(Gothamist) The NYPD's policy of widespread spying on Muslims went on trial yesterday in a federal courtroom in Manhattan, with the City arguing that a series of NYPD documents that would shed more light on the legality of the surveillance were much too secret to be aired in court.

In their brief [PDF], lawyers for New York City invoked the specter of terrorist plots from around the world, making dire predictions of the tragic cost if the plaintiff's lawyers have their way. As the avuncular and octogenarian Judge Charles Haight archly observed, the City "stops a little short of saying the republic will fall" if the court asks the NYPD to change its behavior or imposes any oversight on the department.

The plaintiffs attorneys fighting to enforce the Handschu guidelines argue that the NYPD is investigating Muslims and Muslim institutions without a shred of evidence of possible criminal activity.

They point to a former NYPD informant who told the AP he was paid to bait innocent Muslims. They also note a leaked secret NYPD document [PDF] that shows the Department had placed undercover officers and informants in scores of mosques throughout the city, and another secret wish list [PDF] showing that the NYPD was seeking to place a confidential informant on the board of the Arab American Association of New York.

To the Handschu lawyers, the NYPD's claim (and Mayor Bloomberg's assurances) that the department "only follows leads" is blatantly false.

In response, the City claims that the association was never the target of an investigation, and the NYPD never actually put an informant on its board, and further insists the NYPD's surveillance of Muslim Americans conforms scrupulously to the Handschu guidelines.

Read More: Gothamist

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