Portland terror probe worries addressed

Nov. 27, 2001 at 2:06 PM
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PORTLAND, Ore., Nov. 27 (UPI) -- A conflict between Oregon state law and the types of questions that federal terrorism investigators want to ask dozens of Middle Eastern natives living in Portland has been addressed and may allow Portland police to join the controversial nationwide effort to ferret out terrorists lurking in the United States.

The U.S. Justice Department has narrowed the list of questions down to those that comply with Oregon's strict laws about who may be questioned by police, the Oregonian newspaper reported Tuesday.

A clash between state law and less restrictive federal laws caused the city to last week decline Washington's request to have Portland police officers assist the FBI in the questioning of around 200 men in the city.

"Many of the questions we objected to are not on the new list," City Attorney Jeffrey Rogers said Monday. "It is a very favorable development and is narrowing substantially the areas of concern we have."

The newspaper said questions regarding telephone numbers of friends and relatives, and travel to Afghanistan or other foreign destinations were removed from the Justice Department's list.

A 1987 Oregon law bars police from gathering information on individuals or groups that does not relate directly to criminal activity, or if the person questioned is not suspected of being involved in something illegal.

Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk issued a memo Monday disagreeing with Rogers' conclusions, saying that the subject of the investigation -- terrorist threats against the United States -- constitutes a crime even though the people being questioned are not criminal suspects.

City officials had not announced Tuesday whether they would assign Portland officers to the nationwide effort to interrogate some 5,000 men of Middle East origin about any connection that they or their acquaintances may have with suspected terrorists.

The sweeping interrogations have stirred up opposition from civil rights and immigration rights advocates who see the questioning as an unconstitutional form of harassment.

The Oregonian said City Hall and the Police Bureau had received more than 500 telephone calls and e-mail messages regarding the city's decision last week to bow out of the federal effort; nearly all of the messages from out of town were critical of the decision while the city itself appeared evenly divided between those who supported the decision and those who wanted the city to take part.

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