Police monitored and cataloged daily life in Muslim communities, from where people ate and shopped to where they worked and prayed. According to the AP, many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans.
We’re joined in studio here in New York by Jawad Rasul. He is one of the students who was monitored by the New York Police Department and is named in this newly disclosed report tracking the activities of Muslims, of our guest and his friends. He is the only student who’s come under surveillance to now publicly speak out about his experience.
We’re also joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. His group is joining with the Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition to call for a state probe into the spying on Muslims.
Jawad, welcome to Democracy Now!
JAWAD RASUL: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened. What was this whitewater rafting trip that you went on?
JAWAD RASUL: We went on many trips, including rafting and paintballing and skiing. We used to play a lot of other sports, as well. And we used to meet at other friends’ houses. We used to go out to eat. On this—
AMY GOODMAN: Where did you grow up?
JAWAD RASUL: I grew up in Queens. On this particular trip, apparently this agent was actually picked up by me in my car at a nearby train station.
AMY GOODMAN: What was his name? Or what did you call him?
JAWAD RASUL: Well, we don’t know for sure, but we think we have a hunch.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you call him?
JAWAD RASUL: We called him "Jibran."
AMY GOODMAN: But now you think you know his name?
JAWAD RASUL: No, we still—that’s what we know about him. We don’t know what—if that was his real name.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you picked him up. So you knew him?
JAWAD RASUL: We are—only now that we think back, we can realize as to who it was, because his life story did not make sense, out of all the people.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
JAWAD RASUL: Sometimes he would say he lived in Westchester, sometimes he lived in Long Island. He would always be available for all the trips, even though he said that he worked. And we didn’t see him attending a lot of classes, but he used to always be in the lounge area.
AMY GOODMAN: At school, at City College?
JAWAD RASUL: At school, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you picked him up. You became friends with him?
JAWAD RASUL: He was—basically, all the people that were in my area, we decided that, to make it easy on them, we would meet up in Jackson Heights, and I would pick them up in my car and go to the meet-up spot in Brooklyn, where the whole—whole group is going to meet up and then go to rafting.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long did you raft? Did you—
JAWAD RASUL: It was about 24 hours. We went one evening, and we came back the next evening.
AMY GOODMAN: So how did you come to realize that you were under surveillance by the New York Police Department?
JAWAD RASUL: On the 14th of February, I got a call from an AP reporter, Chris Hawley, who told me that my name has been cited on this list, and what do I think about it? Obviously, I was speechless.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think about it?
JAWAD RASUL: It’s—it’s really disheartening, to be honest. We are actually trying to be better American citizens, as much as we can. You know, like I said earlier, I try to buy American to help the American economy. And then these kind of things come out, and that—it really throws us back. And I think, honestly, it’s even hurting NYPD’s try and attempt at fighting homegrown terrorism, because these kind of tactics actually create more hatred towards them and the other law-enforcement agencies and really destroys the trust that any youth might have developed with the government.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn right now to our guest in Connecticut, Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The report indicates that students at the University of Pennsylvania, at Yale University, were tracked, were monitored. Mongi, what do you know?
MONGI DHAOUADI: So far, that’s all we know, is that there is some activities by the New York Police Department in Connecticut. We heard about a week and a half ago that there was a report issued also by the Associated Press speaking about the New York Police Department monitoring some locations within Connecticut, specifically in West Hartford. And now this report that just came out over the weekend speaking specifically that the New York Police Department was monitoring students along the Northeast colleges, but also specifically at Yale University. We don’t know much about their activities. We don’t know if they were coordinating some of these with local law enforcement, even though yesterday, at least, we heard from university officials, city officials, state officials denying any knowledge about this, which we will take on its face value.
But at the same time, we are questioning the legality of these activities. This is a city that’s not in our state that is engaging in profiling Muslims based on their religions and ethnic backgrounds. And we have a lot of questions, that today we are organizing a press conference, and we are calling on a full and transparent investigation into this matter.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to get both of your response to the New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last month invoking the 9/11 attacks to defend the monitoring of Muslims.
COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY: We believe we’re doing what we have to do, pursuant to the law, to protect the city, a city that’s been attacked successfully twice and had 14 plots against it in—you know, in the last two decades.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Jawad Rasul, your response?
JAWAD RASUL: I would love to see those leads, really.
AMY GOODMAN: What has this meant in your life? You have decided to come forward, and you’re the only student named who is speaking publicly. Why?
