Peace Islands Institute

Jan 21st
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Balancing Civil Liberties and National Security


US Attorney Paul FishmanIDC hosted Paul Fishman, U.S Attorney for NJ for a luncheon on January 25th to talk about "Balancing Civil Liberties and National Security". He started his speech with compliments to IDC. He said he learned a lot about the IDC when he was invited to the Iftar dinner during the summer. He thanked the IDC for the wonderful work that they had been doing to encourage dialog, promote understanding among many diverse groups in our state. The IDC with all of its programs is making a difference in NJ on the way that people listen to each other. He greatly appreciates the IDC.

In his speech he talked about the 8.7 million people living in NJ. Twenty percent of that number is foreign born.  “We are the most densely populated state; there is a huge amount of diversity. All of that means, this is an exciting, interesting, stimulating, rich and wonderful place to live”.  With all the different cultures living in NJ it also brings diversity conflict, chance of misunderstanding is present, and the potential for an ugly encounter is big.

The role of the IDC and other organizations with their personal commitment is more important than ever. Your leadership your membership, your network of friends and partners have created meaningful and thoughtful discussions that encourages a diversity of perspectives and a change of view. Without those discussions we have no chance of bridging the gaps. A reason why those statistics are important; almost every problem that faces law enforcement intensely is here in NJ because of the fact that we are so close to NY, and also because of our very dense state.

US Attorney Paul FishmanHow do we balance our constitution safe guards, civil liberties and our National Security interests? We can’t actually talk about national security without recognizing the fact that we are in a war. The only acceptable result is to win that war. We have to keep the people of NJ safe, all of us regardless where we come from, all of us want to live in a free society without fear of those who want to do us harm. He said “I am proud that the hard work of the dedicated career professionals, federal, state, local prosecutors, intelligence agents, police and investigators has been successful in disrupting plots and protecting us”. New Jersey has challenges. We are the gateway to the nation, both through our port, which is the 2nd largest port in the county, and Newark airport which is the busiest national airport. We are a transportation hub; home of many large commercial businesses; Verizon, Prudential, and largest pharmaceutical companies.

He also talked about the 2007 Fort Dix attack plot that involved a group of six radical Islamist men who conspired to stage an attack against U.S. Military personnel stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The alleged aim of the group was to kill as many soldiers as possible.

The men were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on May 8, 2007 and were prosecuted in federal court in October 2008. On December 22, 2008, five were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in their intentions to kill U.S. military personnel. Four received life sentences while one received 33 years in prison. The remaining member was thought to have had a minor role in the plot and was sentenced to five years in prison for weapons offenses.

He also mentioned that in June 2010 Carlos Eduardo Almonte, a resident of North Bergen, N.J., was arrested on June 5, 2010 at Kennedy International Airport on his way to Somalia with the stated intention of joining an Islamic extremist group to kill American troops. Mohamed Mahmood Alessa of Elmwood Park, N.J., was also taken into custody.

The two men were charged with conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap people outside the United States. Mr. Almonte, 24, and Mr. Alessa, 20, were seeking to join Al Shabab, a group that claims ideological kinship with Al Qaeda and was thought to have provided a safe haven to Al Qaeda operatives, wanted for bombings of United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

US Attorney Paul FishmanThose investigations show that the threat in New Jersey is real. We are painstaking in our evaluation. Public vigilance can help root out public attacks. The Fort Dix investigation began when a store clerk dropped off a video of the defendant’s training with weapons. The attorney general said last month, “the cooperation of Muslim and Arab American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying and preventing terrorist attacks”. He said (Paul Fishman) “It’s my obligation as United States Attorney to try to keep New Jersey a safer place.  Also to enforce the rights of all members of every religious and ethnic community in NJ to worship and practice their religion or their faith free from intimidation and violence”. It is our differences that make us strong and the goal of the justice system is to protect and empower each of us, As the U.S Attorney General said “Security and Liberty must be guide posts, not opposing forces, to assure safety and opportunity for all.” That promise is clear; In my office we work with the Civil Rights division to deliver more on that promise. In New Jersey, our office will be at a dialogue at a state level taking advantage of the strong relationships that have already been formed by FBI and other agencies.  He said “in order to protect our civil liberties we all have to be engaged”. “The greatest weapon is the rule of law.”

US Attorney Paul Fishman


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