Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, June 05, 2003  

The Ashcroft Saga

Yesterday the blog meme was Wolfowitz, today it's John Ashcroft. To recap, yesterday the Attorney General was at a Justice Department roundtable with prosecutors from around the country who've been working on terrorism cases. It wasn't exactly a victory lap, but Ashcroft did declare victory:

"These successes send a clear message to terrorists here and abroad: We will find you. We will track you down. We will track down all those who support you. We will not rest until justice is brought to all who would plot against America and strike against the freedom we hold so dear."

This belied the fact that just up the street, immigrants were complaining that the Attorney General was using a meat cleaver to do a paring knife's work, and that they were getting sliced in collateral damage.

According to the Inspector General of the Justice Department, the immigrants' portrait is the accurate one. "While our review recognized the enormous challenges and difficult circumstances confronting the Department in responding to the terrorist attacks, we found significant problems in the way the detainees were handled."

Among the findings are these:

  • The FBI in New York City made little attempt to distinguish between aliens who were subjects of the FBI terrorism investigation (called "PENTTBOM") and those encountered coincidentally to a PENTTBOM lead. The OIG report concluded that, even in the chaotic aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the FBI should have expended more effort attempting to distinguish between aliens who it actually suspected of having a connection to terrorism from those aliens who, while possibly guilty of violating federal immigration law, had no connection to terrorism but simply were encountered in connection with a PENTTBOM lead.

  • The Department instituted a "no bond" policy for all September 11 detainees as part of its effort to keep the detainees confined until the FBI could complete its clearance investigations. The OIG review found that the INS raised concerns about this blanket "no bond" policy, particularly when it became clear that the FBI's clearance process was much slower than anticipated and the INS had little information in many individual cases on which to base its continued opposition to bond in immigration hearings.

  • BOP officials imposed a communications blackout for September 11 detainees immediately after the terrorist attacks that lasted several weeks. After the blackout period ended, the MDC's designation of the September 11 detainees as "Witness Security" inmates frustrated efforts by detainees' attorneys, families, and even law enforcement officials, to determine where the detainees were being held. We found that MDC staff frequently - and mistakenly - told people who inquired about a specific September 11 detainee that the detainee was not held at the facility when, in fact, the opposite was true.

  • With regard to allegations of abuse at the MDC, the evidence indicates a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some correctional officers at the MDC against some September 11 detainees, particularly during the first months after the attacks and during intake and movement of prisoners.

    Full report in .pdf available here.

  • Today, Ashcroft was on the Hill defending his practices and the law that made them all possible, the Patriot Act.

    This has excited a fairly strong response in the blogosphere as well, with Talk Left, Ruminate This, and the Liquid List . Like the Wolfowitz quote, it's a this-news-speaks-for-itself piece, and mostly I'm seeing no analysis of it.

    I have a little. Ashcroft's stand on this is creepy because of his unshakeable certainty that using all means available is just good police work. He seems less interested in enforcing the law than he does in using the law to punish those with whom he disagreees (for example, doctors who violate his religious beliefs when they practice Oregon's Death with Dignity law, or those using California's medical marijuana law, for example). In the context of law, we encourage interpretation. Law isn't a matter of absolutes, it's part of public policy. But Ashcroft is an absolutist, and he seems determine to advance his agenda in every legal and extra-legal way he can.

    But he seemed to say that over all the internal report did not tar the department. "None of the individuals that were the subject of the report of the inspector general, none of those individuals was in the United States legally," he said. "All of them were illegally here."

    The department's inspector general found "significant problems" in the treatment of 762 foreigners held on immigration violations. Some people were detained up to eight months. More than 500 have been deported, and only one, Zacarias Moussaoui, has been charged with a terrorism-related crime.

    The attorney general appeared unfazed by criticism like that expressed by Representative Howard Berman, Democratic of California, who said, "Some of us find that the collateral damage is greater than it needs to be in the conduct of this war."

    posted by Jeff | 4:45 PM |
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