WASHINGTON — US Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday told lawmakers that FBI counterterrorism training that painted practicing US Muslims as likely extremist sympathizers was "flat-out wrong" and dangerous.
"That can really undermine the really substantial outreach efforts that we have made and really have a negative impact on our ability to communicate effectively, as we have in the past, with this community," said Holder.
Muslim-Americans have been "essential partners in the fight against terrorism" notably as "reliable sources of information" that led to "a great many of the successes" in US counter-terrorism efforts, he said.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin quoted FBI training that tarred Islam as "a highly violent religion," said "mainstream American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers" and called traditional Muslim attire, growing facial hair, and frequent mosque or prayer group attendance danger signs.
And "recently released documents show the FBI is engaged in widespread surveillance of mosques and innocent American Muslims with no suspicion of wrongdoing," Durbin said as the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Holder.
Wired Magazine in September reported the details of anti-Muslim FBI training, in which a counterterrorism analyst it named as William Gawthorp decreed that Al-Qaeda was "irrelevant" and that Islam itself posed the real danger.
Holder called such comments "flat-out wrong" as well as "inconsistent" with the US Department of Justice's efforts and said officials were "reviewing all of our training materials, to ensure that that kind of misinformation" is gone.
"It's regrettable that that information was, in fact, a part of a training program. That person is not being used anymore by the FBI," the attorney general said, without ever naming Gawthorp or citing Wired or other outlets.
"We have distanced ourselves from that person, those statements and have a process underway to review the materials to make sure that that mistake does not happen in the future," he added.
"The reality is, when you say Muslim Americans, we are talking about Americans, American citizens, who have the same desires that we all have and want their kids to be safe, who want the opportunities that this great country has to offer them.