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Blumner: Ashcroft Nonapologetic Despite Findings of Post-9-11 Injustice

by Robyn Blumner Saturday, Jun. 14, 2003 at 9:41 PM

None of the report's findings apparently pricked his conscience: not the way men were indiscriminately arrested, or the way they were kept from contacting attorneys, or the way they were left to languish for months while the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to clear them of terrorist links were given other duties.



------------------------------------------------------------------------

FRIDAY June 13, 2003

Blumner: Ashcroft Nonapologetic Despite Findings of Post-9-11 Injustice





By Robyn Blumner

ST. PETERSBURG TIMES

    None Selected Attorney General John Ashcroft must loathe this country's traditions of freedom. How else can one explain his blithe reaction to a report released Monday by the Justice Department's own inspector general that details how his department mistreated hundreds of immigrants detained following Sept. 11?

    Page after page of the nearly 200-page report is as scathing and condemning as bureaucrat-speak gets. Yet Ashcroft told Congress Thursday that he does "not apologize" for the way his department conducted itself post-Sept. 11.

    None of the report's findings apparently pricked his conscience: not the way men were indiscriminately arrested, or the way they were kept from contacting attorneys, or the way they were left to languish for months while the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to clear them of terrorist links were given other duties.

    The report covers the experiences of 762 immigrants, almost all male and from Muslim or Middle Eastern countries, who were picked up on immigration violations and designated "of interest" in the terrorism investigation. In the end, beyond Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, not one of the detainees was charged with a terrorism-related crime. Not one.

    How can the Justice Department claim to have been safeguarding Americans when it threw away the rule book -- the principles of due process -- and in doing so came up with zero al-Qaida members beyond Moussaoui? If the great paradigm of this century is liberty vs. security, then where was the security payoff?

    At the direction of Ashcroft and his underlings -- including Michael Chertoff, an assistant attorney general who has been nominated for a federal appellate court seat -- we gave up the presumption of innocence, suspicion based on fact, the possibility of bail, public immigration hearings and humane conditions of confinement. In exchange, we obtained no added safety.

    I'd say this was a sucker's deal -- one Ashcroft not only vows to continue but wants Congress to authorize. Even after this bruising evaluation, Ashcroft had the audacity to ask the House Judiciary Committee for expanded powers to hold people suspected of terrorism indefinitely.

    When Ashcroft looks at the Bill of Rights, he must see it with shark-dead eyes.

    But let's put rights aside; how about just talking about the fundamentals of good police work? According to the inspector general's report, there was virtually no investigation done before immigrants were dubbed "of interest." For example, three Middle Eastern men in Manhattan were arrested after they were stopped for a traffic violation and had plans to a school in their car. They were doing construction work at the school, a fact their employer confirmed the next day, but they were nonetheless held as Sept. 11 detainees.

    If a "lead" -- which was often an anonymous tip about a Muslim neighbor who worked odd hours -- led the FBI to a location and there were a dozen others there with immigration violations, all would be arrested and treated as Sept. 11 detainees.

    Once an immigrant "of interest" was taken into custody, the Justice Department commanded that he not be released or deported until cleared by the FBI -- a process the inspector general found took an inordinate amount of time, on average 80 days.

    The report makes repeated references to the irresponsible way the FBI went about these clearances, often taking months to do a job that should have taken days.

    It also describes how then-Immigration and Naturalization Service lawyers pleaded with the FBI to provide them with facts on individual detainees that would justify holding them without bond. Typically, the FBI had nothing to offer. The INS was told to claim the need for bond denial anyway.

    As the report indicates, a whole new set of rules was imposed on these detainees. New policies allowed the INS (which has been absorbed into various parts of the Department of Homeland Security) to hold off for weeks or more before charging the immigrants. Aliens who agreed to leave the country and not fight their deportation orders were nonetheless kept for months until "cleared" by the FBI before being allowed to fly home.

    Another part of the report gives a sickening accounting of how some of the detainees were held. Eighty-four detainees deemed of "high interest" by the FBI were sent to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. All of them, without any individual assessment of dangerousness, were kept under the most restrictive conditions: a lockdown of 23 hours a day and hands and feet shackled when out of their cell.

    Petty cruelties were inflicted on these men -- men who were only charged with civil immigration violations -- such as having their cell lights on all night and not being given warm clothes so they could utilize their hour of recreation.

    The detainees were allowed one phone call to an attorney a week and one social telephone call a month. Their weekly phone call to try to secure counsel was sabotaged by the fact that the list of immigration attorneys given them had many wrong numbers. But a wrong number was counted as their weekly allotment.

    The report describes how word came from the highest levels of the department to the director of the Bureau of Prisons that any legal means should be taken to disrupt the ability of these men to communicate with the outside.

    They were also the subject of cruelties not so petty, such as being slammed against walls and having arms and fingers twisted by guards.

    Again, none of these men was found to have terrorist ties.

    Five hundred and five of the detainees have now been returned to their home countries. The bulk came from Pakistan, but many were from Egypt, Yemen and other places where hatred toward America has become a national security problem for us. Now they can hate us not just for our freedoms but for our repressions.

    And to this Ashcroft makes no apologies.

    How is this making us safer?

   -----

    Tribune Media Services
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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 11 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
TITLE AUTHOR DATE
Now tell me... Diogenes Saturday, Jun. 14, 2003 at 9:43 PM
ROFL fresca Monday, Jun. 16, 2003 at 12:19 AM
There their. fresca English as a first language Monday, Jun. 16, 2003 at 12:24 AM
WOW fresca Monday, Jun. 16, 2003 at 12:31 AM
If you're teaching English as a first language Monday, Jun. 16, 2003 at 12:37 AM
Jesus fresca Monday, Jun. 16, 2003 at 12:39 AM
My 14 year old kid also thinks your a dick. English as a first language Monday, Jun. 16, 2003 at 12:45 AM
I am taken aback... Diogenes Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2003 at 1:27 AM
I think that should be "you are a" Rational Normal Person Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2003 at 1:33 AM
what a lame 3200fps Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2003 at 9:26 AM
sorry fresca Wednesday, Jun. 18, 2003 at 10:25 AM

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