JAWAD RASUL: It’s not easy, first of all, to come out, because I’m constantly being discouraged from family and friends to go out in public and really stick my neck out. But I think it’s important for someone to speak out and let the NYPD know that you’re not doing good by this. You’re actually hurting your chances to actually build a rapport with these youth that they feel are troublesome.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read the comment of the Yale University president, Richard Levin. In an emailed message to the entire university community, he said, "I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States. Also I want to make sure our community knows that the Yale Police Department has not participated in any monitoring by the NYPD and was entirely unaware of NYPD activities until the recent news reports." Mongi, have you been in touch with Yale University?
MONGI DHAOUADI: Not directly, but I have spoken to some students from the MSA at Yale. I’ve spoken to the chaplain, who works for the chaplain’s office at Yale University. And I received a message yesterday after we questioned whether there was any knowledge or any coordination. And I’m pleased to see that kind of strong language, that kind of resolve, on the part of the officials from Yale University. But we would like that to be also followed by some real concrete actions on the ground to protect the rights of these students at Yale University.
If the New York Police Department, which we think they engaged in profiling—profiling in Connecticut is illegal, it is unlawful, therefore, we would like to see some full investigation into the matter and to hold them accountable. This is not New York City. This is the state of Connecticut. We have laws. New Haven, a city, is known for its standing by the civil rights and civil liberties of its people. And I think it is the responsibility of these officials to make sure that they protect the lives and the privacy and the rights of these citizens and these residents. These college students have come from different various places around the world, and they come to find and engage in a lively and constructive life at Yale University, as it’s known for that. And then to have this fear hanging over their head that someone is watching them and recording every move, it is really disheartening. And we hope that the officials follow these strong statements, as they stand next—beside the students, followed with concrete actions on the ground to hold the NYPD responsible for its actions, that we think they’re borderline, at least, of breaking the laws in Connecticut.
AMY GOODMAN: The AP reported the other universities where Muslim student associations were monitored included Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse, New York University, Clarkson University, the Newark and New Brunswick campuses of Rutgers, and the State University of New York campuses in Buffalo, Albany, Stony Brook, Potsdam, also Queens College, Baruch College, Brooklyn College and LaGuardia Community College. So the City College system and the State University of New York college system. Jawad, how are you organizing? How are students organizing? And are you doing it across campuses and across states?
JAWAD RASUL: This organization is really starting now. I have, myself, written an open letter to NYPD, asking them to move away from these tactics, which are really reactionary, and move to proactive tactics that could engage the students that could possibly be isolated by the foreign policy situation and basically the social conditions that exist that create an identity crisis amongst them.
AMY GOODMAN: Jawad, we just—I read the statement of the Yale University president, who said that the Yale police did not know about this. What do you know about the City University police? And has the CUNY president and chancellor made a statement yet?
JAWAD RASUL: I’m not familiar with CUNY or the CUNY police, but I know that City College has released a statement saying that they do not agree to these kind of tactics at City College, and they were not aware.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, we have known about this for quite some time, New York Police Department surveillance in New York City schools, for months. Leonard Levitt’s NYPD Confidential revealed last year that the police infiltrated Muslim student associations at Brooklyn, Baruch, City, Hunter, Queens and LaGuardia Colleges. Are you asking your college, your university, the City University system, to make a statement at this point?
JAWAD RASUL: City College has, but I think I’m going to—
AMY GOODMAN: That’s one college—
JAWAD RASUL: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —within the CUNY, City University of New York, system.
JAWAD RASUL: I’m, myself, personally going to be organizing my friends and contacts at different MSAs to start at least a letter campaign or some kind of petition to ask them to come out against this and ask even the NYPD to stop this and move towards proactive tactics. And I’m, myself, willing to work with them on this to engage the Muslim youth in order to do something about the homegrown terrorist problem.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue of how many times you prayed, what was your reaction to that on this camping trip?
JAWAD RASUL: Firstly, the undercover agent got it wrong, because we actually pray five times a day. So not only he was having fun to raft with us, he was actually not doing his job properly. But even besides that—
AMY GOODMAN: Did he pray with you?
JAWAD RASUL: He probably did. Otherwise, we would probably know there was something wrong, because it was a group of students that organized around the prayer hall in the City College. So, but it’s really surprising that these kind of things that he feels are important for the police to know, that we are praying four times a day or our discussion was largely based on Islamic topics, it’s—I mean, we are in America, not in Syria or Egypt. We’re not supposed to expect these kind of things.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow the story. Jawad Rasul is a student at City College of New York, named in the New York report, as students, Muslim students—one of the Muslim students being surveilled. Mongi Dhaouadi of the Connecticut chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations—he is the executive director—thank you for being with us, as well. It’s a story we will continue to cover.