LCCR letter to President Bush urging the removal of Peter Kirisnow

Media 07.26.02


July 22, 2002

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing first to thank you for your leadership in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11. Mr. President, you have reminded the American people on a number of occasions that we are engaged in a war against terrorism, not a war against Arabs or Islam, and certainly not against Arab Americans. We thank you for sending a clear message to the American people that collective blame and stereotyping are unacceptable and un-American.

It is in the spirit of these vital moral principles that we ask that you repudiate and disavow the remarks made by Peter Kirsanow, your recent appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and take steps to remove him from this important position. Unlike you, Mr. President, Mr. Kirsanow appears to be condoning collective guilt and seems open to the idea of the mass internment of an entire community.

At a Commission hearing in Detroit on July 19, Mr. Kirsanow raised the possibility of internment camps for the mass detention of Arab Americans, along the lines of the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He did not condemn this idea, but raised it as a serious and reasonable possibility in the event of future terrorist attacks against the United States.

Mr. Kirsanow said that if the perpetrators of a future terrorist attack “come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights.” He also said that “not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling, there will be a groundswell of public opinion to banish civil rights. So the best thing we can do to preserve them is by keeping the country safe.”

While we should take strong and appropriate steps to keep our country safe, it should not come at the expense of fundamental civil rights and civil liberties. Mr. Kirsanow’s favorable talk of mass internment and the suspension of civil rights is shocking, irresponsible, outrageous, and should be unacceptable for a representative of the United States Government. In 1988 the United States Congress and President Reagan clearly rejected mass internment and apologized for the internment of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

We believe that Mr. Kirsanow’s comments are completely inconsistent with your own principled stance and leadership on these issues, and he should not continue to serve as a member of the Commission. While we have the highest regard for the Commission, an individual with such views has no place on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Mr. Kirsanow’s remarks as a member of the Commission are an unfortunate blot on your Administration and your Presidency. These remarks will serve as an unfortunate distraction from our nation’s united fight against terrorism.

We look forward to hearing from you soon on this extremely important matter.

Wade Henderson
Executive Director
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Ziad J. Asali, MD
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

cc: Mary Frances Berry, Chairperson
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
624 9th Street, N.W., Suite 730
Washington, D.C. 20425

Peter Kirsanow, Commissioner
US Commission on Civil Rights
624 9th Street, N.W., Suite 730
Washington, D.C. 20425